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BOB RYAN

Patriots not yet a known quantity

FOXBOROUGH -- In Week 1, your world champions once removed were forgettable and regrettable and you're-out-of-the-will-able.

In Week 2, your world champions once removed were a championship-style prodigal son returned.

Does this mean Week 1 was an aberration? Does this mean Week 2 was an aberration? Does anyone, and that would include the head coach himself, know exactly what it all means?

"I don't know," he says in a rare moment of press conference humanity. "That is kind of like the story about the guy who has one foot in a bucket of boiling water and the other foot in a bucket of ice water and you feel like he should be perfectly comfortable."

Whoa. Wait a minute. Has our poker-faced mentor just pulled a Tuna on us? Bill Parcells had a story, metaphor, analogy, or parable for every occasion. As a rule, speaking in any kind of code is not Bill Belichick's style. But since he actually has smiled once or twice already, this is clearly a very (temporarily) happy guy. At least now he knows his team has a pulse. I'm sure he wanted to make them all hitchhike home from Buffalo.

What it means, of course, is "Welcome to the 2003 NFL." There are no super teams anymore, but there are a lot of middlin' teams with a chance to be good that need to bring that elusive "it" every time they suit up or else face the very real chance of having their butts kicked.

"I think each week is its own entity," he continues. "I don't think last week necessarily affected us against Philadelphia and I am not sure that our performance against Philadelphia is going to have anything to do with how we play against the Jets."

So is this William Goldman's famed "Nobody Knows Anything" Hollywood theory, as applied to the National Football League? Is he saying that you, the coach, run through your standard checklist of preparational things as best you can without ever really knowing that your team is readier to bring an A game, or at least a B-plus game, than it was any other week? Or is it just too soon in the season to make definitive judgments about anything?

"I can't answer that question," he says. "We have all seen teams win X number of games in a row and then come out and lay an egg, or lose X games in a row and then come out and win big. What I do feel about this team is we have a strong veteran presence on the team. It's a physically and mentally tough team, and I have a lot of respect for the way they prepare and the way they work."

One problem in assessing the current state of the Patriots is the sobering knowledge that the team they just defeated so handily is, to be as polite as possible, a startling abomination. Two regular-season games have been played in the new $517 million Lincoln Financial Field, and in those two games the Eagles have been outscored, 48-10. Their franchise quarterback has a rating of 41.4, a number that would have represented a good year for Wilt Chamberlain in the early '60s but places Donovan McNabb last and very much least among starting NFL signal callers.

The Eagles lost three defensive starters in their opening-night loss to Tampa Bay, and the two defensive backs they lost -- Brian Dawkins and Bobby Taylor -- were among the top three defensive players they have. Dawkins is, by all accounts, the best. So this happened to be a very propitious time to find the Iggles on your schedule. It's entirely possible the Patriots have just had their easiest game of the season.

But the mentor is not looking back. In his mind, what he saw on Sunday was "a tough game on the road against a good football team," and in that game "I thought the players did a really good job of executing the game plan by playing a tough, physical game. They made a lot of big plays when they had an opportunity to make them. As usual, that was a good formula."

My guess is the mentor really does have an opinion, but it is not for public consumption. He knows far better than any of us the difference in quality between Dawkins and Taylor and the inexperienced players who replaced them. He won't come out and say, "Of course, we were going to zero in on Lito Sheppard and Clinton Hart." No coach in that scripted NFL world will say a thing like that out loud. That's the job of the panting media.

I mean, duh.

All three touchdown passes were play-action calls that wound up looking like a Friday walk-through. Draw your own conclusion.

Whatever. Philly is in the books. It's time to start thinking about the New York Jets, another 0-2 team with angry fans and a snarling media on its tail.

And this really will be a nasty game. The Jets had pretensions, and if they go 0-3, well, whaddya think? To borrow a hockey phrase, the Jets will be playing "desperate" football. Fortunately for Coach Belichick, his prime motivational tactic is very graphic. He's not planning on showing his team the tape of the 44-7 New England victory in Giants Stadium last September. No, no, no. He's planning on showing them the gruesome tape of a 30-17 loss in Week 15.

"That is really the game, from our standpoint, that made them the division champions," Belichick recalls. "Just look at the game. Just look at the score. Just look at what happened. I think that is all we need to see."

You'd think so, anyway, but who knows which Patriots team will make its home debut Sunday at 1 p.m.? Until that time, the mentor still has one foot in the boiling water and one foot in the bucket of ice. Perhaps he'd feel better if someone would play him a good Bon Jovi song. Maybe something from "Bounce."

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is ryan@globe.com.

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