GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

October 31, 2012

Pats have AFC right where they want them

On Pro Football Hector Longo
Gloucester Daily Times

---- — At 5-3, chests-a-pounding, the New England Patriots hit the bye week and the mid-point of the 2012, “right where we want to be.”

At least according to Vince Wilfork.

Judging by the AFC landscape, I’m inclined to embrace the big fella’s assessment. It has little to do with Sunday’s 45-7 dismantling of Sam Bradford and the Rams over in Jolly, Old England.

Sure, that was a pretty show for the folks across the pond, but this team’s first half had even the most ardent backers of New England football – you know, the guys who threaten my existence every time I name Jerod Mayo a “no show” – ripping the secondary, Josh McDaniels, even their Chosen One, Tom Brady.

Folks have been wrong to turn on this football team, in spite of the secondary.

Honestly, look at the AFC now.

Miami trails the Pats by one-half game in the AFC East, but that might as well be a 20-game spread.

In blitzing the Jets Sunday, Miami lost QB Ryan Tannehill to a twisted knee, issuing a new lease on life to Matt Moore. That sentence should sum up the Dolphins’ chances, but something tells me when the two teams meet on Dec. 2, Miami’s dreams of an AFC East upset will be dashed.

Seriously, New England’s road to New Orleans and Super Bowl XLVII seems almost cut and dried.

New England will see the survivor of the annual Pittsburgh/Baltimore war of attrition, then take to the road for an AFC title date at Houston.

Does that playoff fate strike fear in anyone’s heart right now? Houston is nice, everyone’s choice after the quick start.

Can Matt Schaub and the offense stay healthy for 16 games plus playoffs? And what about that defense? J.J. Watt looks unstoppable one week against Mark Sanchez and the Jets. But did anyone notice the 42 points that Aaron Rodgers put on the Texans a week later?

Clearly, all the exterior factors point to the Patriots.

There’s more, though. Three huge factors on this football team itself point to brighter news in the second half.

First, it’s the impact that Chandler Jones has had. The rookie from Syracuse has been the defensive MVP over the first half, a huge part of the Pats’ +13 turnover margin for the year.

There aren’t many playmakers, but he and fellow rookie Dont’a Hightower are two of them. Forget his 17-yard trip sack Sunday, a play in which St. Louis chose not to block him.

We call those freebie sacks Ninkoviches.

It’s the amount of times Jones defeats blocks and gets to the QB or runner. It’s a trait no defender has had here since the Bruschis and Vrabels moved on.

Jones’ won’t stop this defense from getting roasted repeatedly. But he will make a difference a couple times a game. That will be all Tom Brady needs.

Secondly, there is the explosiveness of this offense.

Shame on the Pats fans for roasting Brady and blasting Brandon Lloyd after one tough week. This offense is fine. When Wes Welker says, “We just need to get our swagger back,” you know this offense is fine.

Health-wise, the bye week will be huge for Aaron Hernandez, Welker, Lloyd and even Rob Gronkowski. This was more like the offense in 2007 yesterday with McDaniels going for the jugular early through the air and sealing the lid with Stevan Ridley and the running game.

This offense remains the best, if not still the most consistent, in the game.

And finally, there is Bill Belichick, who week in and week out remains ahead of the opposition.

Belichick’s teams win divisional games (27-7 since 2002) and they win when it matters (41-5 in December since 2002).

It’s been an oft-ugly, at times painful first half for Pats fans.

But Big Vince is right.

At 5-3, the Pats have the rest of the AFC right where they want them.