New England Patriots Team Report

It was two years ago in October of 2001 when Bill Belichick and the Patriots returned from Miami following an embarrassing 30-10 loss to the Dolphins. The coach, his team 1-3, took his team outside and ceremonially buried a game ball from the loss. No film. No recap. A new week.

From that point forward, his team figuratively buried each game ball - win or loss - and wound up winning a championship when it was all over. It may be premature to compare this year's team, 4-2 as it heads to Miami this week, to the 2001 club, but the aura in the locker room is remarkably similar.

Injuries have claimed three of the team's four starting linebackers, the starting nose tackle, the starting running back for a time, the starting left guard and right tackle and a starting wide receiver among others. That doesn't include the loss of team captain Lawyer Milloy before the Week 1 loss at Buffalo. Yet, this Patriots team moves on unfazed by it all. It just keeps preparing to play and playing just well enough to compete and even win, as it has done four times in the last five weeks.

Two weeks ago, after a devastating 20-17 loss to Washington, the injuries seemed to be taking their toll, but the team bounced back to beat Tennessee and the Giants to climb to 4-2, half a game behind the 4-1 Dolphins for first place in the division. Belichick doesn't believe the team's record is surprising.

"We just don't really look at it that way," he said. "We kind of go week to week and try to do the best we can every week and we'll add them up at the end. But right now we have to get ready for Miami. We haven't played too well down there in a while and, hopefully, we can be a little bit more competitive than we've been the last few years in Miami."

It has certainly been ugly in the South Florida heat where the Patriots have wilted into oblivion. In Belichick's three seasons as the Patriots' coach, his team is 0-3 at Pro Player Stadium having been outscored 66-26 in games that weren't even as close as that scoring margin. The games have been all Miami. The Dolphins have led at halftime in the three games by a combined score of 43-13. In fact New England has won just seven times in 37 tries in Miami and has lost five straight and 12-of-14.

But the attitude and growing confidence in the Patriots' locker room would seem to negate the impact of such historical embarrassment. It's like the Patriots are playing with house money and are willing to bet it all at any time. That makes them a scary team even as they prepare to visit their house of horrors.

"We're playing Patriots Football," linebacker Tedy Bruschi said, emphasizing the team's physical brand of football that was missing most of last season. In fact that phrase has not been aptly used since Super Bowl XXXVI when a physical defense paved the way to a championship.

Now it's time to wonder if the Patriots will again be buried in Miami or whether they will simply keep burying winning footballs, figuratively of course.

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