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Patriots show no panic as exhibition losses mount

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Cause for concern or just a summer swoon for the Patriots?

Three exhibition games and three sorry performances. The latest: a 27-17 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Friday night in which New England's offense, defense and special teams put together a complete team effort, but not the kind coach Bill Belichick wants.

"We still have a lot of work to do," he said.

Their best performance may have come in the postgame locker room, where there was no panic on a team that was almost perfect last season.

"We'll get it together," safety Rodney Harrison said. "I'm very optimistic."

"The season hasn't even begun," cornerback Ellis Hobbs said. "We're 0-3 in the preseason but we're still 0-0."

The exhibition season isn't an accurate predictor of regular-season success. The last two Super Bowl winners were 1-3 in exhibition games. But the last time a team won the championship after going winless in the preseason was in 1982, when the Washington Redskins won the Super Bowl.

There are good reasons for New England's problems.

Quarterback and NFL MVP Tom Brady is nursing a sore foot and sat out all three games. So did ailing starting offensive linemen Matt Light and Stephen Neal. On defense, starting safeties Harrison and James Sanders played their first game Friday night, while linebacker Adalius Thomas and end Ty Warren sat it out.

The Patriots wrap up their preseason schedule Thursday night against the New York Giants, the team that ended their hopes for a perfect 19-0 season by beating them in the Super Bowl. There's a chance Brady's first game action will come in the regular-season opener Sept. 7 against Kansas City.

Matt Cassel played poorly for the third straight game and his status as the No. 2 quarterback could be in jeopardy. Second-year pro Matt Gutierrez did much better when he came in early in the second half, completing 14 of 20 passes for 217 yards and two touchdowns.

The Patriots clearly miss Brady.

"He's Tom Brady. That says enough right there," running back Sammy Morris said. "Regardless of who's out there, it's up to us to execute and do our own job. It may come out where we may have to be without Tom."

In the first half, the defense and special teams executed poorly.

Donovan McNabb led three drives of 70 yards or more and the Eagles returned a punt and a kickoff for touchdowns in the final 1:35 to take a 27-3 lead.

"We only have another week before we get started, but we take a lot of pride in our special teams unit," said Kelley Washington, a special teams standout for New England last season. "There's just no way we can have returns going back on us, putting our defense in a tough situation and putting our team in a tough situation."

In 2004, the Patriots went 1-3 in exhibition games, losing the last three, then won the most recent of their three Super Bowl championships.

And they know they've been missing key players this summer. So Belichick and his players were calm after Friday's game.

"It was a good learning experience," he said.

Regulars usually play very little in the last exhibition game. Last year, Belichick used only 42 of his 75 players, none of them first-stringers, in the final game, a 27-20 win over the Giants.

He may have more reason to play his regulars against the Giants on Thursday, if only to get them to jell on offense, defense and special teams.

"We'll get better. We'll watch film and we'll get better," said Harrison, but, for now, "of course, it's frustrating."

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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