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Road tests failed

Patriots aren’t offering excuses

By Monique Walker
Globe Staff / December 6, 2009

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FOXBOROUGH - Eight times a year, the Patriots pack for the road. They end up in various parts of the country as the unwelcome guest. Despite the challenges of the road, the Patriots traditionally have fared well away from Gillette Stadium - until this season.

From Dec. 11, 2005, until the end of last season, the Patriots were 23-3 on the road. This season, all four of their losses have come on the road. There are any number of theories for that, though the answers seem difficult to find.

“We played some very good teams that we think we could’ve beaten but, for whatever reason, they were better than us and they came out and played better than we did,’’ Patriots tight end Benjamin Watson said. “The only thing you can say is to just execute. There’s no magic formula or anything like that.

“There is no real excuse that we can give for not winning on the road except that the teams we played played better than we did.’’

Today, the Patriots are in Miami taking on their AFC East rivals at Land Shark Stadium, a place the Patriots have emerged winners the last two seasons.

There are some things a team can do to prepare for various environments to negate any potential disadvantage. Earlier in the week, the Patriots practiced inside the Dana-Farber Field House under warmer conditions to simulate the Miami climate. Before the Patriots traveled to Indianapolis, they practiced indoors, as well, and had noise pumped in, in anticipation of the screaming fans inside Lucas Oil Stadium.

The preparation is the same for any team that has to leave its familiar surroundings, which leaves no room for excuses, according to Patriots linebacker Derrick Burgess.

“I think it’s more mental than anything,’’ Burgess said. “I mean, it’s still football here and it’s football there. With the crowd noise, you can tune that out; it’s just mentally finishing the ballgame on the road.’’

Three of the four losses came down to one possession. Each time, the Patriots squandered opportunities that could have been the difference. Against the Jets, they didn’t score a single touchdown in a 16-9 loss. In Denver, they were shut out in the second half and handed a 20-17 loss in overtime. Turnovers, defensive breakdowns, and the controversial fourth-and-2 call led to a 35-34 loss at Indianapolis.

In a close game, it would seem that the home team has a slight advantage, but Patriots coach Bill Belichick doesn’t necessarily agree.

“I think the advantage goes to the better team,’’ Belichick said. “At home, on the road, at a neutral site, I think the teams that win those games are the teams that play better. And, at that point in the game, I think that being at home or being away is probably pretty neutral. After 50-however many minutes of football, if it hasn’t provided a big advantage to that point, I doubt that it would in the last whatever the time frame is.’’

Last Monday night, the Saints handed the Patriots their only blowout loss of the season, 38-17. Few things went right for the Patriots. The defense was often confused and left scrambling, and at times there was miscommunication, which defensive captain Jerod Mayo took the blame for.

“We had problems last week as far as getting everybody on the same page,’’ said Mayo, “and I take the responsibility on my shoulders to make sure everybody is on the same page and doing everything the right way, and hopefully we can get it done this week.’’

Mayo doesn’t a believe a team can claim a home-field advantage, considering the talent in the NFL.

“Sometimes the crowd can help you out to a certain extent, but at the end of the day, it’s up to us to make plays, and we just haven’t done that,’’ Mayo said.

The only victory away from Gillette Stadium for the Patriots this season came in London against Tampa Bay. But Wembley Stadium was more of a neutral setting.

The Patriots are one of eight teams with just one road win. Including today, three of their last five games are away; they also must go to Buffalo (Dec. 20) and Houston (Jan. 3). The importance of that is not lost on the Patriots.

“You have to win on the road - I mean, that’s half of the season,’’ defensive end Jarvis Green said.

Said Watson: “We’re not going to be able to get where we want to get if we don’t start winning on the road.’’

Monique Walker can be reached at mwalker@globe.com.

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