I really don't like writing these things.
And no, it's not just because the Patriots lost; we all knew New England was going to lose some games, and a loss to the Steelers at Heinz Field isn't the kind of loss that keeps you up at night (well, yes it is. But no more than any other loss). No - I don't like writing these things because I'm realizing, more and more, that I'm definitely more of a "glass is half empty" kind of guy. I know that I've been trying to stay positive thus far, but who am I kidding? No matter how great things are going for the Pats, I'll always find something to worry about. I believe that the derogatory term for people like me is "pessimist," but I like to think of myself as more of a realist. I know you're supposed to look on the bright side and stay positive and all that junk, but the long and short of it is I just find optimists annoying. Sometimes you want to just sit there in the corner with your arms crossed and pout, and the last thing you want to see is some jerk optimist coming by and trying to make you feel better.
Lo and behold, look what I've become. Here I am, with my second post-loss...um...post, of the season, bringing Patriots Nation five more positives that we can use as building blocks going forward. But don't worry; nothing I'm about to point out qualifies as optimism. Just a couple of practical, down-to-earth observations that we can all use to keep our collective chins up as we continue to follow this team into the 2nd half of the 2011 season.
1. New England can afford this loss. The way things have been unfolding around the league as of late makes this loss a little easier to bear. We still sit at 5-2 and tied for first place in the division, with some early tiebreakers over the Jets. While the loss to Pittsburgh may come into play down the stretch in the conversation for home field advantage, the first step is actually making the playoffs, and this loss wasn't an overly crippling blow to New England's march to the postseason.
2. Run defense remains solid. I know that taking solace in a stout run defense when the pass defense is so atrocious is like celebrating consecutive trips to the AFC Championship game like they were back-to-back Superbowl victories, even though both of those trips ended in losses. So yes, it's difficult to get too excited about New England's run D. But let's keep in mind: as the weather gets colder, teams will rely more and more on the run. If the Patriots ever finds themselves in bad weather games where throwing is limited -a likelihood down the stretch - they are in good shape. The Pats have demonstrated that they are capable of grinding it out when they have to, so I like New England's odds when the weather gets cold.
3. Andre Carter. Carter is very quietly putting together a solid season. He's always around the quarterback and never gives up on a play. Even yesterday, when the Pats' D was on the field for the bulk of the game, Carter was always able to generate some pressure. It obviously wasn't enough to get the job done, and there are just so many other problems with this defense that one man generating pressure isn't going to make much of a difference, but if New England ever does get its act together defensively, Carter is primed to be a major factor.
4. New England is a better team than what we saw last week. While it highlights the bigger issue of what can happen when the Patriots play in an exceptionally hostile environment, I honestly believe that New England is a much better team than the one that lost at Heinz Field, and I think that New England is very capable of beating the Steelers - especially at home. The crowd yesterday was a huge factor, forcing several false starts and disrupting New England's offensive rhythm. New England has the personnel to match up well against Pittsburgh's defense, and in a less hostile environment, I think it's a completely different ballgame. The issue, though, is that Pittsburgh now has the tiebreaker over New England, so a rematch at Gillette may very well not happen.
5. The McRib is back at McDonald's. Yes, I know that each one is 500 calories. Yes, I know that there is virtually no meat in it that in anyway classifies it as ribs. And yes, I know that it is maybe one of 4 foods on the planet where you can actually hear yourself dying a little bit as you eat it. But dammit, that is one delicious sandwich, and I will fight anyone who tells me otherwise. I went straight to McDonald's after Sunday's game for a McRib, and was overjoyed to learn that with the purchase of any value, meal, you can get a 2nd sandwich for only a dollar. Now you'd have to be a sucker not to jump at a deal like that, so yes - I ate two of them. And let me tell you - for the 25 minutes that transpired between my first bite of processed porky goodness and that initial stomach rumble that reminded me of what a massive mistake I'd just made, I definitely felt better.
At the end of the day, the Patriots are still a very good team, and they are still going to be around in January. And honestly, what it comes down to is that New England has lost two games on the road against two good teams that were riding some serious hot streaks and had spent the entire week before the game getting all kinds of fired up over hearing nothing but talk about how New England has owned them as of late. There is still plenty of football left, and the remainder of the games on New England's schedule are very winnable. Looking down the stretch and keeping the focus on the bigger picture, there is a lot of cause for optimism going forward.
But you didn't hear that from me.