The Patriots limp into their bye week hoping to use the two weeks as a time to re-evaluate themselves and return to the hard-nosed, winning style that served them so well in the past. Their three-game losing streak is cause for concern to be sure, but Head Coach Bill Belichick believes most of what is ailing his team is correctable.
For starters, no team can overcome the turnovers and penalties the Patriots have committed in recent weeks. No matter how talented a team is, when it finishes with a negative turnover ratio for three straight weeks and is flagged for double-digit infractions in two of them, wins are going to be hard to come by.
The New England Patriots have been introduced to the enemy, and it is the same person that stares back at them in the mirror when they awake each morning.
"We are going to need to make some changes because we can't keep playing like this," an exasperated Belichick said during his Monday afternoon press conference. "We can throw around a lot of buzz words and catch phrases and talk about some philosophy or great revolution. Until it happens on Sunday afternoon in a competitive situation, it really won't have much value or meaning. It's not one player or one aspect of the team, it's a total team effort and it starts with me and includes everybody that is part of the team."
Belichick actually felt the offense began Sunday's disappointing 28-10 home loss to Green Bay playing reasonably well. The opening drive ended with Tom Brady tossing an interception after the team moved 50 yards into Packers territory. Later in the opening half, New England had another successful march stall in the red zone and Adam Vinatieri put his team on the board with a field goal.
But from that point on, mistakes dominated and the offense lacked flow and consistency. Whether that was because of penalties (Matt Light was flagged three times), turnovers (Brady threw three interceptions) or perhaps even a poor game plan, the bottom line is the production hasn't been where it needs to be.
"I thought in the first half until the lateral (when an incomplete screen pass to Kevin Faulk wound up being a fumble) that we had pretty good ball control," Belichick said. "We just weren't able to finish our drives and get many points out of it. We can't play like we did [Sunday], or like we played the first half in Miami, or it'll be a long year."
Indeed mistakes have killed the Patriots offense. Brady, after starting the season by throwing nine touchdown passes and just two interceptions in the first three weeks (all wins), has tossed seven picks and five touchdowns in the last three (all losses).
With Brady suddenly erratic some media members suggested that perhaps the workload has been too heavy on the young passer. Belichick defended offensive coordinator Charlie Weis' decision to come out throwing against Green Bay, citing the Packers banged up secondary as the primary reason. But the coach is aware of that the turnovers need to stop.
"Right now, we need to cut down on our mistakes," he said. "If it means taking less chances collectively as a team, that's something we need to consider."
Perhaps that means the Patriots will use these two weeks to find Antowain Smith and return to something closer to the conservative approach that served them well in 2001. Smith has been a mere afterthought in each of the six games thus far and maybe his inactivity is one of the reasons the Patriots have struggled offensively in the red zone, an area the power back excelled in last year with 12 rushing touchdowns.
No matter what style Belichick and Weis emerge from the two-week hiatus with, the coach is right when he states that eliminating the myriad of mistakes is the top priority. Whether trying to establish the run or emulating the Air Coryell Chargers of the early '80s, committing 12 penalties and turning the ball over four times will put the brakes on any offense.
Finding a way to stop that trend will be key to turning the Patriots season around.
A report on ESPN.com indicated that veteran offensive tackle Orlando Brown could be meeting with the Patriots some time this week. The report said that Brown met with the Washington Redskins on Monday but was leaning toward not signing there because they want him to play guard. Brown said he would like to continue his career in New England but Baltimore and San Diego were also said to be interested.
Brown, 31, originaly signed as an undrafted free agent with the Browns in 1993 when Belichick was Cleveland's head coach. He played six seasons there, two under Belichick.
Brown was in the middle of a media firestorm three seasons ago when he was suspended by the NFL. The six-year veteran was struck in the eye by an errant flag thrown by referee Jeff Triplette and then bumped him, causing the league to suspend him. He then sued the league over the incident with the lawsuit still pending.
Attempts to reach Brown's agent, Tom Condon, were unsuccessful.