Pats' Rout of Broncos Epitomizes '08 Season so Far

Alex MarvezCorrespondent IOctober 21, 2008

FOXBORO, Mass. - It hit me midway through New England's 41-7 Monday night pasting of Denver.

Maybe the coach-speak line that the NFL is a "week-to-week" league isn't so cliché after all this season.

Eight days ago, the Patriots were being written off like the Boston Red Sox seven innings into Game 5 of the American League Championship Series. A 30-10 loss to San Diego featured poor play by New England's pass defense and an even worse performance by quarterback Matt Cassel.

"Humiliated" is how Patriots fullback Heath Evans said he felt afterward.

So what happens the following week? New England served some humble pie to the Broncos. You know, the AFC West-leading Broncos (4-3). The team that defeated San Diego in Week 2.

On his first play Monday night, Denver quarterback Jay Cutler banged his throwing hand on a helmet. Two interceptions and five overall Broncos turnovers hurt worse.

Cassel still won't make anyone forget Tom Brady. But with Sammy Morris rushing for 138 first-half yards and a rash of injuries hitting Denver's defense, Cassel's ongoing tentativeness in the pocket wasn't a liability. He threw a career-high three touchdown passes.

As for the Chargers, they lost on the road Sunday to Buffalo — a team that had dropped its previous game to Arizona, which had gotten crushed in its past two contests. San Diego will try to get back on track this Sunday in London against New Orleans. The woefully unreliable Saints were routed Sunday at Carolina, which was coming off a lopsided loss to Tampa Bay, a team that has won two games since losing earlier this month to Denver.

And so on and so on ...

Whenever a team appears to be getting hot, a chill has quickly followed. Only two clubs (Tennessee and Pittsburgh) have active winning streaks of three or more games. Three squads have at least three consecutive losses. The rest of the league is somewhere in between, muddled in division races that may actually go down to the wire for a change.

Not that parity is a bad thing. It's just that we were spoiled in 2007 by the early success of four marquee franchises: New England, Dallas, Green Bay and Indianapolis. At this time last year, they were a combined 25-2 en route to winning division titles. The Patriots finished just short of a perfect season with their Super Bowl XLII loss to the New York Giants. The Cowboys, Packers and Colts didn't make it that far, but all three maintained a high level of play through at least December before division titles were clinched.

Not so this year.

Those franchises are more erratic than the stock market. The Cowboys are in free fall, losing three of their past four games after a 3-0 start. It seemed the Colts (3-3) were getting back on track with consecutive victories, but then came Sunday's 34-14 drubbing in Green Bay (4-3).

Wouldn't you know it — Indianapolis travels to Tennessee next Monday to face the NFL's only undefeated team. Should this season hold true to form, the 1972 Miami Dolphins will be popping champagne bottles by early Tuesday morning. Even if the Colts lose, nobody outside the 615 area code believes the Titans have a legitimate shot at an unblemished record like New England did in 2007.

I asked three Patriots players why most teams (including their own) are proving Dr. Jekyll one week and Mr. Hyde the next.

"It's still early," left tackle Matt Light said. "I think a lot of teams are finding out who they are and how they need to operate."

"It's a matter of having a good week of practice and carrying that over to the game," wide receiver Wes Welker said. "It's hard to keep that up on a regular basis. There are always distractions, things going on that take away from the game a little bit."

Added linebacker/special teams ace Larry Izzo: "I can't really figure that out. I know things are really wide open right now and there a lot of teams still trying to play consistent football. That's what we're trying to do — consistently get better."

So there isn't one consistent answer for all the inconsistency in 2008. But as the NFL train chugs toward Tampa for Super Bowl XLIII, at least this hasn't changed: Cincinnati (0-7) and Detroit (0-6) won't be along for the ride.

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