The Patriots have been far from perfect this season, but they're also victims of their own past.
Rather than compare them to the rest of the league, fans and media tend to compare the Patriots to their former selves, namely the Super Bowl-winning teams of 2001, 2003 and 2004.
Under that kind of scrutiny, it's hard to stack up, especially when a team has had the type of schizophrenic season that could drive coaches, players and fans insane.
Earning their first win on an opponent's home soil, the Patriots captured a tough victory Sunday in Buffalo to inch closer toward their first division title in two years. The Patriots' inability to win on the road has been a major sticking point this year, but they finally exorcised those demons by holding on for a 17-10 decision over the Bills.
Nonetheless, they faced even more criticism in the aftermath because it took every ounce of effort to hold off a late Buffalo charge. However, with the Dolphins and Jets both losing, New England is now that much closer to winning the AFC East.
"It was good to win in the division on the road, and I thought there were some good positive things in the game," coach Bill Belichick said. "We didn't have the kind of consistency we'd like to have in any area, and we've just got to keep working harder to have more good plays and eliminate some of the ones that weren't quite up to the standard that we'd like to have."
Belichick's admission that the Patriots did, in fact, make mistakes Sunday is on par with his normal postgame rhetoric, though in the week leading up Sunday's game, he spent a considerable amount of time defending players who've come under scrutiny.
For example, Randy Moss got caught in the crossfire for his alleged lack of effort the previous week against Carolina. Belichick defended his player, as did Moss' teammates, perhaps sending the message that every team has issues to deal with and the Patriots are no exception.
At 9-5, the Patriots have a firm grasp on the division and can actually begin mapping out playoff opponents. Barring a major collapse, they'll win the AFC East without any stress down the stretch.
From the sound of the criticism emanating from the airwaves following Sunday's win, you'd have thought the Patriots lost, a sign of the expectations fans have set for a team that is supposed to win with regularity.
Much like everyone else in the league, the Patriots have had their share of problems, but through it all they have a chance to win 11 games and get back to the postseason after a rare absence last year -- not too shabby for a team under extreme scrutiny all season.
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