Patriots Improving And Keep Rolling Heading into Sunday Night's Game Against San Francisco

Christine Roy
December 14, 2012 at 05:48pm ET

Patriots’ Malcolm Mitchell happy with rehab progress
Free agent WR Eric Decker says he would be 'good fit' with Patriots
Man charged with robbing Gronkowski's home arraigned
Buckley: What will Tom Brady do when he retires from football?
Tom Brady teases with Instagram comment

Heading into their 14th game of the season, the Patriots are a train running right through the AFC. It can be easy to let down as the season rolls to a close but the Patriots have only gotten better as the season has progressed. Not only offensively, but defensively as well. Let's look at three key components of this team and how they've fared from the first half to the second.

Bill Belichick and the Patriots are making the most of every opportunity to move and improve. (FILE:USPresswire)

Tom Brady It's no surprise that when Brady is at his best, this team is incredibly difficult to stop. This week he was named the AFC player of the week for the third time this season and the 23rd time in his career, which is a new NFL record. Looking at his performance since the Week 9 bye his numbers are only improving. In the first eight games he threw three interceptions but since has only thrown one. He had 16 touchdowns to start the season and in the past five games he's thrown 13. He is diversifying this team as well. They started the year with a solid run game and seemed content on the short passing game. However his longest past this second half of the season was an 83 yarder to Shane Vereen for a touchdown on Thanksgiving. December is a time where Brady is at his best and with a tough 49er's defense coming into town, you can bet he'll be ready for whatever they try to throw his way.

Stevan Ridley The Patriots rushed the ball 276 times in the first half of the season and passed it 323 times. During that time the Pats rushed for 12 touchdowns and averaged 4.3 yards per carry. Step into the second half and they already have eight rushing touchdowns in 158 attempts. For his part Ridley will most likely pass his mark of five rushing touchdowns through the first eight, considering he already has five touchdowns through the previous five games. He has yet to receive a pass this half but that could change as we see the Patriots offense finding new ways to score and adjust each week.

Vince Wilfork The Patriots defense started off the season red hot, hit some speed bumps, but is back to its strong self. The heart and soul of this unit is Wilfork and for the past five games he has been playing out of his mind. He already has two sacks and two stuffs. He has become a force interfering with any opposing quarterback's rhythm. He's deflected three passes and forced two fumbles in the second half and has a chance to match his career best of 3.5 sacks if he can manage to get after the quarterback one and a half more times. Without his presence on the field this defense would not be as effective as it is. The cohesiveness and ability for both the front seven and the secondary to work together has picked up as the season has progressed.

Sunday night's game is once again a big stage for the Patriots to show what they have. The 49ers are in a spot to secure a playoff spot so they'll be pushing hard. Last week the Texans proved no match and were exposed on every level. This week the Patriots will try to do the same to San Francisco as they continue to improve and reinvent themselves making this train even more difficult to stop.