October 27, 2002
Over The Hill, Bound For Nowhere
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
FOXBOROUGH -- Things were so bad, it was a wrong decision to not go for it on fourth and 21.
Things were so bad, two horridly wrong penalties went against the Patriots, and it may not have mattered a lick.
Things were so bad, the Patriots won the turnover battle by a +2 margin and never looked like a team that could win this game.
Things were so bad, Jason Elam shanked two field goals and it still didn't matter.
Things were so bad, the Patriots managed to balance the run and the pass a lot better, yet still were totally out of sync on offense most all game long.
Things were so bad…aw, skip it, why bother.
The Broncos were the last team to repeat as Super Bowl champs. The Broncos were also the last team to lose four straight games in a year after a Super Bowl win. The Patriots chose to emulate the latter. And emulate they did.
The score was "only" 24-16, which is as misleading as Denver being near the bottom of the league in pass defense. The Patriots fell behind 21-7, managed a half-hearted attempt to get back into the game, and were put away when Denver re-awakened and merely got back to business of pushing this poor little championship team around.
What might also be misleading is the perception that the Patriots didn't put a fight in this game. There was no lack of effort in this game. There was no lack of heart in this game. There was no lack of preparation in this game. The Patriots did not lose this game by being lazy.
This game was lost primarily because the Broncos ran the Patriots silly around the field for most of the game. Part of the blame goes to two bonehead coaching decisions in the fourth quarter, but the cold hard fact of the matter is that the Patriots did not have the material to compete with the Broncos. It seems like this has set in so suddenly, but whatever went wrong in the Kansas City game has gotten worse and worse each week, and each successive team exposes more and more that is wrong with the Patriots.
It basically comes down to this. The Patriots are simply over the hill, and are in need of re-tooling in the offseason. They are old, slow, and stodgy. But for a few isolated plays here and there, the hard, jarring hits of last year aren't there anymore. And one reason they aren't there anymore is that you can't hit what you can't catch.
Ed McCaffrey is coming off a broken leg last year and is 34 years old. Shannon Sharpe is also 34 years old and has unfortunately slithered out from the rock he crawled under and back to the Broncos. If both of these old geezers look like they're 24 years old against the Patriots, something is grossly wrong with the Patriots.
Sharpe caught two passes for 19 yards. One of them was an 8-yard pass from Brian Griese, while being chased in the back of the end zone by someone older than he (Otis Smith). Sharpe was also the recipient of a gift penalty against Tebucky Jones and a 24-yard gain, only because Jones brushed Sharpe's arm as he ran by the Patriot free safety. We're not surprised that Sharpe ran by Jones because everyone does when Jones tries to cover a receiver. But that penalty was as ticky-tack as it gets.
As for McCaffrey, he caught eight passes for 116 yards, numbers that should have been put up by Rod Smith. He made four backbreaking grabs against the Patriots, two in the second quarter and two in the fourth, and each of those grabs were four daggers in the Patriot chest. It could be said that these four plays made the difference in this whole game.
Leading 14-7, the Broncos were driving in the second quarter. Twice the Broncos faced third down and four or less. Twice the Broncos converted. Twice the gains went for double figures in yards. Twice the ball went to McCaffrey. Twice the defender was Terrell Buckley, the supposed replacement for the aging O-T-I-S. On the first toss, Griese evaded about seven pass rushers and somehow found McCaffrey wide open in the left flat for 15 yards. The second one was a rollout right, and McCaffrey beat Buckley for a diving 13-yard catch.
Then in the final quarter, after the Patriots had pulled to 21-16, the Broncos took over at their 30. First two plays: passes to McCaffrey. Both plays go for 20 yards. A square out left, a slant in right. Easy. The Patriots did their best to make both completions look easy. Elam finished the drive with a 19-yard field goal for the final margin.
Immediately preceding this drive, the Patriots committed their first of two coaching blunders. Tom Brady had hit Christian Fauria with an 8-yard scoring toss to open the fourth quarter and cut the deficit to 21-16. But curiously, Bill Belichick opted to go for two points. The Patriots chose to try a fade route in the corner of the end zone, something that works as poorly for the Patriots as the long bomb. It doesn't work with the 6-4 Donald Hayes; what chance did David Patten have? Denard Walker knocked down the pipe dream of a pass.
This failed two-point conversion gave the momentum right back to Denver, and the Patriots failed to capitalize on their one and only chance to get back into the ball game. With the ensuing field goal, a 24-17 deficit is more manageable than a 24-16 deficit. But the missed try simply took the wind out of the Patriot sails, and McCaffrey took off on his 40 yards-two catches spree.
The final blunder occurred at the end of the final Patriot drive. With two timeouts and the two-minute warning, the Patriots opted to punt from their 31 on 4th and 22. Bad move, and the Broncos bore that out with their next drive. Trusting this game to the defense was not the prudent thing to do. Taking a chance on a defensive foul or a lucky long pass reception was a better chance to take than a Denver three-and-out.
Two plays for Denver, and the Patriots burn their timeouts and the two-minute warning comes and goes. It's third and 7 for Denver at their own 28. Stop Denver and the Patriots get the ball back. Simple, huh?
They should have gone for it on 4th and 22. In an obvious run situation, Griese steps back and hits a wide-open Ashley Lelie down the right sideline for 40 yards to seal the deal. Defending Lelie was this 36-year-old dude named O-T-I-S.
The Patriots are no longer taking the league by surprise. Instead, the league is taking it to the Patriots, and exposing how slow this team is this year. This should become the top focus of the team in this offseason. Get younger, get quicker, and rebuild with this philosophy in mind.
With Drew Bledsoe on the horizon, can anyone on the Patriots possibly catch those Buffalo greyhounds? Yeesh.
Things were so bad…oh, forget all this. Go Angels.
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