October 02, 2005
Patriots Face Their Biggest Challenge Yet
BY: Ian Logue/PatsFans.com
FOXBORO, MA -- Sometimes you can only patch a leak so many times before it finally lets go.
That’s exactly how it appeared on Sunday in Foxboro after the Patriots lost to the San Diego Chargers 41-17 at Gillette Stadium.
Head coach Bill Belichick spent much of last year replacing injured players and implementing game plans to help cover areas where the team may have had a deficiency. It obviously all worked out just fine. Unfortunately this really can only work on the defensive side of the ball when you have savvy veterans who understand the system and can help get the new guys through the rough spots.
Unfortunately they don’t have that right now, and the long term effects will likely be felt through the season.
Let’s face it. It’s bad enough the team lost Tedy Bruschi, one of the team’s defensive captains during the offseason to a mild stroke. With Rodney Harrison still in the backfield to help keep the rest of the team focused and the intensity turned up, it’s a loss they could have found a way to overcome. The problem is now they don’t have either, and that’s a problem.
It’s like being down late in the game and the offense not having quarterback Tom Brady there to give them the confidence and poise to know that if they do their job he’ll help get them where they need to be. When times get tough, every one of those offensive players can look up and into Brady’s eyes and somehow know they’ll be just fine. To add to that factor they also know that if someone doesn’t make their block or do their job, they know Brady will be there to hold them accountable.
On defense Bruschi and Harrison were two of the most vocal players on the team. You didn’t need to be in the huddle to see it. They were the two guys who could tell the younger players and even some of the veterans to settle down and get them through the rough spots, and also two guys who in all likelihood they wouldn’t want to let down.
Now that Harrison’s gone they’ve lost their other leader, and it’s obvious that as of right now someone else hasn’t stepped up yet.
"I played with Rodney, I know what a leader he is," Chargers quarterback Drew Brees told reporters after the game. "It's not only the physical things he does. It's the leadership, the mental toughness, what he imparts to his teammates. I know they've been able to put in a lot of subs over the years and not miss anything, but a player like Rodney is something special."
"What they've done is remarkable," Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer told the media when it was over, referring to New England’s past success to overcome injuries. "But at what point in time do you keep responding when you have to keep putting in new players? They've done it wonderfully over the last four years, but there comes a time where it has to catch up with you, even with a team as great as this one."
It certainly did, and they could have used someone on Sunday to give them a lift after the Chargers marched up and down the field at will in the second half, wearing out an already depleted defense. San Diego punted just once in four possessions, and put the game away after putting together a nine minute drive early in the fourth quarter which ended in a field goal to make it 34-17. They were beaten back, run over, and outright manhandled. It was one of the most difficult things to watch for a Patriots fan, since it’s something that just doesn’t happen.
On offense, it was obvious that the recent injuries on the offensive line gave them some trouble. With rookie Matt Kaczur filling in at left tackle for Matt Light who is sidelined with a broken leg, the Chargers apparently had come into the game with every intention of getting pressure on Brady. What they probably didn’t expect was to be so successful. Brady found himself under constant duress during the game, ducking and weaving and still somehow finding a way to connect with his receivers.
Unfortunately as the game went on and the lead increased for San Diego, the pressure then started to become fast and furious. Although Brady was sacked just once, he was hit quite a bit and was forced to make several throws long before he wanted to.
With the defense unable to stop San Diego it was pretty obvious after the field goal that not even Brady could be asked to score three times with under five minutes left in the game. After the game you could see the frustration on Brady’s face.
“We just couldn't convert third downs,” said Brady after the game. “We couldn't stay on the field offensively. They made some plays offensively. We didn't have the ball enough, mostly due to the offense's inefficiency. So we have got to do a better job helping the defense out.”
“We didn't really answer today like we have in the wins this year.”
Now that the team is sitting at 2-2 there will be plenty of questions. After he looks at the film Belichick may come up with a plan of how to fix his team’s problems, but the other question will be whether or not he has the personnel to execute it.
They’ve overcome injuries in the past, but one would have to believe that the Patriots problems are as big as they’ve ever been. There’s still plenty of football left to be played, but now one has to wonder if they have enough guys left to play it the way fans are used to seeing it played in New England.
“It's the fourth game of the year so we have got a lot of football left,” said Brady. “And losing, we are not trying to do that. We are trying to go out there and play well and execute well.”
“We are going to need to improve in a short amount of time, try to really tighten up some of the mistakes and play a much more competitive game than the one we played today.”
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