The unbearable stench of defeat: Nick Maxwell leads the Pies from the ground after the loss to Fremantle.

The unbearable stench of defeat? Nick Maxwell leads the Pies from the ground after the loss to Fremantle. Photo: Getty Images

Gone. Can't make top four. Going backwards. It's just on one-third of the way through the 2013 season, but not too early for plenty of definitive judgments to have been made, not just about those sides propping up the ladder, but in some cases those still in the top eight.

Ours is a game of increasingly hasty and sweeping statements, and it's Collingwood finding itself the subject of a few after its third loss of the season to Fremantle on Saturday night.

Consider for a moment, though, the following. If Carlton defeats St Kilda on Monday night, the Magpies will end round seven in ninth position, with a 4-3 win-loss record.

That's exactly the same situation as Hawthorn last year. Indeed, the Hawks, after being smashed by 10 goals against Richmond a fortnight after that, were 5-4. They'd finish 17-5, top of the ladder, and lose a grand final by 10 points.

That's not to argue that the Magpies are about to get on a similar roll and win 12 of their next 13, either. In fact, facing Geelong this week and Sydney the next, they could well slip to 4-5 after nine rounds.

But with 15 games to go, can a side as proven as the Pies, with their talent, experience and players such as Dayne Beams, Luke Ball, Alex Fasolo, Tyson Goldsack, Ben Johnson and Clinton Young not part of Saturday night's 22, really be dismissed as a flag chance?

The dim view of the Magpies' latest loss is that they were blown away at the start and overrun at the finish. The glass half-full version is they picked things up to the extent a 44-point deficit was reduced to five at the final change.

The round three loss to Hawthorn featured a poor second half but a first-half lead. In the Anzac Day loss to Essendon, Collingwood trailed by only two straight kicks seven minutes into the final term.

It's the patchiness of the Pies that has coach Nathan Buckley most concerned, the Freo loss a prime example. No side has scored fewer goals in first quarters than Collingwood, and the Pies have finished poorly, winning just two of seven final terms.

In contrast, they've won or broken even in four second terms, while their 35 goals in third quarters ranks No. 3. The proverbial nursery rhyme girl with the curl. Can it be straightened? Yes, though Collingwood's biggest opponent for the rest of 2013 may well be time.

Beams and Ball will obviously prove crucial additions to the mix, but can't be expected to return to their previous best without some serious game time under their belts. That's also an issue for the likes of skipper Nick Maxwell, Andrew Krakouer and Brent Macaffer. Alan Didak's potential input will be more a matter of hope than expectation, but his X-factor is still of value, as could be the long-kicking of Johnson and Young.

But the return of Beams and Ball in particular will significantly reduce the capacity of opponents to sit on the Pies' creative heartbeats, Scott Pendlebury and Dane Swan.

The Magpies are having trouble adapting to the increasing penchant for counter-attack, Alan Toovey's loss for the year a significant blow. But there's still the option of shifting wingman Harry O'Brien back to his former home, while Dale Thomas has already played good football off half-back, as can Goldsack.

Sure, there's plenty of ifs and buts about the Pies, yet a simple glance at their draw beyond the next fortnight should underline the folly of preparing a premature obituary for their chances.

From round 10, Collingwood plays the Brisbane Lions, Melbourne, Western Bulldogs, Port Adelaide, Carlton, Adelaide, Gold Coast and Greater Western Sydney. If that run doesn't guarantee eight straight wins, you'd think the Pies are at least capable of going 6-2. Jag them all and, even with losses to the Cats and Swans, they'd be 12-5 with five games left to play.

That would be a pretty handy position heading into August. But wherever Collingwood is by then, it's certainly far too early to be calling ''game over'' in early May.