Commentary

Patriots' win doesn't mask issues

Updated: September 27, 2010, 12:03 AM ET
By Mike Reiss | ESPNBoston.com

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- When veteran defensive lineman Anthony Pleasant played for the New England Patriots from 2001 to 2003, he shared what he felt was the secret to the team's success.

Pleasant often said the Patriots, under coach Bill Belichick, were just as hard on themselves after wins as they were after losses. They didn't sweep their problems under the locker room rug after victories.

Those words nicely captured what unfolded Sunday at Gillette Stadium, where the Patriots knocked off the Buffalo Bills 38-30.

[+] EnlargeBill Belichick
AP Photo/Charles KrupaBill Belichick surely will make it clear to the Patriots that while it was nice to win Sunday, they'll need to do better.

In one respect, the Patriots should feel good about what they accomplished. The offense clicked with a balanced approach, quarterback Tom Brady returned to being Tom Brady and Belichick's coaching staff once again had the answers with a solid plan and in-game adjustments.

Yet on the flip side, the defense looked sickly, as it was carved up at times by a Bills attack that entered the day ranked last in the league in several categories. Special teams also sprung some leaks.

Convincing, this win was not. Much needed, it certainly was.

Alge Crumpler, now in his 10th NFL season, is the current member of the Patriots most like Pleasant, generally offering up football pearls of wisdom. Crumpler has been around the football block long enough to understand what the Patriots did Sunday. He knows there will be a time when style points count; now, in the third week of the season, isn't that time.

"You take a win any way you can get it, especially in the division," Crumpler said. "We're already behind in the division. It was important for us to get back on track, and that's all we talked about this week, to get it back on track.

"We talked about playing as one, and felt like if we could do that in all phases of the game, things would work out in our favor. What I was mostly excited about was the way we got it done -- we ran the football, we threw the football, we got interceptions."

It was far from perfect, which was the message that Belichick gave the team behind closed doors. He'll surely remind the players of that again Monday when the film is reviewed, with the darkest cloud hovering over the defense, where one wonders if enough improvements will be made over the course of the season to allow the Patriots to contend.

Crumpler, who has quickly emerged as a team leader, wasn't interested in such big-picture talk.

"My job here is to make sure we're confident as a team in this locker room. We're the ones that have to go out and play. I can say anything, but now we just have to go to Miami [next Monday] and make it happen," he said.

Crumpler needed only to point to his Tennessee Titans team from last season as a prime example of why he's so bullish on the thought. The Titans started 0-6, digging such a big hole that they could never recover. Their sixth straight loss came at Gillette Stadium in a 59-0 drubbing in the snow.

Few looked at the Titans that day as a team that would be making noise later in the season. They looked dead. But they ended up finishing 8-8, one of the better teams in the NFL by the end of the year.

The lesson is that the way things look in Week 3 are often much different than the way they look in Week 13, so the primary goal for any team is to stay afloat early in the year. Crumpler didn't need to bring up the 2009 Titans to reinforce that idea to his teammates.

"I don't think you put much stock into style points at all," receiver Wes Welker echoed. "You take a win any way you can in this league. Any time you win, even in close games like that, it's huge."

"At the end of the year, when you look at your record, it's not, 'Oh, that was a close game, it counts for half a win,'" Brady added. "It's like a chapter. Once this chapter's over, you move on."

When the Patriots reread their work Monday, the problems won't be swept under the locker room rug. That's not the way things work in New England.

The Patriots have issues, with significant questions on defense. No one is arguing that point.

But they also have two wins, which at this time of year is all that counts.

Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPN Boston. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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