It's probably not an overstatement to say that this next week is the most important one of the season. The Patriots need to bounce back with a win at Miami next Sunday to keep control of the division as well as to get back in the win column. Miami, coming off a devastating loss to Buffalo, is likely to be hungry and desperate and they almost always seem to play well against the Pats in Miami. A loss would be crushing for New England even though they would still have a one game lead in the division. Essentially, the Patriots have five games left to try to fix some fairly serious problems--mostly, but not exclusively, on the defensive side--and to get themselves into a position to contend in the playoffs. If the problems are mostly coming from inexperience, then the Pats have five weeks of practices, tape study, and game situations to work and improve, to teach and coach. And they can probably fix a lot of things, knowing that they won't face anyone as good as New Orleans. But if the problems are mostly owing to shortcomings of talent or schematic failures, then I'm not sure ten or fifteen weeks of additional practice, study, and games will help.
Back to basics: Blocking. Tackling. Passing. Catching. Route-running. Defending the seams. After a beatdown like the Patriots suffered Monday night, they need to go back to the fundamentals and clean up some major, major problems. It wasn't just the defensive breakdowns, it wasn't just the offensive breakdowns--it was everything. You have to go back to December 10, 2006 to find the last time a Tom Brady-led Patriots team got beat by 21 points like tonight. It was brutal, and there's so much to fix--and a short week coming up to prepare for a road game in the division at Miami.
It could be that the Patriots will have to, first, win the division and get into the playoffs and then hope that they can generate a run of good luck and solid play like recent Super Bowl champions Pittsburgh (2005), Indianapolis (2006), and New York (2007)--surprising wild-card teams that got hot at the right time. How ironic would it be if the Patriots of 2009 became the Giants of 2007--deeply flawed but able to hang in there, tough out some wins, and be in a position where a play or two could make all the difference?
Stranger things have happened. But first things first. A short week to work on blocking, tackling, passing, catching, covering. Then a crucial game at Miami Sunday. Maybe by late afternoon Sunday we'll begin to have a few answers and a glimpse of a possible future for this team the remainder of the year.