Rapid Reaction: New England Patriots

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick thoughts from the New England Patriots' 55-31 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers:

What it means: The banged-up Patriots enter their bye with a 7-2 record. For much of the first half of the season, it was the defense that picked up the struggling offense. But the offense found its groove in this game, with quarterback Tom Brady, tight end Rob Gronkowski and receivers Danny Amendola and Aaron Dobson playing starring roles. This was an offensive explosion against the NFL's No. 2-ranked pass defense in terms of yards allowed per game.

Injuries continue to add up: This was a physical game that left a mark. No. 4 receiver Austin Collie left with a knee injury in the second quarter and did not return. ... Starting safety Steve Gregory left with a right thumb/wrist injury in the third quarter and did not return. ... Starting left defensive end/outside linebacker Rob Ninkovich left in the third quarter with a foot injury and did not return. ... Starting cornerback Alfonzo Dennard came off on the final drive and was being looked at by the medical staff and didn't finish. Ninkovich seemed to dodge a bullet as he returned to the sideline and gave a thumbs-up to his teammates. It might have been a case where the Patriots just decided to play it safe by not putting him back in the game.

Ridley is the workhorse: One week after being limited to just 20 snaps, which sparked media-based discussion on why the Patriots aren't playing their best running back more, Stevan Ridley was used as the workhorse and responded with his first 100-yard rushing game of the season. It almost makes one wonder if the coaching staff was out-thinking itself at times in limiting Ridley, who we charted on the field for 51 snaps (including penalties).

Gronkowski impact in full effect: Playing in his third game since returning from five surgeries since November, tight end Gronkowski was immense. He had seven of his nine receptions in the first half and quite simply, the Patriots' offense is a much different unit when he's at full health. He's a true difference-maker.

Any more questions about Brady? His age is showing. He can't throw the deep ball. He's not the same quarterback we've seen in the past. All those storylines that have surrounded Brady can be tossed out the window after a game like this. Same old Brady.

Defense limps to the bye: How many more hits can the defense take? Playing without cornerback Aqib Talib for the third straight game, the unit hung tough, with newly-acquired nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga showing up with a few plays in limited work (he held his ground on a fourth-and-1 stop and nearly had an interception on a batted ball). Losing starting safety Steve Gregory would be a blow as he's been playing well and leading the defensive huddle the past two weeks.

What's next: The Patriots enter a long bye week as they visit the Carolina Panthers on ESPN's "Monday Night Football" on Nov. 18.