By: Bob George/BosSports.net
September 30, 2004

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One game in 24 days. That pretty much says it all.

Game 1 was September 9th. Game 2 was ten days later. Game 3 is 14 days after Game 2. If continuity is the staple of like in Patriot Land, the team is perhaps doomed for a quick end to the win streak, followed by a long losing streak. These first few weeks of the season have been as upsetting to a player's rhythm as Frank Zappa's Dancin' Fool. It has been as non-routine as the September pitching logs of Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe.

To a man, many NFL players would perhaps love to get rid of bye weeks. The only time nobody complains about a week off is when teams finish with the one or two seed in the playoffs and don't have to play in the Wild Card round. Otherwise, the disruption in routine is not enough to counterbalance the supposed extra time for owies to heal and for some extra family time.

For a team like the Patriots, which prides itself on focus, this sort of irregularity in game placement and weekly routines cannot be a positive. This is not to say that they will come out flat as a pancake Sunday at Buffalo. But it likely means that the Patriots have to work extra hard in regaining the rhythm of the week, and it could mean that this work might take away from the all-important gameplanning for the Bills.

It's not too hard to sense what fans think of bye weeks. No Patriots this Sunday? What's there to live for? Yard work? The wife's honey-do list? The Red Sox?

One game in 24 days has to be driving the fan base crazy. If the players cannot wait to get out there and hit someone, the fans probably feel even more slaphappy. For the majority of fans who have taken the Patriots deeply into their hearts, this long a wait and this paucity of game action really stinks. The Patriots head into October having played only two games. The first of those two games was three days before everyone else's first game. The bye week blues has been worse this year more than ever.

Unfortunately, complaints from the fans matters not in the eyes of the league, as well as the Patriots themselves. The players are the ones who hurt after each game, and some of them may enjoy the week off just to let their bodies get somewhat back to normal. The league likes the seventeenth week as a means for extra television revenue.

Too bad that money is an issue. Bye weeks need to go bye-bye.

They won't, but they should. They are more disruptive than helpful, and it's a turnoff for the fan base. It could be said that players no more want to wait longer for their next game than the fans do.

This is all subjective analysis thus far. Looking at some hard data might help towards showing why the Patriots might want to lobby for no more bye weeks.

Bye weeks began in the NFL in 1990. The Patriots are 6-8 in games following the bye weeks. This is bad enough, but a closer look at some of the losses shows that the bye weeks hurt the Patriots more than they helped.

Of particular interest are the seasons of 1997, 1999 and 2002. These bye weeks were placed at critical junctures of these respective seasons, and in each case the Patriots were adversely affected.

Under new head coach Pete Carroll, the Patriots broke off to a 4-0 start in 1997. They blew three opponents out of the water, and squeaked by the Jets at home in overtime thanks to a late blocked field goal by Mike Jones. Then came their bye week, and an extra day off as their next contest was a Monday night at Mile High Stadium. The Patriots came out flat and played like they always did against John Elway, losing 34-13. This sent the Patriots off on a 2-4 mark over the next six games, including the infamous "mosh pit" loss at Tampa Bay. It took a 4-1 run to win the division, and it would have been 5-0 if not for a lousy screen pass to Kevin Henry. But the bye week took the best defensive Patriot team pre-Belichick/Crennel and sent them into a six-game funk, from which they were lucky to salvage what they did.

Two years later, the Patriots broke off a 6-2 run and were flying high going into their bye week. They came back after a week off and cut a horrid stinker at home, losing 24-17 to the Jets. The Patriots went 2-6 after the bye week, and Carroll was fired at season's end. The 24-9 loss at Philadelphia during Week 15 showed a Patriot team that had completely quit on Carroll, whereas the team which beat Arizona 27-7 during Week 8 looked invincible. Even more amazing is that this Patriot team which folded after the bye week is the same team which beat Denver during Week 7 at home despite being reduced to only two healthy linebackers.

2002 was slightly different from the above, but similar in the aftermath. Going into the bye week, the world champs were exposed as weak against the run (starring Priest Holmes, LaDainian Tomlinson and Ricky Williams), and lost at home to Green Bay (starring Ahman Green), 27-10. They took a week off, then hosted Denver at home and actually played worse (starring Clinton Portis), losing 24-16. Following this game, the Patriots went on a 5-1 run before seeing their title defense fall short at the end. Might the Patriots have played better against Denver if there were no week off?

The 1992 bye week was noteworthy thanks to Mother Nature. In what would be eerily similar to this year, the Patriots were set to open the season at Miami, but the game was moved to October 18th because of a hurricane. The Patriots opened the season with a bye week, then went off on an 0-9 run. This was the last year of Dick MacPherson's brief coaching reign, and the Patriots were not yet into their renaissance. But the Patriots of 1992 were not complete patsies going into the season, and one has to wonder if the unexpected bye week scuttled that season.

As for the wins, one of them is more or less a literal gimme. In 2001, the Patriots had a week off, then played a road game at Carolina to try and nail down the AFC East title. The Patriots were supposed to end the season with a bye week, but this game was a makeup for the cancelled games following the September 11 attacks. Playing the Panthers in December versus September was cruel fate, but it turned positive for the Patriots as they flummoxed the get-on-the-bus Panthers, 38-6 to win the division. The other wins were more or less inconsequential; nothing was going to stop the 2003 Patriots (win against Dallas following a win at Denver), the 1998 Patriots won two after their week off before going 1-4 over their next five games, and 1996's bye week came in the middle of a three-game win streak. The other wins came in non-descript years (1991, 1993).

The point here is that bye weeks don't help the Patriots, and usually hurt them. If there were any instances where a losing stretch turned into a winning stretch thanks to the week off, the record doesn't show it. The Patriots simply don't have a history of being helped by the bye week.

So, what's in store for '04? Next up are the Bills, and the Patriots' last visit to Ralph Wilson Stadium was a disaster. Deion Branch and Kevin Faulk are not over their injuries, and Ben Watson spent the bye week period winding up on injured reserve. The Patriots head into Buffalo hell bent on getting back for the pasting last year, but a little banged up on offense and perhaps rusty on both sides of the ball.

Face it, it's been too long, and the team didn't get healthier with the week off. In fact, it got less healthy. Any way you look at it, the bye weeks should go bye-bye.


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