Lost amid the Pats' offensive explosion in the first eight weeks and their dramatic rally against the Colts to stay unbeaten in Week 9, is that one Patriot has quietly overcome a shaky start to post some impressive numbers.

Lost amid the Pats' offensive explosion in the first eight weeks and their dramatic rally against the Colts to stay unbeaten in Week 9, is that one Patriot has quietly overcome a shaky start to post some impressive numbers.

Punter Chris Hanson was one of the few weak links in the first five weeks. Called upon to punt just 11 times in that span, he failed to reach 40 yards on eight kicks, with six under 35. He had just one punt inside the 20, none inside the 10 and a woeful average net of just 31.5 yards.

In the last four weeks though, he's punted 10 times with seven of them traveling more than 40 yards, including four over 50. Seven of his boots have been downed inside the 20, four inside the 10 and his average net in that stretch is a strong 43.5 yards.

Bruschi a mainstay

Despite the offseason addition of Adalius Thomas to the
linebacking corps, Tedy Bruschi continues to be a mainstay in the middle.

He even leads the team in tackles, matching his uniform number with 54 through nine games (38 solo). Not that individual stats mean much to the 12th-year veteran.

“I measure myself on how many victories we have,” Bruschi said. “Of course, you think I'm going to say that, but I do really. We're doing well and I feel like I'm making a contribution and it does feel good.”

On the cover

Bruschi and fellow linebackers Mike Vrabel, Rosevelt Colvin, Junior Seau and Thomas are featured on the cover of this week's Sports Illustrated under a headline reading: “Still Smiling, STILL PERFECT: 9 Down, 10 to Go.”

It's the third Pats cover for SI in the last nine weeks, with Randy Moss featured on Sept. 17 and Brady on Oct. 22.

It's also the fourth straight Boston-themed cover, with Celtics Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen gracing the front on Oct. 29 and Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon getting the honor on Nov. 5 after Boston's World Series win.

Network favorites

The unbeaten Pats continue to be network favorites as well, as their Dec. 9 home game against Pittsburgh has been moved from 1 p.m. to 4:15.

That matchup could have made an attractive prime-time event, but CBS has used its right to protect the game for its broadcast and moved it to late afternoon instead.

Of note

The team released tight end Marcellus Rivers, who has appeared in three games this season.

Douglas Flynn covers the Patriots for the Daily News. He can be reached at 508-626-4405 or dflynn@cnc.com. Enterprise staff writer Glen Farley contributed to this report.