Six weeks. If you recall, way back in the heat of August the HC of the NEP was asked to assess the '05 Pats and Coach Bill basically said to see him after six weeks.
We're here. Six weeks in, your World Champion New England Patriots are 3-3 as they savor the bye week, which, frankly, could not have come at a more propitious time.
Are you happy? Let me put it this way: You have no right to be angry. You can be disappointed to a degree, but you have absolutely no right to be angry. If you are, then I suggest you are in strong need of a serious fan reality check. Given all the circumstances, this team is what it is, what it is, and that is a wounded champion that has used all its wiles (and its wonderful quarterback/place kicker duo) to make sure it isn't 1-5. Frankly, 3-3 looks pretty good, all things considered. And, by the way: They're still tied for first in the AFC East.
Is Coach Bill happy? Whaddya think? He can't be happy. Of course, he can't be happy. Too much has gone wrong. Is he angry? Perhaps a teeny-weeny bit, when he sees certain transgressions (such as missed open-field tackles or really stupid reads). But Coach Bill is not about happy vs. angry; that's not his way. It's about trying to find a way, each day, to make the team better. He would feel the same if the team were 6-0, coming off a rout of the Broncos. During the season, Coach Bill is never, ever fully satisfied.
''Even when you shut them out," he explains, ''there are still going to be plays in there that, had they hit them, you'd have a problem. There are games where they don't get many yards and don't get many points, but you come in and look at the film and there are going to be problems."
But your World Champion Pats are most definitely not 6-0, nor have they come close to shutting anyone out. Their points-allowed average is slightly in excess of 27, which would make Doc Rivers happy if he were discussing Paul Pierce, but which is a very fair representation of the generally poor level of the defense in the first six games.
A 3-3 team is not a disaster, unless it is going to be judged exclusively against its old championship self. Coach Bill was never going to do that. He is among the least self-delusionary of men. As the team assembled in training camp, no one subscribed more fervently to the theory that last year was last year than the coach. The Patriots were not going to be the same team. He thought that was rather obvious.
What bugs the mentor is that the team has not given itself the best possible chances to win the games that have been lost. The team has not been completely incompetent, otherwise where did the three W's come from? What the team has been is, well, here's what Coach Bill has to say:
''We've been inconsistent," he maintains. ''We've done plenty of good things and not-so-good things in every game. We just need to do them better, need to do them on a more consistent basis."
The Patriots have yet to play a truly complete game, not one. We're not talking about living up to some rah-rah rhetoric about ''playing 60 minutes," and all that nonsense, because, aside from Georgia Tech 222, Cumberland 0 (when the Ramblin' Wrecks scored each time they had the ball, plus each time Cumberland had the ball, in a game that was called before its scheduled conclusion) no team at any level has played a perfect game. But we are talking about putting together a thoroughly competent, solid, professional, two-way (or three-way, if you include special teams) performance over the course of a game, and this is something the Patriots have not yet done. Don't forget that two of the three victories (Pittsburgh, Atlanta) have required some second-half dramatics, while the opening-night triumph over the Raiders was far from emphatic.
It's not just that the Patriots have been unable to get some winning momentum (W-L-W-L-W-L); it's also a source of irritation to Coach Bill that he sees the team all-too-frequently having good quarter-bad quarter-good quarter-bad quarter, as well as individuals having good play-bad play-good play-bad play. It all adds up to the overall inconsistency he is alluding to. Must it be spelled out that such a team cannot be discussed in terms of championships?
Why is this? It is interesting to note that not once in yesterday's media session was the forbidden ''I word" employed by inquisitors. The inquisitors apparently know better than to incur the wrath of Coach Bill by mentioning the word ''injury" (or its partner word ''illness"). And yet you know, I know, every media sort knows, every Kraft family member knows, everyone in the locker room knows and, for damn sure, Coach Bill and every assistant coach knows, that injuries (and a bizarre illness) have a lot to do with everything. That is, injuries, a stroke suffered in February by a prominent player, and the retirement of a valuable veteran have contributed to a situation where the continuity of the offensive and defensive efforts has been disrupted.
No Tedy Bruschi. No Ted Johnson. No Rodney Harrison. No Matt Light. No Tyrone Poole. No Richard Seymour. No Corey Dillon. That's not whining. That's a fact. Throw in no Ty Law and no Roman Phifer. And, oh yeah, no Charlie Weis or Romeo Crennel. It's just not the same team. This year, Scott Pioli has not yet been able to provide Coach Bill with the kind of replacement parts the mentor needs to piece together sufficient working units. That's life. Nobody's perfect.
There are 10 games left, including all six division games. It won't be easy, not with such nondivision opponents as Indianapolis, Kansas City, and Tampa Bay on the schedule. Given what Coach Bill has to work with, you'd better start resigning yourself to the fact it may not happen this year. Don't get greedy. Hey, if someone had told you on Jan. 1, 2002, that your New England Patriots would win three out of the next five championships, would you not have said, ''When you're done with whatever you're smokin', may I have some?"
Back in Gillette Stadium, the mentor is still toiling away, still delivering his promise to work as hard as he can every day to, as he said yesterday, ''meet the weekly challenges.
''I think that everybody in that room, every player, every coach, starting with me, feels accountable for what we've done. Some good. Some not so good, and [the coaches are] committed to make it better. We need to take that and make those appropriate changes and improvements."
And the man does love his football. Asked by NESN's Paul Devlin what the key is to a successful screen pass, Coach Bill gave an answer that had to run between 4 and 5 minutes. If he thought we were capable of grasping the really fine points, he might have given a 10-minute answer. On matters football, he is as encyclopedic as he is dedicated.
Coach Bill can still coach 'em up better than anyone else on earth. There's a lot of football left to be played. Whatever this bunch is supposed to be, that's what they will be. Nothing has changed. In coach Bill I trust. You should, too.
Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.