The list of New England Patriots who aren't in my dog house right now is extremely short. Unless you happen to play for the defensive front seven, or have the name Welker, Llyod, Hernandez, or Woodhead on the back of your jersey, I'm not too happy with you right now, and neither is the Patriot Nation. Unlike the other two Patriot losses, I can't pin today's debacle on a blocked punt, shanked field goal, or replacement referees. Today's loss boiled down to a lack of two things – brains and balls.
Let's start with the lack of brains:
1. Clock management, or more appropriately, mis-management. The Patriots caught a fortuitous break at the end of the first half when the Seattle punter muffed the snap and gave New England amazing field position and nearly guaranteed them three points. The Patriots had two time outs and plenty of time to march down the short field to the end zone.
So what happens? Bill Belichick inexplicably runs down the play clock following a completion and calls a time out instead of just having the team huddle up and run a play. By the time he called the timout, the Pats would have been better just spiking the ball if Belichick wanted a time out than actually calling on. At that point, with 20-ish seconds, one time out, and having a first down, time was more important than downs. If he really wanted to be intelligent, he could have called time out right away and left the Pats with 30+ seconds to run their final series.
The Pats could have done anything there, but what they actually did and would have been in a better situation. Call the time out right away, spike the ball, run a play to gain some yards – but don't waste your clock AND the time out! It was like Bill Belichick was channeling his inner Andy Reid or something. Even if you want to give him the benefit of the doubt and say that he tried to call timeout right away but the refs ignored him, at that point, he should have just given up and let the Pats run a play.
So as a result, the Patriots are crunched for time, fail to to make it into the end zone, and are left with zero time outs and six seconds at the cusp of the goal line. Instead of settling for three easy points (which would have come in very handy today), they try to run one more play within the six seconds and Tom Brady ends up drawing a intentional grounding pentalty, triggering a 10 second run-off and ending the half. Just to be clear, I don't have a problem with the Patriots trying to sneak in the touchdown with six seconds left. That's just aggressive football. What I'm upset about is the awful clock management that left them with only six seconds to run that play.
2. Repeating mistakes. I mean, if one drive-killing intentional grounding penalty is good, then two have got to be even better, right? On the second-too-last drive of the game, when the Pats desperately needed a first down to keep Seattle from getting the ball back, Tom decided that it would be a good idea to chuck a ball at one of his linemen, setting the Pats back 10 yards with a loss of down. I don't want to pick on our hero too badly, but that makes for three critical grounding penalties on Tom in the pass four Patriots losses, all of which directly contributed to the loss in a major way.
3. Becoming horribly one dimensional. In my best Jim Mora impression… BALANCE? You kidding me?!? BALANCE?!?! Talk about taking something that was working and completely throwing it out the window… I get that the Patriots best bet was to go through the air against the Seattle defense, but 58 passing attempts? In a game with slippery balls and pouring rain? That's how you end up shooting yourself in the foot when the game gets tight and the pressure is on at the very end. That's how you end up scoring only one touchdown in six red zone trips because the defense knows what's coming. I don't think anything highlighted the foolishness of this approach more than a critical 3rd and 1 play in the red zone, where instead of running the ball, the Patriots threw yet again and got picked off. Even if they had gotten stuffed on the run, a field goal would have been game-changing.
4. Not turning your head and making a play on the ball. If I'm a opposing offensive coordinator playing the Patriots, there is no way I'm even bothering trying to deal with the New England front seven. I am lobbing balls deep on McCourty, Arrington, and Chung ALL STINK'N DAY and then whooping it up as they draw pass interference penalty after pass interference penalty. The Patriots are completely incapable of defending the long ball at the moment. All three Seattle touchdown drives were the result of huge gashing plays and penalties that completely erased the solid job done by the defensive line and linebackers. The secondary should be disgusted with themselves. This isn't about a lack of talent. It's a lack of fundamentals and basic defensive principles.
And as for the lack of balls…
With over three minutes to go, the Patriots decided to get conservative and start running the ball for no gain to make Seattle burn their time outs. The problem here is that there was OVER THREE MINUTES left. If you go three and out there, the Seahawks, even with no time outs, have plenty of time to march down the field. As it was, they managed to score with a solid minute and a half left on the clock. It was if Josh McDaniels had become completely paralzyed by fear of blowing the game to the point where they went out and did exactly the opposite of what they needed to do to win. They got conservative, just like they did against Baltimore, ended up going three and out, and putting the defense in an awful position.
Making it worse, Vince Wilfork and company had just bailed out the offense minutes earlier with a fantastic three and out series of their own. So you repay your defense by calling plays like a pansy and making them go right back out there and do it again?
New England's last three drives combined for less than four minutes of game time. They held a 6 point lead with 7:21 left in the game and they went completely limp and conservative. If you tuck your tail between your legs against a good defense like the Hawks' and try to back your way into a win, at least 80% of the time, you'll end up just where the Pats ended up today.
Today should have been about a courageous day by Wilfork, Jones, Spikes, Ninkovich, and Mayo. It should have been about Aaron Hernandez's triumphant return, Wes Welker's numerous grabs, and Brandon Llyod's acrobatics. Instead, it's about this team blowing yet another huge lead, their inability to cover the deep ball, and worst of all, playing scared on the road against a tough defense. Raise your hand if you're excited for next week's battle for AFC surpremacy against the 3-3 New York Jets?