By: Bob George/
December 22, 2002

No Brady or Gronk, but plenty of storylines at Patriots OTAs
Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski not at the start of the team's OTA's today
NFL notes: Don't be surprised if Deatrich Wise Jr., Derek Rivers rise up for Patriots
New Patriots DL Danny Shelton preps to hit the hill
Patriots center David Andrews excited with his new Georgia Bulldog teammates

FOXBOROUGH -- Nobody in these parts will ever have a mean thing to say about Troy Brown.

That sentiment may be permanent. Brown has had a great career, and has become one of the more beloved Patriots in franchise history. His rise from obscurity to Pro Bowl wide receiver is one of the best feel-good stories in the entire NFL.

That said, Brown has pretty much taken care of any chance the Patriots have to repeat as champs.

Reaching the nadir of what has been a very disappointing season for the Patriots, Brown muffed a punt late in the third quarter, turning the ball over to the Jets and putting them in point-blank range to kick a field goal that gave them the lead for good. The fumbled punt, which is perhaps the last thing you would ever expect Brown to do during his entire career, completely killed off whatever momentum and energy the Patriots had in this game. The Jets continued to bedevil the Patriots in their home stadium, and won their fifth straight game in the town of Foxborough, 30-17.

At the time of the fumble, the Patriots had begun to assert themselves and take control of a game they were never really into as a team. Tom Brady suffered through a putrid first half, completing only 7 of 18 passes for a measly 47 yards. Chad Pennington, on the other hand, completed his first ten passes and looked like Rich Gannon, Jr. all night long. Pennington was rolling right, stepping up in the pocket, and hitting Santana Moss and Laveranues Coles with relative ease.

Trailing 17-10 at the half, the Patriots opened the second half with just the drive they needed. Charlie Weis finally smartened up and featured Antowain Smith, and the results were quite positive. The Patriots drove 66 yards in 16 plays, and chewed up 8:41 of the clock. Brady finished off the drive with a beautiful playfake to Smith, and hit Christian Fauria from 6 yards out for the score. That pass play was set up with six Smith carries for 19 yards, and three runs by Brady for third down conversions.

On the ensuing drive, the Patriots held the Jets to four plays and a punt. Matt Turk's punt sailed high, but Brown inexplicably backed up too far and he could not recover well enough to field the punt. The ball slipped through Brown's hands, though Kevin Morton got credit for knocking the ball out. Nick Ferguson recovered the fumble, and the Jets drove to a 23-yard field goal by John Hall.

But school was out for the Patriots at that point. The Patriots followed that field goal with a three-and-out, an interception by Donnie Abraham, and a totally mismanaged final drive of the game. The Jets rang up ten more points, and cruised home.

Lots of things went into this Patriot loss. Brown's fumble was what stripped the Patriots of the one chance they had to win this game. Brady and the offense looked sickly for most of the evening, Pennington made the Patriot veteran defenders look like rookies, and no breaks went the way of the Patriots at all.

Brady finished with only 19 of 37 passing for 133 yards. The Patriots still look like a team that can thrive only on a short passing attack, except that the league has figured them out. Brady at times, especially in the first half, looked confused, and even at times lethargic out there. He misfired on several passes, and some of those passes were such that they would have been intercepted if they had been on target.

In defense of Brady, he is the victim of an offensive line that is showing the fullest effects of injuries and disappointing seasons. With Matt Light and Adrian Klemm at the tackles, they had problems developing a consistent running attack and keeping people like Sam Garnes and Bobby Abraham away from Brady. On one play, Brady was sacked for a nine-yard loss. Brady was sacked because he tripped over Light's leg. Light's leg tripped Brady because Abraham was moving him backwards with more ease than if he were a tackling dummy.

Pennington, meanwhile, looked every bit as calm and as cool as Brady did last year. Pennington finished with a passer rating of 101.2 and hit 23 of 33 passes for 285 yards. He threw to eight different receivers, completing five to Coles and Richie Anderson, and four to Moss and Wayne Chrebet. This is the sort of thing Brady used to do.

Curtis Martin didn't play a huge role in this game, but still managed 106 yards on 26 carries. Martin topped the 1,000-yard mark, and in doing so became the second back in NFL history to top 1,000 yards in each of his first eight seasons (Barry Sanders was the other). Martin made just enough key runs to keep drives going, but never really torched the Patriots as his longest run of the night was only nine yards.

One area that hurt the Patriots was the absence of Otis Smith, who went on injured reserve this week. His replacement, Leonard Myers, played poorly this evening. Myers was thrown at nine times, resulting in seven completions for 99 yards and two touchdowns. Both of those touchdowns were poorly defended plays, in which a veteran perhaps makes the play.

The first such touchdown was in the first quarter. Coles broke away from double coverage by Victor Green and Myers and slipped into the end zone behind them both. Pennington floated a perfect 32-yard toss right into the hands of Coles and a 7-0 Jet lead. One might say that Green, the free safety, should have made the play on any deep ball, but Myers was in position to bat the ball down. The ball instead went right through Myers' hands and into Coles'.

Pennington threw another such pass in the fourth quarter, this one from 15 yards out to Chrebet to ice the game. On the play, Pennington lobbed the ball perfectly into Chrebet's hands, right over Myers. But had Myers peeked a half-second quicker, he might have had a chance to knock the ball down.

The Patriots also had two breaks go against them. In the first quarter, Chrebet made a cute sideline catch at the Patriot 25 for 13 yards, barely keeping both sets of toenails in bounds. Bill Belichick asked for a replay review, and it was upheld. What the replay cameras missed was that Chrebet stepped out of bounds prior to making the catch, but nobody caught it, not even the camera that had the best angle for a reversal.

David Givens cost the Patriots a chance to go into the locker room tied at intermission. Facing third and ten at midfield, Brady laid a perfect 40-yard toss down the left sideline right into Givens' hands. Givens let the ball slip right through his fingers while diving for the ball. Brady could not have thrown the ball any more perfectly. This may simply be a case of this catch being made in 2001, but not in 2002.

It is clear that this is not going to be the Patriots' year. Amazingly, the Patriots can still win the division if they beat Miami and the Jets lose to Green Bay next weekend. At this point in time, any playoff venture for the Patriots rings completely hollow. The Patriots simply have no swagger, no momentum, no luck. Losing two primetime games in a row doesn't exactly portray this team as ready to go deep into the playoffs. Losing to the Jets once again at home, while not as devastating as in the Pete Carroll era, is a major blow to the Patriots and their entire season.

But hey, it's quite simple. When your all-around best player makes that kind of a key fumble, you simply don't deserve to win.

It basically sums up this Patriot season in a nutshell. If Troy Brown can't bring you home, no one will.

After next week, that's pretty much where the Patriots figure to be for a long while.