Pats come back down to Earth

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Pats come back down to Earth

By Rich Levine
CSNNE.com

Last week was a crazy one for Pats fans, and I'm not even talking about the speculation over a potential Randy Moss reunion, the overhyping of BelichickMangini: Round Whatever, or the absurdity of Logan Mankins' mustache.

No, what made last week so especially strange was that for probably the first time since Bernard Pollard wrecked Tom Brady's knee, the New England Patriots were the consensus best team in football.

They were the only one-loss team in the league. They'd played one of the most challenging schedules in the league. They were building chemistry on offense, discovering themselves on defense and undergoing an attitude overhaul behind the scenes.

They'd won five straight games. They had momentum.

Leading into Sunday's game against the Browns, New England sat atop nearly every "expert's" power rankings. They were once again the darlings of the national media. Even Tom Jackson was forced to say a few nice things about them, and that happens about as often as you hear Rex Ryan say, "Nah, that's OK. The small order of onion rings is fine."

The Pats were back. Or at least that's what it felt like.

And it was kind of shocking.

Why? Because we never saw it coming.

Not even the most optimistic, silver-and-blue-colored-glasses-wearing, "In Belichick We Trust"-pledging, "Man, why is Fred Smerlas so negative?"-asking super fan could have realistically believed that the Pats would start this season 6-1.

Part of that was a result of New England's schedule over the first eight weeks, which included trips to New York, Miami and San Diego, as well as home games against the Ravens and Vikings. And even though the Bengals don't look like much now, let's not forget they came into this season as the defending AFC North champs. That should have been a major challenge, too.

Even a great team, we thought, would hit a few potholes on such a treacherous early season road, and this is the other reason why 6-1 seemed so distant we knew that the Pats weren't great.

Yeah, there was reason for positivity, but we'd all seen enough great teams around here to understand that this current one had some serious issues. Our expectations were high, but they weren't unrealistic. We expected the season to be successful, yet at the same time exceedingly difficult.

And we just werent ready for what happened.

Which is that through a bizarre stretch of on-and-off the field mayhem, the Patriots won five straight games.

This isn't to say any of the wins were undeserved. A win's a win in this league. But individually, there was something about each victory that left us wanting more, or at least, left us not entirely convinced that this team was for real.

After the Buffalo game we said, "Yeah, but it was Buffalo."

After the Miami game we said, "Yeah, but when are they ever going to get three defensivespecial teams touchdowns again?"

After the Ravens game we said, "Yeah, but they only really played one good quarter."

After the San Diego game we said, "Yeah, but the Chargers gave it to them!"

And after the Minnesota game we said, "Yeah, but didn't they still look kind of sloppy?"

Each week there was something different, but the result was always the same. Meanwhile, the Colts, Saints, Packers and Steelers began to lose, and the national media needed another "team of the moment." They saw the 6-1 record, the five-game win streak and the "They dropped Moss and never looked back!" storyline and just ran with it.

We'd spent most of the first few months of the season wondering if the Patriots were even the best team in their division. We thought we knew who they were that is, a good but not great team with loads of potential and a lot of room to grow but now everyone in the football world was telling us differently.

And despite the irrelevancy of power rankings in general, and the insignificance of guys like Tom Jackson, it was hard not to join the fun. Life's a lot better when the Pats are atop the NFL. It's been a while since we could really say that.

So we rolled with it. We talked about the Pats like they were the team of old; like the team that marched into Cleveland six years ago and blew them off the field before halftime. We played along.

But deep down, this didn't feel like a 6-1 team. The offense still wasn't clicking. The defense was playing at an unrealistic level. They looked like a good team, but just not the best team in the NFL. No matter what anyone said.

And after watching the way the Pats played in Cleveland, its now obvious that theyre not.

That's not necessarily a bad thing. I'm not saying we should overreact to Sunday's loss, call it a season, hope the Raiders lose a bunch more games and start looking to next year. I'm just saying that maybe the overreaction had taken place before Sunday's game even started.

That for now, maybe it's healthier and more realistic to consider the plight and potential of the 6-2 Patriots a team with legitimate, but not necessarily fatal flaws (experience, depth, offensive fire, big-game pedigree) than to go along ignoring the issues of the 7-1 team under the assumption that they'll just always find a way to win.

Rich Levine's column runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on CSNNE.com. Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Rams hold off 49ers for wild 41-39 win

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THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Rams hold off 49ers for wild 41-39 win

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Coach Sean McVay walked into the postgame news conference and immediately asked, "Anyone have a beer?"

