Tale of two seasons: 2013 Patriots edition

AP Photo/Elise Amendola
The Patriots have always seemed to reach the potential and expectations that are set upon them once December comes around. Whether its coaching adjustments or maybe scheming philosophies that the team has finally settled into, this is a team that thrives towards the second half of the regular season when the stakes are a little bit higher. We've seen this countless times over the past few years. This season however, the Patriots came into the season with what could be argued as one of their weakest offenses in recent memory on top of an injury plagued defense; though the panic button was not pressed, this was not the Patriots team we were used to. This was a team that many analysts had low expectations for.

Any offense led by Tom Brady is at least a top 5 offense in the league right? For the first half of this season, that was not the case. The receiving core was the elephant in the room; Julian Edelmand was suddenly Brady's #1 receiver when coveted free agent Danny Amendola suffered a somewhat expected injury. Rob Gronkowski was recovering from multiple surgeries, Wes Welker went to Denver, Deion Branch is gone and Aaron Hernandez is incarcerated. Brady led the offense that featured Stevan Ridley at running back who has a serious fumbling problem. Shane Vereen filled in and caused jaws to drop with his great game on opening day, but he also fell to injury. To sum up the performance of rookie wide receiver Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins, they simply were not on the same page as Brady. This offense was struggling.

On the plus side, the young defense was actually bailing this team out of tough situations. Looking like a defense that could seriously intimidate opponents, Jerod Mayo and company were taking a stance and some could say they carried the team while Brady and the offense were trying to find their groove. Then Mayo fell. . . and Vince Wilfork . . . Steve Gregory and Tommy Kelly too. The team's best cornerback Aqib Talib has battled a hip injury all season. This defensive unit that was originally the rock that laid the foundation for the 2013 Patriots was suddenly vulnerable. They are not a liability, but after letting up 30+ points in 3 of the last 4 games (including 31 points to the 29th ranked Houston Texans offense) they look like they are being exposed. Regardless of the injuries and stats that are being thrown up, this defense has made multiple crucial stops against opponents including holding the Broncos #1 offense to just 1 touchdown in the second half and overtime. The classic Patriots 'bend-but-don't-break' nickname for the defense still applies in this situation.

As for the offense, they look to be taking continued strides towards success. Gronk is healthy, Amendola is back, Edelman continues to impress and the rookie WR's are making fairly significant contributions as well. Though Ridley is still having fumbling issues, Vereen is back and healthy while LeGarrette Blount has proven himself as a valuable asset and Brandon Bolden chimes in here and there. Tom Brady finally has all of his weapons and this offense is now firing on all cylinders. Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels, who took some heat at the beginning of the year has established a balanced offensive approach that allows for deadly play-action passes by Brady. In the last four games the team has averaged 35.75 points.

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With the playoffs right around the corner, the Patriots are doing what they always do; find their stride in December. Head coach Bill Belichick is again being praised for another spectacular season thus far while Tom Brady has suddenly thrust himself into MVP talks. The Patriots right now have the #2 seed in the AFC, which would give them a first round bye week. Remember this though, many teams struggle to play in the New England weather that is only going to get even colder come January. You can count on the Pats still chasing the #1 seed so that the road to the Super Bowl would go through Foxboro.
Stats via NFL.com

Anthony Aidonidis