Just under 11 years ago, the New England Patriots sat at 3-3 with Tom Brady as the starting quarterback and Bill Belichick in his second season as head coach. Brady had just taken over the starting position after Drew Bledsoe went down with an injury, and Belichick had yet to have success as head coach. All Patriots fans know how that season ended, with the Patriots going 8-2 the rest of the way and winning their first Super Bowl in franchise history. Today, much has changed over the years, with the exception of Belichick and Brady. Arguably one of the greatest head coach/quarterback combos of all time is still at the helm of the most successful NFL franchise of this millennium. Like 11 years ago, the two did not panic. Don’t expect them to now.
The present-day Patriots sit at 3-3 once again as they search for answers to the inconsistent start. Though a .500 record may not sit well with the coaches, players and the fans, it is good enough for New England to be tied atop the AFC East. All four teams may have the same record, but a win against the New York Jets this weekend would push the Patriots ahead of their division rival. Out of all 16 AFC teams, only two of them are currently above .500, the Baltimore Ravens and the Houston Texans. With so much parity in the division and the conference, the Patriots may be sitting pretty with a .500 record at an opportune time to put everything together and catch fire like they’ve done in the past.
This time around, the Patriots have a favorable schedule to work with the remainder of the season. Of the remaining 10 games, only two of them are against teams that have a winning record. Those two games against the Houston Texans and San Francisco 49ers will be played at home where Brady is 70-13 in his career with the Patriots. New England also has five remaining games against its divisional opponents, and with each team tied atop the AFC East, these games will be vital. The question is not what have the Patriots done in their first six games of the 2012 season, but rather, what can they do in the remaining 10? Like in 2001, an 8-2 record the rest of the way is not just feasible but highly possibly.
It is highly possibly that a team with the best offense in the NFL can finish so strongly. The Patriots not only lead the league in points scored but also in yards per game. Brady himself leads the league in total passing yards with 1,845 that is combined with a strong run game. The emergence of Stevan Ridley and Brandon Bolden has done wonders to what is now one of the best rushing attacks in the NFL. New England is fourth in the league with 917 total rush yards and second with 10 rushing touchdowns through the first six weeks of the season. With Brady still competing at the level of an elite quarterback, combined with a tough ground game, the Patriots are operating at a highly efficient level. Having tight end Aaron Hernandez back in the lineup will only add to the versatility of the offense as the season moves forward.
Although the defense has looked suspect in the last few games, it did get off to a strong start and has come up big in key moments. Defensive End Chandler Jones already has five sacks and three forced fumbles in just his first six NFL games. His play thus far has also earned him NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month for September. The defense overall is young and has plenty of room to grow, but it did force important turnovers at the end of week 5’s game against the Denver Broncos. Rob Ninkovich caused his second fumble in the fourth quarter, and the Patriots recovered to all but seal the game. It’s been in moments like these and in rookies like Jones and Dont’a Hightower that New England’s defense has improved since last year, a season in which the Patriots played in the Super Bowl.
The Patriots have won in convincing fashion three times this year against the Titans, Bills and Broncos. They have lost their three games by a combined total of four points. The Patriots could just as well be undefeated as they are 3-3 had several plays gone their way in those three losses, but that’s football.
This Patriots team has to be dying to prove itself after its mediocre start. Belichick and Brady are at the helm, and they’ve been here before. As in 2001, they did not panic and have not panicked ever since. When others think panic or trouble, all Brady and Belichick do is win football games. Don’t expect that to stop anytime soon.