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Winning on the road can go a long way

Posted by Christopher L. Gasper, Globe Staff  October 22, 2009 10:43 AM

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Christopher L. Gasper
The Patriots embark this afternoon for merry old England and a date with the wayward and winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Whether you agree or not with the NFL's idea of spreading the gridiron gospel overseas by staging regular-season games in London, the Patriots are making the trans-Atlantic road trip.

They might as well make the most of it.

The Euro trip is a great opportunity, not to see the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace or marvel at the majesty of Big Ben, but for the Patriots to get on the right path on the road. New England heads for England today without a road win to its credit.

The Patriots are 0-2 away from Fort Foxborough this season, suffering a disappointing 16-9 loss to the New York Jets at the Meadowlands in Week 2 and blowing a 17-7 halftime lead to drop a 20-17 overtime heartbreaker to Josh McDaniels and the undefeated Denver Broncos two weeks ago.

The Patriots were shut out after halftime of both games, outscored by an aggregate score of 26-0 and outgained 442 yards to 212.

Good teams win on the road. That is an adage usually reserved for baseball, but it's true in football as well. Since 2000, the only team to win the Super Bowl without a winning road record was the 2006 Indianapolis Colts, who were perfect at home and .500 (4-4) on the road.

The Patriots have been road warriors under coach Bill Belichick. Since 2000, Belichick's first year in Foxborough, the Patriots have the second-best road record in the NFL (49-25), trailing only the Indianapolis Colts (51-24).

In the Patriots' back-to-back Super Bowl-winning seasons of 2003 and 2004, they posted identical 6-2 road records. In 2001, the season the Patriots lifted the first of their three Lombardi Trophies this decade, they went 5-3. New England lost its first two road games that season as well, but then went 5-1 on the road the rest of the way.

Sometimes it's better to be good away from home than at home. The 2007 Giants, who ended the Patriots' perfect season in Super Bowl XLII, actually played better outside of the swamps of New Jersey. The Giants went just 3-5 at Giants Stadium and 7-1 on the road, including a win in London over the Miami Dolphins in the inaugural NFL regular-season game played in the United Kingdom.

If the Patriots want to reach their preferred destination of South Florida, site of Super Bowl XLIV on Feb. 7, they need to smooth things out on the road, starting this Sunday at Wembley Stadium against the Buccaneers in what is the ultimate "away game."

This is a true road game for the Patriots, even though it's being played at a neutral site. It was the Buccaneers who sacrificed a home game in order for the NFL to bring a different brand of football to London than what the locals are used to seeing in the English Premier League from Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United.

Last week, the Patriots used the terrible Tennessee Titans to expunge the demons of no pass plays of 40 yards or more and no rushes for 20 yards or more, racking up a team-record 619 yards in a 59-0 whitewashing. Now, they can benefit from the Buccaneers' ineptitude to find themselves on the road - even if it's in a locale where they drive on the other side of it.

"It’s certainly not a normal week for us, but I think it’s important for us players to realize that this is a trip for us that we’re trying to go over there and win a game, nothing more than that," said Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. "It’s like any other road trip that we take, it’s not for going out and seeing the sights, or anything like that. It’s for one reason, and we need a really focused group. And we certainly need to bring our energy and excitement, and try to go out there and play a great game."

Brady is right because after playing the Buccaneers on Sunday and enjoying the bye week, the road is about to get tougher for the Patriots, both literally and figuratively.

After the bye, the Patriots can say goodbye to this victory lane portion of the schedule that saw them face winless and punchless teams back-to-back. The Patriots return from their hiatus to face the suddenly resurgent Miami Dolphins, who have rebounded from an 0-3 start and the loss of their starting quarterback to win two straight, at home in a huge division game on Nov. 8.

Then the Patriots make their annual trek to Indianapolis to play Peyton Manning and the Colts in a renewal of the NFL's best rivalry. They return home for a rematch with Vociferous Rex and the New York Jets, before playing back-to-back road games -- a Monday nighter in New Orleans against the Saints, who are off to a 5-0 start and look like the '07 Patriots on offense, and then a rematch with Miami on Sunday night.

That five-week stretch, with three real tough road games, could make or break the Patriots' season and determine whether they're home for the playoffs for a second straight year. It's vital to build confidence on the road now before heading into such hostile environments

The remaining road games after the five-game gauntlet are at Buffalo (Dec. 20) and closing out the season against Houston (Jan. 3). The Patriots haven't lost to the Bills since 2003, but the last time they went to Houston, also back in 2003, it took an Adam Vinatieri field goal to escape with an overtime win.

It's never easy to win on the road, but every successful journey starts somewhere and sometimes it's not where you think. The Patriots need passports for this trip, but the only souvenir worth bringing back from abroad is the first road win of the season.

Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at cgasper@globe.com

News, analysis and commentary from Boston.com's staff writers and contributors, including Zuri Berry and Erik Frenz.

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