A few weeks ago, following the Patriots' 29-26 overtime victory over the New York Jets, I stated that it was time for a serious reality check. I was of the opinion that we were officially at the point where the defense is what it is and this is what we have to work with for the rest of the season - a porous, yet opportunistic unit that is stout against the run, weak against the pass, and capable of forcing the turnovers needed to give the offense the extra possessions that generate points. Of course, the Pats followed that little rant with a 45-7 drubbing of the St. Louis Rams and once again succeeded in making me look like I have no idea what I'm talking about. And now here we are, coming off what is hands down the team's worst defensive performance of the year, and it would appear that panic mode is once again setting in.
As I've admitted many, many times, I am pretty much Patient Zero when it comes to pessimism, paranoia, negativity, and overreacting on all things Patriots. I'm not overly proud of it, but much like my hairline, gut, and sense of self worth, I've kind of come to grips with it and realized that it is what it is. So it makes total sense that I find the 2012 Patriots almost impossible to watch at times; I'm aware that it isn't a problem that most fans of other teams would give me any sympathy for, but I'm not here to make any apologies for it.
The truth is that I've never really been one to back down; I tend to stand by most of the things that I write here on Pats Pulpit. Hell, I even stand by the things that I write that are just flat out incorrect - my logic is that there are people out there whose greatest joy in life is to scour the internet for errors, and then point out those errors with a smug sense of self-satisfaction. I figured I'm just doing my part to make them happy. But I would like to take this moment of defensive reality check to take back a statement that I have been making since about Week 3 regarding the defense and the team in general.
The Patriots are 100%, all across the board, on all sides of the ball, a Superbowl-caliber team.
There's no need to talk about the offense; they are rolling along as strongly as ever and have shown little signs of stopping. They are putting up insane numbers with a patchwork offensive line and without one of their best offensive weapons. They are the strength of this team, and as long as they are rolling, the Patriots will win games.
And the fact of the matter is that the Pats also have a Superbowl-caliber defense. Is the defense good? No. Is it terrible? At times. But is it better than it was in 2011? Yes it is. It may not seem like it, but the 2012 Patriots are a better unit than the 2011 Patriots were, by a whopping 6 spots. And while being ranked 25th in the league isn't necessarily something to brag about, it's worth noting that, unless last February was just some terrible, terrible nightmare, the Patriots and their 31st ranked defense made it to the Superbowl in 2011. No, they didn't make the stop that they needed to make - but the offense didn't get the conversion it needed to make, either. No team in the NFL puts more emphasis on the word "team" than the New England Patriots does, and I'm as confident in New England's chances to represent the AFC in the Superbowl as I am with any other team in the conference right now. And if that's how I feel, then I can't in good conscience say that this defense isn't capable of making it to New Orleans.
If you want to define "Superbowl caliber" as top-ranked, or stingy, or highly-skilled all across the board, then you're probably going to disagree with me. But I'm going to define the term as "capable of making it to the Superbowl." And personally, I couldn't care less how they get there. If the rest of this season is going to be 38-35 nail-biters that come down to the wire each and every week, so be it. If the defense turns it around, all the better. And while there's no way I'm going to stop whining about the amount of stress this unit causes - I'm dumb, not crazy - you won't hear me say anything about how the Patriots will fare in the playoffs from here on out.