Saturday, March 8, 2014
The regular season is a mere two weeks away. How do you feel about the New England Patriots?
The New England Patriots haven't done particularly well in the preseason over the last 10 seasons, with only one winning record in that stretch -- 2009 (3-1). Entering Thursday's preseason finale against the New York Giants, the Patriots are 16-23 in the preseason since 2004. But that hasn't stopped them from remaining one of the NFL's best regular-season clubs, with a 112-32 record over the last nine seasons.
Thursday's 40-9 loss to the Detroit Lions was the fourth consecutive year in which the Pats have lost the third preseason game, considered by many to be the most important, with starters playing the longest. Overall, they're only 4-6 over the last 10 years in those games:
2013: L, 40-9 at Detroit
2012: L, 30-28 at Tampa Bay
2011: L, 34-10 at Detroit
2010: L, 36-35 at St. Louis
2009: W, 27-24 at Washington
2008: L, 27-17 vs. Philadelphia
2007: W, 24-7 at Carolina
2006: W, 41-0 vs. Washington
2005: W, 27-3 vs. Green Bay
2004: L, 20-17 at Carolina
Did last Thursday's 40-9 loss at Detroit cause any concern?
Even though the Patriots were tossed around like rag dolls for most of the night, there is no other team in the NFL that responds to adversity like New England.
And, remember, it is the preseason. Yes, it was the third preseason game -- the one considered most important in terms of getting the starters plenty of playing time -- but the Patriots have struggled in this game recently.
They have lost the third preseason game in each of the last four years. Yet in the previous three regular seasons, they have gone 39-9.
How will they do this year? Bill Belichick made it clear in his conference call Friday night that the Patriots hold their fate in their hands.
"We just need to go out and have a good week of practice and do things a lot better than we did them (Thursday) night, that's all," he said. "Nobody is going to do it for us. We're going to have to go out there.
"Nobody but us can make things any better than they were (Thursday) night. We have to go out there and do something about it."
There were some disconcerting things about Thursday's game, though. The offensive line, considered a strength coming into training camp, was manhandled by the Lions' defensive front.
Maybe that was to be expected because teams with big, mean defensive fronts -- and the Lions, with Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley are as mean as anyone -- traditionally give the Patriots fits.
And the Patriots are short-handed up front. Dan Connolly, the starting right guard, and Marcus Cannon, the top reserve, have been limited by injuries in training camp, although Connolly did get in for a couple series against Detroit. Will Svitek has filled in and done well, but against the Lions he was simply overmatched.
The offensive line has to play well for this team to succeed. In the first two preseason games, both victories, New England rushed for a total of 387 yards -- averaging 6.7 yards a carry. When you do that, you give Tom Brady time to throw. He was 18 of 20 in the first two games.
When you can't run the ball -- New England only rushed for 68 yards against Detroit, averaging 2.3 yards -- well, Brady is usually going to be in trouble. And he was against the Lions.
New England lost three fumbles and Brady threw an interception in the first half.
Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden didn't play after their fumbles, and if tight end Zach Sudfeld did, he was pretty much invisible.
"Ball security is very important to anybody who handles the ball in any situation," said Belichick. "There can be no mistake about the importance of it. There can be no mistake about that message. The message has been delivered ad nauseum."
The thing to remember about that game -- and the upcoming preseason finale against the New York Giants on Thursday -- is that the Patriots are still coming together.
Brady is learning to throw to, other than Julian Edelman, a new group of receivers. Rookies will play a big role in the passing game, and no one has impressed more than Kenbrell Thompkins, an undrafted free agent from Cincinnati who might start opposite Danny Amendola.
(Continued on page 2)