Just when everything was already going the Patriots' way during a 45-3 thrashing of their division rival on national TV, I was reminded of something.
This 10-2 Patriots team that is playing like the best in the NFL is missing starting DE Ty Warren, starting CB Leigh Bodden, starting ORG Stephen Neal and starting PK Stephen Gostkowski. Oh, and with the Panthers' second-round pick, they will likely have three of the first 33 picks in April's draft.
The Patriots look like a dynasty in the making, even with the worst defense in Bill Belichick's tenure.
It's hard to pinpoint anything wrong with the way they played on Monday night. Even the much-maligned defense held the Jets to three points and played their best game all season by constantly confusing Mark Sanchez and taking advantage of poor throws.
But something is still missing, and it's something I've discussed here before: a consistent pass rush. Yes, Sanchez was under pressure a decent number of times on Monday night (one sack and four QB hits), but most of his mistakes were due to the coverage and disguising at the line, not because he was getting pressured. Without top sack man Mike Wright, the Patriots have no pass-rush threat on the defensive line and are counting on OLBs Tully Banta-Cain and Jermaine Cunningham to get the job done.
The Patriots will never have a week more ripe to come heavy with the blitz and to get their pass rushers some confidence than Sunday's battle with the Bears. Jay Cutler has been sacked a league-high 41 times, and that's with him missing 1½ games. The Patriots have sacked quarterbacks just 21 times, tied for 24th in the league.
Cunningham, the pass rusher of the future, has just one sack, but he had five tackles and a tackle for loss on Monday night and seems to be doing a better job getting after the quarterback. Banta-Cain had one sack on Monday night and four on the season, but he's well off his 10-sack 2009 campaign.
The Patriots have the schemes and a solid run defense but are still without the ability to blitz often and use it as a weapon. Against the Bears' O-line, the Pats need to pressure one of the weaker offensive lines in the league. A win with some good pressure on the QB won't change the fact that this team doesn't have a lot of pass-rushing personnel, but it's something missing from the 10-2 team that would just make them even scarier come playoff time.