FOXBORO, MA - NOVEMBER 21: Rob Gronkowski #87 of the New England Patriots celebrates his first touchdown with teammate Tom Brady #12 at Gillette Stadium on November 21, 2011 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
A win is a win in the NFL. Right?
Normally these next-day columns feature a discussion on what was learned about the Patriots in their most recent performance. Yet when a game goes as predictably as last night's disappointingly ordinary match up did, it's hard to manufacture things to get too worked up about.
If you judged last night's game just by the score, there'd probably be a lot of glowing, magnanimous things to say about Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. They scored 34 points on four touchdowns and two field goals in a nationally televised game. They had solid numbers in the air and on the ground, and improved to 7-3 to enter a four way tie for first place in their conference.
Multiple players also had great individual performances.
Tom Brady avoided an interception for the second week in a row and finished with a 109.2 quarterback rating. Julian Edelman exploded to get one of the Pats touchdowns on a punt return. Kyle Arrington improved to an NFL-best 7 interception on the season, and Rob Gronkowski reached 20 career touchdowns faster than any tight end in the history of the league. Even rookie Shane Vereen had a touchdown on the same night that he also had his first NFL carry. Jerod Mayo had one of his better games on the season with 7 solo tackles, and Andre Carter's sack assist brings his season total to 10.
And yet, they did it against a team missing its starting quarterback; a team that has only won four games this season, and only one of those wins was against a team over .500; a team that started Tyler Palko; a former CFL quarterback who finished with zero touchdowns, three interceptions and QB rating of 50. Does the dominance really maintain its value when it comes against the Chiefs, who also lost to a Broncos team quarterbacked by Tim Tebow and his two pass completions?
The win is naturally diluted; though still a necessary and celebratory continuation in the right direction.
The good news is that good teams this year have lost games to bad teams, and the Patriots still haven't. Their losses have come against good teams that have expertly exploited their weakness, which sounds like a backwards compliment; maybe it is. But for right now they are winning the games in which they are the better team, and that's all they can do to keep growing and getting better.
This week, the Chiefs were who we thought they were.
The Patriots were too. Maybe even a little bit better.
That bit of better will have to go up against a tougher team in Philly. Maybe next Monday, we'll have learned a little more about who this team is, and whether their football identity is good enough to take them all the way.