The New England Patriots (4-4) have underperformed this season with a 4-4 record, just two seasons after Tom Brady left in free agency to play for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In 24 games since Brady’s departure, the Patriots are 11-13, while the Buccaneers won Super Bowl 55 and have won 21 of 28 games (including the postseason) with Brady under center.
However, WCVB-TV Channel 5 Boston Sports Anchor/Reporter Bob Halloran believes that this year’s New England Patriots can replicate their 2001 campaign based on close contests against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-2), Dallas Cowboys (6-1), and Los Angeles Chargers (5-3). Against the Buccaneers and Cowboys, New England combined for 668 yards on offense. Unfortunately, they lost both games in the final possessions thanks to a missed 56-yard field goal in Tom Brady’s homecoming in week four, and Cowboys receiver CeeDee Lamb breaking loose for a 35-yard game-winning score in overtime in week six.
Their ability to go toe to toe with the best teams in the NFL with a rookie quarterback and a rebuilt receiving corps prompted Halloran to recall the following quote from Hall of Fame Cornerback Ty Law after their 2001 regular-season matchup against the St. Louis Rams:
“We can look at this game and learn from it, but I think we can also look at this game and say we can play with anybody.”
The Rams would win that game 24-17, behind quarterback Kurt Warner’s 401 yards and three touchdowns. New England’s defense did force two interceptions to keep the game close and those interceptions would repeat themselves when the two teams met again 10 weeks later in Super Bowl 36.
This would mark the last defeat that season for the Patriots, as they rode a nine-game winning streak into Super Bowl. According to ESPN, they entered as 14-point underdogs. Three Rams’ turnovers resulted in all 17 first-half points for New England, including a 47-yard pick-6 by Ty Law in the second quarter.
Trailing 17-3 entering the fourth quarter, St. Louis would rally for two touchdowns by Kurt Warner and Ricky Proehl, leaving 1:21 left on the clock and no timeouts for Tom Brady to work with. Brady led a nine-play, 53-yard drive to set up kicker Adam Vinatieri for a 48-yard field goal. He drilled the kick right down the middle as time expired to capture the first Super Bowl victory in franchise history.
Fast-forwarding to week eight this season, the Patriots had yet to defeat a team with a winning record. Their only wins were against the New York Jets (twice) and Houston Texans, who have won two games all season.
Ahead of their matchup road matchup against the Chargers, Halloran stated:
“They’ve won both their road games this year, albeit against subpar competition, but it shows they’re not intimidated by hostile environments or adversely affected by travel and fatigue. Also, the Chargers appear to be a bit of a paper tiger. They’re 4-2, but their point differential is a minus-2.”
Bill Belichick’s defense held quarterback Justin Herbert to a 51% completion rate and 10 points in the second half, after falling trailing 14-13 at halftime. Patriots’ safety Adrian Phillips delivered the game’s turning point, by returning a 26-yard pick-6 with 10:11 left in the fourth quarter to hand his team a lead they would not relinquish.
Offensively, New England relied on kicker Nick Folk, who finished with four field goals and running back Damien Harris added his fifth rushing touchdown of the season. Harris finished the contest with a team-high 23 rushes for 80 yards. New England finished with 141 yards on the ground against the league’s 32nd ranked run defense in yards per game, according to NFL Network.
“Moving forward, they’ll have opportunities to prove that they are a very good team,” said Halloran. “Nothing is for certain, but as they play out the schedule, I’m curious to see how much they improve, especially when it comes to finding ways to win games late, which they didn’t do against the Buccaneers and Cowboys. Doing it against the Chargers isn’t quite enough to elevate my confidence to a very high degree, but I think again that it was a quality win, and we’ll see where the Patriots go from here.”
Over the next five weeks, the Patriots will face two teams in the thick of the race for the playoffs: the Tennessee Titans (6-2), and Buffalo Bills (5-2). Halloran is particularly interested in seeing how the Patriots bounce back against the Buffalo Bills, who have won five of their last six games and outscored their opponents 178-86 during that stretch.
“They’ve still got a chance to beat the (Buffalo) Bills for the AFC East title,” said Halloran. “Beating the Bills will be paramount for making that happen. Someone else said 9 wins will get a team into the playoffs this year. That seems likely based on all the parity I see, especially in the AFC. So, the Patriots have to win six of their final 10 games. Not easy, but certainly a possibility. If this team ultimately replicates or approximates what the 2001 Patriots did, it’ll have to start revealing itself with winning football.”
The Patriots head back on the road next week to face the Carolina Panthers (4-4). The game will kick off at 1 p.m. from Bank of America Stadium.
Catch Bob Halloran on WCVB-TV Channel 5 Boston weeknights at 6 p.m. For more information about Halloran’s thoughts on the Patriots dynasty, purchase his book called Count the Rings!: Inside Boston’s Wicked Awesome Reign as the City of Champions.
“He’s creative, funny, and witty, all while delivering the important details in every story,” said WCVB-TV Channel 5 Boston Sports Producer Samantha D’Orsi. “Working with Bob is a breeze. As his producer, I can always count on him to turn content efficiently and on time. He comes to work ready to go and has a backup plan for every story idea. He’s always where he needs to be, when he needs to be there – and believe me that’s half the battle in this industry.”