By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — In just six games this season, the Patriots already have three losses. That’s not the end of the world, but considering they lost three games all of last season and just two games the year before, and that in the Tom Brady era, the team has finished a season with three or fewer losses five times, it’s clear that something is a little off.

What exactly is ailing this team is not clear just yet. Those three losses have been by a combined four points and their three wins have been by a combined 55 points, so they may not be far off from the team that went 13-3 and made it to the Super Bowl a year ago.

The thought of the Patriots being .500 is something for which this region is not quite ready, so to try to figure out if this year’s team can create a similar fate to the 2011 squad, let’s see how the two teams compare.

Last year, after six weeks, the Patriots headed into their bye with a 5-1 record. Their lone hiccup was that disaster in Buffalo, when a 21-0 lead turned into a 34-31 loss. The Patriots won their other five games by a combined 53 points, with an average margin of victory of 10.6 points. This season, in their three wins, the Patriots’ average margin of victory is significantly larger  at 18.3 points.

Last year, the Patriots gained 2,753 yards — 2,103 through the air passing yards and 744 on the ground — while scoring 185 points (30.8 per game) in their first six contests.

Offensively this year, the Patriots are just slightly off that yardage pace. They have gained 81 fewer total yards, with 345 fewer passing yards but 170 more rushing yards. Scoring-wise, they’ve scored 188 points, just a field goal more than last year through three games.

Defensively in 2011, the Patriots allowed 2,542 yards (1,933 passing; 609 rushing) and 135 points (22.5 per game) in their first six contests.

This year, they’ve actually improved. They’ve allowed 313 fewer yards overall, and despite the screaming and shouting about the admittedly flawed secondary, they’ve allowed 200 fewer passing yards this year (33.3 fewer yards per game). They’ve been much better at stopping the run, too, allowing 113 fewer yards through six games. Scoring-wise, it’s nearly the exact same picture, with the Pats allowing just two more total points.

The Patriots have also racked up 16 takeaways thus far, an improvement upon their 11 through six games last year. They’ve also turned the ball over four fewer times this season (six this year; 10 last year).

Individually, the high-profile offensive comparisons look like this:

Tom Brady, 2011:
160-for-237 (67.5 percent)
2,163 yards
16 TDs, 8 INTs
Tom Brady, 2012:
160-for-243 (66.7 percent)
1,845 yards
10 TDs, 3 INTs

Rob Gronkowski, 2011: 29 receptions,  401 yards, 5 TDs
Rob Gronkowski, 2012: 29 receptions, 356 yards, 3 TDs

Wes Welker, 2011: 51 receptions, 785 yards, 6 TDs
Wes Welker, 2012: 48 receptions, 622 yards, 2 TDs

Other offensive areas aren’t quite comparable. BenJarvus Green-Ellis is no longer in New England, and Stevan Ridley has proven to be a better No. 1 running back so far this season. The Patriots got more production out of Aaron Hernandez last year when he wasn’t injured, but that’s been more than made up for by the production increase of the man wearing jersey No. 85 this year compared to last year.

So by just about every comparable statistic, the Patriots are either the same or better than they were last year. Poorly timed mistakes (missed FG against Arizona, intentional grounding against Seattle, for example), which can’t always be accounted for statistically, seem to be the biggest difference between a 5-1 team that eventually went to the Super Bowl and a 3-3 team that has many questioning the future of the season.

None of that makes the 3-3 record any better, and the Patriots no doubt have created a difficult road for themselves if they want to win the division and earn a first-round bye. Still, the fact that they are on such a similar track to last year at least indicates that as bad as the record may look through six weeks, the team may be just as good — if not better.

Read more from Michael by clicking here, or follow him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.


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