In Their Biggest Test Of The Season, The Patriots Failed

Taylor McCloud — Pats Militia

During Pats’ games I record what happens on Post-It notes. If the game goes well, I’ll end up with three or four by the end of the contest. Touchdown here, touchdown there, good play here, good play there, nothing crazy. But when the game turns to shit? There’s about a ton of them; and let me tell you, I’ve got just about a million from last night.

Before I get into the negative, though, there are some positives to take away from that game.

  1. LeGarrette Blount was an absolute monster. 69YD & 3TD on 21 carries. Increased his touchdown count to 12, and put himself in the top ten for rushing touchdowns by a Patriot in a single season.
  2. Tom Brady and Julian Edelman connected on two third & longs last night and both plays were incredible. Edelman beat the coverage and TB12 dropped it in the basket for him. Obviously it’s not abnormal for that to happen, but it’s been a rarity in 2016. Hopefully that’ll change from here on out.
  3. Stephen Gostkowski seems to have gotten over his kicking woes. He hit that 51-yarder in Buffalo two weeks ago, and has been perfect since. Three made extra points and a made field goal are all steps in the right direction for SG3.
  4. Trey Flowers got the start over Jabaal Sheard and capitalized in a huge way. Throughout the preseason I commented a lot on his ability to rush the passer, and it was on display last night as he recorded two sacks on the ever-elusive Russell Wilson.

And now we’re done with that.

I can’t believe how poorly the Patriots played last night. Sure, they lost by one touchdown to one of the best teams in the league, but even that shouldn’t have happened. They were at Gillette, at night, coming off a bye. They should not have lost that game.

However, it’s pretty tough to win when your defense falls apart completely.

Up until this point, I’ve defended the defense, and honestly, they’ve deserved it. Coming into yesterday, the Patriots were allowing the second least amount of points per game in the entire NFL. Only the Vikings were ranked ahead of them, and after they dropped their game in Washington, they dropped behind New England. That means at gametime last night, the Patriots were allowing the fewest points per game in the league. No matter how suspect they’ve looked from game to game, that stat is incredibly important. The bend-don’t-break defense bent and bent, but never broke.

That is, until last night.

Last night, the defense broke.

I’m not even going to go into passing yards and rushing yards because they’re pretty much irrelevant at this point. If a defense can’t pass the eye test, their yards allowed aren’t going to tell a different story. And if the eye test is a real thing, the Patriots failed miserably.

I trust this coaching staff completely. Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia, the engineers of this defense, are geniuses. They know what they’re doing. That being said, last night’s gameplan just didn’t make sense. All week long all we heard about was how Russell Wilson was dealing with an ailing knee, injured ankles, and how he couldn’t run. I would have thought the Pats would have gone after him, but I guess not.

All we saw were small scale pass rush attempts. I’m probably wrong, but I don’t think they rushed four or more guys any more than five times throughout the game. All night long it was a three or four man pressure, and a couple of times, it was down to two.

Even then, though, the secondary couldn’t cover anyone. Despite having nine men in coverage to Seattle’s four or five guys running routes, there was, without fail, someone wide open on almost every play, and it was no more apparent than on Doug Baldwin’s touchdown reception which ended the first half. The Pats rushed three guys, couldn’t get after Wilson, and the secondary lost Baldwin. The guy disappeared behind the coverage, made quick eye contact with Russell Wilson and boom, wide open in the endzone.

I said a couple of weeks ago that the Pats’ zone coverage scared me; last night proved why. Russell Wilson stood back there, waited for his guy to find the soft spot, and fired the ball in there. When Tom Brady does the same to opposing defenses, it’s beautiful, but when the opponent’s doing it to the Pats, it’s  mind-splittingly frustrating.

And it’s even more frustrating when it happens on every single third down.

I could write thousands of words about the Patriots third down defense last night, but I’ll spare you having to read that. Instead, I’ll be quick about it here: their third down defense sucked. It was pathetic. By the middle of the second quarter, I had zero confidence that they’d be able to stop Wilson & co. on third down. Whether it was 3rd & 9 or 3rd & 2 did not matter, it felt like they converted every single time.

It’s not like the Seahawks were super creative about it, either. Third and long? Exploit the zone. Third and short? Pick play with an out route. That was it, but the Patriots just could not figure it out. Hell, the one time they keyed on that out route, it left no safety over the top and Wilson found Baldwin for his third touchdown of the game.

