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By Tom E. Curran
FOXBORO -- Last week, it wasn't that long a wait before the San Diego Chargers drove their clown car off the cliff.
This week, the wait was a little longer, but the Minnesota Vikings eventually went up in flames as well.
Four games ago, it was the Miami Dolphins riddling their cleats with bullet holes.
During this amazing October, the only team the Patriots had to take a game from as opposed to having it handed to them was the Ravens. That was a football game.
None of this is meant to besmirch the Patriots and their 6-1 record. Not in the least. They were one of those low IQ teams a year ago. But this year, somehow, they are young, smart and selfless as opposed to old, stupid and stubborn.
It's a remarkable turnaround, not just from last year but from the early portions of this season. Remember, in their first two games the Patriots led 31-3 over Cincinnati before letting up, and got blown out by the Jets in the second half.
Now? They take that which is broken, put it up on the lift and -- six days later -- all fixed.
The offensive closeout of the Vikings on Sunday was the latest example of this. In the fourth quarter, leading 21-18, the Patriots needed a drive to squish the Vikings' momentum.
They converted a third-and-5 to Wes Welker and a third-and-12 to Danny Woodhead before BenJarvus Green-Ellis ripped off 41 of his game-high 112 rushing yards on his last four carries to seal a 28-18 win.
Fixing what's broken. It's a staple of the Patriots teams that did great things.
"We're winning close games. We're winning tough games and I think that’s what it takes," said Tom Brady who was efficient if unspectacular in winning his 24th consecutive regular-season start at home (second all-time to Brett Favre's 25 from 1995-98 with Green Bay). "You've got to win on the road. You’ve got to beat good teams. You've got to win when you're down. You've got to come from behind in the fourth quarter. You've got to keep the lead when you have it in the fourth quarter. All those things we talk about. Coach [Bill] Belichick stands up here and talks to us and that's what he really preaches. I think it's nice when we can go out on the field and execute it."
Most amazing is seeing them do it with such a collection of unprovens and overlookeds. Their offense is RELYING on guys like Danny Woodhead, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Wes Welker. None of them were ever drafted. And they are rejiggering their team midstream on both sides of the ball.
"There're so many things that have happened over the course of this season: injuries and a guy like Randy [Moss] leaving, bringing a guy like Deion [Branch] in and Woody [Danny Woodhead] in, who have been big contributors for us," shrugged Brady. "It's the way it's always been around here: It's really one game at a time and to think past that won't work on this team. It doesn't work for any team. With as many young guys as we have on this team, we need to think about today and then tomorrow and not get too far ahead of ourselves. Coach always says, 'Six games gets you nothing in this league,' which is true. So we've won six games, [but] if we have six wins at the end of the year, then we haven't done anything. There's a lot of football left. We've got a big game coming up this week on the road."
The big one next week is with the Browns. And two ones far bigger than that loom after -- at Pittsburgh and home against the Colts.
The Patriots are in first place in the AFC East now that the Jets (the self-appointed interplanetary champions after six weeks) got shut out by the Packers.
This team is wedging itself into a soft spot in Bill Belichick's heart.
"We've got a lot of young players, but I don't really care about all that. What I care about is how the team functions as a unit. And they come in on a daily basis and they work hard. They try to get better. They take the corrections; they try to improve on it. It's not always perfect out there. We make a lot of mistakes, but they keep working harder to get better," Belichick praised.
"They turn the page and they move from one team to the next team and they start all over again each week and go through the whole preparation process. I've been impressed with that. I think they play hard on Sundays. It's not always great, it's not always perfect, but there's a lot of effort there. There's good competitive toughness. So hopefully we can just – if we do a little better job of coaching and put them in a little better position and they keep working hard at it, we can be competitive."
They work hard and they aren't stupid. And in this NFL, that's enough to get you to 6-1 and the top of your division. And they're still getting better.
Tom E. Curran can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Tom on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tomecurran