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The Think Tank: Expect status quo from Patriots

Even with their first loss of the season, expect the same one-game-at-a-time approach by the Patriots

Understandably, there are plenty of issues in Patriot Nation to worry about. On the Tuesday of the presidential elections, issues are clearly the issue of the day. But one issue that doesn't need to be debated is how the Patriots will respond after a dismal performance in Pittsburgh ended their memorable 21-game winning streak.

For the record, as the self-anointed prince of Pessimism City and the official voice of expecting the worst to happen, I still expect the Patriots to bounce back.

The season isn't over. The playoffs are still mathematically a possibility. Expect the Patriots to continue to do the same things this week that allowed them to steamroll to 18 straight regular-season wins and 21 wins overall.

Expect the same one-game-at-a-time mantra. Expect the status quo.

"We just have to learn from it and get better," an assured Tom Brady said. "It's our seventh game of the year, and there is a lot of football left to be played. We're going to regroup, we're going to go back and figure out what we did wrong and try to correct it. Like we do every week. This team has a lot of fight in it."

The somber yet composed visiting locker room inside Heinz Field spoke volumes about where the Patriots stood in the moments after their first loss in more than a year. What they said spoke louder.

"You have to understand the big picture," Rodney Harrison said. "The big picture is that it is just one game, and that you have to learn from it. That's the most important thing. What are you going to do with this one game? Are you going to learn form it, or are you going to sweep it under the rug? I'm going to go back and study and see what I can do to get better, as well as this team, and we just have to make sure we don't let anyone come in and [ruin] our season. We have a close-knit team."

If what was said by Harrison makes Patriot Nation feel better, it should. Harrison, often a good barometer of the pulse of the team, reflected the mood of the team Sunday. We lost. Let's get over it. We're still a good team, and there's a lot of football left.

The Patriots opened the season with a four-game stretch against decidedly inferior teams. It was a consensus that the next four-game phase would be tougher. They're now in the middle of a span of games - at home against Seattle and the New York Jets, and on the road against Pittsburgh and St. Louis - where their opponents have a collective 20-8 record through seven weeks.

The Patriots know they have a mark on their collective backs. It's not going to get easier.

"I think we need to look at the film," Mike Vrabel said. "I think we need to be very critical of everybody, starting with everybody's own performance. I think that's all you can do. You can look at yourself and be critical, and come back and start working. You only get seven days and we're doing it again. That's the bottom line in this business."

The Patriots appear to be intent on fixing the ailments that led to Sunday's dud in Pittsburgh. Some of those problems - tackling, run defense, turnovers to name a few - are very fixable. Others, such as the myriad injuries to key players and the disposition the may result after being physically manhandled by the Steelers, may be more difficult to overcome.

The Patriots are now faced with adversity. That leaves some to ask the question that Patriot Nation is collectively holding under its breath. What next?

"I think whenever you go through adversity, you always wonder how you're going to respond," Harrison said. "Knowing these guys, I think we're going to respond well. We're going to continue to work - we have a lot of professionals on this team. It's not the end of the season. It's just one game. We have a lot of pride in this locker room. We're 6-1 right now, and we have nine football games left. We have one big important football game next week in St. Louis, and it gives us a chance to get back on track."

Rest assured the Patriots are hearing the messages from head coach Bill Belichick. If the Patriots' ship is named "Back on Track," then Belichick is the skipper.

"Well, we have to correct the mistakes that we made," he said. "If we don't get those corrected then we are probably looking at the same [outcome] on a repeated basis. I don't think anybody was happy or satisfied with their performance, starting with me. I would think that would go all the way down to all of the players.

"We will take a look at the things we did well, which won't take long. We will look at the things that need to be improved and addressed and address them. Then [it will] start on Wednesday back on the practice field, relative to St. Louis, and start putting those pieces in motion to improve our performance on Sunday."

Sadly, the Patriots will not go undefeated in 2004. That conversation never should have happened in the first place, because it wasn't reality. Now that the blinders are put back on and everything is in focus, things are clearer. It looks like the Patriots will be in a dogfight in the AFC East - where the Jets are 6-1 and serious contenders.

Just as it didn't matter while they were winning games, the Patriots winning streak is of little value now. Belichick has this team continually thinking one day ahead of the rest of the world. That's a good thing, because even Belichick admitted that "nothing" positive could be taken from Sunday's game.

The Patriots just aren't concerned about what happened yesterday. Now that the team has lost, maybe that line of thinking should be even more appreciated.

"We're not even concerned about what we did," David Givens said. "We try to take it one week at a time. We got a loss [Sunday]. What we did in the past doesn't matter, it doesn't help us today. We definitely have to go back to the drawing board and get ready for next week."

When, and how, the Patriots respond will tell us a lot about this team. That will start Sunday in St. Louis. For now, there's no reason to think otherwise about this team until they're proven wrong. That conversation can be saved for another day. Even I can admit that.

"We're going to bounce back," Vrabel said. "That's just our nature."

Frank "The Tank" Tadych is a reporter for "The Think Tank" is a PFW approved moniker. To responsd to said column, which will appear semi-regularly on this website, email The Tank here.

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