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Patriots win impressive, but hardly convincing

11.22.11 at 1:31 am ET
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Well, are you impressed?

It’s almost an unfair question to ask after Patriots 34, Chiefs 3. It was a win in a game that they couldn’t possibly win in a Big Picture sense. Think about it: If this game was even quasi-competitive for 60 minutes you would spend the two days before Thanksgiving (and probably the two after) reading and listening to 50,000 cover bands taking a shot at the “This team isn’t winning a Super Bowl, folks” classic. The football sky would be falling and falling fast.

And when the Patriots do exactly what they are supposed to do against a sub-.500 team (in the worst division in the conference) with plenty of injuries and a starting quarterback who was released by the California Redwoods of the UFL it’s awfully tough to file it as evidence when trying to build a case for a trip to Indianapolis in February. If this was a group that had your trust this would have been viewed as one of those games good teams win.

But it’s hard to shake the idea that what happened on Monday night meant nothing, was simply another parenthesis before the playoffs, the only games that matter for Belichick and Brady. What do we now know that we didn’t five minutes before kickoff on Monday night? Was there any doubt about the greatness of Rob Gronkowski? Shouldn’t have been, and let’s be clear about this: Gronkowkski is on pace to have the greatest season by any tight end in history — 90 catches, 1,288 yards and 16 touchdowns. Sure, Tom Brady was so-so for the first half, but didn’t he finish with the kind of numbers — 15-of-27, 234 yards, two TDs, 109.2 passer rating — you expected? Andre Carter, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Mark Anderson, Kyle Arrington all had standout performances, but will any of those efforts against this Kansas City team translate when it really matters?

Look, I think it’s absolutely fair to believe that this is a defense that is improving every week. They were terrific for 55 minutes against the Giants, made things miserable for Mark Sanchez last Sunday and held Palko (not exactly Joe Montana — or even Matt Cassel — but what can you do?) to a 49.9 passer rating. Carter is having an All-Pro season, Arrington leads the NFL in interceptions, Jerod Mayo looks really healthy for the first time since his October MCL injury, all positive stuff.

And I think it’s possible that a team can figure it out against mediocre opponents — maybe a light went off for this defense tonight that will spark a run of superior football for the rest of the season. Who knows?

But reality is reality (yup, I get paid for that kind of cutting insight). You and I will not trust this team — particularly this defense — until they put up these kind of numbers in a postseason game, or at least do so against an elite quarterback. Let’s be fair, for all the warm and fuzzies that will be handed out over the next few days the truth is this: The image of Ben Roethlisberger shredding the Patriots three weeks ago will last longer than the image of Tyler Palko lobbing a pass into triple coverage on a fourth-quarter Philip Adams interception (one of the five worst passes in history — he looked like a guy doing a sensational impression of Johnny Damon throwing a football).

And the doubt will linger all the way to the postseason. Why? Take a look at the quarterbacks the Patriots face the rest of the season:

Injured Micheal Vick/Vince Young
Curtis Painter
Rex Grossman
Tim Tebow (and if the Broncos keep winning this game will be flexed to Sunday night)
Matt Moore
Ryan Fitzpatrick (November passer rating of 47.7)

No Brees or Rodgers or Roethlisberger. Again, that’s not the fault of the Patriots. But is there a quarterback on that list that scares you, that is (remember, Vick is injured) anywhere close to that elite class? Nope. And that’s the test this defense ultimately will have to pass.

And there are other questions (the offensive line — Matt Light left Gillette with a boot on his right foot Monday — was terrible again vs. a pathetic Kansas City pass rush), but come on — you still believe that this offense can win a Super Bowl, right? OK, there needs to be a more consistent rushing attack, and Brady has to be protected (raise your hand if you had Bernard Pollard flashbacks with Brady still in the game  – throwing — with a 27-3 lead and under two minutes left), but there an established track record with the offense that doesn’t exist with the defense.

The AFC East race is over. A three-game (sweep of Jets) lead with this schedule? Forget it. The one or two seed is almost a certainty as well. This team is going to host a postseason game for the third straight season. It’s a lock.

And so is this: We will have no idea what will happen when that playoff game starts, no confidence that a corner has been turned. The stink of the losses to Baltimore and the Jets plus the lack of production (early in the season) and star power on the defense will guarantee suspicion.

It’s fine to be impressed with Patriots 34, Chiefs 3. It’s another thing to be convinced.

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