Getting to know the Patriots

December, 8, 2010
12/08/10
11:20
AM ET
In the offseason, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick had all the pictures on the Gillette Stadium walls removed. The pictures were from victories, some of which captured the greatest moments in his tenure, including three Super Bowl championships.

[+] EnlargeTom Brady
Andrew Weber/US PresswireTom Brady is playing well despite personnel changes around him.
When asked the significance of removing the pictures at the time, Belichick said simply, "The walls needed to be painted."

But there was more to the decision.

Belichick wanted the 2010 Patriots to enter the season with the goal of making their own history, not looking back on the glory years of the past. He told them that with each victory, new pictures would be placed on the walls inside the facility.

At 10-2 and tied with the Atlanta Falcons for the best record in the NFL, the walls have been filling up fast, and for Bears fans curious for what the 2010 Patriots are all about, here are some key points:

1. MVP season for Tom Brady: The franchise quarterback, whose contract extension made big news before the season began, has gone seven straight games without an interception, breaking the franchise record. That's a string of 228 passes without a pick, another franchise record. He has been on fire over the last four games.

2. Offense evolved on the fly: The bold move of trading receiver Randy Moss in early October contributed to the team's offense evolving on the fly. No longer is the attack centered around two players -- Moss and Wes Welker. It's an offense that is now defined on spreading the ball around, while striking a balance with the run behind the surprising BenJarvus Green-Ellis (nicknamed the "Law Firm" around these parts). The return of receiver Deion Branch via an October trade, coupled with a completely revamped tight end position with veteran Alge Crumpler and rookies Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, has been a big part of the makeover as well.

[+] EnlargeJerod Mayo
AP Photo/Winslow TownsonJerod Mayo (51), Tully Banta-Cain and the rest of the Pats' defense put the hurt to Jets QB Mark Sanchez.
3. Bend but don't break defense: The defense will give up yards, but it's a unit that has shown to have a knack of coming up with the big stop or turnover. Linebacker Jerod Mayo, a 2008 first-round draft choice out of Tennessee, plays on all three downs and is on pace for 200 tackles. He's a captain along with defensive lineman Vince Wilfork, who is a key force up front in helping stop the run in the team's 3-4 alignment. Rookie cornerback Devin McCourty is in the discussion for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year honors with six interceptions, three of which have come over the past three games. He plays on the left side and has been terrific all season.

4. Importance of turnovers to Patriots: The Patriots are second in the NFL with a plus-14 in turnover differential, with 23 take-aways and 9 give-aways. The 9 give-aways ties for a league low with the Kansas City Chiefs and is more impressive when considering one interception came on a Hail Mary and another came late in a blowout loss to the Cleveland Browns. The Patriots are 9-0 this season when on the plus side of the turnover differential and 79-3 since the 2001 season.

5. Special teams makeover: The Patriots place a lot of emphasis on special teams and they opened the season as one of the NFL's most explosive kickoff return units, with Brandon Tate returning two kickoffs for touchdowns within the first four weeks of the season. But that unit has been quieter of late, and the Patriots have also had changes at kicker (Shayne Graham for an injured Stephen Gostkowski) and snapper (Matt Katula for Jake Ingram), as the consistency in all special teams areas has been up and down.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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