"You can't let a team start off like they have in the last couple weeks. We have got to start faster and then finish out games better," Patriots OLB Rob Ninkovich told me in a phone interview last week, before the Dolphins jumped out to a 17-0 lead on New England.
Tom Brady, as he has done so often, brought the team back in the second half for the win, thanks in part to a pair of forced turnovers by an opportunistic defense.
But if the Patriots think they can spot the Ravens or Steelers 17 points in the AFC playoffs and come back and win, well, they could be in for a rude awakening.
We already saw what the Steelers' defense could do to the Patriots' offense, and the Ravens would apply similar pressure to throw Brady off his game, making it difficult to make up for a big early deficit. Both teams have the edge rushers to make life difficult for Brady if the O-line cannot get healthy.
Maybe it's time for the Patriots to ditch their time-honored tradition of deferring.
They have only started one game on offense all season long. Clearly, the Patriots' strength is on offense, not defense, and it makes sense that they would rather give Brady an extra possession in the second half. The defense is not built to play well with a lead, as we've seen teams come back on them.
But at this point, maybe it would make sense to let Brady march the offense downfield to get an early 7-0 lead, make a statement and take a little early pressure off the defense?
This week against the Bills provides a nice opportunity to give it a try. Even if the Patriots still receive in the second half, they need to use Week 17 to get off to a faster start on both sides of the football. A win, and the Patriots lock up home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs, and avoid a matchup with one of the AFC North foes until the AFC Championship game.
And the season finale gives the Patriots a chance at some revenge after getting upset by the Bills in Week Three. As bad as Buffalo has been since, the Bills will still be gunning for another upset and their first season sweep of New England since 1999. The Bills can be run on and thrown on, and the Patriots could (and should) put up 40 points.
It's all about going into the playoffs off a high note, and for this Patriots team with more holes than their record would indicate, it could be a confidence builder.