Sunday’s 24-23 loss to the Seattle Seahawks was one of the worst losses in the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady era. Going against a sub-par Seattle offense with rookie quarterback Russell Wilson leading the charge, the Patriots blew a 13-point fourth quarter lead and fell to the Seahawks on the road. It was a case of both the offense and defense failing to make a big play when it counted, with a few mental mistakes mixed in.
Here are five observations from the loss:
Tom Brady and the Patriots offense once again struggled to close out their opponent and win a close game.(FILE:USPresswire)
Closing out games becoming an issue
The Patriots failing to close out games is something which is becoming an alarming trend over the past few seasons, and continuing this season. Leading by 13 points with 9:21 remaining, the Patriots gave up two touchdowns, including the game-winning 46-yard bomb to Sidney Rice with 1:18 left to play in which Rice got behind safety Tavon Wilson for an easy score. The blame isn’t all on the secondary as the Patriots had plenty of chances to close out the game. The Patriots last six possessions were: interception, interception, field goal, punt, punt, turnover on downs. Of the last three, the offense picked up just one first down. Quite simply this is a trend becoming apparent with the Patriots of late. They cannot put together a solid, long sustained drive when they need to, or even score the touchdown they need to put their opponent away in the third and early fourth quarters. This occurred last week against Denver, but key Broncos turnovers bailed the Patriots out. This week the Seahawks made them pay.
Another trend for the Patriots is their inability to win close games. In their last seven regular season games decided by five points or less the Patriots are 2-5. What does this mean for Brady and Belichick? Are they losing their greatness? No, I don’t think this is the case, but it is something to be aware of. There is no denying Brady hasn’t been as clutch as he once was, and Belichick’s defenses haven’t been able to make a play when they need to for some time now. There is nothing both Belichick or Brady can say, the bottom line is they need to start turning this trend around and get back to their old habits of winning the close games. The window for them to win another Super Bowl is getting smaller and smaller.
Re-visiting end of the first half decision
Much has been made of the Patriots decision to run a play with six seconds left in the first half with the ball inside Seattle’s five yard line. Brady was under pressure and threw the ball out of the end zone resulting in an intention grounding penalty and a 10 second runoff ending the first half resulting in zero points. This was a major point in the game as instead of going into the half leading by 10 or 14, they only led by seven. Something happened prior to the that play which should also be noted as very poor clock management by the Patriots. They ran their first play following the botched punt with 40 seconds left as a pass to Wes Welker to the nine yard line. Brady and the Patriots wasted about 16 seconds before calling a time out with 19 seconds left. If they used their timeout right when Welker was down it would have been 1st and goal at the 9 with 35 seconds, instead it was 1st and goal at the 9 with 19 seconds left. Very poor clock management from the Patriots, something you very rarely see.
Back to the intentional grounding play. There was nothing wrong with the call as if Brady threw it away properly there was still time to kick a field goal. It was simply poor execution. If the Patriots were to have scored on the play people would have been praising the decision by the team, but now people are looking back and saying this was a sequence which ultimately was the reason why the Patriots lost the game. This was not the sole reason why the Patriots lost the game. Sure, looking back kicking the field goal was the right move, but at the time trying to get a touchdown was the right decision, it was just a poorly executed play.
Secondary struggles again
This story refuses to go away as once again members of the secondary were beaten badly on a number of plays. This week Kyle Arrington was the worst of the bunch as he was beaten several times in the first half, which led to him being benched and from my accounts not playing at all in the second half in favor of Alfonso Dennard. On Rice’s game-winning touchdown Devin McCourty missed on the jam and then Wilson allowed Rice to get free over the top for the touchdown. Due to an injury to Patrick Chung the safeties on the last series were Wilson and fellow rookie Nate Ebner. It would appear the depth chart at corner back finished the game as: McCourty, Dennard, Marquise Cole, Arrington, Sterling Moore, and Ras-I Dowling. Clearly, this is an area which needs to be addressed and it would be expected a few corner backs will be brought in to Foxboro this week for workouts.
In my opinion McCourty needs to be moved to safety. He played some there towards the end of last year and it seemed to work out. McCourty is much better with things happening in front of him. When healthy Chung is a starting safety, with Wilson as a form able backup. Once Steve Gregory is able to return from his injury he is another backup safety and could even be given a shot at corner. Dennard has really made the most of his playing time the last few weeks and has deserved the chance to start at corner. To me, he and Moore have the best ball skills of the group and as things stand now would make the best starting corners. Another route the Patriots could go is a number of different sub-packages working in players like Arrington, Gregory and Cole into spots they feel make sense.
Something else I feel needs to be addressed is Belichick and corner backs coach Josh Boyer need to be getting much more criticism when it comes to the secondary’s poor play. A huge issue is the Patriots defenders failure to play the ball in coverage. Almost all the big plays the Patriots have given up come as a result of the defender not turning their head and finding the ball. This is undoubtedly a teaching technique, which clearly isn’t working and needs to be corrected. Boyer, while in his first year with the corners was the safeties coach for the three seasons prior to this, so he does have experience in the system. Boyer and Belichick deserve much more blame for the horrid play from the Patriot corners.
An average Brady performance
While Brady’s stat line read: 36-58 for 395 with two touchdowns and two interceptions, you wouldn’t think he played that bad, but in fact he did. Brady struggled the majority of the game and was average at best. As the game wore on he become more and more uncomfortable in the pocket and made some very poor throws. Something which should also be noted is the number of mental mistakes Brady made. He had two intentional grounding penalties, which is something you almost never see from him. The Patriots did not score a touchdown after their third possession of the game, and went 3-for-11 on third down in the second half. In the third quarter the Seahawks had three possessions and punted all three times, but the Patriots only increased their lead from 17-10 to 20-10. This comes back to the Patriots’ failure to put teams away and in a way comes back to Brady and his sub-par performances when it matters of late.
Injuries starting to add up
Injuries, especially with offensive skill players are starting to add up. Running back Brandon Bolden was suffered an shoulder injury in the first half and did not return. This affected the running game, especially in short yardage situations. The Patriots rushed for only 87 total yards. Special teams captain Matthew Slater was injured on the first punt of the fourth quarter and did not return for the second punt, which Leon Washington returned back to midfield, setting Seattle up for the winning score. Not having Slater in coverage certainly went in Seattle’s favor. If Slater were to miss time it would be a very key injury as Slater plays an integral role in the teams’ special teams. Brandon Lloyd was shaken up after diving for a pass on the last possession, but did return for the final two plays. Welker took a number of vicious hits once again Sunday and is very rarely 100 percent. Rob Gronkowski has been battling a back injury for a few weeks now and Aaron Hernandez just returned from his ankle injury Sunday. While every player in the league gets banged up throughout the year, the Patriots skill players are a little more than banged up. They desperately need the bye week, which isn’t for two weeks — the week after the Rams game in London. With as skilled as the offense is they need all of their weapons to be on the field at once, and with the team sitting at 3-3 they can’t afford any of their skill players to miss significant time.