After going back and forth with NEM for a while now (don't click out yet, this is not an NEM-rant thread) I think I've sort of realized why I'm so happy with this season so far even though we've still got holes: My expectation coming into this season was that our offense was going to struggle mightily. We had only Troy Brown coming back, one rookie, and two question marks at WR. We had Corey Dillon who was one year older than last season in which he already looked old and banged up and a Rookie at RB that I wasn't sold on (I grumbled about a RB at 21). And an OL that was either Young or Returning from Injury. Sure, we have Tom Brady, but I felt like the offense team was going to be too green as a group to produce well. I thought that last years defense hadn't been upgraded much and in spite of the unit looking good down the stretch I was not sold at all on our D. Afterall those teams that they dominated down the stretch weren't very good teams. I had doubts about Asante Samuel at corner, about Wilson at S, about Harrison's ability to come back from his knee injury. I had doubts about the linebacking corps without Willie and doubts about Seau being able to fill a hole that had existed since Ted Johnson retired. I felt good about the DL except at backup NT, but that was the only unit I was really SOLD on besides the QB position. I felt that we were going to be in a pretty good dogfight for the AFCE this season against a revamped Miami squad and a Buffalo team that was flying under the radar, not to mention the Patriotized Jets. Was I giving in to some of the media hype? Somewhat. Was I listening to my gut after the 2005 Patriots season was an up-and-down rollercoaster that ended in disappointment? Somewhat. Was I listening to some of the naybobs on this site? Somewhat. I still held out HOPE for 2006, but I felt that deep down we weren't muc better than the 2005 squad that had given me fits to watch all of last season. After the first half of the Buffalo game I felt that my initial doubts of the team were justified. We were having a pretty tough time stopping Buffalo, the offense wasn't really kicking. Nothing was quite looking like a new season. It looked like an extension of 2005. The second half of the Buffalo game showed me that I was wrong. Being down didn't mean being OUT. We could still play defense. Our offense could do ENOUGH. I felt like 2006 may in fact hold a different identity than 2005's squad. The first half of the Jets game had me soaring. The second half had me doubting all over again. I was in disbelief. But then we stiffened and held on for the win. My first impression after the Jets game was that the D was in fact 2005ish, but after reading much on this board I realized that if not for the couple of big plays that the D had a pretty good day. The 2-0 record helped me still believe in spite of the doubts that kept surfacing. Then Denver. I saw a close game spiral out of control as we couldn't run and couldn't slow Denver down with our D. My doubts didn't come fully back, as I knew that the passing offense simply wasn't ready yet for the run to be shut down as Denver was able to do. The pressure on the pass offense was too much too soon. The final score showed it. The Patriots D gave up some more big plays, but still had only given up 17 points. The Cincy game came as a shock to me as I'm sure it did to many of you. The defense looked legit. The offense looked absolutely dominant on the ground and the passing game looked competant. It was a huge step in the right direction for the passing game and a huge confidence booster for our great running game. 38-13 was a statement. I heard it loud and clear. Then the Dolphins come into town, playing for their season. Our defense for the second straight week comes up with some turnovers. Allows some yards and some 3rd down conversions, but holds the Dolphins to 10 with some help from the turf and the ST unit. The offense stuck with it's gameplan, which the defense allowed them to do. They scored 10 more points than the D and ST allowed, and put the Dolphins into '8-8 is a successful season' mode. At the bye week our 4-1 record looks mighty fine next to the second place team in the division at 2-3, and 3-0 in the division is looking mighty fine. I've already posted how impressive the stats and figures stack up compared to what we might expect, but that's not what has me so hopeful for this season. In all of 2005 I never felt like this team really played TEAM football. One unit or the other was always making mistakes that the other two units had to make up for. The up and down season, I feel, was a result of that team never becoming a TEAM. You never saw all three phases playing complimentary football. You never saw one unit struggle only to have another unit bring them up. You saw one unit struggle and another unit struggle to pull their weight. This season we're seeing TEAM football. We're seeing the D help the offense out with turnovers, and the offense help the defense out with a strong running game giving them rest. We're seeing the punt return unit help field position and the punter doing the same. We're seeing great kickoffs set up the D with long fields to defend. We're seeing the passing game play off of the running game in spite of 80% turnover at the WR position. This team, when successful in 2001, 2003 and 2004, played TEAM football better than anyone. This 2006 squad seems to have remembered how it's done. It's not perfect yet, but the fact that we're 4-1 while they are learning just sets the team up perfectly for a stretch run out of their bye week. If the guys in that locker room can keep playing complimentary TEAM football, then we'll be just as happy at the end of the season as we are here at the bye week, and the struggles that mar the memory of 2005 will be long forgotten.