Monday, December 8, 2008

Stayin' alive

It wasn't pretty. But at this point in the season, it rarely is.

After seemingly waiting three quarters for their game to complete the trip to the west coast, the New England Patriots staged a fourth-quarter rally to defeat the Seattle Seahawks, 24-21.

Entering December, it was clear that the Patriots had to win out to have a reasonable chance at the playoffs. Against the lowly Seahawks, it seemed to be an easy way to kick off the high-pressure month. It was anything but.

The same old problems re-emerged. The defense showed its age in its inability to stop the quicker players on the field (such as quarterback Seneca Wallace and wide receiver Deion Branch - remember him?), and an overmatched secondary was again the reason behind New England's inability to stop Seattle on third down.

Another problem - injuries - again hit the Pats hard. Venerable linebacker Tedy Bruschi left the game with a knee injury, forcing Rosevelt Colvin and Junior Seau, who weren't on the team a week ago, onto a lot sooner and more often than expected.

But unlike the Pittsburgh game a week ago, the same old strengths were there to take control of the game late. The defense, led by Brandon Meriweather and Jerod Mayo, made crucial drive stops late in the game, allowing Wes Welker, who returned from a vicious hit to make 12 catches for 134 yards, and Matt Cassel to march down the field.

The Patriots had to work for the victory, however. Wallace had thrown for three touchdowns, two to former Patriot Branch, by the fourth quarter, and New England was down, 21-13.

With the season in the balance, Cassel responded. He drove the Patriots deep into Seattle territory, resulting in a Stephen Gostkowski field goal. Taking over again after a critical New England stop, Cassel's second drive was better than the first. He completed a 13-yard pass to Welker on third down, then hit Welker again with a 25-yard pass that brought New England to the Seattle 6-yard line.

On fourth-and-goal, Sammy Morris scored on a one-yard run for the go-ahead score, with - who else - Welker catching the two-point conversion for the final points.

Though the game was closer than anticipated, the Patriots showed the traits of a playoff team late in the game. The defense, which adjusted to the Bruschi injury admirably and professionally, shut out the Seahawks when it was needed the most, and the offense did the rest to keep the Patriots alive in a suddenly deadlocked AFC East.

The playoffs still aren't a certainty. New England needs help. But at this point, it's good to see that the Patriots are helping themselves.

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