When the New England Patriots got ready to face the Atlanta Falcons last Thursday, they had a 6-4 record, and they were the six-seed in the AFC following their 45-7 rout of the Cleveland Browns. New England did its part with a 25-0 shellacking of Matt Ryan’s offense, which pushed them up to the AFC four-seed, and then, it was up to Bill Belichick and his team to watch and wait to see what happened Sunday.
First, there were the AFC East-leading Buffalo Bills, who got poleaxed by the Colts, as running back Jonathan Taylor set a franchise record with five total touchdowns against what had been the NFL’s best offense. That put the Patriots atop the division, the Bills down to 6-4, and the Patriots up to the three-seed. Then, the Tennessee Titans, the AFC’s one-seed, lost to the Texans, 22-13, as Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill threw four interceptions, and Tennessee’s usually stout defense laid a series of dinosaur eggs. Had the Baltimore Ravens not narrowly escaped the Chicago Bears with a 16-13 win, things could have gotten really interesting, as New England would have leapfrogged Baltimore with the better record.
Guess who the Patriots face next Sunday? That would be the aforementioned Titans, and if the aforementioned Titans lose that game, and the Ravens lose to the Browns, the Patriots would go from the six-seed to the top of the AFC in a matter of two weeks.
We’re used to Belichick watching and waiting as the season rolls along, and his teams getting hot at the right time. Last week, he gave one of his patented five-minute answers when asked whether he knows his team better now than he did when the season started.
“Of course you know more about your team in October than you know in September. More in November than you do in October. As things declare, as you get more experience with your team and your players and how they all fit together, and then along with that, sometimes, you have some lineup changes, whether that could be a player coming back, a player who is not in the lineup who was there earlier that you have to make adjustments or some kind of compensation for. That’s all part of weekly coaching, game planning in the NFL. That happens all the time, but you learn more about your team as you go further down the road.
“I think each year has its own dynamics. Each team develops its own unique way. Sometimes there’s carry over, sometimes there isn’t, or there’s similarities. Sometimes I don’t know if you know that until it’s all over. Sometimes you just have to take it week-by-week, try to figure out what that specific year, this year’s team, what we need, what we need to do. Things that we’re maybe fairly good at that we want to try to build on. Things that we’re not so good at that we need to improve or maybe get rid of and do something else. I think, really, it’s something that you kind of have to take week-by-week, and, whenever you add it all up, you can add it all up and look back on it. It’s a lot more in the moment than it is us thinking about, ‘Well, this is where we want to be five weeks from now.’
God, I don’t even know who we play five weeks from now. I don’t even know who’s going to be playing five weeks from now. A lot could change between now and then, so it’s kind of hard to look at it that way, but you do want to keep improving every day, every week, and certainly at a later point in the season. Hopefully, some of the work that we’re doing now will pay off.”
If you believe that Belichick doesn’t know who the Patriots play five weeks from now, I have a bridge to sell you somewhere in Framingham. In any event, as our own Mark Schofield recently wrote, the Patriots are now that object in the mirror that’s closer than it appears.