Today's loss has left me with one feeling - baffled. I could be furious, but I'm not as this was almost predictable. I can blame myself for shutting the world out and DVRing the game this afternoon so that I could play in my Beer League hockey game. The result is typically the same when I DVR any game, the team I'm rooting for will hang in long enough to keep you interested only to let you down in the end; this way you just don't get mad and turn it off or check the score if and when they go down early. I kept true to my plan and sat through the game until the final snap and I surprisingly don't regret it.The 2012 New England Patriots sit in a 4-way tie at 3-3 in the underwhelming AFC East right now. Who would have thought that this would be the situation after 6 weeks even 2 weeks ago? While it's discouraging to look at this, I firmly believe that this team is superior enough to the Jets, Bills and Dolphins that they will win the division and set up for another title run, but I feel a run is this teams ceiling.
After another deflating loss to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl, I got out of my depression sooner than I thought and started paying attention to free agency. While I don't feel that the Patriots hit a home run in free agency I think they did a fantastic job of adding a sure handed receiving threat in Brandon Lloyd and did well adding additional depth in players like Bobby Carpenter, Robert Gallery, Jonathan Fanene, Will Allen and Trevor Scott and the plethora of WR's were all good depth signings that would create good competition in camp for a team that was one step away from a Super Bowl victory. Most of these guys didn't make the final cut which wasn't the worst thing as the Patriots actually drafted solid first round picks Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower instead of gambling on trading picks to hoard. Camp seemed to go well and the preseason left us little to guess about going into regular season.
Again, after 6 weeks the Patriots sit at 3-3. Their 3 losses are by 4 points to teams with a combined 13-4 record and their 3 wins coming by a combined 55 points against teams with a combined 7-10 record. A few things jump out about this. First, the Patriots just can't close out close games anymore. The Patriots defense had a shot to end each loss by getting off of the field with a lead late in the fourth quarter in all 3 losses, but have just been gashed, bombed and self destructive on the final drives of these games. This problem is nothing new as it was the case in the Super Bowl last year and in their (regular season) loss to the New York Giants and the Buffalo Bills. The Pittsburgh game was the only loss in which they were truly blown out in. Give them credit, though, they survived the Dallas Cowboys (Romo's mistakes) and the Baltimore Ravens (shanked field goal) in these late game situations. This defense has given us the false sense that they can do big things as they have been able to force turnovers and stop the run. But that's where it ends.
Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich have been impressive so far, but there is still no pass rush. Opposing quarterbacks still aren't getting dirty and have been elusive and have been able to create big plays due to poor tackling and being left all of the time in the world to pass. The secondary is as bad if not worse than it was last season. i personally feel the Devin McCourty (he makes me miss Ellis Hobbs) is one of the worst DB's in the league as he is constantly being targeted and is subject of many big PI calls. Kyle Arrington isn't far behind. That said, it all starts with the pass rush. It doesn't matter how good a team's secondary is, if a QB has infinite amounts of time in the pocket to throw, even the best secondaries are going to get torched, combinethe lack of a pass rush with this generation of the "Smurfs" we have a disaster on our hands.
We are in a new offensive/QB driven culture in the NFL where most teams just try to outscore the other and not worry about yards/points given up as long as they get the "W" in the standings. The Patriots and the Green Bay Packers are both fine examples of this as they have top scoring offenses but give up league leading yards on defense. This is fun to watch and seems to work until they run into a team that can play defense, then it seems that they just can't win a defensive battle. Today was a fine example. I'm still a firm believer that defense wins championships and this is what not only has prevented the Patriots from beating the New York Giants in two Super Bowls and why they couldn't beat the Baltimore Ravens and New York Jets in between in the playoffs. Disclaimer: I feel that while the 2007 defense was good with Richard Seymour, Asante Samuel, Teddy Bruschi, Rodney Harrison and Mike Vrabel but they were a bit overrated given the fact that they consistently played with big leads and were able to force teams into mistakes because the offense was able to control the tempo of the games.
I'm never going to write this team off, but I'm going to voice my concern after this erratic start. It just appears that they have prepared well and executed well in their wins - running the ball well, playing "bend but don't break" defense and manage the game well to just not showing up and not running the ball well, creating bad penalties on both sides of the ball and making costly mistakes in their losses. This team is good enough to beat every team in the league but haven't proven anything but to be a "middle of the road" team at this point in the season based on their results and competition. This team has suffered a minor rash of injuries, but nothing significant enough to set them back with their depth.
This team has shown the ability to bounce back in adversity in the past and it doesn't seem to be the case this season. I feel that Bill Belichick is facing his biggest challenge right now in turning this team around and proving to me and the rest of Patriots Nation wrong in the next 10 games and that they can be a legit contender and show it in all three phases of the game.
I'm not so much doom and gloom as I'm just a spoiled fan who would like to see some of the consistency with this team from the past.