By almost any measure, the New England Patriots look like the best team in football after Sunday’s shellacking of the Bears and have the inside track for a berth in February’s Super Bowl. The last time fans were this confident in a Patriots team was in 2007, when the record-setting squad had a 16-0 regular season but fell in Super Bowl XLII.
So how does this Patriots team compare to that one?
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who was the NFL MVP in 2007 and has to be the odds-on favorite at this point to win the award again this season, addressed that question in his weekly interview on Boston sports radio station WEEI on Monday morning. In his view, this team is nothing like the 2007 version in both its makeup and approach.
“Entirely different team and entirely different what we’re trying to do with the football,” Brady explained. "We were much more of a spread offense [in 2007], three- and four-receiver sets. Throw the ball for as many yards as we could every week. ...
“The thing that is great this year is we’re much more balanced. We’re running the ball very well. Our play action pass has been very good. Our dropback pass has been OK.
“There are different ways to get the job done out there, and I think this year we found some different ways using the skill set of the guys that we have on our team. That was a very prolific team, in '07, just a very different team. Different work habits, different personality.”
Brady explained that what he meant by “different work habits” was that because the team has much younger key players than it did in 2007, the way they go about preparing is different.
“It’s a younger team so we practice quite a bit more than we did in '07,” Brady said. “The practices are longer, we’re going over situational stuff every week. The way we watch film is different as a team, there are just some things we’re doing different.”
Those differences aside, the results are starting to look very similar. The 2007 record-setting offense averaged 36.8 points per game. The Patriots this season are averaging an NFL-best 31.9 points per game through 13 weeks. Over the last five weeks, however, the team has averaged 39.2 points per game and is giving up just 17.6 points per game, including a total of just 10 over the last two weeks.
What’s been the key to such decisive victories during that stretch, which included wins over the Steelers, Colts, Jets and Bears (a combined 36-17)? Brady thinks it’s simple: Turnovers.
Since the Patriots’ last loss (Nov. 7 to the Browns), the team hasn’t committed a single turnover. In the five games since, it has a stunning 13 takeaways.
“The reason I think we scored those points is because we’re getting turnovers and were not giving it up,” Brady said on WEEI. “The games would be much closer if we weren’t getting those turnovers by our defense. Our defense is making some great plays on the ball. We’re intercepting a lot of passes. We have to be up there somewhere in turnover margin the league.
“I think we’ve been good on offense with taking care of the ball. We got lucky a few times yesterday. We’ve been lucky quite a bit the last 7-8 weeks with tipped balls. I think that’s really what skews the game is those turnovers. They’re not getting points and we’re converting those into points and it doesn’t even up being very close.”
By all accounts, players seemed pretty happy after Sunday’s rout of the Bears, the second straight drubbing by the Patriots over a first-place team. Still, Brady reiterated a mantra he’s expressed a few times previously this season: We haven’t done anything yet.
“There are guys on the team that have been a part of something much more than being 11-2,” reminded Brady.
“It’s our job as players not to ride the roller coaster, the emotions of a long season,” Brady said. “It’s our job to show up every day to work, to practice and to prepare to play a good game every weekend. For a young team this team has been pretty focused and mature in doing that.”