Starting with Seahawks, easy schedule is Pats’ best friend

With doom and gloom closing in on New England Patriots fans, I bring them sweetness and light.

Frustrated, disappointed, and perhaps even disgusted by the seriously depressing, not to mention increasingly likely, prospect of missing the playoffs for the first time in six years, there is good news: There’s no reason the Patriots can’t win their final four games.

The bad news, unfortunately, is that they’ll probably have to. And even that may not be enough to put them in the playoff picture.

But the fact is the Pats have no excuse for failing to run the table.

Despite a 33-10 trouncing at home vs. Pittsburgh Sunday, there remains reason for optimism when you look at what’s left on the New England schedule.

The Patriots go to Seattle next Sunday to take on the 2-10 Seahawks. After that they’ll remain on the West Coast, practicing in California to prepare for the 3-9 Raiders.

The Pats then return home to face the division-leading Cardinals, who are atop the NFC West only because it is the worst division in the NFL. Arizona is 7-5 following a 48-20 turkey on Thanksgiving Day game in Philadelphia. That was the fourth game the Cards have played in the Eastern time zone this year, and they’ve lost them all. Add in that they’ll be leaving warm Arizona to play in potentially frigid Foxboro Dec. 21, and the home field should be even more advantageous than usual for the Patriots.

That leaves a trip to slumping Buffalo, which Sunday lost for the fifth time in six games. The Pats have beaten the Bills 10 times in a row, and 15 of the past 16, and there’s no reason to think they won’t extend that streak.

Unless, of course, they play the way they did against the Steelers.

Which was bad, horrible, awful and horrendous.

Tied at halftime, 10-10, the Patriots literally let the game slip through their hands, as they turned the ball over five straight times in the second half.

Pittsburgh’s top-ranked defense gave Cassel headaches, hitting him often, intercepting him twice and forcing a fumble all in the second half.

“Turnovers were a huge part of it,” coach Bill Belichick said of the loss, the Pats’ second straight at home, and third this season in what suddenly are the not-so-friendly confines of Gillette Stadium. “We had opportunities. We weren’t able to take advantage of them. Pittsburgh took advantage of theirs. That was the story of the game.”

It was a game story that, from a New England perspective, could have been written by Stephen King.

The Patriots were 0 for 12 on third down until the final, meaningless play of the game. The Steelers, on the other hand, were 8 of 16 on third down, making a mockery of nose tackle Vince Wilfork’s midweek vow that the Pats’ defense was going to improve in that area, which has been problematic for them all season.

There were other problems aplenty — missed blocks, missed tackles, missed assignments and a disturbing number of dropped balls — including two by the usually sure-handed Randy Moss, who couldn’t hang on to what would have been a TD pass (and a 17-10 lead) just before halftime.

The Pats now have lost three of their last five games, and probably need to win their last four if they’re to keep their franchise-record playoff streak intact.

Hopefully, the Patriots can’t play any worse they did against the Steelers. And, certainly, the teams remaining on their schedule are nowhere near as good as Pittsburgh.

So the good news is that the Pats, despite the latest embarrassing loss, certainly can win their remaining four games. The bad news is that they’ll probably have to. And, even then, it may still not be enough to put them in the playoffs.

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