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The Week in Overreactions: Turns out, Tom Brady can carry Patriots

By Ryan Wilson | CBSSports.com


In case there was any doubt: As long as the Pats have Tom Brady, they have a chance. (USATSI)

New storylines emerge every week. Some are reasonable, most are not. "The Week in Overreactions" focuses on the latter. Those items that offer a cursory "How do you do?" as they blow past reality straight for THIS IS THE MOST AMAZING THING EVER! We're here to keep everything in perspective. Questions, comments, casserole ideas? Hit us up on Twitter at @ryanwilson_07.

Don't ever count out Tom Brady and the Patriots

It took 15 weeks, but we had finally given up on Tom Brady carrying the Patriots' injury-ravaged roster to the postseason. It took seven days for us to be proven wrong.

For nearly four months, we had a simple mantra: As long as Belichick and Brady are around, New England has a very good chance to win. We've seen too many subtle-but-shrewd coaching decisions, too many improbable comebacks, too many trips to the postseason to doubt this duo.

But after last week's loss in Miami it finally looked like the Belichick-Brady magic had run its course, and the cold hard reality was that this was a mediocre team with a Hall of Fame quarterback incapable of doing everything by himself.

Then, on a Sunday afternoon in Baltimore, the Patriots dominated a Ravens team battling for their playoff lives. New England jumped out to a 20-0 lead before cruising to a 41-7 win, and in the process wrapped up the AFC East and are in prime position for the AFC's No. 2 seed.

We were convinced the Ravens' defense would wreak havoc in the Patriots backfield, and that quarterback Joe Flacco, who knows something about showing up big in late-season games, would have little trouble with New England's inexperienced, undermanned secondary.

It didn't work out that way.

And now, in the span of a week, we've come full circle: The Patriots have to be taken seriously, even if they are without Rob Gronkowski or Nate Solder or Jerod Mayo or Vince Wilfork. All they need are Belichick, Brady and 21 capable role players.

"Our margin of error is very slim," Brady said the day after the Patriots lost to the Dolphins. "We can't make any mistakes or give them any opportunities. If we have plays that are there to be made, then I've got to throw it and hit it. We've got to come up with them."

And that's exactly what happened against a formidable Ravens team.

Brady's now headed to the playoffs for the 11th time in his career. Still, what this team has overcome to get there won't be taken for granted.

"Every year is special, but we've really earned it this year," Brady said Sunday. "The NFL has a lot of stiff competition. Winning 11 games is very hard. We have faced adversity all year. Of course, other teams have, too, but our mental toughness has really gotten us through this. ... We've shown that we can hang together all year. ...

“This was a great win against a very good team on the road," he said. "To come in here, in one of the toughest places to play in the league, and win in all three phases of the game means a lot to us.”

It also served as notice for the rest of the AFC that the Pats ain't dead yet.

Which Andy Dalton is going to show up?

Andy Dalton has been magnificent at home. (USATSI)
Here is Andy Dalton's line from Sunday's beatdown of the Vikings: 27-of-38, 366 yards, 4 touchdowns, 0 interceptions. And when you see throws like this, you would never, ever suspect that the third-year quarterback struggles with consistency:

There are a handful of quarterbacks on the planet who can make that throw. Dalton is one of the few ... when he's playing in Paul Brown Stadium. The win moved the Bengals to 7-0 at home, where they've scored at least 40 points in each of the last four games. The problem for Dalton is when Cincy hits the road. This tweet perfectly summarizes that:

One solution: Earn the No. 2 seed.

The problem: It's a long shot -- Buffalo will need to beat New England and Cincy will need to beat Baltimore -- which means that the Bengals and Dalton have to figure out how to play on the road. To date, their biggest win away from home is a Week 13 victory over the Chargers. They also beat Detroit in Week 17, but the Lions might secretly be one of the league's worst teams.

If the season ended today, the third-seeded Bengals would host the Dolphins, a team they lost to on Halloween. But that was in Miami; there's no reason to think Cincinnati wouldn't manhandle the Dolphins at home. The issue arises in the divisional round, when the Bengals would have to travel to New England.

While media and fans may have lingering doubts about Dalton, he has his teammates' full support.

"Just keep doubting him, please," center Kyle Cook joked, via ESPN.com. "You should write something on there: 'Dalton played great, but ...' Don't give him too much credit. ...

"He's got a group of guys around him that tailor to his skill set," Cook continued. "You give him time and guys get open. He'll throw the ball and deliver it to you. When all 11 guys are playing as one, that benefits him."

And here's the thing: Dalton doesn't need a lot of time. When he's on -- and when Jay Gruden's dialing up the right plays -- Dalton gets rid of the ball faster than anybody in the league not named Peyton Manning. In fact, according to ProFootballFocus.com, when Dalton throws the ball in 2.5 seconds or less, he's completing 68.3 percent of his passes, has a QB rating of 96.5 and hasn't been sacked. But when he needs more than 2.5 seconds, Dalton's completion percentage drops to 47.1, his QB rating dips to 77.5, and he's been sacked 29 times.

"We're in a really good spot right now," Dalton said. "We've just got to keep going. We've done a lot this year; a lot of the guys have gotten better. I think I've gotten better."

Dalton has gotten better. Whether he can win on the road when it counts, that's the question.

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