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Game Recap: Patriots defeat Panthers, 20-10 and find new identity

"We knew he was going to shut it down," Panthers cornerback Chris Gamble told me after the game. "That's what we wanted to do him. That's what we did. ... He'd just give up a lot ... Slow down, he's not going deep, not trying to run a route. You can tell, his body language." Gamble continued ... "I know everyone who plays against him, they can sense that. Once you get into him in the beginning of the game, he shuts it down a little bit."

It was an ugly win but a win none the less.  Would I have preferred stellar, blowout, 2007-type play?  You betcha.  Would I have loved to see Moss connecting with Wonderboy on a long bomb or two?  Sure.  Is it going to happen this year?  I don't think it will.  So what do we have?  What's going on that leads us to a glimmer of hope for the current incarnation of the New England Patriots?

I wrote at the beginning of training camp that I was so tired of all the hoopla surrounding Tom Brady's return.  I was so sick of the ESPN/SI/Whatever... lovefest that I wanted to vomit.  Every rival blogger I corresponded with would ask me what I thought and my catch phrase was, "Cautiously optimistic."  The media billed the return of Tom Brady as the Return of the King (my guess is the Hobbits were named Wes and Julian, but I digress).  Bleh.  In reality, this is a team that for the first 2/3 of the season struggled to be a 2007 incarnation of itself.  The difference?  There were many, but I'll give you 2: Jabbar Gaffney and Donte Stallworth.

Neither of them is a stellar receiver, but they were lethal as #3 and #4 guys.  Put Moss, Welker, Gaffney, and Stallworth on the field and you likely witnessed grown men on the opposition soiling themselves.  Technically, it's called "spreading the field".  I called it a freakin' JSF aerial assault.  The biggest threat today?  Well, other than Wes Welker, who's making a case for the best wide receiver of 2009, you have special teamer Sam Aiken and rookie Julian "Broken Forearm" Edelman.  Hmm...  What could be wrong, what could be wrong?

I had every intention of writing a full fledged game recap with stats and play-by-play analysis and things and stuff, but my ADHD brain got in the way (did you know the third of an Aminor is a C?).  Where was I... Recap, things, stuff... Oh Yeah!  This is a team that has struggled all year to find its identity.  The absolute "broadside of a barn" misses with Greg Lewis and Joey Galloway cost us dearly.  The loss of veteran RB Fred Taylor cost us dearly.  Playcalling  lost its creativity.  I truly felt like this team was a ship without a rudder.  Until this past Sunday, that is.  No, I'm not delusional enough think the ship has been righted, but I do think they're beginning to find their way.  Why?  Read on, my captivated friends.

For most of the season, we have complained this team can't finish a game.  They wrack up a crapload of points in the first half and then fizzle out in the second.  We've seen it time and time again in big games against the Colts and Dolphins, to name a few.  And it was true.  Our New England Patriots seemed to have ZERO staying power.  This past Sunday, however, I saw something that gave me hope.  It was a running game.  Bill Belichick has finally realized that his passing attack is not what it used to be, that Tom Brady bombs to Randy Moss are not going to work.  So he put Laurence Maroney, Sammy Morris, and Kevin Faulk to work.  They ate turf, they fought, they grinded to the tune of 187 yards and 1 TD.  Finally, coach Belichick didn't abandon the running game.  Oh, and did I mention TE Benjamin Watson scored the other TD?  I have been whining that Brady needs to find Watson more often and gets the ball to him for 6.  Coach?  Call me anytime.  Keep it coming, would be my advice.

Only time will tell, but I think they're finally finding their identity.  They're abandoning 2007 and facing the cold, hard reality of what they have to work with.  Let's hear it for the 2009 Patriots!!!