Every week, PFW associate editor and Patriots writer Kevin Fishbain will identify three up-and-comers and three players/units going in the opposite direction in the Patriots stock report.
1. ILB Brandon Spikes: It took a few games for Spikes to get back in gear, but he made a big impact in Sunday's win, which is a good sign for the defense. Bill Belichick said last week that Spikes missed lots of playing time and that the previous three weeks had been "like his preseason, unfortunately." Spikes notched eight tackles, a QB hit and a very clutch tackle-for-loss on an attempted shovel pass by the Cowboys inside the Patriots' 10-yard line, which held them to a field goal.
2. DE Andre Carter: Quietly, Carter has been playing a lot better of late, and the numbers backed that up on Sunday. He recorded two sacks of Cowboys QB Tony Romo and finished the game with five tackles. Carter was brought in to win one-on-one battles on the line and get into the backfield, which is exactly what he did in the win.
3. TE Aaron Hernandez: After missing two games with an injury, Hernandez is back to being a big part of the offense. He was targeted 14 times on Sunday, hauling in eight catches for 68 yards and the game-winning touchdown. Hernandez did lose a crucial fumble, but his presence certainly improves the passing game, especially when teams double-team Wes Welker.
1. Pass protection: A staple of any Patriots team, the offensive line struggled against Rob Ryan's attacking defense, especially OLB DeMarcus Ware, who picked up two of the team's three sacks. The Cowboys put Tom Brady on his back eight times and recorded seven tackles for loss. But, the O-line played its best on the final drive, which led to the team's game-winning touchdown. It will get another test in its next game against the Steelers.
2. WR Chad Ochocinco: Ochocinco could be a mainstay in the "falling" department of the stock report, with the arrow continuously pointed downward. He was targeted one time and finished with no catches. It's unlikely the Patriots will deal Ochocinco but the offense would be better if he had the knowledge needed in the system to make an impact.
3. Red-zone offense: This is the second week in a row this part of the team's offense makes the "falling" section of the stock report, as it was worse on Sunday. The Patriots scored touchdowns on 2-of-4 red-zone drives and settled for field goals on two other drives. Hernandez's fumble came at the Cowboys' 17-yard line.