A couple of weeks ago, the New England Patriots lost their second game in a row to drop to 5-3. The season seemed to be getting away from coach Bill Belichick. The much maligned defense, the worst ranked in the NFL, looked to be on the verge of getting even worse. Veteran cornerback Leigh Bodden was released. Controversial offseason addition Albert Haynesworth would be released prior to the Week 10 matchup with the New York Jets.
The Jets game would see the stalwarts of a dilapidated secondary, Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung, get injured. Inside linebacker Brandon Spikes, who was having a resurgent season, was also sidelined. The Patriots secondary consisted of a bunch of undrafted free agents named Kyle Arrington, James Ihedigbo, Sergio Brown, and Sterling Moore. Castoffs Philip Adams and Antwaun Molden also played large roles. Things were so bad that Belichick would need to use wide receiver Julian Edelman as a defensive back in the coming weeks. It was a far cry from the days of Ty Law, Asante Samuel, and Lawyer Milloy.
The season seemed lost. Step in, or should I say, step UP, Mr. Andre Carter. Fans and media chose to focus on the offseason acquisitions of Chad Ochocinco, Haynesworth, and, to a lesser extent, Shaun Ellis. But the biggest signings have been Carter, along with offensive lineman Brian Waters. Carter, a former first round draft pick (7th overall in 2001), has proven how a good pass rush can make a bad secondary look acceptable.
Carter leads the Patriots with nine sacks this year- tied for 6th in the NFL. Remarkably, the 32-year-old defensive end has 8.5 sacks in the last five games, including a franchise record four in one game against the Jets.
Carter, along with fellow defensive end Mark Anderson (5 sacks), have provided the Patriots with a pass rush not seen around these parts since the days of Vrabel and McGinnest. Kyle Arrington’s NFL-leading seven interceptions can be directly correlated to the pass rush.
Suddenly it looks like any hopes the Patriots may have of winning the Super Bowl this year lie with Andre Carter. What Tom Brady is to the offense is now what Andre Carter is to the defense. Prior to the season, I would have said Vince Wilfork, McCourty, or Jerod Mayo were the indispensable ones on defense. But the Patriots have now played, and won, games without Mayo and McCourty. The Patriots cannot afford to lose Andre Carter.
It is also notable to mention the improved play of defensive linemen Kyle Love, Gerard Warren (who was cut by Belichick prior to the season), and Brandon Deaderick.