Heading into the 2012 NFL season, the New England Patriots were expected to repeat as AFC champions. Anything less would be seen as a failure. But through the first seven games, the Patriots have not looked like the same team from last season. On Sunday they finally showed signs that they could meet these lofty expectations.
After an offseason of questions about who would return and who would be healthy, the Patriots started the regular season with much of the team that won the AFC last season. But the season didn’t start as expected. After a strong win over the Tennessee Titans, the Patriots lost two straight games by last second field goals to the Arizona Cardinals and Baltimore Ravens. After a second half rally in Buffalo got the team back to .500 and an impressive win over the Denver Broncos, the Patriots looked to be back on track.
But the wheels fell off again the next week when the Patriots blew another fourth quarter lead to lose by one to the Seattle Seahawks. The next week against the New York Jets, the Patriots led by ten after three quarters but crumbled before coming back to win that game in overtime. Many questioned if this team had the ability to play as they were expected to.
On Sunday, they showed signs of what is expected of them. Maybe it was because of the London air.
The story of the Patriots this season has been their inability to finish off games. They have been a completely different team in the fourth quarter of games than the first three. While the offense leads the league in both yards and scoring, they’ve been unable to move the ball at the end of games. It’s a sight before unseen with Tom Brady at the helm.
On Sunday, not much went wrong for the Patriots. After ending the first quarter at 7-7, the Patriots outscored the St. Louis Rams 38-0 for the remainder of the game. The run included a 21 point second quarter and a rare fourth quarter touchdown.
The problem with the Patriots offense this season is that players have not looked like themselves, but on Sunday they did. Brady had a stellar game, going 23-35 for 304 yards and four touchdowns and no interceptions. Rob Gronkowski looked like an All-Pro for the first time this season, catching eight passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns. Stevan Ridley put together an astounding rushing performance for the first year starter, turning 15 carries into 127 yards and a touchdown.
The defense Sunday played as well as they had all year. Other than Chris Givens’ 50-yard touchdown on the opening drive, the passing defense was able to hold Sam Bradford to just 205 yards passing despite completing 75 percent of his passes. The rushing defense did as they were expected and shut down the Rams ground game, holding Steven Jackson to just 23 yards.
Despite their slow start, the Patriots are expected to and have the capability to repeat as AFC champions. It remains to be seen how the team will respond as they go into their bye week. But if Sunday is any indication, the Patriots may finally be ready to meet their high expectations.