Patriots

Where have we seen these Pats before?

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Where have we seen these Pats before?

By Rich Levine
CSNNE.com

I was out on Friday night after the Celtics game, but no one felt like talking about the Celtics.

On one hand, you couldn't really speak positively about the team, seeing that theyd just lost to the Kevin Durant-less Thunder. On the other, it was only one loss in mid-November.

The Cs have played far too well for one bad game to initiate any level of controversy or concern. It was a tough loss. They happen. Every one was just ready to move on.

And by move on, I mean talk about the Patriots, because lately, that's all anyone in Boston wants to talk about anyway. The Pats have completely captivated the city.

How good are they? How good can they be? Is it all because of Randy? Could this have happened without the trade? Is the defense for real? Is the whole team for real?

Its what we all want to know. And after Sundays win over Indy, that want will only intensify.

In a way, it's just like old times in Patriots Nation, but another question is: Which old times?

Maybe its part of the process of convincing ourselves that this team is a legitimate Super Bowl contender. But over the past few weeks, there's been a hurry to determine which Super Bowl team theyre most like.

Who do they most resemble?

And to this point, it hasnt really been close.

"Man, this feels just like 2001."

I hear that all the time. I heard that at least three or times on Friday. In each case it was unprovoked.

And to a certain extent, I get it.

I see the lack of star power on offense and the somewhat unproven defense. I see the polarizing midseason decision (Bradys our man!Were through with Randy!) that unified the team instead of tearing it apart.

I also think its fun to compare any team to that 2001 squad because it would be amazing to experience that run all over again, and this time, to actually understand and absorb whats going on, instead of freaking out the entire time like a 13-year-old during his virgin make-out session.

Who wouldnt want to re-live the 2001 season? Why not just convince ourselves that this is it? Instinctively, I think weve all been drawn to 2001.

But theres one huge difference between the 2001 and 2010 teams that kills the comparison at least for me and gives off the vibe of a different championship run:

History.

Back then, New England didnt know what winning was it'd been 15 years since Boston had won in any sport. So, when the Pats went along their winning ways, we never thought about pointing out the problems, the things that they could have done better or could potentially haunt them down the stretch. We were too busy obsessing over the positives. We were too busy trying to understand how the hell this team was suddenly winning football games. It didn't make sense.

The problems weren't a big deal because we already knew they existed. The good stuff! Thats what was so perplexing. That was all we cared about.

In 2010, thats clearly changed. For me, comparing 2001 and 2010 is difficult because the two teams operated, and operate, in two completely different realities. The way that we see the organization, the coach and the quarterback changed so drastically at the end of that 2001 season that I dont think anything will ever compare. That was the season that changed things forever; it will never be duplicated.

And obviously, none of the three Patriots Super Bowl seasons will be duplicated, but if you're looking for the closest thing to this year, just set your DeLorian to 2003 instead of 2001. Then you'll wonder if thats not whats currently unfolding in Foxboro.

You look back on that 2003 season, you see the 14-2 record, and you feel like it was pretty easy. You want to think it was just like 2004, and combine those two seasons together. But they were so different. 2004 was pure dominance; 2003 was, well a lot like 2010.

The Patriots' historic win streak started in Week 5 of that season the same week these Patriots traded Randy Moss this year. The Pats were already 2-2, had been through the disappointment of choking in the post-Super Bowl year, the emotions of the Lawyer Milloy move and the drama surrounding Tom Jacksons big month.

Their win over the Titans that day wasnt pretty. They actually trailed in the fourth quarter while most of the fans were wrapped up in the SoxAs playoff game taking place at Fenway before Ty Laws late pick six sealed the victory. Good win, but not their greatest effort.

A week later, Tom Brady had 91 net passing yards in a win over the Giants. The next week, Olindo Mares missed field goal allowed Brady to find Troy Brown deep in overtime. The next week, the Pats never found the end zone in an ugly 9-3 win over the 3-4 Browns. The next week, a late intentional safety was the key play in New England stealing a Monday night win in Mile High. The next week, they eked out a 12-0 win at home over the Cowboys. The next week, they needed overtime in Houston to beat the 4-6 Texans.

By the time Patriots beat the Colts in the famous "Goal Line Stand" game in November of 2003, it marked New Englands eighth straight win on the season. Theyd go on to win 13 more in a row after that, but at the time we had no idea.

All we knew was that they were a team that somehow always found a way to win. Winning pretty? That had nothing to do with it. For the 2003 Pats, the idea of playing a complete game was as foreign as Semih Erden. Each time they took the field, theyd give us flashes of greatness and glimpses of all their flaws.

We could find something wrong with every win they had. There was always something they could have done better; there was always a way that they could be better. But while they spent each week exposing various potential problems, they kept winning. They could struggle all afternoon, but when the game was on the line, and the play needed to be made the 2003 Patriots made it.

They were never perfect until they had to be.

And after Sundays latest historic showdown with the Colts, were starting to get there with the 2010 Patriots.

At this point, were no longer surprised by their ability to win the big games like we still were every single time with that 2001 team. We expect them to do so.