He probably wasn't the only person who wanted a drink after watching a surprisingly thrilling Thursday night shootout between his Rams and the San Francisco 49ers that wasn't decided until Los Angeles prevented a potential game-tying 2-point try and then delivered a rare defensive stop after blowing the onside kick in a 41-39 victory.

"We talk about mentally tough, be your best regardless of the circumstance," McVay said. "I thought the players did that. They found a way in spite of some of the ups and the downs to come away with the win."

While the defense came up big late, it was the offense that carried the day for the Rams (2-1), who have gone from the lowest-scoring team in the NFL a year ago to a dynamic one through three games under McVay.

Jared Goff threw for 292 yards and three touchdowns, Todd Gurley ran for 113 yards and scored three TDs and Robert Woods (108) and Sammy Watkins (106) each topped the 100-yard mark receiving in Los Angeles' second 40-point performance of the season. The Rams have 107 points in all so far, the second-most in franchise history after three games to the 119 by "The Greatest Show on Turf" squad in 2000.

"Since I've been here we haven't been able to do that," Gurley said. "Hopefully we can keep putting points together, keep working together and keep learning from this. I think we left a lot more points off the board."

This win didn't come easy as the Rams nearly blew a 15-point lead, giving up two late touchdowns, fumbling a kickoff return and failing to recover an onside kick. But Los Angeles managed to stop a potential game-tying 2-point conversion on a deflection by Troy Hill and then used an offensive pass interference penalty against Trent Taylor and a fourth-down sack by Aaron Donald to stop the Niners after the onside kick.

The 49ers (0-3) scored five touchdowns after failing to get any the first two weeks but still came up short in part because a missed extra point by Robbie Gould forced them to try for 2 on their late touchdown.

"I just rushed it, I missed it, I made a mistake," Gould said. "Obviously, I wish I didn't do that, or we'd probably be playing in overtime right now.""

This time it was a tired defense that hurt San Francisco. After facing 79 plays in a 12-9 loss at Seattle on Sunday, the 49ers appeared to run out of gas on the short week as Goff frequently had wide-open receivers, especially on third down.

The Rams were 8 for 12 on third down, including all three of Goff's touchdown passes.

The Rams needed all that offense on a night where Brian Hoyer threw for 332 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another score.

QUICK START: The Rams took just 12 seconds to get on the board as Nickell Robey-Coleman intercepted Hoyer on the first play from scrimmage and returned it to the 3-yard line. Gurley ran it in on the next play to give the Rams a 7-0 lead.

"I just told him to start over," 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. "Got to go back to work. We didn't change anything, went right on with the script. But it was a tough way to start out."

DROUGHT BUSTER: The 49ers came into the game without a touchdown on the season but broke through in the first quarter with some help from the Rams. After Blake Countess jumped offside on a punt, the Niners took advantage of the second opportunity and drove to score on Hoyer's 9-yard run 126:43 into the season. That was the longest it took a team to score its first TD since 2006 when both Tampa Bay (143:03) and Oakland (127:10) took more time.

FOURTH DOWN CALLS: Both teams drove to the opposing 1 on their opening drives of the second half with help from a Willie Mays-style basket catch by Watkins and a perfect toe drag on the sideline by San Francisco's Pierre Garcon. But the Rams opted to kick a short field goal, while the 49ers went for it and converted on Carlos Hyde's 1-yard run that cut Los Angeles' lead to 27-20. Hyde added a second 1-yard run on fourth down in the fourth quarter.

INJURIES: Rams S Lamarcus Joyner left the game in the first half with a hamstring injury. ... Los Angeles C John Sullivan injured his groin in the second half and Watkins and Tavon Austin left with concussions. ... 49ers S Jaquiski Tartt (concussion), FB Kyle Juszczyk (neck), DL Tank Carradine (ankle) and LB Brock Coyle (concussion) all left with injuries in the second half.

UP NEXT: The Rams travel to Dallas on Oct. 1. The 49ers visit Arizona.

Boston Sports Tonight Podcast: Is there a blueprint to beat the Patriots?

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Boston Sports Tonight Podcast: Is there a blueprint to beat the Patriots?

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THE PODCAST.

0:41 - Tom E. Curran breaks down the ‘blueprint’ to beat the Patriots and if the Texans have the talent to do it.

5:27 - Michael Holley and Kayce Smith discuss Kyrie Irving’s comments that he made on Early Edition about going back to Cleveland for the opening game. 

9:52 - We take a listen to what Malcolm Butler had to say about his role on the team and discuss how the cornerback keeps saying all the right things. 

15:18 - Michael McCann, Legal Analyst for Sports Illustrated joins BST to talk about Aaron Hernandez’s brain found to have CTE and his family now suing the NFL and the Patriots.