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I think it’s safe to say that the New England Patriots are having a below-average season this year. With Tom Brady at the helm, it is a common occurrence to see New England win games by 30-plus points. Right from the get-go however, it was clear that was not going to be the case. Grinding out 13-10 and 24-21 wins against the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets in the first two games of the season, some fans became concerned that this squad did not have the firepower of Patriots teams’ past. As we learned 12 years ago however, explosive offensive play is not always the key to victory.
The lack of explosiveness became apparent during the first two games of the 2001 campaign. New England lost the first two games to the Cincinnati Bengals and New York Jets by 17-23 and 3-10 scores. The Jets game as we all know started a new era of Patriots football as Tom Brady took over at the helm. Even with that development, keep in mind that the Tom Brady of 2001 was not as developed as the Brady we know today. Although he took the reins from Drew Bledsoe with resounding force, he still had a lot to learn if he wanted to be a successful quarterback in the National Football League.
As some may recall, there were a few more bumps in the road during that season, when after a 44-13 win over the Indianapolis Colts the following week , New England lost to the Miami Dolphins 30-10. The seesaw season continued as the Patriots beat a San Diego Chargers squad led by former Boston College quarterback Doug Flutie 29-26 in overtime and that game alone proved that they were not going to go away lightly and continue to grind their way to victory.
Grind it out they did. Over the final 11 games of the regular season, they won five of them by seven points or less. In the playoffs, all three games were decided by seven points or less including a 20-17 victory over a St. Louis Rams team dubbed the “Greatest Show on Turf” to win the franchise’s first Super Bowl. It was not flashy and the wins were not exactly sexy, but in the end they got the job done. Brady finished the season putting up average numbers (2,843 passing yards, 18 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions) but accumulated above-average accomplishments including a Super Bowl MVP Award, a Super Bowl ring, and a Pro Bowl nod.
This season, New England has won four of their games by seven points or less, and aside from their 55-31 drubbing of the Pittsburgh Steelers last week, they have had to “work for their wins” for the first time in a while. The gap and production left by Pro BowlerWes Welker is now being replaced by rookies Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson, guys who are not exactly in the same category as Welker. When Welker was out there, the offense was a machine, operating like clockwork and flowing like a beautifully orchestrated symphony. Now, the flow is a bit choppier and that seamless fluidity that we saw last year is now replaced by a broken play here and there or a poorly-run route.
With that being said, they are still finding ways to win. It may not be as pretty as in years’ past, but just like the 2001 team, they are finding ways to win. It may not be what we are used to, but the Patriots are winning games, folks. In the end, that’s all that matters.