FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — A three-day break gave the New England Patriots time to savor three straight wins.
Now they can focus on fixing the problems the winning streak couldn’t hide.
A suspect run defense. A mediocre offensive line. Replacing injured players.
The Patriots returned to practice Tuesday hoping to solve all that — and soon.
After a home game against the Chicago Bears on Sunday, the Patriots face one strong team after another — Denver, Indianapolis, Detroit, Green Bay and San Diego in succession. And three of those games, against the Colts, Packers and Chargers, are on the road.
The Patriots (5-2) squeaked by the lowly New York Jets last Thursday night, 27-25, when Nick Folk’s 58-yard field goal attempt on the final play was blocked. It was the Jets’ sixth straight loss, but they had a more than 2-to-1 advantage in time of possession.
“That’s something, as an offense, that we would like to have more control over the football,” running back Shane Vereen said Tuesday. “A lot of that comes into the running game, which we’re going to have to do a very good job of this week.”
After Stevan Ridley suffered a season-ending injury to his right knee the previous Sunday, Vereen had a busy night against the Jets. He was on the field for a season high 80 percent of the Patriots offensive plays, caught two touchdown passes and rushed 11 times for 43 yards.
“I would say it’s a slight adjustment” to play without Ridley, Vereen said. “I wouldn’t say it’s anything major. They always prepare us for anything and so, therefore, when something does happen like Stevan going down, everyone’s ready to go.”
The defense still has a way to go without star linebacker Jerod Mayo. He also was sidelined for the season with a right knee injury sustained in the same game as Vereen.
His absence contributed to the Jets gaining a season-high 218 yards rushing.
“It was a lot of communication problems, so it wasn’t just (Mayo) not being there,” defensive tackle Casey Walker said. “Of course, we missed him being there, but it was a lot of communication, a lot of stuff that we did wrong, not as much as what (the Jets) did right.”
Walker expects the Patriots to improve in time for Sunday’s game when they’ll face Matt Forte, fifth in the NFL in rushing and first in receptions.
“He does an excellent job of burst and explosion through the line of scrimmage,” New England defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said. “He has incredibly quick feet and some good quickness to get to the edge. … They’ve also extended him out a little bit and put him in different positions where they can now feature him and give him the ball out in space.”
The Bears (3-4) lost to Miami 27-14 last Sunday in Chicago. But they’re 3-1 on the road and tied for fifth in the NFL in takeaways.
“They’re known for being ballhawks,” Vereen said. “They must practice it day in and day out because other teams try but they’re much more successful in Chicago.”
The Patriots are 3-0 at home but two of those wins were against the Jets and Oakland, who have a combined record of 1-12.
In fact, the Patriots have yet to play a team currently ranked higher than 13th in the AP Pro32-Power Rankings. After facing No. 19 Chicago, four of the No. 8 Patriots’ next five games are against teams rated in the top seven.
And they weren’t particularly impressive against the Jets, now ranked 29th.
“The odds of us winning that game statistically were very much stacked against us,” coach Bill Belichick said.
Holding the ball for just 19 minutes, 6 seconds, being outgained by 100 yards and having 12 fewer first downs likely won’t produce a victory against a better team.
“We’re just getting more comfortable with each other and starting to trust each other a lot more” on offense, Vereen said. “Some of the mistakes we were making earlier we’ve kind of corrected, but we still have a long way to go.”
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