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Truth is, Patriots still lack consistency

FOXBOROUGH -- When Keats wrote, ''Beauty is truth, truth beauty," he certainly did not have the 2005 New England Patriots in mind.

The ''Season of Truth," the Patriots' theme for this year's campaign, has often been ugly.

Sunday was about as ugly as it gets, in terms of the aesthetics of the sport, as the Patriots easily put down a Jets team that apparently is not interested in (or capable of) winning any more games this year.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Patriots' 16-3 win was one of only 12 NFL games this season (out of 192) in which only one touchdown was scored.

But a win is a win, and the way the year has gone, the Patriots would take a victory if it came in the first touchdownless contest of the season. And that's the ugly truth.

''That's what we tried to really focus on this year, just being real, being truthful, being realistic," coach Bill Belichick said yesterday. ''Not taking anybody else's opinion -- even though we respect it -- anybody else's take. Just, 'this is what it is, this is what we need to do,' not what it is perceived or not perceived as being, or any outside analysis of the situation.

''Just, 'here's what the situation is. Let's be totally realistic, totally truthful, and that's what we have to deal with.' "

What the Patriots have to deal with is a closing schedule (at Buffalo, home against Tampa Bay, at the Jets, and home for Miami) that should result in their third consecutive AFC East title. ''Should" is the key word.

Sunday's handling of the Jets, highlighted perhaps by a 397-164 advantage in total yards and a 16-minute edge in time of possession, marked the first time since a 30-20 season-opening win over Oakland that the Patriots did what was expected against a lesser opponent.

It was the Patriots' first win by more than 10 points this season. Last year, New England won nine regular-season games and two playoff games by more than 10 points. The last time the Patriots went this deep into a season without a dominant victory was 2000, Belichick's first season, when they didn't win a single game by a double-digit margin.

''We have to take them how we can get them,' linebacker Tedy Bruschi said.

As they prepare for a trip to Buffalo, the Patriots are looking for a second consecutive solid performance. Belichick wouldn't predict such an effort, because even after 12 games, he doesn't have a handle on his team's makeup.

''No, because I don't think we've been able to consistently be the same team," Belichick said. ''I think a big part of our season has been defined by our lack of consistency, in all three phases of the game.

''I think if we could develop a more consistent pattern, then there would be a lot better barometer on how the team is going to perform on a consistent basis, but we just haven't been able to do that."

Belichick said before the season that he would know what his team was made of by Week 6. At Week 6, he remained unsure. Now, with a 7-5 mark, he still doesn't know.

Is that the truth?

Maybe, but it is also true that Belichick likes his squad a lot more than he did six weeks ago. The Patriots have made no major trades and there have been a couple of losses to injury since then, but there also have been some significant additions and improvements, and plenty of reasons to believe the Patriots are capable of closing the season on a roll:

Bruschi. While the veteran linebacker continues to play catch-up after missing the first six weeks following his stroke, he has been an invaluable leader in the locker room and is the second-leading tackler on the team. When others begin to tire, he'll be hitting his stride.

Ellis Hobbs. The rookie played sparingly in the first six weeks but has started the last four games. Not only has he led the secondary in tackles in those games, but his two interceptions lead defensive backs.

Kevin Faulk. The third-down wizard, who missed eight games because of a broken foot, showed his value against the Jets, with three drive-sustaining catches for first downs.

Artrell Hawkins. The starting strong safety wasn't even on the team six weeks ago, when the Patriots were in a five-week stretch with five different starters at the position left open by Rodney Harrison's knee injury.

Logan Mankins and Nick Kaczur. At the six-week mark, the Patriots had two rookies with six games experience on the left side of the offensive line. Now they have two players with twice that experience, and they continue to improve.

Corey Dillon. Six weeks ago, he was an injured back struggling behind an inexperienced offensive line that couldn't open any holes. Now the line is playing better and Dillon should be well-rested after chilling for the better part of the past month.

Richard Seymour. The Pro Bowl defensive end was on the shelf because of a knee injury in Week 6. He hasn't been a major force since his return (he didn't have a tackle against the Jets), but expect him to turn it on, especially after his criticism of non-cheering fans following Sunday's game.

Truth is, the Patriots are in much better shape than they were not long ago.

''What was the reality on Saturday is different from what the reality was today," Belichick said. ''It's different from what it was on Opening Night. It's different probably than what it's going to be two weeks from now.

''What it is today, is get ready for Buffalo. Buffalo has played outstanding at home. They came in here and had us beat for 3 1/2 quarters on the road. What we have to do to beat Buffalo and how do we have to play Buffalo? A lot better than we played them the first 3 1/2 quarters here.

''That's the truth. That's the reality of it."

Jerome Solomon can be reached at jsolomon@globe.com

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