Better than one could’ve dreamed
PHILADELPHIA - Put aside any talk about whether there is enough talent on the Patriots’ defense to win a championship.
It doesn’t matter what anyone says or thinks. The results will speak for themselves once New England plods its way through the great Stiff Row Fall Tour of 2011 (Next stop Curtis Painter!) and enters the playoffs.
The answer will be unequivocal.
Until then, let’s deal with what we do know.
Quarterback Tom Brady is better than just about anybody he’ll go up against, especially now that his bone bruise and associated tendinitis near his throwing elbow has subsided.
And Bill Belichick is putting together another season that further enhances his well-earned reputation for being the best coach alive.
Because of both, the Patriots have a chance this season and every other.
The Patriots’ 38-20 victory over the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field yesterday was merely the latest example.
What Belichick has done this year is something to behold.
What we have, after 11 games, is a defense that is resilient and improving.
At linebacker, starters Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes have missed time. In the secondary, Kyle Arrington is the only starter to be a constant.
Even at full strength, the talent level on the defense is something of a joke around league personnel circles.
Yet here are the Patriots, tied for the best record in the AFC at 8-3.
Belichick the general manager hasn’t done a bang-up job. But at least he gets the right type of players, the kind who can take coaching and assimilate into a team.
Other players around the league notice.
“One thing you know about the Patriots forever is that Belichick brings in Belichick guys,’’ said Eagles defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins, who won a Super Bowl with the Packers last season. “People who are going to fight their butts off, work their butts off.
“In some instances you bring in people that have to work their way from the bottom up, undrafted free agents or this or that. I personally know what it’s like and what kind of attitude that you have to have as that kind of player. Then some of the veterans that you have or bring in are hungry veterans, people that want to win. I just think that everybody buys into the team attitude.’’
Jenkins was an undrafted free agent and even went to NFL Europe to earn his keep. He’s been hungry his whole life.
Junkyard dogs know what another looks like.
And Jenkins sees the desire in these Patriots.
He’s probably not seeing it in his own locker room, where the Dream Team has turned into a comical nightmare of undisciplined, shoddy play.
The Eagles are the opposite of the Patriots. They are paper champions with seemingly limitless talent.
Yet they’re 4-7 and now playing out the string.
What was that about the talent on this Patriots defense?
Talent is nice, and you need it to win the ultimate title. But if you get the right guys, like the Patriots do, and then coach them up, the heart of a lion is going to devour a paper tiger.
There were some shaky moments on defense to start this season - to say the least. You’ve never seen a Belichick team make that many mental mistakes very early.
There were blown coverages all over the place because of poor communication. Basic techniques weren’t being executed. Missed tackles accounted for way too many hidden yards.
Some of it had to do with the lockout. Some of it had to do with less-than-stellar coaching from the assistants.
But in the past few weeks, the level of execution on the defense has come a long way.
“I think there’s some things that are better, but it seems like we’re just trying to catch up here,’’ Belichick said when asked about the execution. “We’re kind of on the treadmill. If it isn’t one guy, it’s somebody else, guys going in and out at linebacker and secondary. It makes it hard to get some continuity and some consistency, and then something else happens and we just have to fight through it.
“But individually, yes [the execution is better]. Collectively, I don’t know, yes and no. Hopefully we can progress quicker.’’
According to several team sources, Belichick took more of a personal interest in the defense after the embarrassing 25-17 loss to the Steelers Oct. 30 when the bottom fell out.
Bill Parcells, Belichick’s former boss, often relates the story about how when he was a college assistant, his head coach told him that if the players aren’t executing properly, then it’s because they aren’t being taught properly.
Belichick stepped in to make sure his players were getting the right instruction, and the results have been dramatic over the past four games.
Even yesterday it was far from perfect - safety Sterling Moore wasn’t in position to give the help cornerback Antwaun Molden was counting on during DeSean Jackson’s 44-yard reception on the second drive of the game - but the progress has been remarkable.
Players are where they’re supposed to be. They are making most of the plays expected of them. And they are mentally tough. They have invested more.
“Each individual took it upon themselves to get better in that category because we know how much communication we have to do, and it’s challenging at times,’’ said defensive lineman Vince Wilfork. “It’s a lot on our plate but guys step up. They take the extra time to get stuff, come in on a day off, get together with their unit, and then come to practice and put it all together. They take that time out as a professional, so a lot of credit goes to these guys.
“I think everybody sees the big picture. It’s not about one individual, it’s about this unit. What can you do to help this unit? That’s what we need to do, and guys have been doing that. Have to continue to do that. That’s one area we always harp on, communication, making sure we know what we’re doing and making sure everyone out there knows what they’re doing. You have to be ready to make that change.’’
Because Belichick and the players altered the course, the Patriots have a chance.
That’s all any team wants.
Ask the Eagles.
They were the Dream Team.
The Patriots, because of their makeup, are the ones still dreaming.
Greg A. Bedard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GregABedard.