Following 12 weeks of football, it’s safe to say, it’s been quite a roller coaster of a season up to this point.

During the early part of the year the defense was the strongest part of this team, with the offense struggling to get much of anything accomplished as New England tried to get their rookie receivers acclimated enough to survive the first few weeks of the season until Rob Gronkowski could make his way back into the line-up.

Weeks later their receivers settled in but bodies began dropping on defense after they lost Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo to season-ending injuries, and it only got worse after Tommy Kelly joined them, decimating a group that early on appeared on their way to an incredible season.

Now here we are as the team heads into the final month with the offense clicking after Gronkowski and Danny Amendola are seemingly healthy, which is now a necessity since the Patriots are currently allowing more points per game than they have all season.  They can’t stop the run (they’re currently 31st while averaging 138.2 yards per game allowed), and they’ve also slipped down to 10th in pass defense while allowing 224 yards per game.


The Patriots will likely only go as far as the right arm of Tom Brady takes them in the coming weeks. (USA TODAY Images)

Fortunately their offense has been what has carried them in recent weeks, going over 30 points in three of their last four games, all resulting in victories.  Their only loss over that span came in Charlotte when the Panthers held them to 24 points, which at this point is somewhat of a red flag as it seems this team will likely have to score over 30 points moving forward each week until they once again figure out a way to counter these latest issues on the defensive side of the football.

The good news is as we’ve seen over the course of this year is that they’ve done a good job figuring out ways to plug the holes each time they’ve sprung a leak personnel-wise.  They’ve sustained about all the injuries a team could ever be forced to deal with over the course of the season and as we know barring any more hits to the roster, this will hopefully be the group they’ll ultimately take into the postseason in January.  Looking around the league there’s not exactly any clear-cut powerhouse teams that are worlds apart that they would face in the playoffs, and if they can somehow manage to run the table, the only team that is considered the favorite is the one the Patriots have already beaten in the Denver Broncos.

With four games to go we’re in the final quarter of the season and December is usually a month where the Patriots shine.  Counting Sunday’s win in Houston, New England has now won 17 of their last 18 games in December, but there are still some tough games left.  The Browns are similar to the Texans in that they’ve had their moments this year and have been a few plays away from seeing several games end up a little differently.  They’ve lost three in a row, but there’s nothing more dangerous than a team with nothing to lose.  New England escaped playing such a team Sunday, and this week may also end up being a nail-biter if they struggle early the way they did last weekend.

Hopefully that begins to change this weekend.  Improvement has been the word of choice all season as well as perseverance.  Let’s just hope we continue to see the same during this final stretch.

COMING SOON: FIRST DOWN LASER?

Most fans watching the games at home have gotten used to the yellow first down marker that was implemented years ago that signifies how far a player has to go to move the chains and continue the drive, but on the field all players are able to do is try and find the sticks on the sideline.

Fans who are up in the stands are then left to try and gauge by their own eyesight whether or not the player has advanced the ball far enough, and then, of course, there’s the inexact science of the officials coming out on the field for a measurement that doesn’t always appear as accurate as it could be.

Apparently, there’s someone out there looking to change that.

According to USA TODAY Alan Amron is pushing for a product that he’s developed that will bring that line to live games, and the league is working with him on the possibility of eventually making it a reality.  Amron, who is the inventor and founder of First Down Laser Systems, said  he’s met with NFL executives several times, and recently completed the system they’ve wanted.

“Everybody knows about us, but until something like this happens, they don’t realize how important having the (first-down) line on the field just like you see on TV is to the game,” Amron told USA TODAY.  ”This is the first year the NFL is considering fan experience number one. What better for fan experience than having the line they’re used to at home in the stadium, where they’re paying $200 a seat?”

According to the article it would be something that would be “turned on” when a measurement is needed, unless of course the league decides to leave it on all the time. With the NFL pushing to improve the live game experience, it would make sense that having it on at all times would make the most sense for fans to be able to view from up in the stands.

The system reportedly includes a projector mounted at the base of the first down flagstick containing nothing but aluminum mirrors, plus a small fiber-optic cable. The cable runs underground into a tunnel, where it connects to a 100-watt laser measuring approximately 3 feet by 3 feet.

Here’s a video below showing a demonstration by the late Pat Summerall years ago of the system, which according to Amron would cost about $180,000 to $245,000 per stadium:

BRUSCHI: EASE UP ON DONT’A HIGHTOWER:

Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower has received his fair share of criticism so far this season after some lackluster play in recent weeks, but according to Tedy Bruschi, there’s certainly good reason behind it.

In his weekly chat Bruschi pointed out that the linebacker has had to make a serious transition this season after the team lost Jerod Mayo, and a lot of the criticism he’s received during some of his struggles is a little unfair.

