Let's set the way-back machine and run down the opening games of the Patriots during the Belichick Era, get a sense of what they mean ... 2000-- Loss to Tampa: 21-16 Team lost, didn't look all that good, and they weren't all that good. Belichick's "clean house" year, as the Patriots end up 5-11, conjuring brief, illusory images of some of the lean years of the franchise. 2001-- Loss to Cincinnati: 23-17 I remember this game well. Cincinnati was not a good team (ended 6-10), and they beat the Patriots handily in this one. The next game, against the Jets, the Pats lost their starting quarterback, Drew Bledsoe, and they again looked terrible. Does anyone remember how this season turned out? Oh, yeah, an 11-5 record and a Super Bowl victory. 2002-- Thumped the Steelers: 30-14 The team looked terrific, going with a spread offense and just passing up a storm. A dominating performance which masked an aging, slow defense that couldn't stop the run and got bulldozed the rest of the year. The team ended up 9-7 and watching the playoffs from home. 2003-- Who can forget? Lost to the Bills: 31-0 The Patriots, coming off the emotional release of Lawyer Milloy, got absolutely destroyed by the Bills. The offense looked anemic, the defense got pounded, the team just looked bad in every way. Part of a 2-2 start to the year that ended 14-2 and a Super Bowl victory. 2004-- Beat the Colts: 27-24 A rough victory against a good Colts team. The Patriots got steam-rolled on the ground, with Edgerrin James running at will. But, the Pats held on to win the game on a late McGinest sack forcing a Vanderjerk FG attempt, which sailed wide. The Patriots looked OK, but they ended up being one of the best teams of all time, rolling to a Super Bowl victory. Their vulnerability to the run greatly diminished over the course of the season. 2005-- Beat the Raiders: 30-20 Raiders come in hyped by their acquisition of Randy Moss, who does make some noise to keep the Raiders somewhat in the game. But the Patriots win fairly easily. However, they get rolled over in the early part of the year, as their depleted LB corps and a still-learning Vince Wilfork allow teams to run roughshod over them. They go on to a solid, but unspectacular season decimated by injuries resulting in a 1-1 record in the playoffs. So, the Patriots looked either terrible or to have major problems in all three of their Super Bowl years. They looked best in the year they missed the playoffs in 2002. They looked OK last year, when they were pretty good, and bad in 2000, when they were bad. The moral of the story: don't read too much into the opening game. The Patriots flashed some great, stifling D in the second half yesterday, a pounding running game, and a nearly-invisible WR corps. But, matchups dictate what happens a lot in the NFL, and a hallmark of almost all of the good Belichick teams is that they get better over the last half of the season. The one thing that's consistent about the Patriots is that it takes at least four weeks before you even start to have a good sense of what the team will really be like that year.