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Patriots More at Home on the Road?

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Gillette Record Makes Foxboro Less Feared
But Will New FieldTurf Change All That?

Among the differences between the 2006 Patriots and the 2001-2005 Patriots is this team's home-and-away record.

Not long ago, Gillette Stadium rivaled Green Bay's Lambeau Field, Denver's Mile High and Kansas City's Arrowhead as the most feared arena of visiting teams. The Patriots were virtually impregnable in Foxboro, and it earned the team an ominous reputation and its defense the moniker "Homeland Defense."

All that changed almost in the blink of an eye.

Workers put the finishing touches on the FieldTurf at Gillette Stadium.
Will the new surface benefit the Patriots' style and make Foxboro
again a venue to feared by visiting teams?

Boston Globe Photo Courtesy: www.boston.com

New England is a fallible 2-3 at home, after losing to powerhouses Denver and Indianapolis and division rival New York -- worthy adversaries one and all. There's certainly no shame in those losses. But, except for Denver, not long ago the other two teams had not a snowball's chance in the Orange Bowl of going home with a W.

In those losses, New England has been outscored 61-41, 10 of that difference in the Denver game, so it's not like the Patriots are getting trounced. Ironically, neither team had a turnover in that game, but New England had five in the 7-point loss to Indy and two in the 3-point loss to New York.

Overall, opponents have outscored New England 88-80 in Gillette this season. The Patriots earned a 2-point win over Buffalo in Week 1 and a 10-point victory over Miami. Far from impressive.

You might attribute the home field woes to the constant changing conditions. New England was 2-1 before being forced by the league to replace the center strip of the field, and that was immediately followed by a pair of losses. Was the league trying to neutralize the Patriots' home field advantage?

Now there is this new FieldTurf, which is rapidly gaining popularity throughout the field. Players have had a mixed reaction, some loving it, some clearly not.

But will it make a difference? Some contend that it will suit the Patriots recent quicker, speedier style in contrast to the plodding of a few years ago.

The other question is how quickly can New England adjust to its new surface, and will the Patriots ever truly enjoy an advantage on their home field again?

The story on the road, perhaps even more ironically, is entirely different and equally unexpected. New England is 5-0 on the road, where they are obliterating most teams.

Green Bay and the formerly dreaded Frozen Tundra: 35-0. Minnesota and the Vikings loud dome: 31-7. The always tough Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo: 28-6. The upstart Cincinnati Bengals: 38-13. And the always enjoyable (that's sarcasm) Meadowlands: 24-17.

Do the math and you'll see the Patriots have beaten their hosts by a total 156-43 -- an average 11.3-point margin of victory. Take away the Jets, and it's 132-26 and an average margin of 26.5 points.

Obviously, New England has three remaining home games and three road trips. The first of the final dates in Foxboro is Sunday, when the Patriots entertain 9-1 Chicago, who just won in back-to-back trips to the Meadowlands and also boasts a pristine road record. That's followed next Sunday with Detroit coming to town. The home schedule wraps up in Week 15 with Houston.

A betting man would probably say New England will end up 4-4 at worst if'n they drop the game against the Bears and win the other two.

The road dates pose a couple challenges. Up first is Miami on Dec. 10. New England historically has not fared well in Florida, even when the Dolphins have down years as they are now. The Patriots are in Jacksonville on Christmas Eve. The Jags may not be the power many expected before the season, but they're currently 4-1 at home.

New England's regular season comes to a close in Tennessee on New Year's Eve. The Titans are currently 1-3 in Nashville.

New Year's Eve. Seems like a good time to usher in a new era. An era of New England Patriots dominance.

Wait a minute. That's the current era.

Then the status quo it is.