This isn't the 2007 Patriots, the team that went 18-1, regularly blew opponents out of the stadium (and just as regularly were accused of running up the score), set NFL scoring records and seemed destined for a perfect season. It didn't happen, of course, but that's irrelevant for our purposes here. The 2011 version of this squad is 4-3, and while they're alone atop the AFC East, no one feels good about how they got there.
On Sunday, New England beat the Jets in overtime in a sloppy affair that saw the Pats struggle on both sides of the ball. ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss hit the lowlights:
At a time when the offense could have put the game out of reach, it instead turned in its worst series of the season -- an offensive pass interference penalty on veteran receiver Brandon Lloyd, followed by a careless Tom Brady pass down the field that was nearly intercepted by Antonio Cromartie. On second-and-20, Stevan Ridley ran for 4 yards, before Brady fired a long incompletion down the left side to receiver Wes Welker.
It was a disaster, with three integral members of the offense -- Brady, Lloyd and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels (a run on second-and-20?) -- contributing to a series in which the offense didn't put up much of a fight.
While Brady issued the requisite "It really wasn’t our best day" observations on Monday it's fair to wonder where the problem lies.
"It's never really one thing," McDaniels said Monday. … "I think no matter what we choose to do, what mode we're in, whether we're using our up-tempo, whether we're huddling, whether we're trying to run the football or throw it, I think it really comes down to trying to make the best call we can, and hopefully putting the players in the right situation to be successful and going out and executing in those pressure situations, which is really what it is."
Put differently: a lot of what ails the Pats' offense comes down to execution. Fair enough, and perhaps fans have been spoiled by Brady's otherworldly play. But the reality is this: yes, New England's schedule is favorable and they'll probably win the division, but if these issues aren't resolved in the next two months, it'll be a short postseason stint for a team accustomed to making annual Super Bowl runs.
There is good news, however: UConn basketball coach Geno Auriemma says he'd take Brady over Eli Manning if he needed to win one game.
"I don’t why, but the Giants offensive line is really good and the Patriots line stinks. Brady’s under for pressure than I’ve ever seen,” Auriemma said via the Hartford Courant. “Football has changed so much over the years that if you can’t put up 30 points in a game, you can’t win. You can’t win with defense anymore, unless you get lucky."