GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

September 21, 2013

Just win baby ... like the old days

On Pro Football
Bill Burt

---- — There’s a new game being played in Foxboro.

It’s called “Whatever it takes to win.”

Sounds sexy, doesn’t it? Well, it is the polar opposite. In fact, it’s ugly. And you’d better get used to it.

If you go back and do your homework, you’ll realize you’ve seen it before around here, say a dozen or so years ago.

While everybody — and I mean everybody — laments the recent victories against the usual AFC East fodder (Buffalo, 23-21; N.Y. Jets, 13-10), we saw those sorts of scores a dozen years ago in 2001, against those same franchises (Buffalo, 12-9; N.Y. Jets, 17-16).

Here are some other less-than-artistic scores to chew on this morning, 17-6, 9-3, 12-0 and 12-0. All of them were wins in 2003, which probably was the best Patriots team ever, finishing 14-2.

Yup, it could be argued that while the Patriots have been winning lots and lots of games, they have lost their way and so have 99 percent of its fanbase. Everybody, it seems, is consumed by style points. We can thank Tom Brady’s precision-like passing for that. Winning simply isn’t enough any more. We want beauty, precision, grace and touchdowns. We want it to look easy. And, last but not least, we seem to enjoy it more when the opponent is embarrassed.

Here’s the problem: While the Patriots have won more football games (which can’t be dismissed) than any other franchise over the last nine seasons, they are 0-for-8 when it comes to the ultimate goal.

The other problem, when it comes to dismissing a 2-0 start that probably will be 3-0, is the bar. It’s been raised.

In fact, the bar has been raised so high that a lot of us have forgotten about a decade before the 2001 season, when a five-win season was considered a success around here. The irony is that while Brady became a statistical legend beginning in 2007 — averaging more than 10 touchdown passes per year than he did his first six seasons, the Patriots have not won a Super Bowl.

The point being Brady is a better quarterback/passer than he was his first six seasons, but he is a “legend” because of his teams’ winning three Super Bowls in his first four seasons as a full-timer.

Which brings us back to 2013 and the frustration.

It’s time Brady, like a dozen year ago, got some help. It’s about time the Patriots defense played a bigger role than the offense did in winning a game against the Jets, 13-10, eight nights ago.

While everyone complains about Brady’s weapons, particularly the rookie wide receivers and tight end, maybe it’s time people (and Brady) accept the fact that this is a work in progress, that finishing 17-0 is overrated, that growing pains in September are the exception rather than the rule.

Remember the 2001 Patriots? They lost to the lowly Bengals (finished 6-10), 23-17, and the Jets (8-8), 10-3, to open the season. Most “power rankings” had the Patriots ranked 32nd out of 32 teams.

Remember how they turned it around? Defense. Ball-control. Special teams. And a few big, clutch plays by Brady.

Obviously, the blueprint is different in 2013. Brady isn’t simply a “manager” any more. He’s the captain of the ship.

But these difficult times can be a lesson going forward. Rather than worrying about the score, worry about winning as many little battles as possible. And worry, if you must, about trying to win.

I’m not going to crown the 2013 Patriots with anything. They haven’t looked great. And because of they’re schedule, they haven’t had to. But it’s interesting as coach Bill Belichick, who has always been noted for his game plans, has to come up with some really good game plans if the Patriots are going to be any good.

I’m betting on Belichick (as I usually do).

Speaking of Belichick, did you notice that while everybody was complaining about the win over the Jets, he was running toward the handshake with Rex Ryan raising his fist in approval. Belichick does that about once or twice a year. The Patriots have one motto this season, at least until Rob Gronkowski, Danny Amendola and Shane Vereen return to the lineup healthy and the defense, which is desperate in searching for its identity ... just win baby.