Ready for a history lesson?
Considering that the Patriots have made the playoffs in 10 of the past 11 seasons, it’s logical to assume they’ll qualify for the postseason once again, even though the sting and the stench of Sunday’s 33-20 loss to the Dolphins continue to linger.
But since the Patriots are now 0-1, is Sunday’s Week 2 visit to Minnesota a must-win game? The odds say yes. Since the NFL expanded its current playoff format in 1990 to include 12 teams, 196 teams have started a season 0-2. Of those 196, only 23 qualified for the playoffs.
Wait, there’s more. One of those 196 teams to start 0-2 was the Patriots in 2001; a season-opening loss at Cincinnati was followed by a home loss to the Jets. Remember that 2001 team? It’s the last time the Patriots began 0-2. They also won the Super Bowl that season, so if the Vikings keep the Patriots winless and stuck in the AFC East basement, it doesn’t necessarily mean all is lost.
Obviously, the Patriots would rather just beat the Vikings and avoid falling into that whole 0-2 discussion anyway, since only 11.7 percent of the teams that started 0-2 made the playoffs. Why tempt fate?
One thing is clear, though: Not only do the Patriots almost always avoid two straight losses to start the season, they limit the number of times they lose consecutive games, period.
Since Bill Belichick took over as head coach before the 2000 season, the Patriots have lost at least two consecutive games in just seven of his 14 seasons. They’ve lost their share of games — Belichick is 181-70 with the Patriots, including playoffs — but they rarely turn one loss into a losing streak.
Asked on the weekly Tuesday conference call why his teams have been able to limit losing streaks, Belichick offered no blueprint. Did you expect one?
“We don’t really talk too much about that,” he said. “I don’t know. Each week is its own week, its own challenge. Whatever did or didn’t happen the week before, I don’t really know how much impact that has on the next game.
“The next game is the next game. It has its own challenges and its own unique characteristics. In this case, it’s Minnesota. We can’t belabor the Miami game and carry it with us. We looked at it, we talked about it, we corrected it, and we’ve moved on.
“Now we’re on to Minnesota. As soon as the Minnesota game is over, we’ll move on to the next game next week.”
Under Belichick, the Patriots have lost at least two straight games 10 times (that doesn’t count a loss in the final game of one season followed by a loss in the first game of the next season, because that’s never happened with Belichick as coach; before Sunday, the last time the Patriots opened any season with a loss was 2003).
■ Lost the first four games of 2000, won two straight games, then had another four-game losing streak.
■ Lost the first two games in 2001, finished 11-5, then went on to win the Super Bowl.
■ After a 3-0 start in 2002, lost four straight games. Later that season, after another three-game win streak, lost consecutive games in Weeks 14-15.
■ Lost two straight games in Weeks 8-9 of the 2006 season.
■ Lost two straight games in 2009 (Weeks 11-12). Also lost the regular-season finale at Houston that season, followed by a home loss in the playoff opener against Baltimore.
■ Coming off a bye in Week 6, lost two straight games in 2011, to the Steelers and Giants.
■ Lost two straight games in Weeks 2-3 in 2012.
Of the 10 occasions in which the Belichick-coached Patriots suffered an in-season losing streak, only twice did it include consecutive road losses, something the current Patriots are trying to avoid. The first was in 2002 (losses at San Diego and Miami). The only other time it happened was 2009, when the Patriots lost at New Orleans (38-17) on Nov. 30, then at Miami (22-21) six days later.
It’s also rare that the Patriots open a season with two straight road games.
The last time that took place was 2003, and if you’re into symmetry, you’ll like this. That year, the Patriots opened the season with an ugly 31-0 loss to an AFC East opponent, at Buffalo.
What’s to like about that? Well, they bounced back with a 31-10 win the next week over an NFC team, at Philadelphia, and went on to win Super Bowl XXXVIII.