Next week, the Patriots have their last shot to prove they can win against the league's elite.
They will face the Saints, quite possibly the best team in the league and one of two unbeaten teams left (and they've appeared a lot more dominant than the Colts, who have struggled to win their last few games).
Though the score of last Sunday's game (a 31-14 victory over the Jets) would appear to indicate the Pats are firing on all cylinders, the numbers belie the facts: That this team has struggled mightily to close games out.
One need look no further than that game to see why.
The Patriots began the game running the ball and making short, efficient throws to counteract the Jets' blitz. This proved an effective strategy, and were able to pile up a 24-0 score with four minutes left in the first half.
In the end of the second quarter and beginning of the second half, though, the Pats mysteriously seemed to lose their way.
One big factor was the passing game. The Patriots seemed to stop throwing the short and intermediate passes that led to their early success. Suddenly, Tom Brady started holding on to the ball longer, and the Jets' blitz, held so wonderfully in check early, roared back to life.
It seems to me that the Pats were trying to prove Randy Moss could beat Darrelle Revis deep, and were sacrificing efficiency on offense to do so. This is unwise, as the gulf in talent between teams in the NFL is not large enough for one team to start proving points.
The Patriots have been working under the assumption that Moss cannot be covered by a single player. This assumption has been proven faulty and, if the Patriots do not adapt to this fact, it could end up hurting them down the road.
What's more, the offense took two delay of game penalties. These penalties are bad enough on the road, where crowd noise can legitimately throw off an offense, but at home? What possible excuse is there?
Thus, short offensive possessions meant the Jets had an opportunity for a comeback.
Indeed, New England's defense (and an overly-generous Mark Sanchez) bailed the offense out.
Had Sanchez not committed five turnovers (one fumble and four picks), the outcome of the game would have been very much in doubt. Put simply, Sanchez is a rookie quarterback and made rookie mistakes. We have no reason to expect Drew Brees, or indeed any quarterback in the NFL's elite, to do the same.
Can the Patriots defeat the Saints? It is certainly possible. In the game against the Colts, I think the Pats showed they could compete with any team in the league.
Will the Patriots defeat the Saints? Only if they avoid the miscues, penalties and woes that have plagued them in the second halves of their losses.