Current Patriots nothing like 3-time champs

Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are still around. This year’s New

England Patriots, though, bear little resemblance to the teams that

won three Super Bowls this decade.

Their coach wants them to understand that.

“That’s basically what Bill tried to get across to us,”

running back Laurence Maroney said Monday. “We need to stop living

in the past. We ain’t the ’07 team. We ain’t the ’03 team. We ain’t

the ’01 team. We’re the ’09 team and we’ve got to play with what we

have and make a name for ourselves.”

Maroney turned 17 three days after New England upset the St.

Louis Rams 20-17 to win its first Super Bowl in 2001. Now he’s part

of a Patriots club that has lost three of four games for the first

time since 2002 after Sunday’s 22-21 upset by the Miami

Dolphins.

Only four of New England’s current 53 players were on the 2001

team and just 11 were on the 2004 squad that won the last one. And

of the players who were on the Patriots just two seasons ago when

they lost the Super Bowl on a last-minute touchdown by the New York

Giants, fewer than half – 24 – remain.

Belichick wants his players to stop thinking of themselves as a

“championship-caliber team, and just really focus on what we can

do now,” Maroney said, “because we don’t have the same

players.”

The only current Patriots who were part of all three Super Bowl

winners are Brady, running back Kevin Faulk and offensive linemen

Matt Light and Stephen Neal.

Defensive end Jarvis Green joined the team in 2002, in time for

two championships.

“Coaches change, players change,” he said. “That’s the past.

This is 2009 right now. We’re 7-5. That’s what we’re working on

right now. We have Carolina next week and that’s what we’re worried

about.”

They should be.

With Miami and the New York Jets coming off wins, the Patriots

(7-5) lead the AFC East by only one game. They already have as many

losses as they did last year when they were 11-5 with Brady

sidelined for all but the first quarter of the opener. Even at

11-5, they missed the playoffs because the Dolphins won the

division on a tiebreaker.

The Dolphins currently have a tiebreaker edge over the Patriots

with a better division record.

“You can’t afford to lose games in December because you don’t

have that many games to make up,” Maroney said. “Everything’s a

lot closer, but we still control our fate instead of sitting around

waiting for somebody else to lose to control our fate. We’re still

in the driver’s seat.”

The Patriots will be back home on Sunday, where they’re 6-0.

They beat the Panthers for their second championship, in the 2003

season. Carolina is just 5-7 with two of those wins over the Tampa

Bay Buccaneers, who are 1-11.

The way the Patriots have been wasting opportunities, letting up

for even a single play can be costly.

“Ultimately, it comes down to playing your best football at

critical times in the game and yesterday was an example where we

weren’t able to do that,” Belichick said.

Leading 14-7 with a fourth-and-1 at the Miami 6-yard line with

two minutes left in the first half, Belichick chose to go for it,

but Sammy Morris was stopped for no gain. With the lead down to

21-19 and about 9 1/2 minutes left in the game, Brady’s pass to

Randy Moss was intercepted in the end zone by Vontae Davis on a

second-and-5 at the Miami 5.

“We had our opportunities. We just weren’t able to take

advantage of them,” Belichick said. “We had them numerous

times.”

And in numerous games. They squandered fourth-quarter leads in

three of their five losses.

“We should be better than what we are,” Maroney said. “It’s

just all about finishing for us right now. That’s what we’ve really

been having a problem with.”

Against Miami, the Patriots’ last six possessions ended in four

punts and two interceptions. For the Dolphins, the last six series

– not counting a one-play kneel-down by quarterback Chad Henne

after an interception with 35 seconds left – resulted in a

touchdown and two field goals.

That had better change if the Patriots are to finish the regular

season on a roll.

“No panic,” Maroney said. “I know we’re a great team, have a

great offense, a great defense. We’ve just got to get everything

together and just start playing all 60 minutes and come out the

second half with the same intensity we come out with in the first

half.”