There is no question that the Patriots were awful on Sunday vs. Cleveland, they came out flat from the start and were never able to able to stop Peyton Hillis and Colt McCoy. Credit goes to DA/98.5 for comparing this beat-down to the Raven’s playoff game last year. We were teased to think we were back in the game few times (especially before Gronk fumbled ahead of half) but really didn’t have chance without an answer for Hillis (i.e. Ray Rice). This was a classic trap game, as predicted by EPSN’s Adam Shefter, and the Pats did not disappoint.
Although, looking back on it now, the only thing more overdone than the fans/media negative reaction off the loss, was the positive hype about the Patriots leading up to it. As the only one loss team in the league before the Browns game, the Pats mistakenly ended up atop the power rankings of Fox Sports, Fanhouse, ESPN, etc…They were not the best team in the league before the Cleveland game and they clearly aren’t after. They are adjusting to life without Moss, surviving a number of key injuries (e.g. Bodden, Taylor, Faulk) and one key holdout (Mankins), and rediscovering some of the old winning formula. Along the way they have found a way to win some tough games at the end. But this is by no means a finished product and anointing them as the best in the league off the Minnesota win was clearly aggressive. Bill Belichick approaches each season like he does individual games; figure out what you have early on then make the right adjustments to peak by the end. The 2010/11 version of the Patriots is still a work in progress. This is a young team, especially on defense, that will need every single game of the regular season to find its real identity.
Until the Cleveland game the Pats had made the best of a favorable first half schedule. Looking back on it now, they have beaten only one team with a winning record. Going a bit deeper, against quality opponents (as defined by this very cool site) the Pat’s are 2-1, trailing PIT 4-2, INDY 3-1 and WASH 3-2. THE GOOD NEWS is they enter the 2nd half of the schedule as well positioned as anyone, especially in a season that doesn’t appear to have a dominant team. THE BAD NEWS is the upcoming schedule is BRUTAL. The Pats will get an immediate chance at redemption when they visit the Steelers (the real best team in the league up to this point) Sunday night. Watching how they bounce back off the Cleveland thrashing, and how the defense stands up to another strong running game, will be the best indicator yet of what we really have in this 2010/11 entry. The five game stretch that follows (IND, @DET, NYJ, @CHI, GB) will either make or break them. Surviving this stretch at 3-3 would be a huge success, making them 9-5 w/@ BUF and MIA to close out the season. I just hope this loss to Cleveland doesn’t come back to haunt us come playoff time.