If it did, Tom Brady wouldn't have thrown four inexplicable picks in the past two weeks. If it did, the Patriots would be converting all those fourth-down attempts. If it did, the Patriots would already be champions of the AFC East.
But the era of the Patriots being unquestioned champions of the world continues to stretch further into the past, and the adjustment is a bit startling for most New Englanders. It's even harder for the players.
Brady, one of the few Patriots remaining from the glory years, has taken it upon himself to make sure the Patriots don't fade away.
"I think the natural inclination for a lot of people is to kind of bury your head, not work as hard and say, 'Oh, we're rebuilding,' or 'Oh, let's move on to next year,'" Brady said on WEEI on Monday morning. "The reality is you got to fight harder. You got to put more work in. That's how you overcome things. That's what winners are all about."
He should know. Five years ago, Brady didn't know how to lose. Since then, however, it's been at times difficult to watch, with the ultimate painful loss coming this past Sunday in Miami. It was perhaps more painful than any of the other four losses on the season because it was a game the Patriots could have — and should have — won without any difficulty.
Yet there is no time for mourning in the locker room, and Bill Belichick is pushing his troops forward.
"We’ve just got to do a better job, and that’s all of us," Belichick said on Monday. "Right now, we’re 7-5. There are a couple teams behind us at 6-6. I don’t think it really matters how anybody got there … that’s where we are.
"It’s a four-game season, and right now, it’s a one-game season with Carolina. We’ll turn our attention to them and put everything we have into this one and worry about next week next week."
Such an attitude reflects the general atmosphere that's existed in Foxborough since 2001, yet whether the Patriots can respond like those teams of the past remains to be seen.
If the team needs some positives, it can collectively welcome the fact that the struggles on Sunday appear to be more a case of the team needing to sharpen up. Many pundits are using the two-game slide to jump on the team for lack of personnel and an overall failure at drafting players. The fact is, the defense gave the offense the ball three times in the fourth quarter with a chance to put the game away, yet uncharacteristic mistakes haunted the offense.
In fact, in all of the losses except the Saints game, the biggest weakness seemed to be a series of untimely mistakes. The defense is by no means one of the NFL's elite, but it's been good enough to win. The Patriots' 321.9 yards allowed per game places them at 11th in the league, while their 18.7 points allowed per game ranks seventh in all of the NFL. Of course, that fact doesn't help the Patriots with their record, but it should be enough to leave the team with confidence heading into the final stretch of the season. Especially considering their 414.6 yards per game on offense is second-best in the league.
"I’ve been here for 10 years, and I’ve seen a lot of players and teams," Brady said on WEEI. "It starts on Monday in our preparation. It starts on Wednesday, through five hours of meetings and walk-throughs that we do and practice and film study. When it gets hard, that’s when you’ve got to dig deep. At times, we do that. At other times, it doesn’t show up.
"I have a lot of confidence in our team, and I have a lot of confidence that we do play tough, and we do play physical and we do play smart," he added. "As coach would say, and he says it all the time, we just don’t do it on a consistent basis."
Finding consistency won't be easy for a team that's yet to establish any sort of identity on either side of the ball. There is without question an issue with the offensive play-calling, as timeouts have been wasted just about every week and Brady is constantly in a battle with the play clock. And the defense has had trouble making big plays — the ones that the Patriots made a trademark for years.
Anyone in New England searching for a silver lining can know that the Patriots have successfully turned themselves into underdogs. We all know what happens to the Patriots when they're convinced nobody believes in them. However, as the Pats have made increasingly clear, these aren't the Pats of old.
Which Patriots will take the field Sunday in Foxborough? For the first time in a very long time, nobody can say for sure.
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