EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

December 21, 2009

These Pats still tough to embrace

Bill Burt

It was halftime and I made a plan.

I decided the New England Patriots weren't going to lose, which they didn't, and that they deserved, well, a "Pat" on the back.

Pun intended.

The Pats beat the Bills for the 13th straight time, 17-10, yesterday in Buffalo. There hasn't been a lot of back-slapping of the Patriots from here at 100 Turnpike St. in North Andover since that fourth-and-2 play in Indy.

The Patriots deserved, in this space, from this writer, a few words of optimism. At least that's what my recent hate mail has been saying.

Randy Moss answered his challenge. Basically, he hustled and made a few plays rather than sulking.

Laurence Maroney appeared to be getting "it" again with less dancing and more hitting of holes and defenders.

The young defense bent on its first drive and didn't break, something we've pretty much accepted the last decade.

Wes Welker was looking like Wes Welker.

Bill Belichick was looking like Bill Belichick.

Tom Brady was looking like Tom Brady, even with his measly first-half stats.

Basically, the Patriots were going to all but clinch the division and were looking pretty good doing it, particularly on the road.

It was a nice way to start looking forward to the New Year and "The Tournament," as a former coach used to call it.

But then Brady started missing Welker and Moss, the running game fizzled, more stupid timeouts were called because somebody was on the wrong side, there were consecutive three-and-outs, defenders were botching tackles, Jerod Mayo did nothing out of the ordinary and Belichick looked either mad or confused.

Basically, the 2009 Patriots are still the 2009 Patriots.

What is it, beyond youth, talent and all of those other excuses? They are missing the killer instinct that made them a champions.

The Patriots used to make plays when they had a team down, be it the first 10 minutes or the final 10 minutes.

But did you know that this season the Patriots led in the second half in four of their five losses and led in the fourth quarter during three losses?

How are the Patriots 9-5? Well, we saw it again yesterday.

The Patriots were flat when it counted most.

Thankfully, the Bills had a Harvard University graduate at quarterback instead of an alum of USC, Tennessee or Michigan.

The Patriots probably would have lost another game if an Ivy League guy had not been pulling the strings in the fourth quarter,

But they didn't lose. We have to give credit where credit is due.

Brady hit Welker on third-and-6 just before the two-minute warning to seal the game. To be honest, I would have bet against the completion.

Soon after the win, the Dolphins and Jets, both of whom were a game behind the Patriots at 1 p.m. yesterday, blew the end of their games.

Thus the Patriots went up two games on each and are one win away from another AFC East Division title.

That ensures one home playoff game, probably against Denver, whom the Patriots could or really should beat. Heck, they can beat anybody in Foxboro.

But that isn't enough to get excited about.

The Patriots have two weeks to see if there still is that magic hanging around Belichick's boiling pot inside the confines of Gillette Stadium.

I need to see more. A lot more.

And if Patriots fans are being honest, they do, too.

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