“Dont’a Hightower is a good player,” said Bruschi. “Has he struggled as of late? Absolutely. But you have to think of the adjustment he’s had to make since Jerod Mayo went down. There is a lot more on his plate mentally. To have to deal with that for the first time during your career, during the season, can be very difficult. No longer is Mayo there to make sure everything is right before the ball is snapped. It now falls mostly on Hightower. Can he get help from Brandon Spikes and Rob Ninkovich? Yes. They’re easing him into the full-time LB communicator role with Devin McCourty having the green dot on his helmet. Playing ILB for Bill Belichick, after QB, is the most complex position on that team. Let’s give the kid a little time to settle down and get his mind right because he was thrust into the fire after Mayo got hurt.”

TEXANS SECURITY GUARD FIRED AFTER TAKING A PHOTO WITH BRADY:

Down in Houston, a man was fired as a security guard at Reliant Stadium after taking a picture with Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

According to ABC 13 in Houston, Joel Williams, who has worked as a security guard for Contemporary Services Corporation for the past year and a half, was let go after the game following a photo that he took with Brady.

CSC has a policy preventing employees from requesting autographs and photos with players. Williams was off duty at the time of the incident, but still lost his job, as did a coworker who also had a photo taken with Brady.

“It is strictly against CSC policy for its employees to request photos or autographs from players. CSC stands by its decision to terminate the two employees who violated this policy.”

Williams believes part of the reason for the decision was because it came right after the Texans lost, and he claims he’s had a solid record with the company and had never been reprimanded until Sunday.

ON TO THIS MORNING’S LINKS:

BOSTON GLOBE:

Bill Belichick won’t say if Stevan Ridley was punished – Shalise Manza Young – Manza Young has comments from head coach Bill Belichick, who on Monday denied that he was ‘sending a message’ to Ridley by benching him.

Bill Belichick doesn’t respond to spying comments – Anthony Gulizia – Gulizia files his notebook for this morning, which leads off with the fact Belichick had nothing to say when asked about Antonio Smith’s “spying” accusations following Sunday’s win.

Patriots proving they’re good enough to contend – Christopher Gasper – Gasper writes that despite not being able to set the standard that they themselves set, the Patriots are still proving to be good enough to get the job done.

Identifying the 2013 Patriots – Adam Kaufman – Kaufman writes that as New England sits on the cusp of their 11th AFC East title in 13 years, this is no ordinary year.

The Gronk Effect – David Sabino – Sabino takes a closer look at the numbers since Gronkowski has returned to the football field.

BOSTON HERALD:

Texans latest to run over Patriots – Jeff Howe – Howe looks at New England’s current issue on defense, which remains stopping the run.

League tunes out Antonio Smith – Jeff Howe – Howe files his notebook this morning, which leads off with the fact a league spokesperson told Howe on Monday they have no plans to investigate Smith’s claims the team was “spying” on them.

Patriots Report Card: No defense for this victory – Ron Borges – Borges has his report card following Sunday’s win, and writes the Patriots won a game they were supposed to win, but not the way they were supposed to win it.

Patriots-Texans: Five takeaways from the game – Jeff Howe – Howe has his takeaways from Sunday’s game, and feels Tom Brady showed his true value against Houston.

Callahan: As the days get colder, Belichick and Brady seem to get hotter – Gerry Callahan – Callahan has a column this morning looking at the fact the Patriots always have a tendency to get hot in the final month of the season.

ESPN BOSTON:

Getting to know the Browns - Field Yates – Yates has an entry this morning taking a first look at the Cleveland Browns, who the Patriots will face this weekend.

ProView: Shane Vereen – Here’s a video of Shane Vereen talking about the team’s comeback win over the Houston Texans.

Q&A With Tedy Bruschi – Bruschi held his weekly chat, and discussed some interesting topics during this week’s edition.

‘Minitron’ Edelman is Mr. Dependable – Field Yates – Yates has an article on Edelman, who has emerged as New England’s top target this season.

WEEI:

Patriots Shuffle Practice Squad, Adding R.J. Dill and Releasing Patrick Ford – Christopher Price – Price has a quick entry on the transaction New England executed yesterday.

WORCESTER TELEGRAM:

Josh McDaniels’ halftime adjustments gave Patriots edge – Rich Garven – Garven has an article this morning looking at the adjustments made at the half by McDaniels, which turned around what had been a pitiful first half by New England’s offense.

Has Bill Belichick lost faith in Stevan Ridley? - Rich Garven – Garven writes that while Julian Edelman has fumbled his fair share of football this season, it was Ridley who was sidelined for the first time in three seasons Sunday in Houston.

UNION LEADER:

Dave D’Onofrio’s Patriots Notebook: Not half bad – David D’Onofrio – The Patriots have proven that New England’s track record began to turn in Week 8 when it came to in-game adjustments and they’ve been successful ever since.