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Extra Points

Don't Write Off The Patriots Just Yet

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A dynasty is defined as a team winning three championships in a four-year span. The Patriots dynasty ended nearly 10 years ago, so let's drop the "death of a dynasty" angle.

It would be more accurate to ask whether the Patriots' run of success as an AFC powerhouse has come to a close, and the answer is not available yet.

The Patriots have won at least 10 games in each of the past 11 years; they have won the AFC East in each of the past five years and 10 of the past 11 years; they have been to the AFC Championship Game five times in the past eight years; they have won the AFC Championship twice in the past seven years.

But the only measure of success that has mattered in that time frame has been Super Bowls, of which the Patriots have won as many as I have.

Ever since the Patriots first tasted Super Bowl glory in 2001, the only thing that has mattered in Foxborough is how the team performs in January and February (if it makes it that far). So why read the team their last rites in September and October?

The Patriots won't be a quick fix, but if the measure of greatness is postseason success, then the Patriots are far from a failure.

"There's no doubt that this will be a challenging period of time for our team in terms of our mental toughness and resiliency and being able to handle a lot in somewhat of a compressed period," head coach Bill Belichick said in his conference call on Monday.

Things don't look good now. The offense is out of sync, to the tune of a 36.2 third-down conversion percentage, the sixth-lowest in the NFL. The defense is underachieving as a group of 4-3 square pegs in 3-4 round holes, as reflected in their 519 rushing yards allowed, ranking 10th-worst in the NFL.

The problems on defense are fixable with better coaching. No one can deny that the Patriots have more defensive talent than at almost any point since the dynasty ended. A three-man line of Chandler Jones, Dominique Easley, and Rob Ninkovich will invite the run every time.

On offense, the problems are more on the players. Offensive linemen need to execute blocks, receivers need to get open, and Tom Brady needs to hit them when they do.

"I don't think there's an easy answer," said Brady. "I think we've got to fight our way through it and see what kind of team we have. I don't think there's going to be any easy games for us, not that we'd ever expect that in the NFL, but we've got our work cut out for us."

But the Patriots could still get a pass on all of it thanks to a weak division.

At present, the AFC East features exactly zero teams over .500, and three teams that are currently embroiled in some form of quarterback controversy.

The Buffalo Bills have already benched second-year quarterback EJ Manuel (80.3 passer rating), the New York Jets media are preparing for a controversy about another second-year quarterback Geno Smith (75.1 passer rating), and the Miami Dolphins have already faced questions about the long-term viability of Ryan Tannehill (81.2 passer rating). The only real oddity in the AFC East this season is Tom Brady (79.1 passer rating).

The Patriots have won the division with records of 13-3, 12-4, and 12-4 in the past three years, and could have won the division with records of 9-7, 9-7, and 9-7. In those years, the Patriots started the season 5-3, 5-3 and 6-2 through eight games. Slow starts are a thing of the past and present in New England.

This is in no way meant to diminish the accomplishments of the Patriots over the past decade — plenty of teams would hurt puppies to enjoy the kind of success the Patriots have had in that span. It is also not intended to make light of the Patriots' current plight — there are serious issues with the team, on both sides of the ball, from top to bottom of the organization.

But there are three months with 12 games worth of regular season action before the Patriots must be playing at their best. History tells us that if the Patriots can win two-thirds of those remaining games, they should resume their spot in the postseason.

Then, and only then, will we learn whether the Patriots' run of success has truly come to an end.



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