By: Bob George/
December 14, 2009

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FOXBOROUGH -- It doesn't matter how you win, as long as you win.

Style points counted for nothing on Sunday at Gillette Stadium. Once upon a time, the New England Patriots and the Carolina Panthers played one of the most scintillating Super Bowl games in history. Sunday's 20-10 win by the Patriots was just about at the opposite end of the exciting spectrum. The Panthers, paying only their second visit ever to the town of Foxborough and their first visit to Gillette Stadium (becoming the last NFL team to make their first visit here), were too inferior a team, as well as too banged up a team, to overcome the Patriots stumbling over their own feet for most of the game, especially on offense.

It took another heroic effort from Wes Welker, who for all intents and purposes should be the number one Patriot receiver instead of this big fast guy from Marshall, to invigorate the Patriots and carry them to victory. Welker caught ten passes for 105 yards, half those receptions coming on a 96-yard drive in the third quarter which finally established the Patriots as the superior team on the afternoon. He overcame a monster hit from Charles Godfrey and literally killed the Panthers by himself after he himself nearly got killed. He continues to confound opposing defenses by getting open and making lots of yards after the catch, and on this day he singlehandedly transformed the Patriots from a sleepwalking team to a team which finally understood the urgency of winning this game.

It has been a tumultuous few weeks for the Patriots, dealing with their first two-game losing streak since 2006 and facing their first three-game skid since 2002. Mixed in that dealing with the losing was the conduct of some of the star players, sent home early on Wednesday after being late for a team meeting. Adalius Thomas was the most vocal of the punished players, lashing out at Bill Belichick in what will go down as the "Jetsons Soliloquy", showing a great deal of disgust for being admonished for being late for a meeting he couldn't make on time thanks to bad weather and heavy traffic.

Belichick answered back with a predictable response. He made Thomas a healthy scratch for Sunday's game, and one might postulate that this sort of designation for Thomas will carry through the rest of the season. The result on Sunday was perhaps not quite what Belichick thought would turn out: The defense did very well without Thomas, but the offense totally stunk out the joint until Welker decided that someone had to stand up and take the lead.

Part of what happened was due to the fact that Tom Brady's gunslinging buddy from six Super Bowls ago, Jake Delhomme, was absent from the game due to injury. His replacement, Matt Moore, was nothing close to the flamboyant and dynamic Panther pitcher from Breaux Bridge, Louisiana. Moore hit on only 15 of 30 passes for 197 yards. His only completion of consequence all afternoon long was a 41-yard touchdown bomb to Steve Smith, who beat Shawn Springs (now you see why he had been the healthy scratch king prior to Thomas) on a deep post pattern and Moore laid it right in there.

Other than that pass to Smith, Moore was easy for this Patriot defense to deal with. The only other points the Patriot defense gave up was a fourth quarter 36-yard field goal by 40-year-old Jon Kasay, the last remaining original Panther and the only field goal kicker this franchise has ever known. The Patriots had some trouble with DeAngelo Williams, but in the end held the star running back to 82 yards rushing on 13 carries (a 6.2 average). It was a good effort from the Patriot defense, but they were at home and didn't have to deal with Delhomme.

The offense, on the other hand, was both uninspired and bumbling for most of the game, or at least for 2 ½ quarters. The crowd was stone silent, and the Fox announcers spared no expense in making everyone aware of how quiet the crowd was and how bored the Patriot offensive players seemed.

Randy Moss was once again accused of dogging it on most routes. Brady could only manage 8 of 15 passing for 59 yards in the first half. Both Sammy Morris and Moss lost fumbles, and Brady threw an interception to Gamble in the first quarter, which was followed two plays later with Moore's scoring bomb to Smith.

After Morris' lost fumble to kill off the opening drive of the second half, the Patriots got the ball back at their own four and finally decided to go to work. On second down and eight at their own six, Brady hit Welker in the left flat, and Welker was immediately flattened by Gamble as soon as he caught the ball. The play went for six painful yards, but Welker bounced right back up and made the next play, a 13-yard crossing route in heavy traffic (including Paul King, the umpire) to give the Patriots a first down at the 25. Three plays later, Welker caught a 13-yard slant pass to get the Patriots to the 48. Two plays later, Brady found Welker on a quick hitch in the left flat, and made nine yards thanks to a nice block by Moss. Then for good measure, Welker lined up on the right side and caught a deep slant pass for 23 yards. Welker had five of his ten catches on this drive for a total of 64 yards.

The Patriots now had first and goal at the eight, and Benjamin Watson caught a four-yard scoring pass three plays later to give the Patriots a 14-7 lead that they would not relinquish. The Patriots tacked on two more field goals on the next two drives, both long ones by Stephen Gostkowski (48 and 47 yards respectively), and put the game away. Welker had succeeded in waking up the Patriot offense, and for the rest of the game they would look like their old selves.

Laurence Maroney outgained Williams with 94 yards on the ground, though his average was less than Williams (23 carries, 4.3 yards per carry). Kevin Faulk chipped in with 58 yards on ten carries. As a team, the Patriots rushed for 185 yards and averaged 4.6 yards per carry. The fact that the Patriots outrushed the Panthers, 40 carries to 24, speaks a lot about how little the Patriots tried to rely on the pass, and how well they were able to make hay on the ground.

Brady really wasn't himself at all on Sunday. Moore actually had a better passer rating than Brady (82.2 for Moore, 74.0 for Brady). Brady had a lot of misfires and was victimized by some receivers who didn't run good routes. But despite the one pick, he played just well enough to not lose the game. This was a reversal of recent trends, in that the defense carried the offense instead of vice versa.

No, it wasn't the heart-stopper like in Houston in February of 2004. Seven players on each side remain from that classic championship game. But the Patriots did manage to win and stay one game up in the division, and that's all they really had to do.

Boring? Perhaps. But a win is a win.