(Oct. 25, 2001) -- Before the 2001 season began, the New England Patriots were hardly considered serious playoff contenders. Only a brave soul would have suggested that if the Pats got some unexpected help, they could make a run.
That "if" has become a fairly assembled amount of certainty. No one is ready to declare the Patriots AFC champions quite yet, but over the last month, they've proven they can get to an opponent early and still have enough in the tank to take it at the final horn.
The Patriots did not look so effective on paper before the season began. The team knew what it had in Drew Bledsoe, but took chances on veterans such as linebacker Bryan Cox and running back Antowain Smith. The team went defense on draft day rather than trying to improve the offense, plucking defensive tackle Richard Seymour with its first-round selection. Two quick losses to start the 2001 season only confirmed Bostonian pessimism that the Patriots could be in for a long year.
But if the Patriots were going to be a contender, something had to open their eyes. As Bruce Springsteen might quip in one of his songs, 'you can't start a fire without a spark.' That spark came in Week 6 when relative unknown David Patten ran for a touchdown, threw for a touchdown and caught two touchdown passes -- all in the same game -- as the Pats pounded the host Colts 38-17 to sweep the season series with Indianapolis.
"It felt like everything was clicking," said an excited Patten, whose performance earned him the AFC's Offensive Player of the Week. "I always felt like, given the opportunity, I am able to make something happen on the field. I pride myself on working hard every day in practice and working hard in training camp. I was very fortunate last Sunday, but this was (the result of) a total team effort. Our whole team is playing well right now."
Patten's trifecta was last done by the great Walter Payton, who accomplished the feat 19 years ago to the very day that Patten did. So if that feat wasn't enough to put the spotlight on Patten and the Patriots and make people think twice about them, nothing would.
Since Sunday, there's been a buzz about Patten, who has bounced around the NFL and the Arena League over his career. That Arena League experience, though, may have given him just the edge he needed to turn the 'three-feats.'
"In the Arena League, you play in a confined area. Everything has to be crisp and quick," said Patten, who is with his third NFL team in five years. "When the quarterback is ready to throw the ball, you have to be in your spot and there's really no running game in the Arena League, so you're pretty much passing on every down. When I got to an NFL field, I looked around and thought 'Man, look at all this space.' "
No one expected this performance from Patten -- or the Patriots for that matter -- but the New England receiver expects it to open opponents' eyes -- but not too wide.
"I don't think (opposing secondaries) can afford to double-team me," said Patten. "We have Troy Brown and Terry Glenn and those guys will kill them if they're left alone. I'm expecting them to be double-teamed since those guys are proven. I only had one big game. When you're a receiver not getting double coverage, you have to make plays. That's what I do."
Patten's explosive performance Sunday has contributed to the Patriots' impressive season. The secondary, led by Ty Law and Lawyer Milloy, is a constant in New England. Linebacker Cox has been teaming with defensive ends Bobby Hamilton and Roman Phifer to baffle opposing run games. Patten is part of a WR corps that includes deep threat Glenn and arguably the team's No. 1 pass catcher in Brown.
Then there's Tom Brady getting his chance under center while Drew Bledsoe nurses a chest injury. According to Patten, the team has a lot of confidence in Brady.
"It's a total team effort," said Patten. "Everyone's picking up their game. Tom Brady has a great deal of character, is very vocal and he brings a lot of fire to the offense. He's on the same leadership level as Bledsoe."
Although their schedule is a challenging one -- it includes playing the Denver Broncos in Week 7, and the St. Louis Rams and New Orleans in back-to-back weeks -- it's too early to count them out.
As it stands now, Patten and the Patriots are 3-3, a record they share with other AFC powerhouses like Baltimore and Denver. On paper, those other .500 teams look a lot better than the Patriots. On the field, expect the unexpected. Patten did, and now all eyes will be on him and his team for quite possibly the rest of the season, and perhaps beyond.
"We've felt all along that we have the talent to be a playoff contender. We can win. If you don't think you can win in this league, you shouldn't be playing. Our team has been down in the past, now we're experiencing some success, we just want to build on that. We're just as good as anybody else."