The Patriots (5-1) had to come from behind very late in the fourth quarter, in a game that was surprisingly a defensive struggle, but in the end the home team prevailed in a 20-16 victory against the Cowboys (2-3) at Gillette Stadium.

This was an “old school” victory for the Patriots as they had to dig deep on both sides of the ball. It brought me back to a game I went to in Denver on Monday Night Football in 2003, when Tom Brady pulled out the win in the last minute. Just like that night in Denver, Brady again on Sunday brought the team from behind on the Patriots final drive against Dallas, and his touchdown pass to Aaron Hernandez with 22 second left would lead to the Patriots victory.

The first half saw several mistakes by both teams, and it was evident early on, that this game was not going to be a “high powered affair” as both defenses stepped up. The Patriots were held to two field goals, and a touchdown in a first half. The opening 30 minutes ended with the Patriots holding on to a 13-10 lead.

The game continued to be very tight throughout as the Patriots offense was really struggling against the Dallas defense, as Brady was sacked and pressured often. They also turned the ball over twice in the Dallas half of the field which put even more pressure on the Patriots defense.

Trailing 16-13, very late in the fourth quarter, the Patriots defense needed to step up, and stop the Dallas offense to get the ball back to their offense for one final drive. To the credit of the defense, they held the Cowboys to their first “3 and out” in the game.

They gave Brady the ball back, and he had more than enough time to move the down the field in the Patriot winning drive. Brady won the game, but you can’t forget who put him in position to win, and that was the defense.

So what did we learn from watching the game on Sunday?

The first thing we learned is that turnovers can cost you dearly in a football game, and the Patriots were fortunate to overcome their mistakes. They had 4 turnovers, and very often you will lose these games.

The second thing we learned is that the Patriots defense can put the team in position to win when Brady is not at his best. For all of the issues the defense has shown this season, they certainly showed me something holding the Cowboys to 16 points. This is a high powered offense, the Patriots defense were playing on Sunday, and they held their own.

This was a victory that showed character as the Patriots stepped up in difficult situations to beat an opponent. This win is something seriously to build on.

On offense, the Cowboys did move the ball through the air, but you didn’t see any real big plays from this unit. Tony Romo did throw for 317 yards, and had 1 touchdown. Dez Bryant was the real deal in the first half, but you hardly saw him in the second half. He ended with 4 receptions for 78 yards. Miles Austin had a nice game with 7 receptions for 74 yards.

The Cowboys running game was average at best as they only had 77 yards. Felix Jones went out in the first half with an injury, and that had an affect on this part of the game for Dallas.

On defense, I was impressed by the Cowboys as they really got after Brady, and held the Patriots offense in check for the majority of the game. DeMarcus Ware was immense as he had 2 sacks and 4 tackles. Overall, this unit did their job against the Patriots.

For the Patriots on offense, Brady overall did not have a great game. He threw 2 interceptions which is not normal for the Patriots quarterback, but you have to give credit to the Cowboys for putting the pressure to cause these mistakes. Brady did throw for 289 yards, and two touchdowns, but he really had to work for it.

The Patriots running game surprisingly ran for 101 yards. The Cowboys rush defense was ranked 1st in the NFL going into the game. To be able to have any kind of success in running the ball against this defense is an accomplishment.

On defense, I think this was a real nice performance by this unit. They did get some pressure on Romo, and Andre Carter had a super game with 2 sacks, and 4 tackles. I thought Brandon Spikes was solid as well as he had 6 tackles, and was seen often at the line of scrimmage.

The secondary gave up some yards, but again they limited the big play from the Cowboys, and that is an accomplishment in itself. They did play a soft zone, but against those receivers, I think it worked.

This defense also did a great job on third down once again as they held the Cowboys to 4-12 which is a 33% per cent conversion rate. That is a serious improvement for this unit, and helping to lead to a victory.

As I always do, I like to look back at my keys to victory to see what kind of role they played in the game. Below is my analysis of ” My Five Keys To Victory For the Patriots Against The Cowboys.”

1. The Patriots defense needs to confuse Tony Romo and his offensive line. I think the Patriots did a nice job overall on defense. I am not sure how much was by disguise, but I did see some blitzing and stunts. I think they showed Romo some different things, and made him work hard for his yardage.

2. Cornerback Devin McCourty needs to have a huge game. McCourty did miss on a tackle which led to a nice run after the catch by a Dallas receiver. However, I think overall he played fairly well as he did not give up any huge plays.

3. The Patriots need to take away tight end Jason Witten. The Patriots again took away a weapon from an offense. Witten did score a touchdown, but he only had 4 receptions for 48 yards. Limiting his touches was a huge win for the Patriots defense as he is Romo’s security blanket.

4. The Patriots offensive line needs to protect Brady at all costs. The Cowboys sacked Brady 3 times, but he was hit often in this game. I know the Dallas pass rush was impressive going into the game, but this is two weeks in a row that the offensive line is not doing a good enough job at protecting Brady. This situation is starting to be a concern.

5. The tight ends need to exploit the middle of the field. Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski need to have a big day. The tight ends were huge in this game. Gronkowski had 7 receptions for 74 yards, and Hernandez 8 receptions for 68 yards, and the game winning touchdown. They totally ate up the middle of the field. This key turned out to be very important in this game.

So what did we learn from this game? I think we saw the Patriots defense show us they can really limit an accomplished offense for 4 quarters. Ultimately for the Patriots to go far this season, they will need both units to have an impact.

On a day when the offense was not at its best, this unit stepped up in crucial situations to win the game. They made enough plays when they had to. This game showed me the offense is ready for the playoffs now.

I think we learned that the defense is not there yet, but there are indications that it is on its way to where it needs to be in January. If they can improve on this performance each and every week, the Patriots could be playing deep into January, and dare I say February.

What are your reactions to the game? Feel free to leave a comment and let me know what you thought of  the Patriots 20-16 victory against the Cowboys.