Now obviously I’m not an NFL player, and I’m not an NFL coach. I’m just an idiot with a laptop who cannot comprehend how difficult it is to stop a professional offense. Despite that, though, I do know a little football and whatever the Pats were doing, or trying to do, was beyond perplexing. Nothing worked and little to no adjustments were made.

Normally I’m not the “the sky is falling” type, and I’m not ready to fall into that just yet, but last night was somewhat of a wakeup call. Up until that game, I had been hammering the fact that the Pats weren’t giving up points. They were bending, not breaking. But they broke last night, in fact, they shattered, crumbled, and any other synonym of broke you can think of.

However, they weren’t the only issue.

With the exception of a couple incredible throws, Tom Brady was subpar. Yeah, he had 316 passing yards against a great defense, but when you stack that up against zero touchdowns and one interception, it doesn’t feel so significant.

He just didn’t have his normal stuff. The o-line could have protected him a little more, but he was clearly gun shy. With every inkling of pressure, Brady was moving like crazy in the pocket. That’s certainly one of his newly-adopted skills, but being a legit gunslinger, is not.

The interception he threw was just ugly. After doing a great job avoiding pressure, he tried to launch an off balance pass down the field to Malcolm Mitchell and it came nowhere near him. If he had been able to get it over Mitchell’s shoulder it would have gone down as one of the best throws of the game, but that’s not what happened. The ball died and fell right into the arms of DeShawn Shead.

But that wasn’t the throw that concerned me the most.

Brady almost got Gronk killed twice.

The first time, Brady ran Gronk straight into Earl Thomas, one of the hardest hitters in the league. Kam Chancellor was draped all over Gronk and Thomas was coming in hot, but Brady still put it there and #87 paid for it. Thomas dropped the hammer on him. Hit him so hard he had to come out of the game for multiple plays.

And the second time, Gronk came across the middle, Brady threw it behind him, and luckily he dropped it, because if he hadn’t, a tombstone would have been placed on the Gillette Stadium turf. Kam Chancellor was going to murder Gronk.

Don’t get me wrong, receivers need to be able to take contact over the middle, and I know there’s going to be someone who reads this and says, “This goddamn league is so soft, tight ends need to get decapitated by safeties, it’s how it should be!”, but they’re stupid. Those two throws from Brady were almost catastrophic.

Catastrophic can actually be used to describe more than just that, though.

The Patriots couldn’t hold onto the ball last night. Gronk almost coughed one up, Cyrus Jones fumbled on a kickoff return, and Julian Edelman gave the ball to Seattle as the Pats were driving to take the lead in the fourth quarter.

And that Edelman fumble sucks for more than one reason. Obviously it came in a huge spot and killed a drive, but for Edelman to be the one to give it up hurts. In a game where he finally gets it going a little bit, that happens. The fumble wasn’t for lack of effort, Jules was trying to get free from the arms of both Chancellor and Richard Sherman, two of the best tackling defensive backs in the NFL, but in that situation he’s gotta get on the ground. I love the determination but I would have liked to see him take his yards and live to play another play.

This is a bad transition, but I’m going to finish by talking about those final four plays.

The Brady sneak on first down wasn’t terrible. He gained a yard and put the ball at the one. Blount’s dive over the top on second down wasn’t bad. He got stuffed, but kept the ball a yard away from the endzone. Then Brady fumbled on another sneak attempt and I didn’t like that. But it doesn’t compare to the fourth down play call.

I understand that in crunchtime you put the ball in the hands of the greatest quarterback of all time and let him throw to Rob Gronkowski, but a fade route? COME ON. Run something else. He had single coverage. Sure, it was Chancellor, but damn, please run something else. A slant, a straight jump ball, the Edelman route, anything. Give the guy a chance to catch the ball instead of having him run the safety over and fall down. Yeah, I said Gronk ran him over because that’s what happened. The no-call there was correct. Gronk knocked Chancellor over and fell down with him. If anything that’s PI against New England and it’s still game over, but I’m fine with how that play went down.

And I guess I’m fine with that loss altogether. Did the Patriots play like shit? Yes. Did they fail the test I said Seattle would give them? Yes. But it’s one game in a long season, and honestly, I’d rather them take their lumps now instead of down the road. I predicted preseason that this team would go 13-3, that’s still well within reach. This one hurts, but Belichick & co. will move on. They’ll go to San Fran next weekend and I’m sure we’ll see a different team.

Go Pats.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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