A comfortable win, for a change.
The New England Patriots' late-game struggles have been a topic of much discussion, but the unspoken truth of that topic is that it hasn't been a topic for years, with the Patriots rolling over their opponents on a regular basis.
Those outcomes had become a distant memory this year, with one nail-biter after another. This week, the Patriots allowed their fans to breathe a little easier in the final 15 minutes of regulation.
That's a gimme against the St. Louis Rams, right? Not necessarily, looking back at nailbiters against the Arizona Cardinals, Seattle Seahawks and New York Jets. These aren't the Patriots of old, but this isn't the NFL of old, either. No longer can any team be considered a lock to beat any other team.
The fact that New England rolled over an opponent it was supposed to roll over, makes you wonder if it has finally hit stride. It's not just that they blew the Rams out, it's how they did it.
New England's offense ranked first in both total points and total yards headed into Sunday's game, but those numbers don't point out the inconsistency the offense has experienced at times this season. That inconsistency was an afterthought on Sunday, with quarterback Tom Brady leading the offense to touchdowns on five consecutive drives to open the game, and seven scores on nine drives total.
It was another banner day in his career, piling up 304 passing yards, four touchdowns, and a 131.1 passer rating. With his 27th game over 300 passing yards and three touchdowns, Brady ties Brett Favre at No. 4 all-time, seven games less than the all-time leader in Saints quarterback Drew Brees.
For all the talk of a slump from tight end Rob Gronkowski, his performance on Sunday tells a different story, with eight receptions for 146 yards and two touchdowns, all leading the team. Wide receiver Brandon Lloyd took strides in getting on the same page with Tom Brady, scoring touchdowns on both of his receptions.
The Patriots were highly successful running the ball as well, picking up 5.4 yards per carry as a team, with both Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen finding the end zone.
The offense was firing on all cylinders, but the real story here is the defense.
Say what you will about the Rams offense, but the Patriots haven't been able to stop anyone from scoring in a while, regardless of the talent level of the opponent. It wasn't exactly the ideal way to get it done, as Rams quarterback Sam Bradford was 15-of-18 at one point, and the first touchdown of the game, a 50-yard reception by Rams receiver Chris Givens, gave the game a sort of deja vu feeling to it.
In the end, though, it was a clinic of Patriots football. The Patriots executed flawlessly on offense in the first half, converting all four of their possessions into touchdowns. They got stops in key situations, specifically on third-down (three of 10) and in the red zone (one failed attempt), adding a pair of late-game interceptions to help seal the deal on the blowout.
Most importantly, at least as far as the narrative of the 2012 Patriots is concerned, the big plays were limited following that opening touchdown, with the Rams picking up a total of three pass plays of 20 or more yards, upping New England's season total to 42 in that category.
That can only be seen as a positive sign, even if it came against a Rams offense that had just 17 pass plays of 20 or more yards to their name prior to Sunday. After all, New England had given up six apiece to the Seahawks and Jets in consecutive weeks, neither of which boasts an explosive offense.
The Patriots couldn't have picked a much better time to find their stride, and now they have their second two-game winning streak of the season with two weeks to get healthy.
With safeties Steve Gregory and Patrick Chung, guard Logan Mankins and tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski all nursing injuries, the Patriots need to get back to full health in a bad way.
This week will be important for them in that regard, but they will also need to self-scout in an effort to develop consistency on both sides of the ball, as they showed against the Rams.
We know the Patriots are capable of taking it to a lesser opponent, let's see them do it against some of the better teams before we say their problems are solved. They'll get two big opportunities to do so later in the season, when they host the San Francisco 49ers and the Houston Texans in back-to-back weeks.
That will be the measure of whether New England is still New England, after all.
Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are obtained firsthand.
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