- Associated Press - Monday, October 10, 2011

FOXBOROUGH, MASS. (AP) - Five weeks into their season with newcomers playing key roles, the New England Patriots are developing into a solid group.

The running attack has had two consecutive strong games. The defense had its best day of the year on Sunday. And, as usual, Tom Brady and Wes Welker were outstanding.

The Patriots are gelling. Or so it seems.

“You can’t really say that,” safety James Ihedigbo said Monday. “There’s a lot of football left to be played and our goal as a team is to get better each week. So, I guess, it’s to be seen how good we can be.”

The encouraging signs could dim as soon as Sunday when Dallas visits New England. Coming off a bye week, the Cowboys have plenty of time to prepare. They also have pass-rushing star DeMarcus Ware going against a team that allowed Brady to be sacked four times in the Patriots 30-21 win over their AFC East rival New York Jets on Sunday.

“I thought we did a decent job at times” on offense, Brady said, “but I thought we obviously left a lot of points out there.”

The Patriots had some problems on special teams, allowing an 88-yard kickoff return by Joe McKnight.

Still, it was their most complete performance of the season and improved their record to 4-1 with their 19th straight _ and Brady’s 30th straight _ regular-season win at home.

The defense had been dreadful in the first four games, giving up a league-worst 477.5 yards per game. They held the Jets to just 255.

The running game produced a total of 308 yards in the first three games and 335 in the next two.

With better offensive balance, Brady’s production declined from an average of 442.3 yards passing in the first three games to 273.5 in the next two. But Welker kept gaining huge chunks of yardage, picking up 124 yards on five receptions against the Jets for a total of 740, the most in NFL history through a team’s first five games.

“Guys came in very focused, understanding that this was a big game for us and it can really get us a jump-start in the division,” Welker said.

It’s taken a while for players to adjust to their new system and teammates.

There are a lot of different faces on defense_ linemen Andre Carter, Shaun Ellis, Albert Haynesworth and Mark Anderson and safety Ihedigbo.

“I am very proud of the defense,” said tackle Vince Wilfork, in his eighth year with the Patriots. “Is everything perfect? No. There are a lot of things we could do better, but I think the penalties are down, we aren’t giving up big plays. We have to continue to grow.”

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