Fans of the New England Patriots—especially young ones—are not familiar with scrapping to make it into the playoffs.
In eight of the past nine years, the Patriots have won the AFC East, and they usually had it locked up by around Week 15. The one year they failed to do so was in 2008, the year quarterback Tom Brady did not play past Week 1.
However, Sunday's stinker against the New York Jets has got to have Patriots fans wondering about their playoff chances.
Can your defense stop anybody in the second half? That's a good question to ask a team with dreams of reaching another Super Bowl.
With 68 percent completions, 328 passing yards and a 90.3 quarterback rating, Sanchez had no trouble finding open receivers for most of the game, especially in the second half. The fact that he put up those numbers despite missing badly on a few throws to open receivers—most notably Stephen Hill in the end zone—does not bode well for the Patriots.
Where Is the Confidence?
What happened to the most confident offense and most confident quarterback in the NFL? This tweet struck me during the game as being pointedly true:
The Jets have a better looking downfield passing game, and red zone passing game, tonight than the Pats. Didn't see that coming
— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) October 21, 2012
I was convinced the Patriots were going to go for it on 4th-and-1 in Jets territory. The punt ended up okay—inside the 10—but that is a play the old Patriots would have gone for and converted.
While it is somewhat effective, especially against soft zone defenses, it is a pale shadow of the 2007 offense, or even the 2011 offense.
They certainly did not look like it on Sunday.
Where Do They Stand?
Things could be worse. The Patriots are first place in the AFC East and remain the favorites to win the division. But if you talk to Tom Brady, he will tell you how unsatisfying a first-round exit can be.
With an aging star quarterback and a team built to win now, the Patriots should not be happy with anything less than another Super Bowl appearance. Is that still a possibility with this roster?
Anything is possible, but Patriots fans have plenty of causes for concern.