The New England Patriots began their successful run during the 2000's as a defense first, run oriented team. After their undefeated season of 2007, Tom Brady and the Patriots offense took off during a pass-heavy era which featured less support from the aging defensive unit.
When Tom Brady returned from his ACL injury that held him out of the 2008 season, old faces that helped shape the Patriots dynasty departed leaving young and inexperienced players left on defense. The 2009 season was a very tough year for the team because of the lack of leadership, experience, intensity and effort shown as the team immaturely relied on Tom Brady too much.
During the 2010, 2011, and 2012 seasons, the Patriots defense was horrendous. The best asset to the Patriots defense was the fact that they lead the NFL in turnovers and over-relied on turnovers to bail them out of tough situations. Since 2010, the defense has allowed the most passing yards, most passing first downs, and most touchdowns in the NFL. There were so many moments and games during the past 4 seasons in which the Patriots defense did its job to perfection and performed at a high level during critical moments.
The lack of talent recruiting through free-agency and the NFL draft over the past four seasons has led to some of the issues the team has had on defense, drawing high criticism from around the fan base and NFL media. The Patriots have one of the youngest rosters in the NFL with the exception of a few players, the average age on the team is 25 years with three to four years of experience.
The Patriots defense has completed some remarkable games during the post-Tedy Bruschi era and it would take way to long to list all of them. Although the Patriots defense was ranked among the worst statistical units over the past four seasons, there are many moments and games to remember and highlight. The defensive unit has experienced some hardships, but they are progressing and heading in the right direction heading into the 2014 season. Some of the top five best defensive performances by the Patriots over the past four season include:
1. Patriots demolished the New York Jets during week 13 of the 2010 season on Monday Night Football 45-3. Forced four turnovers, allowed less than 300 total yards. 2010 season. The Patriots and Jets were the best two teams in the NFL during week 13, tied with identical 9-2 records and the Jets had one of the best offenses during the NFL up to that point. The game was technically an offensive highlight, but the defense was beginning to hit its stride towards the second half of the 2010 season.
2. Tim Tebow Massacre The Patriots blew out the Broncos 45-10 at Gillette Stadium during Divisional weekend, while the defense had an outstanding performance. Forcing a fumble, adding seven sacks, allowing a 19% 3rd down conversion rate, and totaling nine quarterback hits, the defense gained some momentum heading on a deep postseason run. 2011 Postseason Divisional.
3. 2011 AFC Championship Game: During the 2011 AFC Championship game, the New England Patriots defense had arguably one of their greatest performances during the post-Tedy Bruschi era, coming during the most important game of their 2011 season. The New England Patriots defeated the Baltimore Ravens 23-20 during a historic battle of the ages between two growing rivals. It was the first team the Patriots defeated the entire year with a winning record (record above .500) coming during the playoffs. The Patriots got pressure on average quarterback Joe Flacco all day long. hey also had an interception, two fourth down stops, five sacks, four pass breakups, and a 32% 3rd down conversion rate. Undrafted free agent rookie, Sterling Moore made two of the biggest plays during the post-Tedy Bruschi era, stripping Baltimore Ravens receiver Lee Evans of potential game winning touchdowns. The Patriots defense earned the respect of many around the NFL while the Patriots offense had one of its worst performances of the season, committing four turnovers and missing numerous scoring opportunities. The Patriots defense was maligned all season long, ranked worst in the NFL during many statistical categories and came up with its best performance at the most critical time.
4. Thanksgiving Day Massacre: Any time the New England Patriots can beat up on the lowly New York Jets on a prime time game, it serves as a highlight in any Boston fan's book. The Patriots entered the 2012 week 12 matchup against the New York Jets as 5 point underdogs to win the game in Met Life Stadium. The NFL media and Jets fans were highly disappointed and sadly mistaken for believing the Jets would defeat the Patriots on Thanksgiving. The Patriots defense was stout. Precise. Hard hitting. And effective. The Patriots defense began the game sacking Mark Sanchez on the first play of the game. The Patriots rushed out to a 28-0 lead to begin the second quarter as the New York Jets turned the ball over five times during the first half alone. Mark Sanchez had four of the teams' six turnovers on the night. The Patriots defense scored two touchdowns off of Jets' turnovers including a Butt-fumble return touchdown and a fumble off of a kickoff return less than 10 seconds later. The Patriots defense also forced three sacks during the game, a goal-line stand, and forced a missed field goal. The Patriots won 49-19, serving as one of the highlights of the season.
5. New York Jets opening night 2013: Seems like every Patriots highlight involves beating up on the New York Jets. Not necessarily true, but the Patriots tend to bring their A-game when facing their division rivals. The Patriots-Jets rivalry kicked off the 2013 season with the opening of Thursday Night Football, once again beating the Jets on prime time television everything more enjoyable for Patriots fans. The Patriots offense was going through some serious growing changes during the entire 2013 season. With the departures of Wes Welker, Deion Branch, Brandon Lloyd and Aaron Hernandez, the Patriots drafted four wide receivers to their roster who they had too high expectations of at first. Long story short, the offense was awful and the defense was amazing. The defense forced four turnovers during the game, four sacks, 28% 3rd down conversion rate, and had six quarterback hits during the night. The most important play of the game was when cornerback Aquib Talib intercepted rookie Geno Smith during a fourth quarter comeback drive to win the game. The Patriots won 13-10, becoming their lowest scoring victory during the post-Tedy Bruschi era.