The New England Patriots sure look a mess. At 1-2 on the season, Bill Belichick is chasing down officials to yell at them—grabbing at one in the process—and the team seems to completely lack focus or identity on both sides of the ball.
Still, it's not time to panic. In fact, the Patriots may have the rest of the NFL right where they want it.
Not time to panic?!?! Right where who wants what?!?! I know, it sounds crazy with all the questions surrounding the Patriots after back-to-back losses that put New England in a tie for last place in the AFC East. Questions like: Is there not enough Wes Welker? Are there too many tight ends on the field now that Aaron Hernandez is hurt?
Is there too much Julian Edelman? Has Josh McDaniels tried too hard to put his stamp on the offense that can essentially run itself with Tom Brady at the helm? That's a near certainty if you look at how questionable play-calling and unnecessary gimmicks allowed Baltimore to get back into the game on Sunday night.
Of course, the defense stunk too. It may be the team's biggest question mark after giving up a ridiculous 503 total yards to the Ravens, including 382 passing yards for Joe "Damn right I'm elite" Flacco. If Flacco wants people to think he is elite, he should petition to play against New England's secondary every week.
All that said, before people start burning their Danny Woodhead jerseys, let's all take a deep breath together and figure out how this wacky, panic-inducing, yell-at-the-refs kind of start may be just what New England needed.
To avoid the proverbial hangover of losing the Super Bowl—eight of the last 14 teams to lose the Super Bowl have missed the playoffs the following season—one might think the Patriots needed a fast start to the 2012 season. Certainly a 3-0 or 2-1 start after three games would be better than 1-2, but a fast start would not guarantee playoff success this season. The hangover could still loom over their heads another 14 weeks.
Maybe this poor start could serve as a wake-up call before the season really spins away from them.
The last time the Patriots started the season 1-2 was 2001, when New England lost the first two games of the season, and three of the first four games, before a late-season streak of eight wins in the final nine regular season games catapulted Belichick and Brady into a historic run to their first Super Bowl title together.
Of course, the first two losses of that season came when Drew Bledsoe was quarterback of the Patriots, before Brady replaced him. While fantasy owners may have been thinking about benching Brady for Week 3 this year, that doesn't feel like a move Belichick is going to make to jump-start the season.
The truth is, only time will tell how bad the New England start really is. I know that reads like a generic football platitude (and maybe it is in a way), but it also may be the truth.
The Patriots looked excellent in a Week 1 dismantling of the Tennessee Titans, a team some were expecting to compete for a playoff spot in the AFC. While the offense stalled against Arizona in the home opener, the defense only allowed 20 points despite two second-half touchdowns and held Larry Fitzgerald to one catch for four yards.
Suddenly, a week later, Arizona is one of three undefeated teams in the NFL after beating up on the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday.
Put in context, the two New England losses don't seem all that bad. Sure, at the time, it looked like the loss to Arizona was horrible, but the Cardinals defense looks incredible after three weeks, allowing just 40 points through three games, the fewest in the league.
As for Baltimore, despite a close loss in Philly in Week 2, the Ravens are still a legitimate Super Bowl contender in the AFC, and with New England having to play on the road in prime-time Sunday, that looked like one of the early-season losses for the Patriots before the season began.
Things really aren't that bad at 1-2. Looking ahead, the Patriots travel to Buffalo for a game they do suddenly have to win, but after that, the schedule opens up surprisingly well. New England gets Denver at home before flying across the country to face the Seahawks and coming back for another division game at home against the Jets. They play at the Rams before the bye week, then five of their final eight games are at home with the only three road games coming at the Jets, Dolphins and Jaguars.
New England will face Houston and San Francisco on back-to-back weeks, the second coming on a short week after a Monday night game, but both those games are at home. The schedule is certainly set up for New England to absorb an early-season hiccup.
After watching the Jets and Dolphins on Sunday, it's pretty clear those two teams will slog through the schedule all season in a fight for last place in the division—especially now that the Jets have lost Darrelle Revis for the entire season with an ACL injury—which means the road back to the playoffs for New England basically goes through Buffalo.
Just thinking about that should make every New England fan pause, breathe and realize there is no reason to panic.
Welker seems to be getting more and more involved in the offense as opportunities present themselves, albeit through injury to other receivers. McDaniels will surely calm down the gadgets and get back to what the Patriots do best: letting Brady run the show the way he wants.
As always with New England, there are issues on defense—especially the secondary—but that's never stopped them from making the Super Bowl before. Last season, New England ranked 15th in scoring defense and 31st in yards allowed. Somehow, it didn't seem to matter.
Looking back on that 2001 season they hope to mirror this year, the defense ranked sixth in the league in points but 24th in yards allowed that year. Through three games, New England ranks 10th in both categories.
It's not exactly a Super Bowl formula—the defense was stellar in the undefeated season of 2007 and both the 2003 and 2004 Super Bowl team boasted top 10 defenses—but the "bend don't break" method of defending can work when an offense is as dynamic as this Patriots' offense can be.
They just need to be that offense. Putting up 30 points in two of three games, including that many on the road against the Ravens, shows this offense can still score with anyone. The Patriots just might have to keep doing it all season long, including the playoffs, if they expect to get back to the Super Bowl.
Before they can even think about getting back to the Super Bowl, they just need to all calm the heck down. That means the head coach, too.
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