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Tony Massarotti

Unhappy coach issues all-points bulletin after suspect play

By Tony Massarotti
Globe Staff / September 22, 2009

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FOXBOROUGH - Eyes fixed on the floor and shoulders hunched forward, Bill Belichick slumped through the door yesterday morning at Gillette Stadium. His tone as morose as ever, the coach of the Patriots reluctantly reflected on Sunday’s loss to the Jets, his mood as gray as his trademark sweatshirt.

He looked like he had been pondering the question that matters:

What does the future hold for this team?

“I think there were things that happened all game,’’ Belichick said of the breakdowns in the 16-9 loss to the Jets at Giants Stadium. “It happened on all downs and it happened at all field positions, and it happened in all three phases of the game.’’

A short time earlier, the coach had said, “Overall, we just need to get better. That’s the only way to put it.’’

We all know that. And yet, for the first time in a long time with Tom Brady at quarterback, we must wonder not when the Patriots will sufficiently improve, but if they will. The team entered this season with as many questions as any year in recent memory, with significant turnover on defense and a quarterback coming off knee surgery. Two games into the season, the Patriots are a heck of a lot closer to 0-2 than they are to 2-0.

Belichick certainly was not expecting this. The Patriots held the Jets to 16 points - “It wasn’t the worst defensive effort we’ve had here, but it wasn’t good enough,’’ said the coach - but they did nothing on offense. Brady completed just 48.9 percent of his passes and the Patriots were called for four delay-of-game penalties - is former Bruins coach Dave Lewis the new offensive coordinator? The Jets controlled the ball for 17:51 of the second half.

This season, despite the injury to Brady, the Patriots seemingly needed to rely on their offense early. New England has undergone significant change on defense, but Brady’s return essentially meant that the offense was back intact. The most likely scenario was that the Patriots would outscore opponents early in the season, relying on the high-flying antics of Brady, Randy Moss, and Wes Welker. The defense would have time to jell and to catch up.

Now the offense is struggling, having produced just two fire-drill touchdowns via the air in two weeks. Sunday, it did not find the end zone at all. After Jets safety Kerry Rhodes all but challenged the Patriots to a fight last week, cornerback Darrelle Revis went out and almost single-handedly took Moss out of the game. Once the most fearsome bully on the block, the Patriots now cannot stand up to Revis and Butthead.

Meanwhile, they got outplayed on special teams and were picked apart on the first drive of the second half, when the Jets scored the only - and decisive - touchdown of the game.

“We’re just not doing things as well as we need to do ’em,’’ Belichick said. “In a close division game, that makes all the difference.’’

Ah yes, the division. Once the personal playground of your New England Patriots, the AFC East now seems to be anything but. In Week 1, against a Bills team projected to be a doormat, the Patriots needed two touchdowns in the final two minutes to escape with a 1-point win. Now they have been pushed around by the Jets, who had not won a game against the Patriots at the Meadowlands in eight years. The Dolphins, who won the division a year ago, came to Foxborough last season and throttled New England in the game that launched the Wildcat offense.

There are simply no more gimmes against teams the Patriots once dominated.

There is still a great deal of football to be played, but in the short term it isn’t going to get any easier.

Sunday, the Patriots must deal with the Falcons, who appear to have one of the more balanced and potent offenses in the league. Then the Ravens come in. After that, the Patriots travel to Denver for the Josh McDaniels reunion before the Titans come to Foxborough in Week 6. On paper, at least, the disheveled New England offense will continue to see some good defenses.

Yesterday, dressed in jeans and Birkenstocks to go with his gray sweatshirt, Belichick wore the look of a frustrated, agitated man. He said even less than usual.

Belichick teams are known for playing their best football in November and December, when the games grow in importance and coaching has taken hold. There is still every chance that these Patriots will be playing meaningful games then, though something is now indisputably clear.

They have a lot of work to do.

Tony Massarotti can be reached at tmassarotti@globe.com and can be read at www.boston.com/massarotti.

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