By Michael Felger
Whether it encouraged you or not, whether you were more frustrated or entertained, Thursday's 45-24 Thanksgiving Day victory in Detroit is just the way it's going to have to be for the Patriots.
Just about all the pressure is on Tom Brady and the offense. It's not fair, because it's the Patriots defense that deserves the scrutiny. It's that side of the ball that deserves to be criticized and held to the fire.
Unfortunately, I don't know if you can expect much more out of it than what we're currently getting, which is the occasional turnover and not much else. Make no mistake, we'll take those turnovers. They were the difference last week against Indianapolis and they were plays that really turned the tide Thursday in Detroit. Those takeaways are accutally signs of progress.
But let's face facts. The Patriots defense isn't very good right now. The Pats can't stop anybody. They can't get off the field on third down and they simply can't cover the middle. It doesn't matter if it's Peyton Manning or Shaun Hill, you can throw on the Patriots. And there are times you can run on them, too.
The Lions did both to the Pats on Thursday. They had their way with New England, just as the Colts did for long stretches last Sunday. Just as you should expect any halfway decent offense in any halfway decent conditions to do from this point forward.
That's why it's all on Brady. That's why it's all on Deion Branch and Wes Welker and the rookie tight ends. That's why it's all on BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Danny Woodhead and the offensive line.
It was the failure of those offensive players that nearly led to another devestating Colts comeback against the Pats last week.
And it was the success of those offensive players that delivered Thursday's wild victory.
It wasn't just about the numbers, although there were certainly some impressive ones. Brady had four touchdowns and a perfect quarterback rating (158.3). Branch and Welker each had a pair of touchdowns. Green-Ellis averaged nearly five yards a carry and also scored twice.
No, it wasn't just about those fantasy stats. It was about how the offense delivered situationally.
They got the ball on a late possession in the second quarter, trailing 14-3, and they scored a touchdown.
They got the ball early in the third quarter after Devin McCourty's first interception, trailing by seven, and they scored a touchdown.
They got the ball late in the third, again trailing by seven, and they scored a touchdown.
Then they scored touchdowns the last four times they got the ball (not including the kneeldown).
Forty-five points on the board. You kids on defense can check back in with us later.
Can the Patriots make it to the Super Bowl this way? I think the answer is obvious:
Sure. Why not? The Pats have now beaten Baltimore, San Diego on the road, Pittsburgh on the road and Indianapolis. Who in the AFC are they going to face tougher than those teams? Maybe the Jets are that squad. I guess we'll find out next Monday night.
The point is that this is a different era in the NFL. Defense no longer wins championships. You can get by with simply having an opportunisitic one, just like the one the Saints had last season. And just like the one the Pats believe they have right now.
But that formula only works if your offense closes games when it gets the chance. That didn't happen last week against Indianapolis, and the Pats were fortunate to win that one.
But it did Thursday in Detroit, and the Pats got what they deserved.
Read Felger's report card on Saturday. E-mail him here and read the mailbag on Thursdays. Listen to him on the radio weekdays, 2-6 p.m, on 98.5 5 the Sports Hub.