On a beautiful afternoon in Foxboro, the stage was set for a scoring fest between the Cowboys and Patriots.
The results weren’t pretty, but with Tom Brady flashing his signature comeback ability, New England secured its 20th consecutive home victory.
Sitting at 5-1 heading into its bye week, the Pats will have a chance for some key players to heal up, but before that, let’s take a look at the key performers on Sunday.
1. Brandon Spikes: The former Florida Gator showed why he was once regarded as a first-round talent early in his collegiate career. The 6-foot-2, 250-pounder made the most of his size and physicality as he recorded six solo tackles, one for a loss and a quarterback hit. After an up and down performance against the Jets, Spikes seemed to play with a lot of confidence and was a definite difference maker as a blitzer and run defender. With more experience and confidence from the coaching staff and himself, Spikes will be an asset moving forward.
2. Andre Carter: Much has been made by the underwhelming contributions from Albert Haynesworth and Shaun Ellis, but Carter has been better than advertised. The no-nonsense Carter has been the Patriots best pass rusher and a plus run defender. Carter came up big for the Pats on Saturday, using his speed to beat first-rounder Tyron Smith for a sack on Tony Romo on third down. He also recorded four solo tackles, including two for loss.
3. Tom Brady: If not for the final drive, Brady could have been in the fallers category. I guess winning solves everything, right? The reigning MVP was pressured by Demarcus Ware and Co. all day long, but engineered a signature game-winning drive to put the knife in the Ryan Brothers coffins. Brady showed terrific accuracy on the final drive, fitting the ball into tight windows against good coverage. It certainly wasn’t Brady’s best statistical day, and his two interceptions were bad decisions, but he showed why he Tony Romo isn’t in his class: he comes up in the clutch.
1. Pass protection: For the second straight week, the offensive line did not give Brady good protection. While some of that can be attributed to the Ryan brothers, there were some plays where guys were beaten one-on-one. Logan Mankins was beaten with a swim move by Marcus Spears for a sack, and Ware abused Matt Light for one of his two sacks with a speed rush. Nate Solder has also been up and down, although he’s been solid as a rookie.
2. Tackling by secondary: It’s been a consistent problem for this undersized group. Last year’s rookie sensation, Devin McCourty, simply hasn’t been making the plays he did in 2010. Laurent Robinson broke McCourty’s tackle attempt en route for a big gain. Pat Chung laid some big hits, but also missed some easy ones. Bigger receivers continue to give the Pats some problems, although they won’t be facing two elite receivers like Dez Bryant and Miles Austin weekly.