Winning two games after an 0-4 start might not be enough for the New England Patriots to qualify as a red-hot team. But Drew Bledsoe does believe they have become a more opportunistic one, especially on offense.
"The big difference in the games for me and for our entire team has been our ability to put the ball in the end zone when we've had opportunities," the Patriots' veteran quarterback said. "Through the first four games, we had a number of opportunities where we had to settle for field goals rather than putting the ball in the end zone. Had we scored one more touchdown in each of those four games, the outcome would have been a lot different."
By taking better advantage of their scoring chances the past two weeks, the Patriots scored a pair of unlikely victories. On Oct. 1, they beat the Denver Broncos, 28-19, in Mile High Stadium, where they hadn't won in 36 years. On Oct. 8, they scored a 24-16 victory at home over the Indianapolis Colts, a popular preseason choice to reach the Super Bowl. Along the way, Bledsoe threw six of the nine touchdown passes he has for the season, and only one interception.
Although the Patriots clearly have more bounce in their collective step these days, they did not suffer a confidence crisis through their losses to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the New York Jets, the Minnesota Vikings, and the Miami Dolphins. Instead, Bledsoe and the rest of the offense focused on improving in the areas in which they were having their biggest problems. Their sudden scoring punch and two-game winning streak are evidence that staying focused and diligent in practice and meetings was more productive than wallowing in self-pity.
"But the important thing for us is to pay close attention to what's helped us accomplish those things," Bledsoe said. "We've spent extra time working on red-zone production. We've spent extra time on third-down offense. And we're going to have to continue to do that, with the emphasis that it helped this team to win."
Another component of the Patriots' offensive success is greater continuity on their line, which has undergone far less change in the last few weeks than it did early in the season.
First-year Patriots coach Bill Belichick and new offensive coordinator Charlie Weis have also incorporated some subtle changes in the passing game to help give Bledsoe more time and room to scan the field and throw. They have periodically had him shift from his straight, drop-back style - which tends to make him vulnerable against a strong pass rush - and throw from a moving pocket as well as from outside the pocket.
"That's never going to be a huge part of the offense that I'm the quarterback of, but we have done that a little bit more recently than we have in the past," Bledsoe said. "It allows me to have a clear view of the field. It allows me to hold the ball a little bit longer and spend more time looking downfield in certain instances. It also makes it harder on a defense because they have to chase you all over the field a little bit more. And it takes a little bit of pressure off the guys up front. It's a positive and it's something that we will probably continue to use to a certain extent.
"Personally, I've seen a ton of things and I feel that, for the most part, I'm a pretty smart quarterback now. I think that a very high percentage of the time I see and understand what a defense is trying to do to me. So, from that standpoint, I should be able to be right a very high percentage of the time with my reads and my decisions."
And after two straight wins, Bledsoe sees a foundation upon which the Patriots can build and get back into the playoff hunt. That means winning their Week 7 rematch with the Jets and not reverting to the squandering ways that resulted in a 20-19 loss when the teams last met on Sept. 11.
"We had numerous opportunities to win that game and we weren't able to get it done," Bledsoe said. "So this time, when they come (to Foxboro), we're going to have to make those plays at the key times. And if we do, then we've got a chance to win. If we don't make those plays, the results will be the same as the last time."