FOXBOROUGH -- Six games into the season, the Patriots are a 6-0 football team.
They are one of only two undefeated teams in the NFL, the only perfect squad in the AFC and have built a nice foundation to be in position to battle for a No. 1 seed in the conference come January playoff time.
The track toward the Super Bowl could very well chug through Gillette Stadium for another winter.
Bill Belichick’s team has won more than any other through a month-plus of football.
Yet, the reality over the last three weeks, for better or worse, is that they don’t look like a traditional dominant Patriots team, thanks mostly to the fact that the Tom Brady-led offense is far from dominant right now.
Thursday night at Gillette Stadium New England picked up its sixth win with a 35-14 victory over the banged-up Giants in a game that wasn’t nearly as simple and traditional as the final score might indicate.
The Patriots once again leaned heavily on their dominant defense and playmaking special teams while the offense sputtered early. Stop me if you’ve heard this story before, because you have. It was two weeks ago in Buffalo. It was last week Washington. It was Thursday night in Foxborough.
Brady and Co. turned the ball over on downs on their first possession against New York, Sony Michel and the line failing to pick up yard on two attempts.
After a punt, Brady and the offense got an extra possession thanks to a John Simon interception of a pass deflected by Stephon Gilmore. But TB12 gave the ball right back on his on ugly pick on the ensuing play.
All told, New England’s first five possessions ended on downs, a turnover and three punts.
Luckily, though, Brandon Bolden blocked a punt that Chase Winovich returned for a touchdown.
Later, Jamie Collins would force a fumble that was scooped up and returned to the end zone for another score by Kyle Van Noy.
This unique formula for winning is working, but even Belichick knows counting on the other two phases to score points isn’t a sustainable plan of attack.
“Again, any of those defensive or special teams touchdowns are really kind of bonus points,” Belichick acknowledged. “You don't really think about getting those when you go into the game so to be able to get 14 of them was huge.”
Sure in the end New England had three 1-yard touchdown runs, including a pair of Brady QB sneaks, but the offensive output continues to lag behind the other two phases of the team. That’s not something we’re used to seeing too often with the Patriots we’ve come to know over two decades of dominance.
“It wasn’t as pretty as we wanted it, but we were able to go get it done,” Julian Edelman said after his 9-catch, 113-yard effort, a second 100-yard game in as many weeks. “Hats off to the defense and special teams once again doing unbelievable things. We gotta hold our end of the bargain up more.”
“Happy we won. Happy to get to 6-0,” Brady said, taking the postgame podium after a lackluster offensive effort for the third straight week. “Yeah, we just grinded it out pretty good. Defense played great, special teams played great. Outside of a few plays, it would have been pretty good. So, we’re hanging in there.”
They’re more than hanging in there. Their record says they are the best team in football. Their record declares them the team to beat.
Over the last three weeks, they looked more like a team that was on the verge of being beaten. The opposition, as you’ve no doubt heard, will grow stronger in the coming weeks.
The beauty is that while Belichick, Edelman, Brady and the rest know they need to do more offensively, they work toward that improvement with a perfect 6-0 record.
That’s a pretty nice spot to be in.
Phillip Dorsett, who missed Thursday night to a hamstring injury, will return. Josh Gordon, who missed the second half with a knee issue, will too. The offensive line has found continuity, now it just needs more consistency and could get former first-round left tackle Isaiah Wynn back from injured reserve in the coming weeks.
Young players like receiver Jakobi Meyers (who caught four passes on four targets for 54 yards against the Giants) and tight end Ryan Izzo will get more comfortable and maybe more productive as they get more experienced.
Maybe that will all add up to offensive improvement, because everyone knows sooner or later it has to be better
“Just want to push each other to be better. Got to get it going,” Meyers said. “Because the defense is going to do what they have to do, but we don’t want to have to rely on them to make plays for us, to do all the scoring for us, which they are good at apparently. We want to still score on our own and keep making plays on our own.”
Right now the Patriots offense isn’t good. But’s it’s been good enough to win in conjunction with the best defense in football and a special teams unit that’s made more than its fair share of plays, including two blocked punts returned for touchdowns.
Will it continue to be good enough moving forward, in potential higher-scoring battles with teams like the Cowboys, Chiefs or Ravens?
“We’ll see,” Brady concluded. “We’re 6-0, so try to get to 7-0.”
Sounds simple. But for the last few weeks it has been anything but.