The New England Patriots 3-0 start has folks in these parts excited. Their ability to score a lot of points in a lot of ways has resulted in three extremely impressive victories.

In fact, there have been whispers – both in the media and among the fans – that this team resembles a certain 2007 Patriots team. Remember that one? Record-setting offense. Undefeated through 18 games, only to lose to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl.

Sorry to bring up the pain again.

But if you’re going to compare this team to any previous Patriots powerhouses, you need to go back a little further. Take a look at the 2004 team, the one that defeated Philadelphia 24-21 to win its second Super Bowl in a row, third in four years.

That’s the team that this one most resembles.

Like this one, that 2004 team was coming off a Super Bowl championship. And each of those championships were not decided until the final seconds.

A year ago in Super Bowl XLIX, it was a goal-line interception by Malcolm Butler to secure a 28-24 win over Seattle. In 2003, it was an Adam Vinatieri 41-yard field goal with four seconds left that lifted the Patriots to a 32-29 win over the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl XXXVIII.

Here are some of the similarities between the 2004 champions and this year’s version of the Patriots:

n That 2004 team relied on two superstar offensive players: Tom Brady, who threw 28 touchdown passes to 10 different receivers, and Corey Dillon, who rushed for 1,635 yards and scored 13 touchdowns, 12 on the ground.

The 2015 Patriots rely on two superstar offensive players: Tom Brady, playing better than he ever has, and Rob Gronkowski, who is now the standard-bearer for tight ends. (No, I didn’t forget Julian Edelman, but everything the Patriots do goes through Brady and Gronkowski).

n The 2004 Patriots had perhaps the greatest clutch kicker in NFL history, Mr. Vinatieri, whose 22-yard field goal in the fourth quarter against the Eagles once again provided the winning points in a Super Bowl.

n The 2015 Patriots have perhaps the best kicker in the NFL today, Stephen Gostkowski, who has missed just one extra point in his career and has kicked a record 425 in a row.

n The offensive line of the 2004 team had injury issues. Right tackle Tom Ashworth, who started the previous year, and his backup, Adrian Klemm, were both placed on the injured reserve. That meant Brandon Gorin started in the Super Bowl. Remember him? And guys like Russ Hochstein and Billy Yates played key moments.

This year’s offensive line already has injury issues. Returning starting center Brian Stork is on the short-term IR with a concussion. The guy everyone expected to replace him, Ryan Wendell, missed the first three games with an undisclosed illness. Three rookies have stepped in and played quite well. David Andrews, an undrafted free agent, is at center. Tre’ Jackson (fourth round, 111th overall) and Shaq Mason (fourth round, 131st) have filled in at guard, along with Josh Kline.

n The 2004 defense was paced by an incredible front seven. The linebackers on that team included Tedy Bruschi, Willie McGinest, Mike Vrabel, Roman Phifer, Rosevelt Colvin and Ted Johnson. There were times when Bill Belichick had five of them on the field at once.

The defensive front included Richard Seymour, Ty Warren, a rookie named Vince Wilfork, Keith Traylor and Jarvis Green.

Those defenders harassed quarterbacks and battered running backs every week, making it easier for a weakened secondary to hold on.

The 2015 defense is paced by a very strong front seven. The linebackers include Jerod Mayo, Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower, who have the ability to be stout on the run or drop into coverage.

The defensive front includes ends Rob Ninkovich, Chandler Jones and Jabaal Sheard, exceptional pass rushers who can play multiple positions on the line. The tackles include a rookie named Malcom Brown, veterans Alan Branch and Sealver Siliga and second-year player Dominique Easley.

n The secondary of the 2004 champions was unsettled all year. Starting cornerbacks Ty Law and Tyrone Poole were both lost to injuries early on. That meant second-year cornerback Asante Samuel and undrafted rookie free agent Randall Gay became starters. Other cornerbacks included Hank Poteat, Earthwind Moreland and, at times, wide receiver Troy Brown. The safeties were fine with Rodney Harrison and Eugene Wilson.

The 2015 secondary is equally unsettled at cornerback, but strong at safety with Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung. Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler is one starting corner and he has shown great potential. But the other side is a work in progress with Tarell Brown, Logan Ryan, Bradley Fletcher and Justin Coleman all playing the position.

n There is one other similarity between these teams: the bye week.

The Patriots are on their bye this week (Week 4), the earliest they’ve had a bye since … 2004, when they were off in Week 3. That championship team went 12-2 the rest of the way, its losses at Pittsburgh (34-20 on Oct. 31) and at Miami (29-28 on Dec. 20).

It remains to be seen what this year’s team will do. But teams tend to fare better when the bye week comes later in the season. It provides a much-needed physical and mental breather before the playoffs begin.

Over the last five years, only two teams – Baltimore in 2011 and Pittsburgh in 2010 – have advanced to the AFC title game with a bye week earlier than Week 7. Over the last 10 years, only two teams out of 20 – Baltimore in 2008 (Week 2) and Pittsburgh in 2005 (Week 4) – have advanced to the AFC title game with a bye week as early as the Patriots this year.

This year’s team certainly has the potential to go far. But its success will be determined by several factors, injuries being the biggest. Lose Brady, Gronkowski, Edelman, McCourty, Ninkovich, Hightower, left tackle Nate Solder, for any extended period and the outlook changes.

The team needs to develop another receiving threat other than Gronkowski and Edelman. Teams aren’t going to continually allow those two a free release off the line. Aaron Dobson needs to step up. Danny Amendola needs to continue to play well.

They need to get a little more balance in the offense, with LeGarrette Blount and Dion James eating up chunks of time in games in which the Patriots have the lead late or the weather is bad.

The defense has to play better. It has 13 sacks in three games, but teams are averaging 251.7 yards passing against the Patriots.

It’s not much better against the run where the Patriots are ranked 23rd among the NFL’s 32 teams, giving up an average of 117 yards per game.

There’s a long way to go before even thinking about the playoffs, but the Patriots have a blueprint to follow. And it’s one that led to a championship.

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: MikeLowePPH

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