Patriots, A Middle-of-the-Pack Team

New England fans have come to expect a lot from their team in light of their recent success. That run of Super Bowl victories and playoff appearances may be drawing to a close. The 2005 version of the Patriots is a far cry short of what was expected of it heading into the season. This team report has more on the team's outlook for the playoffs this year, including player news, notes and updates.

PHOTO: New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick reacts to a fumble ruling as Tom Brady approaches. Pats vs Indianapolis Colts Nov 7, 2005 (AP Photo)

For the first half of the season in New England, one of the most obvious trends surrounding the back-to-back defending Super Bowl champs was the fact that they couldn't win two games in a row and were mired in a win one/lose one streak through the first 10 weeks. But the team changed that by beating the Dolphins and Saints in consecutive weeks in mid-November.

Following last week's disappointing and dominating loss to Kansas City, ending New England's first and only winning streak of the season, a new trend has become blatantly obvious for a team that entered the season looking to rewrite football history. After 11 games, with a 6-5 record, it's clear the injury-plagued Patriots are capable of beating the dregs of the NFL but have a tough time competing with other winning football teams. After Sunday's 26-16 loss, a game that wasn't as close as the final 10-point margin, New England has a 2-5 record this season against teams that currently have winning records.

All five of New England's losses have come against winning teams. The Patriots have a 4-0 mark against losing teams. That's a big change for a team that went 22-1 (.957) against teams with winning records over the last two seasons, including the postseason, at a time when the rest of the league was going 74-182 (.289) against those same teams. But at 2-5 (.285) against winning teams this season, the Patriots have clearly come back to the pack in the NFL.

The good news for Patriots fans is that of the final five games on the schedule, the 7-4 Buccaneers are the only opponent with a winning record. The rest of the slate includes two meetings with the Jets (2-9), and one each with Miami (4-7) and Buffalo (4-7). The Patriots are already 2-0 in the AFC East and could run the table in the division to take a rather misleading championship.

Doing so would earn the team a top-four-seed playoff slot and the opportunity to host a wild card game. But it would also earn the Patriots a matchup with an opponent with a winning record, not very appealing news for the Patriots' chances of moving on in the postseason.

The Patriots clearly don't play down to their competition, a flaw that befalls some teams, but they clearly don't or can't play up to their competition either. So are the two-time defending NFL champs, the clear class of the mediocre-at-best AFC East, a good football team?

"(Last Sunday) I don't think we were, obviously," tight end Christian Fauria said. "I think you show signs of being good, signs of being bad, and the inconsistency has been there all year. But we are too persistent. We are not going to give up. We are going to keep hammering away at it until we get it right. Either the wall is going to break or we are going to break.

"Regardless of our record, the key is to win the division and go from there. Then anything can happen."

Anything can happen, but one thing that will happen is a matchup with a winning team. That's not a proposition the Patriots have dealt with very well this season.

Not surprisingly, Patriots coach Bill Belichick isn't worried about any big pictures, just that his team is ready this Sunday to rebound from a very disappointing performance.

"We just have to find a way to play better football than we played Sunday against Kansas City," Belichick said.

Of course it won't hurt for New England, based on the team's trends this season, that the 2-9 Jets are coming to town on Sunday. Facing a losing team has been the Patriots' winning formula all season long.


--QB Tom Brady had, based on passer rating, the second worst game of his career in Sunday's loss in Kansas City. Brady completed 22 of 40 passes for 248 yards with one touchdown and four interceptions for a 42.5 rating against the Chiefs. Brady's single-game career low is a 22.5 rating at Buffalo on opening day of 2003.
--QB Doug Flutie did not play in his role as New England's No. 2 quarterback in Kansas City.
--RB Corey Dillon was inactive at Kansas City for the second straight week with calf/ankle injuries, but said last week that he was targeting this Sunday's game at home against the Jets for a return to action.
--RB Michael Cloud has had a tough time producing in his second tour of duty with New England. The former Boston College star burst on the scene in New England in 2003 with 27 carries for 118 yards and five touchdowns in five games, but has just eight carries for 8 yards in four games this season since rejoining the team Nov. 4.
--WR Deion Branch is tied for fourth in the AFC and eighth in the NFL with 60 receptions on the season. Cincinnati's Chad Johnson leads the AFC with 66 catches.
--WR Tim Dwight has doubled his season output with a combined eight receptions in the last three games. Dwight, who tied Deion Branch for a team high with five catches for 76 yards at Kansas City, now has 16 receptions for 279 yards (17.4 avg.) with two touchdowns on the year.
--WR Andre' Davis has been a big-play target in limited opportunities for the Patriots this season. Forced into a role as one of the team's top three receivers due to injury, Davis had a single reception for 23 yards in Sunday's loss in Kansas City. For the season Davis now has three catches for 89 yards, including a 60-yard touchdown.
--TE Benjamin Watson continues to develop a more productive role in the New England passing attack. After recording just seven catches and one score in the first seven games of the season, Watson now has 13 receptions in the last four games with two touchdowns.
--PK Adam Vinatieri scored four points against the Chiefs with a field goal and a PAT to give him 1,125 points for his career. He is now just five points shy of Gino Cappelletti's franchise record of 1,130 points.
--LB Mike Vrabel continues to lead the New England defense with 89 total tackles, including seven in Sunday's loss. Vrabel also leads the team with two interceptions and is second with 2 1/2 sacks.
--DT Ty Warren was an active presence in the Patriots front seven in Kansas City, finishing second on the team with seven tackles. The third-year tackle also recorded one sack, recovered a Larry Johnson fumble and also tackled Johnson twice for a pair of three-yard losses.
--LB Rosevelt Colvin had one sack against the Chiefs and is now tied with fellow outside linebacker Willie McGinest for the team lead with 3 1/2 sacks on the season.


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