Originally written on NESN.com  |  Last updated 12/23/12

NEW ORLEANS - NOVEMBER 30: Quarterback Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots celebrates after Laurence Maroney scored a 2-yard rushing touchdown in the third quarter against the New Orleans Saints at Louisana Superdome on November 30, 2009 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
The Patriots at least had an excuse for last week’s letdown. This week, though? There’s really no good reason for their performance. Tom Brady approached the postgame podium with a piercing look of anger and frustration strewn across his face, as if to let everyone know the displeasure he felt. He was short in his responses and didn’t last more than a few minutes before closing down the media session. Simply put, he was pissed. The way Brady and his teammates carried themselves after the game, you would have assumed that they had just lost another heartbreaker, but they seemed more upset about an ugly win over the Jaguars this week than about the loss they suffered last week. “We played pretty terribly out there,” Brady said. “It came down to the wire, our defense made some plays, but that was a bad 60 minutes of football. We got out-competed out there, out-fought. We were lucky to win.” Luck usually isn’t a characteristic used to describe these Patriots. More often than not that designation only applies to teams that beat the Patriots, not the Patriots themselves. The Cardinals were lucky. The Seahawks were lucky. Even the Ravens were lucky. The 49ers? Well, they were good, but that’s something of an anomaly. This week, though, the Jaguars made the Patriots look like the lucky ones — a reality Brady reluctantly accepted after the game. “We started slow. [We] couldn’t do anything offensively, couldn’t make any plays,” Brady said. “They made plenty of plays. [We were] lucky to be in it at halftime, didn’t really do anything in the second half in the run game or the pass game. Just a poor effort overall.” Brady’s frustrations didn’t stem from throwing multiple interceptions for a second straight game (third time this season) — although that surely that didn’t help — or from the nine hits he endured from Jaguars defenders. Brady was irritated because the Patriots played nothing like a team with Super Bowl aspirations on Sunday. The Patriots didn’t just play poorly in Jacksonville, but they were outplayed, and handilyd, by a two-win Jaguars team. That’s as discouraging a reality as they come. When the 49ers visited Gillette Stadium last Sunday night, at least the Patriots knew that they were going up against the NFC West leader and a Super Bowl favorite. So, while frustrating, the 41-34 loss to the 49ers was at least understandable.  This week’s performance was just unfathomable. If the Patriots have any expectations of a return trip to the Super Bowl this season, then Sunday’s game must serve as a reminder. The Patriots may have pulled off the win against the Jags, but any legitimate contender would have put them away with ease if they play like that again. Granted there were a few key pieces missing from the field, including Rob Gronkowski, Brandon Spikes and Alfonzo Dennard, but even that is not a reasonable justification for the underwhelming effort. The Patriots simply weren’t prepared well enough for their game with the Jaguars. Instead, they were likely caught peeking ahead on the schedule to their finale against the Dolphins — a big faux pas, especially when fighting for playoff seeding. Bill Belichick knows the Patriots are talented and focused enough to get to New Orleans come February. Brady knows his offense is good enough, and Vince Wilfork knows his defense can be good enough to get there. The only question that remains is whether the Patriots will play up to that level come playoff time, because right now there are too many red flags surrounding this team to feel comfortable. Have a question for Luke Hughes? Send it to him via Twitter at @LukeFHughes or send it here.
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