Saturday, November 5, 2011
Streaky hot Pats lay it on line vs. Giants
By Chris Forsberg
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Only in New England can a one-score loss to the defending conference champion result in such widespread panic. Given the buzz around the team on the heels of a Week 8 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, you might suspect the Patriots were 2-5 instead of the reverse. Hey, it's not like the Patriots have lost back-to-back games.
No, that'd be a real reason to panic, if only because it virtually never happens. Since the start of the 2003 season, the Patriots have lost consecutive regular-season games just twice -- Weeks 12-13 of the 2009 season (road games at New Orleans and Miami) and Weeks 9-10 of the 2006 campaign (home games versus the Colts and the Jets). Even that didn't stop New England from finishing with a combined 24 wins (including playoffs) in those two seasons.
The Patriots will look to avoid only their third losing streak in nine years when they host the New York Giants (5-2) Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium (4:15 p.m.)
One of the hallmarks of the Bill Belichick/Tom Brady era has been New England's ability to bounce back from a defeat. It's often said that good teams avoid losing streaks, and the Patriots have been a prime example of that over the past decade.
So what's their secret?
"I don't know," shrugged Belichick. "We're really trying not to talk too much about last week's game, one way or another. We've won some, we've lost some, but last week is gone -- it doesn't make any difference. We've had winning streaks, we've lost games. Whatever happened last week, we try to learn from it, move on and take each week as it comes and try to focus on that individual week.
"I don't think last week's game or the week's before game has much bearing on this game -- it will be on how our preparation is this week and how we're able to collectively perform on Sunday."
New England actually has much more going for it Sunday than a history of avoiding consecutive losses. The Patriots have won 20 straight regular-season games at Gillette Stadium -- tied for the fourth-longest home streak in NFL history (the 1971-74 Dolphins hold the record at 27) -- and Brady has won an NFL-record 31 straight at home.
The last NFC team to beat the Patriots in Foxborough? You'd have to go back to a 28-10 loss to the Green Bay Packers on Oct. 13, 2002, a stretch of 18 straight nonconference games.
In a season in which past success has meant little for New England -- remember that 15-game streak against the Bills, or how Tom Brady had owned the Steelers? -- those streaks will do little to bring back the part of the fan base that's already standing close to the ledge.
Not that there hasn't been reason for concern, particularly with the way the Patriots defended the pass last week in Pittsburgh (and, well, this season as a whole). Teams have identified a pretty glaring weakness -- New England is on pace to allow the most passing yardage in league history -- and teams are attacking with little regard for being balanced.
As defensive captain Vince Wilfork noted this week: "In this game, you have to find a weakness, and right now our weakness is our passing game. One-dimensional teams shouldn't be able to beat us."
Two things overlooked amid the defensive woes: (1) The Patriots held the Steelers to 25 points (23 if you disregard the late safety) and, with an offense that has averaged 30.2 points per game since the start of the 2007 campaign, that's typically enough to win; and (2) It's the offense that has sputtered a bit the past two weeks, forced to mount late-game charges in the final minutes just to give New England a chance to win.
A look at the offensive drop-off courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information:
The biggest key for New England's success offensively on Sunday likely lies in the trenches. The Patriots' offensive line has struggled to protect Brady in recent weeks, giving up 11 sacks over the past three games. The Giants, meanwhile, lead the NFL in sacks with 26 and can generate heat with only four rushers. According to ESPN Stats & Info, 18 of New York's sacks have come when rushing four bodies or fewer; only the Eagles and Lions (19) have more.
With that in mind, it's impossible to avoid at least this one reference to Super Bowl XLII, where a similar-looking Giants squad put all sorts of pressure on Brady and ended New England's hopes of a perfect season with a 17-14 win in Glendale, Ariz.
This is the first nonexhibition meeting between the two teams since that game. In fact, the Patriots and Giants have met only eight times in the regular season, with New England boasting a 5-3 edge, including wins in each of the past four meetings.
Ah yes, but winning streaks don't matter in 2011. New England simply prefers to avoid those of the losing variety.
Asked what the key to the Patriots' avoiding back-to-back losses has been, Brady noted: "We've had a good team here for that time. Good teams usually don't lose back-to-back games. Hopefully we don't do it this week."
|Bill O'Brien has worked with Tom Brady and Bill Belichick as a Patriots assistant. But will that translate into head coaching success at Penn State?|
Chris Forsberg covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com.