Despite another trip to the Super Bowl following the 2011 campaign, Patriot Nation was disheartened by the glaring contrast between their high power offense led by Tom Brady and the anemic defense whose only competition was for dead last in the entire league.
As good as the New England passing game was, the defense was equally poor. Even rookie sensation Devin McCourty looked lost and confused in his sophomore stint.
So we all know what Belichick and company did - go out and get the best possible defenders in the first round of the draft. Although sack leaders Mark Anderson and Andre Carter are no longer in the picture, a combination of new and old faces make up the Patriot defensive side of the field.
We can start with the bevy of first year guys who are making their mark this season; several new faces are either starting or coming in on sub packages to make an impact on opposing quarterbacks, running backs, and receivers. While both offense and defense are noticeably younger this year, it is clearly the defensive side that shows a greater energy and field presence compared with last season.
Everyone had high expectations for first rounders Donta' Hightower and Chandler Jones, and Tavon Wilson, Nate Ebner, and Alphonzo Dennard are showing flashes of the ball-hawking secondary for which Bill Belichick defenses have historically been known.
Add in second and third year guys like Ras-I Dowling (who lost most of his first year to injury), Brandon Deaderick, Jermaine Cunningham, Sterling Moore, and Kyle Love and this is an extremely young but talented unit that, unlike last year, will continue to improve. Guys with questionable performance last year are making strides.
Newcomer safety Steven Gregory is fitting in nicely, along with Patrick Chung and linebacking beasts Spikes and Mayo.
But who can ignore Vince Wilfork, as well as one of my favorites, Rob Ninkovich, who is showing why he is a versatile player. Is this one of the best defensive units in football? Well, that may be a bit premature. It certainly is one of the best in recent Patriot history. We may not even see the gaudiest numbers in terms of sacks and interceptions, but this unit appears to have what it takes to give opposing offensive coordinators headaches.
In two successive weeks, the Patriot defense stifled two very good running games, despite allowing a little more than comfortable passing yards. Both games resulted in wins.
The two previous weeks saw close losses to the Ravens and Cardinals; but the defense again managed to keep it close, especially against Arizona, who barely gained enough yards to qualify as a full game. Yet it was the Patriot offense that failed to take advantage of its opportunities. And week 1 was just a strong performance by all, making New England the obvious superior squad.
What Patriot fans can take from all of this is that you can't hold Belichick down for long. He knows how to put together a team. And defense will always be his baby.
Props to young and old(er) alike on a great start to an interesting season. While there have been upsets and surprises, New England fans the world over can rest assured that their defense is rising to the top where they belong.