By HOWARD ULMAN AP Sports Writer
Newburyport Daily News
---- — FOXBOROUGH — The New England Patriots have one major mission before their bye week. Go to London and bring back a win.
That would be a fine souvenir of the first half of the season and, they hope, a momentum booster for a team that has been inconsistent on offense and generous on defense.
“It would feel really good for that two-week stretch,” quarterback Tom Brady said on Wednesday.
The Patriots leave on a red-eye flight Thursday night for Sunday’s game with the St. Louis Rams after squeaking by the New York Jets 29-26 in overtime after losing to the Seattle Seahawks 24-23 when they squandered a 23-10 lead in the fourth quarter.
A win would give the Patriots a 5-3 record and undisputed possession of first place in the AFC East, the same record they had midway through last season when they finished at 13-3 and lost the Super Bowl 21-17 on a last-minute touchdown by the New York Giants.
The Patriots historically have improved over the second half of the season, especially the last two seasons when they went 16-0. That should give them confidence once they return from the bye.
“It does,” wide receiver Deion Branch said. “We wish we’d have played a lot better the first half. We don’t want to go out and go 4-4 and then try to win the last eight games.”
Brady would love to see the Patriots string some wins together. Their only winning streak this season lasted just two games.
“Part of the mental toughness is putting what happened (behind) and moving forward to next week without wasting any time or energy spent thinking about last week,” he said. “That’s how you string wins together. That’s why you don’t win one, lose one, win one, lose one, because at the end of the day, you’re mediocre and you’re watching all the good teams play.
“The good teams win, win, win, win, win and if you lose you (still have to) win, win, win, win. That’s just how it is.”
In Bill Belichick’s previous 12 years as coach of the Patriots, they were 8-4 in the week preceding their bye, although Brady has won his last five. They’re 9-3 in their first game back, though they lost two straight games after the bye last year.
A loss to the Rams (3-4) could prompt Belichick to give the team a bit more work in their two weeks before returning on Nov. 11 for a home game against the Buffalo Bills.
“It’s never good going in with a loss, especially with the coach we have,” tight end Aaron Hernandez said, “but I’m sure we’ll be fine. And as long as we follow the game plan, work hard and play Patriot football, we should be fine.”
Part of Patriot football is piling up yardage. Last Sunday, they tied the NFL record of 16 consecutive regular-season games with at least 350 yards, set by the Rams in 1999-2000.
“You don’t call plays that aren’t designed to gain significant yards,” Brady said. “If you execute them the right way, they’re productive and there aren’t a lot of negative plays. I think last week we had 80 plays. There were only two negative plays out of 80, which is pretty good. So, if you’re not going backwards and killing yourself with penalties and turnovers and really not beating yourself, you can usually put yourself in a good position to win the game.
“Gaining yards is certainly important, but scoring points is more important.”
The Patriots gained 387 yards against the Arizona Cardinals, 396 against the Baltimore Ravens and 475 against the Seattle Seahawks — and lost to all of them. They lead the NFL with 436.1 yards per game after finishing second with 428 last year.
“We have a good quarterback and a lot of good players,” Hernandez said. “You could get the ball out to a lot of different players and as long as some of them come to play, then we’re going to have a lot of yards.
“We have enough players, enough athletes and enough dominant players to win every game.”
To do that Sunday, they’ll have to overcome the 10th-rated defense in the NFL with an aggressive attitude instilled by new coach Jeff Fisher.
“The trip will be fun with a victory,” Branch said. “We’ve had five road games the first eight. So I think it would be good for us to go out here and play our best football, come back, enjoy this bye week and get ready to come back for the last stretch of the season.”
NOTES: Brady appeared surprised when told that the team’s game notes said he was one of several Patriots, along with Belichick, scheduled to appear Saturday at the NFL’s fan fest at Trafalgar Square. “We’re not doin’ that,” Brady said “Is that what it says? Don’t believe everything you read. Not me. Have fun, though.” ... Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe was born in Birmingham, England, and came to the United States as an infant. “I didn’t stay too long, so I don’t remember too much.” ... Devin McCourty was named AFC special teams player of the week for his 104-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. He also lost a fumble that led to the Jets’ go-ahead field goal with 1:37 left in regulation last Sunday.
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