logoLet’s start here – please, harbor no illusions that the New England Patriots will be the 2008-2009 NFL Champions, or that they will play any significant role in deciding which of the other teams will be.

They don’t have enough good players, and their concentration – like Emilio Estevez’s in The Breakfast Club – is for shit. If these last five games have taught us anything, it’s that somehow, someway, some New England Patriot is going to f**k it up. No matter how close the ballgame, no matter what kind of roll his team might be on, some NEP is going to hold on a long return, drop a perfectly good pass, fumble without being hit, not cover a receiver, miss a tackle in the backfield, and use the last of his three second half timeouts with 9:52 remaining the third quarter.

I’m exaggerating, but I can’t draw any other conclusion from their play in the last five games. Dropped passes, personal fouls and weird in-game decision making doomed them in Indy. Kick returns, unforced fumbles, and a bend-and-then-break defense killed them against the Jets. Two great, competitive games, but there was no cigar in either case for the mistake-prone Pats. When the f**k-up floodgates opened for the Steelers on Sunday, there was no ‘good game’. The Patriots were walloped accordingly.

They just don’t have good enough players (they may not have had enough even if there hadn’t been a single injury all season, the way the defense has played) and its December 3rd and they are still trying to get focused. In other words, it’s not happening.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pull for them to make the playoffs anyway. Given the alternative (a month of ‘so what’ football), how can we refuse?

To that end, yesterday Chris Gasper of the Globe did a good job of summing up what’s ahead.

This morning, backed by some intriguing data from the Elias Sports Bureau, Mike Reiss has a can’t-miss piece on how third and long is a downer for the Pats. Mike weaves through the play-by-play on some of the most recent examples of the defense’s utter futility, and adds commentary from beleaguered coordinator Dean Pees. I’m not sure Pees helps. I choked a bit when the answer always seemed to be, “Doggone it, we had that play covered, but one guy missed his assignment, it’s a different guy every time, we went over this.”

Oh, come on. Your team is 20% points behind the rest of the league in nearly every third down and distance scenario. You’re not just missing it.

Elsewhere, Ron Borges has the NFL’s response to Ryan Clark’s thunderous hit on Wes Welker, which knocked the Pats stalwart from the game. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t ever want to see Welker hit like that again, but at the time, it didn’t strike me as dirty or illegal. Anyway, I’m really linking this so you can get a load of Mike Pereira, the NFL’s double talking head of officials.

If I follow him correctly, it’s not a foul, people simply have a misconception about a player leaving his feet (it’s always the fans’ fault first), but he’s no fan of these high hits, and he’s happy the officials threw a flag, but it’s not an illegal play. Probably.

I’m glad that’s been cleared up.

Scott Benson is the Editor and Co-Founder of Patriots Daily. He can be reached at scott@patriotsdaily.com.