Dan Shaughnessy

The numbers don’t lie

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / December 14, 2010

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Can we just start the NFL playoffs right now? Like tonight?

When you are playing the way the Patriots are playing, it cannot get better. You want to bottle this and put it back on the table when the team plays its next important game, which is going to be the weekend of Jan. 15-16, at Gillette Stadium, in a conference semifinal.

We are 13 games into the 2010 Patriots season and it would appear that we are watching Bill Belichick paint his Sistine Chapel. He is a real man of genius with plenty of masterpieces on his résumé, but this one is looking like the best of them all. I’m betting he likes this team more than the undefeated warriors of 2007.

Ex-Patriots receiver Troy Brown said this year’s edition is quite possibly the best of all the Patriots teams he has seen or played on.

“They’re definitely tougher than the ’07 team and they never put the ball on the ground,’’ said Brown.

The best NFL teams play their best football at the end of the year and that’s what these guys are doing. Some of the numbers are simply staggering.

From the middle of the third quarter against the Lions, into the early part of the third quarter against the Bears, the Patriots outscored three opponents by a margin of 109-3. That’s 109-3. If you break it down to eight quarters against the 9-2 Jets and the 9-3 Bears, the Patriots won, 81-10. Over the last 10 quarters the Patriots have scored 116 points.

Tom Brady has thrown 268 consecutive passes without an interception (the NFL record is 286 by Bernie Kosar). In his last eight games Brady has 19 touchdown passes and zero interceptions. He is 32-4 in games in which the temperature dips below 40 degrees. The MVP discussion should be over.

The Patriots have not committed a turnover in their last five games. They have only nine turnovers all season. The NFL record for fewest turnovers is 13.

Zero turnovers in the cold and snow of Chicago is particularly impressive. Absence of turnovers is the ultimate formula for success in the NFL.

In the last two games the Patriots have demoralized good teams early. It was 33-0 at halftime at Soldier Field. The Bears hadn’t trailed at home by 30 at halftime since 1964. The Jets were sent into shock and wound up with a staff member tripping a Dolphin Sunday.

Watching the Patriots at this hour reminds me of something Bill Russell wrote in his biography, “Second Wind’’ in 1979:

“Every so often a Celtic game would heat up so that it became more than a physical or even mental game, and would be magical. The feeling is difficult to describe . . . when it happened I could feel my play rise to a new level . . . I remember the fifth and final game of the 1965 championship series, when we opened the fourth quarter ahead of the Lakers by 16 points, playing beautifully together, and then we simply took off into unknown peaks and ran off 20 straight points to go up by 36 points . . . We were on fire, intimidating, making shots, running the break, and the Lakers just couldn’t score. As much as I wanted to win that championship, I remember being disappointed that the Lakers were not playing better . . . ’’

That’s what I felt like while watching “Monday Night Football’’ vs. the Jets and Sunday’s winter carnival in Chicago. I found myself wishing the Jets and Bears could have at least put up a fight.

What we are seeing this year is perhaps the best demonstration of Belichick’s system overwhelming every other element. When the Patriots are right, the whole is always better than the sum of the parts. This is a team with two undrafted free agents in the backfield. This is a team which Sunday lost a player who’d started every game at linebacker (Brandon Spikes), inserted a guy from the UFL’s Florida Tuskers (Eric Moore), and watched the new guy strip sack Jay Cutler to set up a first-half field goal. Moore is one of 19 players who have started on defense for the Patriots this season.

The Packers come to Gillette Sunday night and (naturally) they probably will be without their starting quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, who Sunday sustained his second concussion of the season. Green Bay scored 3 points against the Lions Sunday. There’s a team on a roll.

We will not wait for Belichick (he looked like he was going to hold up a 7-Eleven with the double hoodie Sunday) to admit what is happening in front of our eyes. Bragging gives you no advantage. Ask Rex Ryan.

After losing to the Dolphins Sunday, Ryan admitted he thought about removing quarterback Mark Sanchez from the game. Can you imagine Belichick ever making such an admission?

The Patriots are in the playoffs for the seventh time in eight seasons. They are the first team to punch a ticket into the tournament. They have all but officially clinched home field for January. Anything less than Dallas in February is going to be a disappointment.

I’m surprised Belichick permits photographers to cover Patriots games. There are no cameras allowed in the Sistine Chapel.

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