EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

September 27, 2010

Burt: Schedule may be Pats biggest foe

Bill Burt

FOXBORO — I didn't want to ruin anybody's New England Patriots football party in the Merrimack Valley and Southern New Hampshire region yesterday so I withheld some information from you.

The game didn't matter.

That's right. The Patriots' 38-30 victory over the Bills yesterday was meaningless. A borderline exhibition tilt.

The fact that Tom Brady didn't force a half-dozen passes into a triple-covered Randy Moss was nice. So were the 200 yards rushing. That was so unexpected. And the fact that yesterday the Patriots offense reminded us of the simplicity of it all, when eight to 10 players shared in the wealth, was maybe the nicest touch of all.

Other than being a nice stroke for the ego, it came against the Buffalo Bills. Basically, it was a can't-win game. The only news would have been a loss, which hasn't happened against the Bills since 2003 and wasn't going to happen in 2010.

The Patriots are 2-1, exactly where they were supposed to be as they entered the month of October.

Now everything changes. Gimmees like yesterday are too few and too far between.

It changes next week, when the Patriots play at Miami on Monday night. I hate to say the fourth game of the season is a must-win game, particularly where the Patriots have a storied history of losing, but it is.

"This week will be a great week. We got to win (down) there," said Brady, who completed 21 of 27 passes for 252 yards and three touchdowns. " We've got to win a meaningful game on the road. If we're going to be a good team, we've got to start winning on the road."

You can't blame players like Brady and coaches like Bill Belichick for looking ahead only at their next practice or their next game.

We, fortunately or unfortunately, have a license to break that rule and look into the future. And quite frankly, Patriots fans, it isn't pretty.

Of the next 12 Patriots games, 10 come against sure playoff teams and/or Super Bowl contenders, some in their house.

Here is the Patriots immediate schedule after today: at Miami, bye, Baltimore, at San Diego, Minnesota, at Cleveland, at Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, at Detroit, New York (Jets), at Chicago and Green Bay.

That's not a misprint.

Are you ready for some wincing?

If the Patriots lose on Monday night, which is probably a 50-50 proposition this morning, they could lose seven or eight of the those next 11 games playing decently. The next "break" in the schedule is Nov. 7, in Cleveland. Or is it Thanksgiving in Detroit?

The point is that if the Patriots are "all that," then playing well on Monday night isn't enough. The Patriots must win.

And then they have to win some more, a lot more.

Which, if you've looked at their defense lately, might be a tall task.

"Around here, we don't look past (Monday's) practice," said Patriots running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who had one of his best games as a professional with 98 yards and touchdown. "We play Miami next week. That's all I know. I don't even know who we play after that."

The 2010 Patriots appear to be somewhere between pretty good and very good.

Yesterday the offense looked like it did a half-dozen years ago, when the only stat that mattered was the final score. There have been signs this September that the offense might be good enough to carry this team.

But then you look at the menacing schedule and wonder if prayer might be an option.

E-mail Bill Burt at bburt@eagletribune.com.