Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports

Hannable: Patriots no longer a dominant team, but for 2017 it's OK

Ryan Hannable
October 29, 2017 - 11:34 pm

FOXBORO — The 2017 Patriots: winning ugly.

At the midway point of the season the Patriots are 6-2, but haven’t looked anywhere close to what past Patriots teams have looked like halfway through the year. 

This is what happens when you lose the second-most important player (Julian Edelman) for the year in the preseason and most recently another top-five important player (Dont’a Hightower) to a season-ending injury, as well. These two injuries have brought the Patriots back to the rest of the league.

Patriots fans are used to blowout wins with games being over practically at halftime. This year, five out of the last six games have been decided in the final minute and three out of the last four wins have featured the defense needing to make a stop on the final possession. Lastly, two of the four, including Sunday against the Chargers, had the last play be a pass attempt to the end zone to either win or tie the game for the opposition.

On Sunday, the Patriots beat the Chargers 21-13 for their fourth straight win, but it certainly wasn’t pretty. New England needed a safety on a punt return and some poor decisions by opposing coach Anthony Lynn to come away with their sixth victory of the season.

When was the last time the Patriots went eight straight possessions without scoring a touchdown? That was how the Patriots closed the game Sunday. How about a 71-yard kick return turning into zero points? That happened, too. What about allowing a 87-yard rushing touchdown? That hadn’t happened before in the Bill Belichick era. Two missed field goals? Yeah, not since 2010.

The Patriots are doing things this year we haven’t seen in years, but the reality is this is what other NFL teams do on a weekly basis.

“Every year is not going to be blow teams out, win by 30. This is the National Football League. It’s hard to win in this league and we know that,” special teams captain Matthew Slater said after the game. “We’re experiencing that this year. I am glad we’ve been able to pull out some of these close ones.”

The Patriots have played in five one-possession games so far in 2017. Last year they played in five the entire regular season.

For safety Duron Harmon, he doesn’t mind playing in all these games that have come down to the end.

“No, it’s fun,” he said. “It’s good just because it will help you in the long run. When games get colder, deeper into the season when you know games will be one-possession games, playing great teams. The Chargers are a great team. They came in on a three-game winning streak, so we knew what it was.”

So even though the Patriots are not the dominant team they have been in the past, this is the year to be mediocre to above average. There just aren’t any dominant teams in the AFC.

After Sunday, no team has fewer than two losses, with the Patriots, Bills, Chiefs and Steelers all having two (Kansas City plays Monday night). In addition, nine teams are .500 or better. The AFC truly is completely up for grabs.

In year’s past, starting 6-2 could mean an uphill battle for homefield advantage in the playoffs, but this year it’s leading the way. If there was any year for the Patriots to have two major season-ending injuries and play like they have, this would be the one. With the teams being so even, having Bill Belichick and Tom Brady could be the difference maker down the stretch and into the postseason.

There’s no question the Patriots aren’t playing even close to what we’ve been accustomed to seeing over the years, but given the state of the rest of the NFL it may not even matter. 

Even though it’s ugly, it’s still winning.

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