November 16, 2010

Tom Caron: Aerial assault has Pats atop the NFL


Can a two-loss football team be on a roller-coaster ride?

Tom Brady, James Harrison
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Tom Brady is 6-1 in his career against Pittsburgh. He threw for 350 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions Sunday against the Steelers.

The Associated Press


WHO: Patriots (7-2) vs. Indianapolis Colts (6-3)

WHEN: 4:15 p.m. Sunday

WHERE: Gillette Stadium

TELEVISION: Channel 13

The New England Patriots certainly are. Today, the Pats once again sit on top of the world. Or, at least, at the top of the NFL.

After Sunday night's impressive 39-26 win in Pittsburgh, New England is 7-2, tied for the best record in the league.

Who saw this coming? The Pats had been embarrassed in Cleveland, a 31-14 mistake by the lake that left New England 4-8 on the road since the start of 2009.

To be an elite team, you have to win on the road. That's what made Sunday night's win in the Steel City so impressive -- and so important.

Tom Brady has had some of the best games of his incredible career in Pittsburgh, and Sunday night is among them.

He threw for 350 yards and three touchdowns, and even ran one in from 3 yards out to show the world his ailing foot was doing just fine.

Including playoffs, he is now 6-1 against Pittsburgh.

More than anything, Sunday night's win reminded us that every team in the AFC has flaws. Pittsburgh put the league's best defense on the field Sunday night, and was ready to stop a team that had struggled to establish the run all year.

New England didn't exactly grind the ball on the ground, but an 18-yard run from BenJarvis Green-Ellis -- on the team's first rushing attempt of the game -- put the Steelers on notice.

Make no mistake, the success of the offense came in the air (Brady threw 43 passes), but Green-Ellis and company became the first group to rush for more than 100 yards against the Steelers this season.

That success allowed Brady to set up the play-action fakes that led to key completions in the second half.

And so the Pats have a leg up on the Steelers, a team they could be battling with for a first-round bye.

And now they get ready for another AFC heavyweight -- and another team with flaws.

The Colts are in Foxborough Sunday afternoon, and are 6-3 after a 23-17 win over the Bengals.

They sit atop the AFC South despite a slew of injuries. Against Cincinnati, Peyton Manning threw for just 185 yards, the lowest yardage total in a game for him in nearly two years.

Tight end Dallas Clark, running back Joseph Addai, and receivers Anthony Gonzalez and Austin Collie are out.

With all those injuries, it would seem like a perfect time to welcome Manning to town.

Yet the Colts have won four of their last five games after a 2-2 start, and hold just a one-game lead over Jacksonville and Tennessee in the battle for the division lead.

Their defense forced five turnovers Sunday, and scored as many touchdowns as the once-vaunted Indy offense.

In other words, the Colts are a flawed team.

Just like the Steelers, the Jets, the Ravens and all the teams hovering around .500 in the AFC West.

It's a wide-open conference race, and the team that can withstand its flaws the best will come out on top.

That's what the Pats did in Pittsburgh Sunday night.

It wasn't perfect -- the Steelers kept creeping back into it long after the game should've been put to bed -- but it was certainly good enough for a win.

And the Patriots once again look good enough to sit atop the AFC.


Tom Caron is the studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network. His column appears in the Press Herald on Tuesdays.


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