Eventually, the Patriots might look back at the second half of Sunday's game as the 30 minutes that saved their season.
For now, they'll take a more critical look at the entire 60-minute stretch of football from this past weekend with the understanding that another lackluster effort such as this won't cut it down the stretch.
The Patriots snapped their two-game losing streak with a 20-10 win over Carolina on Sunday and maintained their one-game edge over the Dolphins and Jets in the AFC East, yet most of the post-game talk revolved around Randy Moss' "effort" and the general ugliness of New England's victory.
They were tied at 7 at halftime and the Patriots needed everything within their power (at home, no less) to fend off a Carolina team that has only two road wins and ranks near the bottom of the league in passing. A late touchdown pass from Tom Brady to Ben Watson sealed the deal.
Would Sunday's game qualify as an ugly win for a team in desperate need of a victory? The Patriots don't care. They're just glad they came out on top.
"We've been a part of a lot of these games this year, like the Miami game, where we lose, but it's literally one play," Brady said. "I mean, you make one more play in that game and you win - or the Colts game or some of these games where there have been tight games.
"Well, there was the one play (Sunday), the touchdown to Ben, that ended up being the difference - a play like that that we've got to make, and we're certainly capable of making it. That's what a team is all about, so as a leader on this team and as a quarterback and being here for a long time, I always try to convey that message. I'm proud of the way we fought."
What began as a tough week with four players being sent home for showing up late to practice Wednesday ended with more controversy when Moss was blasted by several players in Carolina's locker room - and several members of the media - for his perceived lack of effort Sunday. Moss fumbled on his only catch of the game and looked sluggish at times, but his coach and teammates stood up for him in the aftermath, a strong sign of unity for a team that appeared to be in disarray during the week.
"That's a lot of conversation coming from a team that just lost another game," Bill Belichick said in regards to comments made by Panthers' defensive backs Chris Gamble and Chris Harris. "I have a lot of respect for Randy. I think he's one of our best players. I think if you watch other teams defend him, you watch other teams play against him, they think the same way -- other than these two guys from Carolina after they lost another game.
"I guess they didn't think that way. They haven't won a lot of games now."
As for the theory of winning ugly, Belichick and the Patriots couldn't care less. The only thing that matters at this time of year is winning, and, in that sense, Sunday was ultimately a success.
"You know how I feel about stats," Belichick said. "Stats are for losers. The final score is for winners. We had games when I was with the Giants and we couldn't hold Gary Clark under 200 yards passing - and some of those are wins. That's the bottom line."
Brady Injuries A Concern
QB Tom Brady was listed as having rib, shoulder and finger injuries prior to Sunday's game. He certainly didn't look 100 percent at times, which explains why coach Bill Belichick revealed his quarterback was a game-time decision.
"We thought there was certainly a chance he would play -- a good chance that he would play -- but also a concern," Belichick said, "so that's why it was listed the way it was."
Playoff Seed Slipping
Even with a win Sunday, the Patriots are in danger of losing out on the No. 2 seed in the AFC, which means they'd have to play on wild-card weekend if they make the playoffs.
The Chargers are 10-3 and in position to wrap up the second seed behind Indianapolis, which clinched the No. 1 overall seed with its 13th win of the season Sunday. More importantly, the Bengals are on pace to grab the third seed with a 9-4 record.
Another Milestone For Welker
WR Wes Welker entered the Carolina game needing five receptions to go over 100 receptions for the third straight season.
He hit the mark on a six-yard pass from QB Tom Brady in the third quarter. Welker now has 105 receptions for the season. Welker finished with 112 in 2007 and 111 in 2008. Welker joins Marvin Harrison (4), Jerry Rice (3) and Herman Moore (3) as the only NFL players to catch 100 passes in three consecutive seasons.