The Patriots have been the model of consistency in the Belichick/Brady era.
Sixteen AFC East titles in 18 seasons. Sixteen seasons of 10+ wins. Eight consecutive first-round byes. Eight trips to the Super Bowl.
But New England has rarely been here, scuffling late in the season after two straight December losses and heading into Week 16 without a playoff berth already wrapped up.
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Sure, it's a speed bump, but can they pull themselves out of the skid and right the ship? Earlier this week on The Ex-Pats Podcast, Rob Ninkovich voiced his doubts about where the team stands right now. And Tuesday night on "Boston Sports Tonight," another former Patriot echoed those thoughts.
"There is some blood in the water. They're wounded right now," Troy Brown explained. "This team hasn't lost two straight in December since '02, so that's a long time for a team to be that consistent late in the year. You usually see this team not making the mistakes they've made the last couple of weeks. They're hitting their stride right about now and getting ready for that playoff push, and you just don't feel it, you don't see it.
"I'm pretty sure most of those teams out there now that are probably going to be competing in the playoffs are smelling some blood in the water. It's not gushing out right now, but it's a little paper cut."
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Bill Belichick was questioned about the mental toughness of the 2018 Patriots on a conference call Tuesday, and though he said there's still time for this team to improve in that area, Brown said that's not a quick -- or easy -- fix.
"It just comes down to the personality of the players. That's the bottom line. If they can't fix that themselves, it's nothing you can coach into them. It's like [Belichick] said. He can't get them to play he wanted them to play in 2009; he probably can't do it now. So it just comes down to the players they have on the roster, and those guys wanting and figuring out how to get it done."
Here's the good news: The Patriots wrap up the season with home games against the Bills and Jets, two teams they've had a great deal of success against in the past, especially at home. A win Sunday would lock up the AFC East and guarantee at least one home playoff game,
But here's the bad news: New England no longer controls its own destiny when it comes to a first-round bye, so the Patriots might have to go on the road for the Divisional Round and AFC Championship Game, and the road hasn't been friendly this season, with losses at Jacksonville, Detroit, Tennessee, Miami and Pittsburgh. Brown thinks that poor track record will likely spell a road loss in the postseason.
"If you're going to go to the casino and bet, then you're going to bet what you've seen so far. And what you've seen so far is a team that can't perform on the road. It's a different makeup. You watch these guys at home when they play - the amount of energy they bring to those games when they play at home, high-fiving, jumping up and down, chest bumping. And then when you go on the road, you see none of that."
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Considering their track record, it would be foolish to bet against Brady, Belichick and the rest of the Patriots. But hearing numerous players who have been there and done that in their Foxboro tenures voice their concerns with where this team stands heading into the homestretch of a playoff run? That's pretty worrisome.
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