So right off the bat... yeah, I'm cheating. I know, I'm not supposed to hand out the game ball to two separate players, but this week, I'm making an exception.
For the first time in multiple years, it appears that the Patriots defense won the team a game on Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys. Of course, the offense came through in the clutch and were effective moving the ball up and down the field throughout the game, but I don't think many will question that is was the defense that bailed the offense out time and time again.
It seemed that whenever the Patriots needed a big stop on third down or in the red zone, the defense would come up with the big play needed. The two biggest defensive stand-outs from the Patriots 20-16 victory over Dallas: linebacker Brandon Spikes and defensive end Andre Carter (Vince Wilfork was a very close third).
Brandon Spikes played a career high 67 snaps on Sunday, while recording a total of 8 tackles. But Spikes' impact went well beyond the stat line. The Patriots "unleashed" Spikes in a sense - they let him blitz 11 different times. And it seemed that on almost every blitz, Spikes would pressure the quarterback, redirect a run, or blow up a run altogether. Spikes consistently destroyed Cowboys' center Phil Costa play in and play out. If there is a silver lining to the Jerod Mayo knee injury, it's that the Patriots have learned that Brandon Spikes is a three down player. Spikes got off to a slow start with an undisclosed injury in training camp, but it seems that he is now one of the Patriots most valuable defenders.
Defense end Andre Carter also had a game to remember for the Patriots on Sunday. This year, he's played and started all six games for the Patriots. He picked up a half sack in the season opener, and while he had produced a lot of pressures since, he hadn't recorded another sack prior to Sunday's game. But it was on Sunday that Carter's consistent play finally paid off in the form of sacks. In addition to looking solid against the run and picking up five tackles, Carter also recorded two sacks. One of the sacks was a touchdown saving one with the Patriots up by 3 in the third quarter and the Cowboys within the Patriots 10 yard line. So far this season, Carter has shown that he can be a leader in the locker room, and that he can be a consistent player on the field. Like Spikes, he's developed into a very valuable starter for the Patriots.
The bottom line is this: If the Patriots can continue to get the production they are seeing out of Andre Carter and Brandon Spikes, their defense will be that much better as the season progresses. And lets not forget, the strides that these two have helped the Pats defense make have been without All-Pro linebacker Jerod Mayo, who should return next Sunday against the Steelers.