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Brandon Spikes: Difference Maker

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In the 2011-12 NFL playoffs, Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes has undoubtedly been one of the biggest difference makers for the Patriots defense.

Against the Broncos in the Divisional Playoffs, Spikes recorded six tackles, a sack, and a pass defensed.

Yesterday against the Ravens, Spikes recorded nine total tackles and a huge fourth quarter interception. Spikes was instrumental in the Patriots' defense of Ray Rice. He came up huge on several run stops, playing 52 snaps, and often blowing up blockers.

But it wasn't all glory for Spikes yesterday. With the Ravens driving in the fourth quarter, Spikes was knocked straight into the ground by fullback Vonta Leach on a Ray Rice run. While it wasn't a good play for Spikes, he showed excellent mental toughness, responding the very next play by coming up with an interception that seemingly put the Patriots in control of the game.

After the game, Spikes seemed enthused by the turn of events, saying that it was "just great. As a man, you're measured when you get knocked down, how you respond after you get knocked down. On that pick - actually the play before, Leach had done a great job - my respect to him - he knocked me on my butt. And the next play, I was able to make the play on the ball. It just felt great. You just gotta respond when you get knocked down on the ground."

If it hadn't been clear before the playoffs, it should be now for Patriots fans: Brandon Spikes is becoming a special player for this New England defense. Once Spikes became a three-down player starting in week five against the Jets, the Patriots showed a notable improvement defensively.

In fact, the Patriots were actually playing a terrific defensive game against the Giants in week nine before Spikes went down with a sprained MCL early in the third quarter (the Patriots had shut the Giants out in the first half). The Patriots went on to allow 14 fourth quarter points to the Giants, losing in the final seconds on a Jake Ballard one yard touchdown catch from Eli Manning.

Spikes would then miss the next seven weeks of the regular season with a sprained MCL. He returned in the second quarter of the season finale against the Bills when the Patriots were already behind 21-0. After his return to the field, the Patriots pitched a shutout the rest of the way.

A statistical look at Spikes' impact after the jump!

In fact, if you look at the Patriots' "point per quarter" statistics with Spikes in the game since week five (when Spikes became an every down player), the results are rather eye-opening:

Opponent

Points Per Quarter

Jets

4.75

Cowboys

4

Giants

3.33

Bills

0

Broncos

2.5

Ravens

5

TOTAL

3.4 (13.6 PPG)

I'm not trying to say that Brandon Spikes is the best player in the league, or even the best player on the Patriots defense, or anything along those lines. But there is no denying that he has become a real difference maker for the Patriots, and that his presence helps the entire unit play better. Not surprisingly, the two games that the Patriots won this year due to their defense (Cowboys, Ravens), were Spikes' two best games of the year.

The bottom line: The Patriots defense is a lot better when Spikes is out there. The Patriots really missed him when he was out for seven weeks. Now, he's back and healthy, and the Patriots defense is playing the best they have all year.