By: Christopher Price
October 04, 2005

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Rick Pitino was right -- negativity sucks. It sucks when you're trying to put a basketball team together, and it sucks when it's coming at you in waves on the stat sheet.

Through the first four games, the Patriots have faced more than their share of negativity on both sides of the football. On offense, the bulk of that negativity has come when veteran running back Corey Dillon touches the football. A year after he set the franchise record for rushing yards in a season, he has 73 carries through four games, and 20 of them have either been for negative yardage or no gain.

"Anytime you have a negative play in the running game, that's like getting a penalty. They're hard to overcome. They're drive stoppers. They put you in long yardage situations," said New England Head Coach Bill Belichick earlier this week. "It's hard enough to gain 10 yards on three downs the way it is. And when you start trying to gain 12 or 13 or 17 on two, then eventually, it's probably going to catch up with you.

"Anytime you lose yardage in the running game, there's a mistake somewhere," he added. "That's not what you want when you run the ball. There's no question. Those are all errors in different varieties that we certainly want to eliminate."

They've also faced plenty of long-yardage situations because of penalties, most of them on the defensive side of the football. They were able to cut back Sunday against the Chargers -- they had 29 penalties through the first three games, with their low-water mark coming in the Week 2 loss to the Panthers when they were whistled for 12 different indiscretions -- but had just four in the loss to San Diego.

Overall, through four weeks, the Patriots have been flagged for 33 penalties, one of the worst marks in the AFC. They are on pace to commit 132 penalties, which would be a new record for a Bill Belichick-coached team. As a result of those penalties, they've lost 312 yards -- fourth-most in the NFL, trailing only Oakland, Tampa Bay and Cincinnati.

New England has spread it around: twenty-two players have been called for penalties this season, but no player has more than three penalties. The worst offender is cornerback Chad Scott -- in just three games, he's been flagged three times for a combined 58 yards. Others who have picked up more than one yellow flag through the first four games are safety Eugene Wilson (two penalties, 53 yards), linebacker Mike Vrabel (two penalties, 20 yards) and wide receiver Deion Branch (two penalties, 20 yards).

As for the type of penalties, the offensive line has the most to answer for. A year after they finished with the fewest amounts of false starts penalties in the league -- just 13 -- they already have nine false start penalties through four games. In addition, the team has been whistled for six offensive holding calls and five pass interference penalties. (Ironically, no member of the offensive line has been whistled for a holding call this season.) The most damaging penalties have come in the secondary, where Wilson (a 44-yard pass interference penalty last week against the Chargers) and Scott (two of the three calls on Scott have been pass interference calls good for 25 and 23 yards) have given up big gains as a result of their offenses.

Christopher Price covers the Patriots for Boston Metro and BostonSportsReview.com. He can be reached at capeleaguer@hotmail.com.


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