Originally written on NESN.com  |  Last updated 11/19/14

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)
Tom Brady was ticked off after the Patriots’ win against the Jaguars last Sunday. As he should have been — it was less a game than a poorly executed practice, with all facets of the team playing with a general malaise. While recent studies have shown that an angry Brady is a terrific Brady for the Patriots, this kind of angry Brady is not. Brady should be praised for getting at his teammates when needed, but the fact that he had to start shouting again — after plenty of much-deserved criticism during the loss to the 49ers — is a bad sign. These last few weeks have mirrored the end of the Patriots’ recent seasons in the worst of ways, and the results are foreboding. The Patriots cannot afford to be sleepwalking this time of year, and that was exactly what they were doing against the Jaguars. Now, things weren’t quite as bad as they appeared last Sunday. Jacksonville had nothing to lose and played like it, and the Patriots were resting key players, especially on defense. But what is concerning about the Jaguars game is what else was missing — things like motivation, pride and focus. It doesn’t matter if the season is over or if the Triple-A Miami Marlins were the ones who suited up across from New England. The Patriots need to play like the Patriots every week. For the past few years, the Patriots have been playing like a double-digit win team, the kind that is excellent all year, makes the playoffs and can saunter into late-season matchups with the likes of the Jaguars and win on basic talent. But the Patriots’ goals are said to be much loftier — Super Bowl, let’s say, or at least not finking out against the Jets in an early round of the playoffs. To do that, the Patriots need to play their best football at the end of the regular season, with the year-long development of players starting to bear fruit and a superior mental toughness carrying the Patriots past playoff opponents who have just as much talent and skill. The Patriots have just one game left to remedy this problem, this Sunday against the Dolphins. While it seems like one game against a non-playoff team may not be enough to cause such weighty effects, Miami could actually be the perfect team to play at this time. First of all, please rest all the chatter about playoff seeding. The Patriots have historically failed to do great in the playoffs when they haven’t had the first-round bye, but this is a side point to the larger discussion. The main focus here is winning the Super Bowl, and while that would be helped by a first-round bye, it would be helped much more by this team playing well. So, the Patriots could help their seeding chances by beating the Dolphins this week and the commensurate teams croaking (Houston and Denver), but that should be a byproduct to the larger things the Patriots must accomplish. If the Patriots do what they need to do, they’ll win it all with or without a first-round bye. If they get the bye but fail to improve where they need to, they will lose. New England’s focus against the Dolphins should be in two main areas: momentum and mental toughness. The Patriots have to get the entire team to execute at a consistent level, making basic plays at an even pace throughout the game. The team doesn’t need to be torrid heading into the playoffs, but the Pats must be at least consistent and able to do the basics effectively. Building this momentum will also help New England regain its mental edge, where a renewed focus, taking care of each part of the game and seeing the effects of solid execution will prepare the players for the bigger, coming challenges. The Dolphins, as a pesky divisional foe, will provide a good test. They have plenty of pride to play for, and a history of knocking off the Patriots when all signs point to New England winning. They are one of the better non-playoff teams, and they know what to expect from the Patriots. If New England wants a testing ground to get the team revved up heading into the playoffs, this should be it. If the Patriots can put together a decent game where the players execute well, even without a full, healthy roster, that will set the tone for the team heading into the playoffs. The Patriots showed they have the ability to play with — and beat — the best teams out there, against Houston and San Francisco. But they’re awfully close to losing the edge that they’ll need in the tough moments of the playoffs after playing at half-strength against the Jaguars — and appearing to be completely lost mentally. If they can summon their best against a Miami team they don’t have to beat, chances are they’ll be able to bring it back on cue again when the next, better opponent comes along. The question this year, really, has been whether this Patriots team is like the 2011 version or the 2009 group. Last year, the Patriots built slowly throughout the season, developing the horrible secondary, getting the receiving corps into a groove and gradually bringing the team to a place where enough pieces could fire at the right point to secure victories. Aided by a helpful schedule and excellent execution when it matter, last year’s Patriots played beyond their skill. They won one more, then one more, then one more all the way to the Super Bowl. The 2009 Patriots, meanwhile, were stacked. They still had Randy Moss and Wes Welker at their best, and Brady coming off his lost season. The defense had big-play capability. But the team spent most of the season winning one and losing one, winning one and losing one. In NFL Films’ A Football Life, coach Bill Belichick can be heard bemoaning his team’s lack of mental focus. They played well sometimes, but they couldn’t be counted on to really bring it together consistently, and against good teams. In the regular-season finale, the 2009 Patriots lost horribly, and they lost Welker to a freak injury. They were then dismantled in the first round of the playoffs. This year’s team has the most talent since the record-breaking 2007 New England group. Rob Gronkowski should be back soon, and Brandon Lloyd is a huge producer as of late. The defense has been much improved down the stretch, with not only the ability to make big plays but also to turn in stops. But this is also the team that started the season winning one and losing one, and has had its trouble closing out games and keeping up the intensity. Whether this team has the mental focus to hold on against better teams and win out is very much in question, but one solid outing to end the season could go a long way. The team would at least know that, if needed, it could make it happen. Brady knows what Belichick knew and Patriots fans are finding out — this team is good, but it has to be better than good to reach its goals. The players must be yelled at, pushed and prodded until they start playing together, at their best, all the time. Early playoff exits and nasty Super Bowl losses are all too easy this time of year. The final path to winning it all starts now.
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Derek Fisher reportedly had to challenge Knicks to play hard

Michael Sam on childhood: 'My brothers were evil people'

LeSean McCoy bristles at talk of disappointing season

Report: Padres join major players in pursuit of Sandoval

Derek Carr on Raiders getting first win: 'I like this feeling'

Miss. St. pulls QB's scholarship offer 15 days before graduation

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Patriots have best odds to win Super Bowl, say experts

Canseco's finger falling off apparently was a bad prank

Peterson speaks out, doesn't want to be compared to Ray Rice

DeSean Jackson won't reveal target of cryptic Instagram post

LeBron: Teaching Cavs bigger challenge than winning first ring

Darrelle Revis on Calvin Johnson: 'A man among boys'

Can Melvin Gordon break Barry Sanders' single-season record?

DirecTV Sunday Ticket will air Jets-Bills on Monday

Game of the week: New England Patriots vs. Detroit Lions

WATCH: Duke graduate asst. loses mind to pump up players

Golic recreates Kim Kardashian butt pic after losing bet

Five bold predictions for Week 12 in the NFL

Brian Cashman spends night sleeping on street for charity

10 NFL rising stars vital to their teams’ postseason hopes

With Raiders win, NFL's 'Circle of Parity' is complete

WATCH: Sack celebration nearly costs Raiders their first win

The best potential values of the MLB offseason

Shantel Jackson covers up Floyd Mayweather tattoo

NFL News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

Which NFL team will get the #1 pick?

Game of the week: Patriots vs. Lions

Report: Padres join hunt for Sandoval

Golic recreates Kardashian butt pic

Adrian Peterson speaks out

NFLPA appeals Peterson suspension

10 best college running backs ever

DeSean Jackson mum on cryptic post

Revis on Johnson: 'A man among boys'

LeBron on challenge of leading Cavaliers

LeGarrette Blount issues apology

Ex-NFLer delivers own baby on farm

Today's Best Stuff
For Bloggers

Join the Yardbarker Network for more promotion, traffic, and money.

Company Info
Help
What is Yardbarker?

Yardbarker is the largest network of sports blogs and pro athlete blogs on the web. This site is the hub of the Yardbarker Network, where our editors and algorithms curate the best sports content from our network and beyond.