During the Tom Brady era between 2001 and 2019, the New England Patriots never found themselves with a 2-4 record six games into a season. In fact, they had a winning record at that point in 15 of 19 years with Brady at the helm.
The last two seasons have looked quite different. After a 2-4 start in 2020 the Patriots find themselves in the same position in 2021 thanks to a 35-29 overtime loss at the hands of the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday.
Last year, this slow start led to a disappointing 7-9 finish — their first sub-.500 campaign in two decades. Whether or not this season will be more of the same remains to be seen, but the Patriots players are still confident in their ability to turn the ship around and eventually start playing more successful football down the stretch.
“I know we have a good team, great players, great coaches, staff and a great organization, so if we keep coming in every single day and continue to work hard, we will be able to turn this thing around,” said running back Damien Harris after the loss to the Cowboys.
Special teamer Justin Bethel, who was forced to play a handful of snaps in an understaffed secondary against Dallas, echoed Harris’ remarks.
“I think we are a good team. I think we’re a good team with a bad record right now,” Bethel said. “There haven’t been games where we’re not in the running. We’re always one play here, one play there. We’ve just got to keep working, go back to work this week, and find a way to win those close games.”
The Patriots have indeed been on the wrong end of some closes games this season.
They lost their season opener to the Miami Dolphins 17-16 when Harris lost a fumble in the fourth quarter with his team deep in the opposing red zone; they were beaten 19-17 by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with the potential game-winning field goal hitting the left upright; they came close to beating the Cowboys but could not make the pivotal stops in the fourth quarter or overtime.
New England has shown that it can hang with the best teams in football, but when push came to shove the team fell down each time. As a result, the Patriots are now 2-4 and already looking up in the race for a playoff berth in the AFC.
Still, the players know that there is time to get the season back on track (which is especially true under the new 17-game format).
“The last few weeks we’ve been having close games and we are still trying to find ourselves,” said wide receiver Kendrick Bourne on Sunday. “It’s just all about our mindset. Are we going to come in here tomorrow with a positive attitude for the future or are we going to come in here and fold? We all have to look at ourselves in the mirror and see what we have to do to fix it. We had a good start and just didn’t finish well. It’s not about how you start, it’s about how you finish.”
Team captain David Andrew shared similar thoughts during his own postgame press conference.
“I think you can learn a lot from things. We’ve just got to keep moving forward,” he said. “There was some good in the game. There’s obviously not enough good to win the game so we’ve just got to move on and go back to work.”
The Patriots will get a chance to rebuild some momentum over the rest of October and into November. While the Week 8 game against the 4-2 Los Angeles Chargers will be a challenge, New England will not face another team currently owning a winning record until Week 12.
In between, the Patriots will play the 1-4 New York Jets, the 3-3 Carolina Panthers and Cleveland Browns, and the 2-3 Atlanta Falcons. Obviously, all of these teams will have different records by the time they square off against New England, but at the moment they all look beatable on paper.
The Patriots, however, know that they need to focus on themselves first and foremost — something mentioned by linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley after the game against Dallas.
“Come back to work tomorrow, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and then Sunday will be here before you know it,” he said. “That’s all you can do regardless of win or loss. You have to come back in here and work. That’s our approach, that’s been our approach and that’s going to continue to be our approach. We’ve got to fill the tank back up and get ready to go.”