Too soon to get worked up over shaky Patriots

September, 23, 2009
9/23/09
4:36
PM ET
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
Tom Brady and the Patriots haven't looked like world-beaters through two games, but talk of their imminent demise may be exaggerated.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham


Step away from the pier, Patriots fans.

Before you rope a cinder block around your Florsheims and leap into the harbor over the way your team has looked through the first two weeks, understand it's too early to jump.

Wait until the water's colder.

"They're only 1-1 for crissakes," ESPN analyst Herm Edwards said. "It's September."

That's right; the New England Patriots did win a game. Although it's easy to think of them as 0-2 after the way they've matched up against a pair of AFC East teams.

The Patriots should be winless. The Buffalo Bills donated a victory in the season opener, when Leodis McKelvin fumbled a kickoff inside the final two minutes and begged Tom Brady to be the hero. Brady obliged.

But there were no Brady gallantries last Sunday. The hyperactive New York Jets defense agitated him all afternoon, and the Patriots lost 16-9 at the Meadowlands.

The visceral reaction is doom. But it's too soon to draw any conclusions about the Patriots' chances this year.

"In November, you'll know," Edwards said. "When you hit November, you know your team and you know where you stand realistically."

A loss on Sunday versus the Atlanta Falcons in Gillette Stadium would give the Patriots their first losing record since they dropped the 2003 season opener to the Buffalo Bills. They haven't had a losing record after two games since they were 3-4 in 2002.

"I know most people are looking at it as 'Oh, they're done. They're finished,'" said Je'Rod Cherry, who played on all three of New England's championship teams and now works as a college football analyst for ESPN360.

"I've seen this before. I don't think people should panic."

Both games left Patriots fans with a more disconcerting impression than the final scores indicated. The Bills should've won, but the Patriots were much more competitive against the Jets than the postgame analysis gave them credit for.

With so much attention spent on trash talk and gobs of praise being heaped on Rex Ryan's defense for not yielding an offensive touchdown through eight quarters and counting, one would think the Jets routed the Patriots. But it was never more than a one-score game. The Patriots had a chance to tie it five times in the second half.

Still, it's a sobering start for a team that's expected to contend for the Super Bowl.
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PRESSWIRE
The trade of Richard Seymour to Oakland hastened the transition on a New England defense that's light on leadership now.

"Guys are down on themselves," Cherry said. "It’s not a happy environment, by no means. You're mad because you're not playing up to your capabilities, and you're not executing. And, believe me, they have a coach who knows what they've been doing wrong and will point out what they can do better."

New England's shaky start mostly can be explained by Brady's continuing recovery from reconstructive knee surgery and the startling Richard Seymour trade.

The five-time Pro Bowler's departure further depleted a defense in transition. Seymour's departure added another void to a unit that already lost linebackers Tedy Bruschi and Mike Vrabel and safety Rodney Harrison.

Bill Belichick lost a mountain of leadership. Less experienced players have to emerge, a process that takes time but must be fulfilled for the homestretch -- when it counts.

"Bill anticipated all that," Edwards said. "You got a bunch of younger guys, different guys in the locker room. This is a different team.

"You're always looking at 'Where are we going to be as a football team in November because that's when the season really begins. That's when the separation starts.

"Most teams have about nine games left. You've played enough games where you know what your team is, your strengths, what you have. You're into the groove of playing football games. Now here we go."

New England's turbulent start might prove to be a catalyst.

Early season hiccups aren't foreign to New England. The 2001 team lost its first two games and had a losing record when November began but won their first Super Bowl.

Analogous to the Seymour trade, the Patriots dumped star safety Lawyer Milloy right before the 2003 season began. The Buffalo Bills picked him up and, in the opener, waxed the Patriots 31-0. The Patriots went into October with a 2-2 record but went on to win their second Super Bowl.

Those teams, however, probably were hungrier than the Patriots are now.

"As a player you can become susceptible to a sense of entitlement because you know you're good," Cherry said. "Sometimes you feel like you don't have to go out there and prove it.

"When I was there, you had an element on the team that had chips on their shoulders, guys who were not given much respect, guys who got no major attention coming out of college. I thought coach Belichick did a masterful job of finding guys of a certain psychology.

"With all the success that's taken place, maybe you lose that sense of needing something to prove. That angst of 'us against the world' is hard to come across."

The Spygate scandal seemed to drive the Patriots through a record-breaking 2007 campaign that almost attained perfection.

An alarming start and widespread doubt from outsiders might be precisely what the Patriots need to get them in the right mental frame.

"When this team gets successful, we're going to look back on this and say it was the start," Cherry said. "Now you have something to prove again. Time will tell, but it's worked in the past. It can work again."

Said Edwards: "They beat Atlanta, and all of a sudden they're 2-1. Everybody in New England's talking about the sky is falling. It's not falling."

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