As he's been known to do throughout his career, Bill Belichick will downplay the significance of his secondary's performance Sunday in London, but the truth is this is a big step forward as the Patriots look to re-establish the dominance they enjoyed during their dynastic Super Bowl run.
Brandon Meriweather spearheaded the surge against Tampa Bay with two interceptions and the secondary as a whole held the Buccaneers to just 11 completions in 30 attempts, which is no small feat considering they trailed most of the game and had to pass to make up for lost time.
Mixing in minimal amounts of pressure, the Patriots kept the Buccaneers off-balance and have now allowed a total of seven points in back-to-back weeks, albeit against two winless opponents.
"I think we overall pressured decent amount in this game," Belichick said. "We had different people come: safeties, corners, linebackers, tried to mix it up on them a little bit and tried to keep (quarterback Josh) Johnson in the pocket, which we had some success doing.
"Sometimes he got out and he hurt us. But he's really an athletic guy and I hate to see him running around there in open spaces, so we try to keep him boxed in. Sometimes we did, sometimes we didn't."
The Patriots used some of their depth to get the job done, putting Brandon McGowan in various high-pressure spots and on sub-defense packages. James Sanders and Patrick Chung also had opportunities and the Patriots survived without missing a beat despite not having Darius Butler in the lineup.
"We played all those guys, played James and Patrick along with Meriweather and McGowan," Belichick said. "I think we've got all of them decent amount of snaps, and those guys do a good job for us. We've got good depth at corner. Good depth at safety. And we played all those we played all them in different combinations, different situations."
Where this takes them moving forward remains to be seen, but it appears the Patriots' youth movement in the secondary is finally paying off. For years, Rodney Harrison patrolled the backfield with oftentimes a fill-in, reserve-type player next to him.
Realizing Harrison wouldn't last forever, they made strides by drafting Sanders, Meriweather and Chung through the years. Sanders appears to have taken a step back this season and has been out of the lineup more often than in the past due to the emergence of McGowan, but his presence still gives the team tremendous depth.
Unlike years past, when they had to clamor to bring in a free agent off the street when they suffered an injury, the Patriots have enough trustworthy players within the organization to fill any void.
"The secondary has been challenged every week," Belichick said. "Great receivers, great quarterbacks every single week, so doesn't matter who the opponent is. And we face some of the top offenses and there will be more in the season. Every week is a new challenge."
Five Is The Magic Number
The Patriots are no stranger to early-season success. This marks the fourth year in a row they've had five wins through their first seven games.
That streak seemed in jeopardy when they opened the season 3-2, but they compiled impressive back-to-backs against Tennessee and Tampa Bay to reach the 5-2 mark.
Second Half Success
Likewise, the Patriots have been equally strong in the second half of the season during the Bill Belichick era. Since 2001, they are 70-17 in games played in November and beyond, including 16-4 in the last two seasons. Over the same stretch they're 52-10 in games played after Thanksgiving and 23-4 in games played after Christmas.
Playing It Safe
--Tom Brady recently set a team record that few fans probably knew about.
Brady went 183 throws between interceptions, a record that was snapped in the second quarter of Sunday's game against Tampa Bay. Before that, he hadn't thrown a pick since the opening quarter of the Jets game in Week 2.
Offensively, the Patriots set another franchise benchmark by reeling off 80 unanswered points against Tennessee and Tampa Bay the past two weeks.
They beat the Titans 59-0 and led Tampa Bay 21-0 before the Buccaneers scored. Those 80 unanswered points are the most in a single season in team history and the most in the NFL since Buffalo ran off 86 unanswered points in 1992.
Aiken To Score
--Known primarily for his special teams prowess, WR Sam Aiken joined the offensive ranks Sunday with his first career touchdown on a 54-yard pass from Brady.
That play was also the longest of the season for the Patriots and Brady's longest touchdown pass since completing a 65-yard touchdown bomb to Randy Moss in the 2007 season finale against the Giants.
A Perfect Ten
Wes Welker finished with 10 catches Sunday and has now caught six or more passes in 19 of the last 21 regular-season games.
Welker has seven career regular-season games with 10 or more catches, three of them coming this season. He did it in back-to-back games for the first time ever with 12 against Buffalo and 10 against Tennessee.
Climbing The Rankings
RB Kevin Faulk has never been a superstar, but his value to this team through the years cannot be understated. Faulk become the 26th running back in NFL history with 400 career catches, hauling in two receptions against Tampa Bay.
BY THE NUMBERS: 26 -- The number of 300-yard passing games by Tom Brady. He needs one more to break a tie with Drew Bledsoe for the all-time franchise record.
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