Nov 23, 2014; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots tight end Tim Wright (81) celebrates his touchdown during the first quarter against the Detroit Lions at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports
The New England Patriots are in the midst of another roller coaster season which has seen them at different times be both the laughing stock of the league and the consensus front-runner. At 9-2, Bill Belichick finds his team in a very different place than many analysts thought they’d be after a 2-2 start. After the team’s Monday night loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, many pronounced the team as done, its aging quarterback as washed up, and its attempt to compete for a fourth Super Bowl championship over.
My, oh, my how things have changed. After the Monday Night Massacre the Patriots have reeled off seven consecutive wins, averaging nearly 40 points per game over that stretch. The Patriots offense is now first in scoring and first in red zone points. The quarterback who was supposedly finished has now thrown 26 touchdown passes and only 6 interceptions. After losing their starting running back, they’ve managed to develop a running game from seemingly nothing that teams will now have to scheme against. And they’ve done it all against some of the best defenses in the league.
The defense has also excelled, despite facing serious adversity. After losing Jerod Mayo, it’s starting middle linebacker and leading tackler, the Patriots defense struggled to stop the run, but it also began to develop an identity as a physical unit that makes team’s fight for their points. The offseason acquisitions at cornerback of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner seem to have injected new energy into the defense. The resurgent play of Patrick Chung, maybe the surprise story of the season thus far, has given the Patriots one of the best passing defenses in the league. Despite the temporary loss of Chandler Jones, far and away the best pass rusher on the team, they’ve still managed to keep opposing quarterbacks uncomfortable and consistently force teams in to long third down attempts. The coaching staff has also done an excellent job of finding talent in the free agent pool and making trades to correct for weaknesses.
The Patriots current winning streak has been nothing short of remarkable. Over the the last seven weeks they’ve defeated five first place teams by double digit margins, three of which still lead their divisions. The defense has allowed less than 20 points per game during the streak. They have been solid in all phases of the game against some of the best competition the NFL has to offer. As a result, they’re in the driver’s seat in the AFC at 9-2 and with tie breakers over all of their competition for the top seed in the AFC.
But, as the Patriots head coach and their star quarterback are likely to consistently remind the team, the most meaningful football is still yet to be played. While they’ve had great success lately, seven weeks does not make a season. The Patriots are coming off an amazing stretch, but their biggest test is in Green Bay on Sunday. In basically every category the Patriots excel in, the Packers do as well. They have won seven of their last eight games, are first in their division and will be playing at home where they are undefeated this season. Winning on the road at Lambeau Field is about as rare as winning in Foxboro. The Patriots will have their work cut out for them, to say the least.
Bill Belichick has a simple mentality in approaching his team’s schedule: take one game at a time. So far, that mentality has served his team well and has them occupying the the top seed in the AFC. With games against the Packers, Chargers, Dolphins and Bills still to come, all teams with winning records, the Patriots will need to continue their strong play. If they stay on their current trajectory, Belichick’s team should be heading to the playoffs with one of the most battle tested teams he’s ever coached. Nobody can say with certainty just how a team will perform from week to week. We’ve seen how the Patriots have responded to failure this season. Can they respond to success in the same way? If so, we’re in for a great show.