It's never easy. So far, almost every game has been surrounded with some cloud of doubt. Even in the post-Randy Era. We wished the offense was more effective (especially in OT) against the Ravens. We wished they hadnt let the Chargers hang around so late in San Diego. Same goes for the Vikings; that game was uglier Josh Cribbs toe x-rays. Which brings us to Cleveland that was one big mess. And then Pittsburgh OK, maybe that was a pretty complete game, if not for that lack of killer instinct. And then yesterday against Indy, after the Patriots nearly coughed up another huge lead to Peyton, many Pats fans were left thinking:

"OK, its great to get that win there, but that didn't leave a great taste in my mouth."

It never does, but an ugly win still tastes a lot better than a loss of any kind. And aside from that one clunker in Cleveland which wasn't really about coming up short in big moments, but more just never coming to play in the first place the Patriots always do enough. They expose their own flaws and learn more about themselves every week, but nearly every week, they do so in victory. And at some point, that's no longer an accident.

Every team in this league has issues, but the great teams are the ones whose flaws aren't so glaring that they overshadow their strengths. I know that's a pretty basic point, but it's the truth. This team isn't perfect. There will always be something to complain about; something that they can do better. Unlike in 2001, we can't look past that stuff anymore. We've now been to the top. Winning is no longer a privilege; it's just the expectation.

But just like that team in 2003, the 2010 Pats continue to meet that expectation. And as long as they do, what more can we ask for?

Nothing, I guess. Expect for maybe the chance, someday in the future, to look at a team and say: "You know, these guys remind me a lot of the 2010 Pats. I think we're in for something special."

Rich Levine's column runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on CSNNE.com. Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

Tom Brady on pace for huge numbers, so why is he down on his play of late?

Tom Brady on pace for huge numbers, so why is he down on his play of late?

FOXBORO -- Tom Brady is on pace for 5,224 yards passing in 2017, just a shade under his total from his career-high in 2011. He's on track to have 34 touchdowns and just five picks. Barring a continued run of ridiculous efficiency from Kansas City's Alex Smith, those numbers would be MVP-caliber in all likelihood.

But Brady's not thrilled with the way he's played of late. What gives? 

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In his past two games, he hasn't thrown the football as consistently as he would have liked. After starting the season with a 10-to-0 touchdown-to-interception ratio, he's 3-to-2 in the last couple of weeks. His accuracy has been at times pinpoint (as it was on his 42-yard completion to Brandin Cooks to help set up a Rob Gronkowski score against the Jets), but it has also been uncharacteristically erratic.

He was picked deep down the middle of the field by Buster Skrine last week, but the more concerning throw may have been the quick out-route to Gronkowski that Skrine dropped for what should have been an easy interception. Brady missed Phillip Dorsett on what looked like it could have been a long touchdown with Dorsett running free behind the defense. He threw behind Chris Hogan twice in the game, one of which opened up Hogan to a rib-shot that landed him on the injury report this week.

Against the Jets, Brady was not sacked and he was hit only four times -- a light day for him compared to other weeks this season when he's been battered. Yet he still completed just under 53 percent of his passes for 257 yards and a season-low 6.76 yards per attempt. 

"Well, I've got to hit the open . . . If the throws are there I've got to be able to make them," he said on Friday. "It's disappointing when I don't. To me, it just comes back to technique and fundamentals and making sure everything is working and that's the consistent daily thing that you're working on. I'm always working on my accuracy.

"I wish I hit them all. I'm capable of hitting them all and I need to be able to do that. I said last week that some of these games wouldn't be as close if I was playing better in the red area. I think some of those missed opportunities in the pass game with me hitting guys would really help our team. Hopefully, I can do a better job for this team."

Brady is no longer listed on the Patriots injury report, but he dealt with a left shoulder injury against both the Bucs and the Jets, and it's worth wondering if that somehow impacted how his passes traveled in those games. Balance is key in Brady's world, and even though he can make flat-footed throws look easy, perhaps an injury to his front side limited his ability to place the ball where he wanted. 

Keeping Brady upright could go a long way in helping the 40-year-old regain his form from Weeks 2-4 when he didn't dip below a 104 quarterback rating. Bill Belichick said earlier this week that part of the reason the Jets pass-rush wasn't quite as effective as others they'd faced this year was his team's ability to run the ball. Productive rushing attempts on first and second down mean manageable third downs, which mean shorter pass attempts. Those of course, in theory, lead to less time standing in the pocket and a healthier quarterback.

"It's great," Brady said of his team's recent surge running the football. "I mean, to be able to run the ball consistently in the NFL is important for every offense. It does take a lot of . . . I wouldn't say pressure, it's just production. If 400 yards of offense is what you're looking for and you can get 150 from your running game, the 250 has got to come in the passing game. If you're getting 50 yards in the rushing game then it means you've got to throw for more.

"I don't think it's pressure it's just overall you're going to get production in different areas and the backs are a big part of our offense and handing the ball off to them is an easy way for us to gain yards if we're all coordinated and doing the right thing. But those guys are running hard. The line is doing a great job up front finishing blocks and so forth."

Against the Falcons and their talented -- though underperforming -- offense this weekend, the running game could be key. First, it could help the Patriots defense by controlling possession and keeping Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman off the field. Next are the obvious advantages for the signal-caller who could use a stress-free day in the pocket to help him solve his recent accuracy issues. 

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