Current Patriots look nothing like three-time champions

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are still around. This year's New England Patriots, though, bear little resemblance to the teams that won three Super Bowls this decade.

Their coach wants them to understand that.

"That's basically what Bill tried to get across to us," running back Laurence Maroney said Monday. "We need to stop living in the past. We ain't the '07 team. We ain't the '03 team. We ain't the '01 team. We're the '09 team and we've got to play with what we have and make a name for ourselves."

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Maroney turned 17 three days after New England upset the St. Louis Rams 20-17 to win its first Super Bowl in 2001. Now he's part of a Patriots club that has lost three of four games for the first time since 2002 after Sunday's 22-21 upset by the Miami Dolphins.

Only four of New England's current 53 players were on the 2001 team and just 11 were on the 2004 squad that won the last one. And of the players who were on the Patriots just two seasons ago when they lost the Super Bowl on a last-minute touchdown by the New York Giants, fewer than half -- 24 -- remain.

Belichick wants his players to stop thinking of themselves as a "championship-caliber team, and just really focus on what we can do now," Maroney said, "because we don't have the same players."

The only current Patriots who were part of all three Super Bowl winners are Brady, running back Kevin Faulk and offensive linemen Matt Light and Stephen Neal.

Defensive end Jarvis Green joined the team in 2002, in time for two championships.

"Coaches change, players change," he said. "That's the past. This is 2009 right now. We're 7-5. That's what we're working on right now. We have Carolina next week and that's what we're worried about."

They should be.

With Miami and the New York Jets coming off wins, the Patriots (7-5) lead the AFC East by only one game. They already have as many losses as they did last year when they were 11-5 with Brady sidelined for all but the first quarter of the opener. Even at 11-5, they missed the playoffs because the Dolphins won the division on a tiebreaker.

The Dolphins currently have a tiebreaker edge over the Patriots with a better division record.

"You can't afford to lose games in December because you don't have that many games to make up," Maroney said. "Everything's a lot closer, but we still control our fate instead of sitting around waiting for somebody else to lose to control our fate. We're still in the driver's seat."

The Patriots will be back home on Sunday, where they're 6-0. They beat the Panthers for their second championship, in the 2003 season. Carolina is just 5-7 with two of those wins over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who are 1-11.

The way the Patriots have been wasting opportunities, letting up for even a single play can be costly.

"Ultimately, it comes down to playing your best football at critical times in the game and yesterday was an example where we weren't able to do that," Belichick said.

Leading 14-7 with a fourth-and-1 at the Miami 6-yard line with two minutes left in the first half, Belichick chose to go for it, but Sammy Morris was stopped for no gain. With the lead down to 21-19 and about 9 1/2 minutes left in the game, Brady's pass to Randy Moss was intercepted in the end zone by Vontae Davis on a second-and-5 at the Miami 5.

"We had our opportunities. We just weren't able to take advantage of them," Belichick said. "We had them numerous times."

And in numerous games. They squandered fourth-quarter leads in three of their five losses.

"We should be better than what we are," Maroney said. "It's just all about finishing for us right now. That's what we've really been having a problem with."

Against Miami, the Patriots' last six possessions ended in four punts and two interceptions. For the Dolphins, the last six series - not counting a one-play kneel-down by quarterback Chad Henne after an interception with 35 seconds left - resulted in a touchdown and two field goals.

That had better change if the Patriots are to finish the regular season on a roll.

"No panic," Maroney said. "I know we're a great team, have a great offense, a great defense. We've just got to get everything together and just start playing all 60 minutes and come out the second half with the same intensity we come out with in the first half."

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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