Better, but I’m still not buying. I’ll grant you that the Patriots have improved since they were rendered utterly defenseless, unable to prevent Eli Manning from driving the New York Giants 80 yards in eight plays and 1:21 to pull out their Nov. 6 game at Gillette Stadium with 15 seconds remaining. In the aftermath of Sunday’s 38-20 win at Philadelphia, ESPN football analyst Tim Hasselbeck lauded the Patriots’ defense for playing “complimentary football.” But let’s not get too complimentary here. The unit still ranks dead last in the NFL against the pass and in total defense although, to give them their due, the numbers have improved during the three-game winning streak the Patriots will carry into Sunday’s game with the Indianapolis Colts at Gillette Stadium: 292.2 yards passing and 392.7 yards in total offense allowed during that stretch, lowering the numbers to 307.5 and 409.8, respectively, for the year. Granted, the team ranks 11th in the league – not spectacular, but respectable – in the most important category of all, points allowed (20.3 per game). The question that must be raised, however, is this: Is the improved play of the Pats’ defense of late a function of their own progress or the quality of the quarterbacks they’ve faced? I’m inclined to believe it has more to do with the latter than the former. Mark Sanchez of the New York Jets, Kansas City’s Tyler Palko and Philadelphia’s Vince Young ain’t exactly the “Murderer’s Row” of NFL quarterbacks. Which is why I don’t believe the Patriots’ defense is good enough to take them where they ultimately hope to go. Improved? Yes. Capable of providing the backbone to a Super Bowl championship? No. Even with an offense that has returned to its “thirtysomething” persona of late – scoring 37 points against the Jets, 34 versus the Chiefs and putting the 38 on the Eagles – there still must be concern when the Patriots face an upper-tier quarterback. No need to worry this week with Dan Orlovsky replacing Curtis Painter for the winless Colts; not a whole lot of concern the rest of the regular season, either, with the backup brigade that began with Palko and Young continuing with Orlovsky, on-again/off-again Washington starter Rex Grossman, Denver’s Tim Tebow (he may be the league rage, but he isn’t about to become a competent passer in three weeks’ time) and Miami’s Matt Moore. The one season-long starter on the Patriots’ horizon is Buffalo’s Ryan Fitzpatrick, who’ll ring in the New Year in New England in the regular-season finale with a Bills team that has come crashing back to reality. While dealing with that pack of quarterbacks may not frighten you, the prospects of having to face Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger, in the AFC playoffs or, if they were to advance that far, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers or New Orleans’ Drew Brees in Super Bowl XLVI should. And what happens when Brady and Co. don’t put up “thirtysomething” points against a defense like the Steelers’ or Baltimore’s? Therein lies the problem. Even Young threw for 400 yards, a career high, against the Patriots – and there was a lot more there for the taking. If Young leads DeSean Jackson, Antwaun Molden’s second-quarter interception is an 80-yard touchdown pass the other way (assuming Jackson would have held onto the ball, obviously). Jackson brings us to another issue on Sunday. We may have passed Halloween a month ago, but it’s still trick-or-treat season with Jackson; the wide receiver, who is so often in gamebreaker-or-bust mode, played the part of the latter on Sunday, dropping two touchdown passes before Eagles head coach Andy Reid dropped him on the bench. If the possibility of producing a different outcome wasn’t there for the Eagles, at the very least the opportunity to create a different flow to the game was. While it’s true that once the likes of cornerback Devin McCourty (shoulder) and safety Patrick Chung (foot) return to good health, Molden and Sterling Moore will spend more time on the sidelines than in the secondary, but even with McCourty (who is living the sophomore jinx) and Chung in the secondary earlier this year this defense was vulnerable. In the land of “it is what it is,” this isn’t a championship defense.