But that's exactly what I found myself saying today as the Patriots scored 20 unanswered points against Miami and took a key victory to stay alive in the division. They remain behind the 3-1 Jets, (who knocked off Tennessee today--ouch!) but kept their record positive at 3-2.
In fact, most of the rookie players, like Jerod Mayo last week and Brandon Meriweather this week (1 INT and some punishing hits, much better than his halfhearted tackles last game) look like they're putting it together. BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Sammy Morris have been a multidimensional one-two punch in the running game behind Kevin Faulk. New England put in another balanced and productive offensive day today, with more than 500 total yards for the second week in a row, the first time that has happened in Patriots history.
Meanwhile, the defense remains a relative vulnerability for the Patriots, and had New England playing tic-tac-toe on the scoreboard with the Fins early on. The offensive surge at the end covered it up, and the defense did buckle down to make it stick, but 28 points is 28 points, and an unprecedented third week of 500 yards shouldn't be what we're staking our game plan on for the Steelers next week. A game like today's feels good, but this division has also become much more of a dogfight than it ever was last year.
Overall, the season has taken on an odd ambivalence with the last two games, themselves a split decision. It hasn't always been pretty, and the team is far from perfection. But they have not lacked for determination, conviction and individual responsibility. It's not even a matter of players saying the right things to press; you can see that they are not making or giving excuses regardless of injuries, experience, strengths and weaknesses, or opponents, just by how they act on the field. Particular players (e.g. Meriweather) are showing visible improvements from one week to the next. They, like their coach, work at football for its own sake, and to be a football player, regardless of position on field or depth chart, is to maintain that devotion.
Impossible to know how things will turn out in the end. But for now, that in and of itself is an admirable thing to watch.
In pettier news, there is a vindictive little silver lining to the fact that most of the Patriots' success today came on offense, because that means it was Joey Porter, among others, who had the worst day today. I keep thinking opposing players are going to stop giving the Pats bulletin board material at some point, but there's always a Joey Porter. And seeing the Patriots once again brushing off his comments in the papers and then delivering 20 unanswered points as a formal reply to his statements on the field is, as always, deeply gratifying.
Which is not to say that the Patriots are Boy Scouts, as we saw when Matt Light took a nutty today on Channing Crowder, grabbing him by the braids and pummeling about the head before both of them were ejected. I'm still not exactly sure what happened there. It looked like Light was definitely out of line, regardless of whether he was provoked, and I wouldn't be totally surprised if he sits next week. But it's also not something you frequently see from him--and there had been squabbles and skirmishes after the whistle for the whole game on both sides. At this point, it's anybody's guess where it came from.