By: Kevin Rousseau - Kevin's Articles are Sponsored by Comdoctor.net
December 21, 2004

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Goodbye home-field advantage. Goodbye seeming invincibility. Hello fighting for a first-round bye and just trying to keep a band-aid on this banged-up football squad.

Just how does this happen? How in the world do the Patriots lose to an awful 2-11 team that has nothing left to play for but pride?

Patriots Nation, it's time to start paying attention and begin to worry. Forget the Red Sox for a minute and get your head around this problem.

Your Patriots are in some real trouble. They are going into the Meadowlands Sunday on a short week against a hungry, good Jet team that is looking to settle a few scores of their own. If the Patriots lose that game against the Jets, that's three losses and a statistical tie with either the Colts or Chargers for the second seed and a first-round bye.

Yowzers!

The Patriots lost because they played very unPatriot-like football. Undisciplined penalties are only the start of the equation. Uncharacteristic turnovers are another part of the reason. But what about giving up a long punt return by Wes Welker that set up a touchdown early in the game that gave a 2-11 Dolphins team and its fans reason to believe that they could play on the same field as the Pats.

But most shocking is the Patriots blowing a seemingly secure eleven point, late fourth quarter lead thanks to Tom Brady's careless pass. He has won so many games for the Patriots over the last three years that he deserves a free pass from the fandom. But you can indeed hang this one clearly on Brady's crazy, wild toss that was intercepted by Brendon Ayanbadejo at the Patriot 23 yard line.

Indeed, it was the Dolphins who made the better halftime adjustments, not the Patriots. They were the ones who stopped the run, confused Brady and won the battle at the line of scrimmage in the second half. It was the Dolphins who made the plays at the end and converted on a 4th and 10 with a touchdown to go ahead for good.

Now it's time to start caring.

Now it all starts to really matter.

Now it's time to stop thinking Red Sox 24/7 and start focusing on just how a depleted Patriots secondary is going to stop a high-powered offense like the Colts. Or if the Patriots inconsistency and under-performance in the first half of games will continue to bite them in the coming weeks. It did on Monday night against a depleted, undermanned Dolphins team.

The first thirteen games of the regular season (except for the Pittsburgh game) have been a nice, entertaining appetizer that has been - for the most part - a joy to watch. In many ways, we have become accustomed to such fine vintage performances that our taste buds now only accept the finest, sweetest tastes of victory.

But the time when we can sit back and watch with an average level of anxiety has passed us. Now it is time to start getting that nervous feeling in your stomach. Will Brady look sharp when the playoffs come upon us? Will Ty Law return to his old form when he comes back in the next week or two? Can Peyton Manning be stopped this year? Will the secondary finally be taken advantage of?

In the coming weeks, these and some other important questions will be answered.

The Patriots will have to improve drastically on their performance on Monday night against the Dolphins if they are going to fulfill the high expectations that they and their fans have for this season. Four picks by the normally reliable Tom Brady did nothing but help keep an awful Dolphins team in this game. Or how about a spearing penalty by Rodney Harrison and an unnecessary roughness penalty by Matt Light? Or a late pass interference by Mr. Harrison in the end zone to keep the Dolphins hopes alive. What about David Patten going out of bounds on a kickoff return at 2:03 of the fourth quarter and giving the Dolphins a de facto extra timeout? You're really playing like champs heading into the home stretch, fellas.

There is no question that is a tired team that you are watching. Everybody is gunning for the champs and the Patriots had answered the bell until now. There are cuts on the champ's eyebrow and exhaustion in its lungs. Could the physical and mental toll that the Patriots have taken so far in this season keep them from going the distance and answering the call to a historical dynasty? And just how do you explain the Patriots warming up the bus a little early and allowing the 2-11 Dolphins to come back and win this game?

It never got old watching the Patriots pull it out in the fourth quarter time and again but didn't you just get the feeling that sooner or later their fortunes were going to take a turn for the worse? It's just the law of averages, I suppose.

There is no question that for a team that doesn't like distractions, the one caused by Charlie Weis is the elephant in the corner of the room. I'm not blaming Weis for taking the Notre Dame job or this loss; not at all. It's his right to take the job and he has long deserved such an opportunity. It's a delicate balance that can be upset very easily. Realistically, he cannot humanly devote all of his time to the Patriots success over the next six weeks. And that is going to take a toll. And it remains to be seen just how much of a toll it will continue to take on the team.

Time will tell if the Patriots can survive.

They didn't on Monday night.

And for a team that is hanging on a week at a time, we'll learn a lot about this 2004 Patriots team when they answer the bell for round fifteen at 4 p.m. in the Meadowlands.

Pass the Maalox.

Idle Zinger thoughts while thinking he's your problem now, New York:

Sure, it's the Zinger equivalent of re-gifting, but it bears repeating. Falcons owner Arthur Blank has no business being on the sideline during the fourth quarter of his team's games; and much less business conversing with head coach Jim Mora, Jr and Falcon players during crunch time.

I suppose when Jacob gets older and I need to have him stop talking and listen to me for a minute, I'm going to say "After reviewing the play"." It is amazing how you can hear a pin drop in a stadium when these words are uttered by a referee.

A man can dream about having the NFL Network on his cable system, can't he?

Since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, the Patriots are now only five games under .500. Quite an amazing feat given how many awful teams we've been subjected to over the years.

Care to guess who is the most successful team in this category? None other than the Dolphins with a 356-206-2 record heading into this season. They won't have to worry about being caught, though. In second place and fourteen wins behind the Dolphins are the equally putrid San Francisco 49ers.

Don't accuse me of being color blind, but I dig those orange alternate Dolphin jerseys. Last night's game and last year's November 23rd 24-23 victory over the Redskins are the only two times in the teams 38-year history that the Fins have worn a jersey color other than white or aqua.

Add two more must-reads to the required reading list:The Boston Herald and MetroWest Daily's Mike Reiss' new daily blog "Reiss' Pieces" is a welcome afternoon distraction from the daily grind.

Also, USA Today's Sports Weekly's John Czarnecki's "The Buzz" has orignial material not seen anywhere else.

In a battle of credit card commercials, you have to give the edge to Peyton Manning over the Pats. Manning's Mastercard commercial still gets a laugh out of me every time I see it while the Patriots "Not In Our House" ad seems, frankly, very unPatriot-like.

And don't you feel that it gives upcoming opponents a little bit of cannon fodder as well?

One of the things that I wish for this Christmas - besides peace on Earth and some new golf shoes - is some recognition of the tremendous job that this website's proprietor, Ian Logue, does day-in, day-out to bring the goods to you.

Besides being a wonderful family man and a dear friend, his tireless work has grown this site into something we only dreamt about a short time ago. Ian gave me one of the best gifts that I have ever received in my life - namely a passion for writing - a few years ago when he encouraged me to start writing for this site.

And even if you don't think that Kermit gets snubbed out of an Emmy award every year, I would still like to hear from you. I can be reached at kevin@patsfans.com.

Don't forget to check me out at 8:20 on Friday mornings on Bangor, Maine's sports radio leader, WZON 620 "The Zone." You can listen over the internet at www.zoneradio.com This column also appears in the The Reporter (Waterboro/Hollis, ME), the Twin City Times (Lewiston/Auburn, ME), the American Journal (Westbrook, ME), the Current (Scarborough/Cape Elizabeth/South Portland, ME), and the Lakes Region Suburban Weekly (Windham, ME).


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