FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The New England Patriots’ season is half over.
Sometimes it seems as if it’s still training camp.
Young receivers are getting in sync with Tom Brady. Undrafted rookies are starting on the defensive line.
And a once-dominant team is searching for consistency.
Somehow, they’re 6-2 and leading the AFC East by two games.
“We’re trying,” Brady said. “There are a lot of things we can do better.”
That message was received at halftime of Sunday’s 27-17 win over the Dolphins, the latest in a season full of mediocre opponents.
The Patriots went into the locker room trailing 17-3 after gaining just 59 yards. Brady was intercepted on his first pass, threw for just 25 yards and had a miserable 38.0 passer rating.
“The first half was brutal,” tight end Rob Gronkowski said.
But they scored touchdowns on two of their first three possessions in the third quarter.
And the Dolphins missed a field-goal attempt when the ball hit the right upright, then lost a fumble that led to the Patriots’ second touchdown that tied the game 17-17.
It was 20-17 when substitute cornerback Marquice Cole, playing because of a groin injury to Kyle Arrington, intercepted a pass tipped by safety Devin McCourty and managed to get both feet inbounds.
That set up an 82-yard drive with Stevan Ridley running the last 3 for the final points of the game midway through the fourth quarter.
But there is plenty of room for improvement on a team trying to fill holes.
Rookie wide receivers Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson are playing positions handled last season by Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd, who combined for 192 catches.
Free agents Chris Jones and Joe Vellano are filling in at defensive tackle for injured Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly. Star linebacker Jerod Mayo is on season-ending injured reserve.
Add starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer to the list of sidelined players. He didn’t return after injuring his right leg in the second quarter.
Brady appeared to have a swollen right hand in pictures shown on television and threw only eight passes in the first half, nearly all of them short. But his hand “is perfect,” he said. “I’ll be out there next week. You don’t have to worry about that.”
He has plenty of time to improve on the worst statistical year of his career.
“It’s still early in the season,” Cole said Monday. “We just want to hit our stride at the right time. As the year gets older and older then you want to get better and better. And I believe we’re doing that each week, getting better and better.”
That may be because the opposition doesn’t.
Like the Pittsburgh Steelers.
They visit Gillette Stadium on Sunday with a 2-5 record, tied for the second-worst in the AFC.
The Patriots have the NFL’s best home regular-season record, 77-15, since they moved there in 2002.
This season, they’ve played just two teams who currently have winning records, losing to the Bengals 13-6 and beating the Saints 30-27 on a touchdown pass with 5 seconds left. Only two of their six wins have been by more than seven points.
So, with the season already half over, what is the identity of the Patriots?
“I don’t know,” left guard Logan Mankins said. “Once we get 60 minutes of good football then I think we’ll be where we want to be.”