Things keep getting uglier for the New England Patriots, and we aren't just talking about the sight on Sunday of a shirtless and dehydrated coach Bill Parcells guzzling fluids after his team's 31-26 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
Coming into this season, the Patriots were widely regarded as a team ready to take the next step. Who knew that step would be off a cliff? The free-falling Pats are 1-5 and, at the rate they're dropping, could end up rivaling the woeful New York Jets as the worst team in the AFC.
No team in the NFL has scored fewer points than New England's 69. Even the Jets have put 103 points on the board. The Patriots' three touchdowns on Sunday matched the total number of TDs they had scored in their five previous games. Worse, coming into the game, 25 NFL players had been in the end zone more times than the Pats. And until Sunday the Patriots' Drew Bledsoe was the NFL's only starting quarterback without a TD pass.
Was breaking the touch-downless streak a load off his mind? "I don't really want to talk about that, not until we win [another] game," said Bledsoe, who grimly added, "We've left ourselves no leeway if we want to get into the dance."
Sorry to burst your bubble, Drew, but the Pats now have about as much chance of making the playoffs as Mark Fuhrman does of being invited to the next Million Man March.
How does a team thought to be on the cusp of contending for a Super Bowl berth become so lousy so quickly? Or more important for New England fans: How is Parcells going to get the stench out of the air?
True, last year's Patriots recovered from a 3-6 start and won seven in a row to sneak into the postseason. Key difference: Those Pats were competitive during their drought. The average margin of defeat for this group of underachievers is 15.2 points, thanks in part to a defense that is yielding 26.7 points per game, second worst to the Jets. And all signs indicate that defense isn't the only area that needs to be addressed before the Pats can again become competitive.
For starters, Bledsoe and tight end Ben Coates, both Pro Bowl selections in 1994, have to regain their form. "Bledsoe's hurt," said Chief defensive end Neil Smith after Sunday's game, "and so is Coates, and he's a big key for them."
Since suffering a third-degree separation of his left (nonthrowing) shoulder against the San Francisco 49ers on Sept. 17, Bledsoe has not come close to his form of last season. Denver Bronco backup quarterback Hugh Millen, who has had the same injury, saw Bledsoe's left arm taped rigidly to his side in pregame warmups on Oct. 8 and told a teammate, "He's going to be awful tonight." On what did Millen base his prediction? "You can't take your left hand and put it in your pocket and go out and play. It's like trying to swing a golf club with one hand. You get your power from your hips and shoulders, and if you can't pull through, your accuracy suffers, big time."
Bledsoe proceeded to spend the next three hours throwing the ball at his receivers' ankles and turning in perhaps his worst game as a pro: He completed 24 of 56 passes for 248 yards. And as if that night's 37-3 loss to the Broncos weren't enough, it was also revealed the next day that Bledsoe's much-publicized $42 million contract, trumpeted in July by the Pats as evidence that the team's future was secure, was not yet signed. If that is not done by Nov. 12, Bledsoe becomes a free agent.