All this week, wherever Patriots fans have gathered to commiserate over Sunday's miserable loss to the miserable Jets and their cartoonish, enormously potbellied coach Rex ("My baby's due any day now") Ryan, the conversations have likely been the same. One fan will point to the disappointments and claim the sky is falling. Another fan, more optimistic, will remind the first that it's early, that these are the Patriots, after all, and that things will be fine. Here's how some of those conversations probably sound. We'll call the two fans Sky is Falling and Don't Worry. How many of you have had a conversation like this--maybe even playing both voices yourself in your own mind?
Don't Worry: Relax.Sure, the Jets game was awful but as bad as it was we had the ball in our hands late with a chance to drive for the winning touchdown. If just one of those first half scoring drives ended in a touchdown instead of a field goal, then it's 13-3 Pats at the half and it's a totally different game. If two of those field goals ended in touchdowns, it's a 17-3 game at the half and it would have been over. It seems like they played a terrible game but they actually were in it right up until the end. You were kidding about the Buccaneers, right?
Sky is Falling: Why can't they pass well? They throw the ball all over the field but instead of long gains and touchdowns it's incompletions, interceptions, overthrows, drops, underthrows. And what's wrong with Brady? Is he done? Can't he play anymore? He looks off track and the receivers look off track. In fact, the whole offense looks off track--and that was supposed to be our strength.
Don't Worry: Brady's bound to be rusty. Galloway is new. Welker is crucial, crucial to the offense and he wasn't there Sunday. But he'll be back. Brady will round into form. Galloway won't be a bust. Edelman will be a strong 4th receiver. The passing game is out of rhythm now but it will get into a groove soon as Brady gets more reps and works his way back into form.
Sky is Falling: But in 2007 we threw the ball from a position of dominance and strength. No one could stop us. Now, we seem to throw out of desperation. And we can't run either.
Don't Worry: True, but 2007 was a season the likes of which we and the NFL might not see again for a long time. If we keep comparing ourselves to 2007, we'll never measure up. Neither will anyone else. But remember this. We peaked early in 2007, in October and early November. We started to drive 55 like the rest of the league in November and December, lumbered through the playoffs, and completely ran out of gas in the Super Bowl. This year's team will take several weeks to get it in gear, but once it does, it will get better and better, peak late in the season and have plenty of reserves left for the playoff run.
Sky is Falling: Okay. Okay. Maybe the offense will come around, eventually. But what about the defense? Did we have to trade, cut, retire, send away every big name player we've ever had? Guyton, Wright, Sanders, Wilhite--who are these guys? Why can't they tacke anyone? Why do we always give up 5 yard completions that turn into 25 yard plays after we repeatedly miss tackles. Next time we're defending against 3rd and long, we might as well just save everyone the trouble and award the opponent a first down. They always get them anyway.
Don't Worry: Now that's a bit harsh. The "name" players didn't exactly draw comparisons to the Steel Curtain defense last year. Would it be more reassuring if the players missing tackles and giving up big plays were ones whose names we knew? There were problems on defense last year and the changes this year are supposed to fix those problems. And as for "who are these guys"--who was Asante Samuel until we drafted him in the 5th round , coached him up, and turned him into a all-pro? Who's to say the same thing won't happen with Guyton, Wilhite, and the others? You can't stand still in this league and you can't play players based on reputations. Yes, these moves are risky--but so was starting a second year, 6th round draft choice at quarterback after an injury to the starter in 2001. Like so many other risky moves the Patriiots have made, that one worked out pretty well.
Sky is Falling: So, you're saying that maybe the season isn't really over after just two games? That a loss to the Jets is hard to swallow because---well, because they're the Jets and they have that loudmouth bloated whale on the sidelines. But maybe it doesn't mean we automatically lose to the Falcons and the Ravens. Maybe we don't need to cut Brady and sign Cleo Lemon. 1-15 is not likely to happen, you're saying.
Don't Worry: Now you're starting to talk sense. These aren't the Lions or the Raiders we're talking about. They're the Patriots. Not the kick ass and take names 2007 Patriots, perhaps, but still a team with as good a chance as anyone of hoisting the Lombardi Trophy next February. Let's be serious. How many NFL teams would love to trade rosters with New England? How many would be thrilled to take whatever New England ends up at this year? And let's not forget the unmatched value of The One in the Hoodie. Belichick has forgotten more about this game than Rex Ryan, Brad Childress and those clowns will ever know. As long as the Hoodie is on our sidelines, things will be fine. He still knows what he's doing. He's still plugging away. He's still doing his job. And making sure everyone else will be doing their jobs.
Sky is Falling: Well, we can't go 19-0 anymore. But you say maybe we'll peak at just the right time? We might lose a few more games, but we'll have a better chance--and much less pressure--when we get into the playoffs? And not peaking so soon won't give the rest of the league a chance to figure out how to stop our juggernaut, like they did in 2007.We might not be dominant--but we might be something we weren't in 2007: champions.
Don't Worry: I can see my work here is nearly done. I've talked you down from the ledge. NFL seasons last 16 weeks--not two. This Patriots team has a lot of football left to play and nowhere to go but up. Sure, the start has been disappointing. But I remember a season that started off a lot worse, with a 31-0 loss to some team up in Buffalo. I think that year turned out pretty well in the end. And it is still way too early to panic about this 2009 team. If the probems we've seen so far haven't haven't been fixed by November, if the offense is still sputtering and the defense still can't tacke anybody and opponents are purposely losing yards on 1st and 2nd down so they can easily convert on 3rd and 28, then the Patriots are officially in trouble. But let's give this team a little time to develop. Let's give the Hoodie a chance to remind us all one more time why he's as good as anyone ever.
Sky is Falling: Thanks. You've been a big help. You're right. Coach Hoodie does know what he's doing. Brady's not done yet. The defense may come around. There's a lot of football left. And we do play those Jets one more time, too, don't we. Thanks. I'm feeling better. I'm even starting to think that we might just beat those Falcons Sunday.