November 19, 2013
Two Weeks To Define 2013 Patriots Season
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
Everybody needs to take a valium, sit down and relax. And quit blaming the officials.
The Patriots did not lose the Monday night game to the Carolina Panthers because the officials supposedly botched the final play of the game. Plain and simple.
It may turn out that all this hubbub over the 2013 Patriots is not what it is on the surface. What really is this team was partly revealed on Monday night, and will be completely revealed next Sunday night when the Denver Broncos come to Foxborough. Your record says what you are, said Bill Parcells. For this season, the Patriots will tell you what they are by how they overcome the trauma of losing Monday night, and how well they handle the best team in the AFC next weekend.
But before we get that far, here is why the Patriots did not win on Monday night.
First of all, The Play. Let's say that the ball thrown to Rob Gronkowski really was uncatchable. The official's real mistake was in not ruling defensive holding instead of interference. It wasn't illegal contact since the ball had been thrown when Luke Kuechly bear hugged Gronkowski. But it was holding. If holding had been called, as it should have been, then the Patriots get the ball at the 13 instead of the one. And, since the half cannot end on a defensive foul of any kind, the Patriots still get an untimed down.
From 13 yards out, do the Patriots score? Is there another Tom Brady to Kenbrell Thompkins miracle like there was against New Orleans? You cannot sit there and tell anyone that "the Pats score easy on one untimed down from 13 yards away". They might score. But you cannot guarantee that they would. Speculating on a score from the one is easier. But from the 13? It would be a good bet that Carolina would defense the play and they win anyway.
Next reason: Cam Newton. It's about time he stopped being the next JaMarcus Russell, which is being a bit facetious but nevertheless something to think about. Newton is becoming a bona fide star in the NFL, a welcome development for Panther Nation after being selected as the top pick in the 2011 Draft. He killed the Patriots on Monday night with his scrambling, on one third quarter play causing no less than four missed tackles. Rob Ninkovich, among others, stood up and took responsibility for the failure of outside containment. But Newton has now beaten San Francisco on the road and New England at home in consecutive weeks. He has the good people of North Carolina thinking great things about their football team again, and this is a region that views college basketball like the rest of the globe views soccer.
Then there's the penalties. The two dumbest penalties of the evening were on Aqib Talib in the first quarter for a personal foul after being goaded into losing his composure by Steve Smith, and the other one an unnecessary roughness call on Logan Mankins after a play which resulted in both loss of 15 yards and a loss of down. Both penalties were costly; the Talib penalty continued a drive which resulted in the first Carolina touchdown, while the Mankins penalty took away a decent chance at a touchdown and instead brought about only a field goal, the only score of the first half for the Patriots. The Patriots had only five penalties for the entire game. But dumb penalties, even if it's only one dumb penalty, can cost you the game.
This writer's choice as the turning point in the game was in the fourth quarter with 6:42 left in the game and the score tied at 17. The Patriots had third and one at the Panther 8-yard line. LeGarrette Blount had been gouging the Panther defense with short, strong runs. Needing one yard for a first down and goal, the situation screamed for another short run, either by Blount or maybe a sneak by Brady. Instead, the Patriots called for a pass. Brady play faked to Blount, nobody bit on the fake, and Brady was forced to throw the ball away out of the end zone. On fourth and one, the Patriots got only a field goal to give the Patriots their only lead at 20-17. Needing a stop from the Patriot defense on the ensuing drive (the Patriots stopped the Panthers three and out on the previous drive), Newton instead led the Panthers on a touchdown drive with Ginn catching the game-winner (that's like Al Weis and his home runs for the Mets in the 1969 World Series). If the Patriots get that touchdown, then they have 59 seconds to get only a field goal instead of a touchdown to win the game.
Finally, Stevan Ridley has to learn to stop putting the football on the ground. Kevin Faulk used to have this problem, thus earning the nickname "Fumbleitis Faulk" for a time. Eventually he changed (he went from 16 fumbles in his first five years to only nine fumbles in his last eight years) and enjoyed a 13-year career as a beloved Patriot. Ridley can too, but he had better conquer his fumble yips and soon before Bill Belichick forgets about Faulk and lets Ridley go. His second quarter fumble likely cost his team a touchdown and would have been the difference in the game.
So it really wasn't about the picked up flag, folks. All it turned out to be was that this officiating crew doesn't know holding when they see it and 13 yards is no gimme touchdown on only one play. The Patriots perhaps still lose the game, and it is to their discredit that they put themselves in this position to have to win the game in a hurried and frenetic manner (stand up and be counted if you had Ted Ginn Jr. on your fantasy team).
Now, what happens with Peyton Manning and the return of Wes Welker to Foxborough?
Denver is already a 2 ½-point favorite. The last time the Broncos came here was last year, and the Patriots got the better of Manning and his new posse, 31-21. The Broncos still do not have an elite defense. It might turn out to be a good old fashioned shootout. At least the Patriots are at home and don't have to worry about the Denver altitude or those rabid Bronco fans who one day are going to destroy that new stadium of theirs with all the jumping and shaking they do during a game.
Welker sustained a concussion last week against Kansas City, but is expected to play against his former team. That also becomes an issue, as Welker becomes the most notorious ex-Boston area superstar to return home since maybe Johnny Damon. Seeing Welker in a Bronco uniform and catching passes from the football version of Magic Johnson or Derek Jeter will not be a pretty sight, and the fans may respond in kind.
If the Patriots lose and drop to 7-4, they would then have to run the table and hope Indianapolis falters to hope for a first round playoff bye. 12-4 is a nice record, but 13-3 would be better, to overstate the obvious. But as has been pointed out by many a Patriot expert, the Patriots don't go to the Super Bowl unless they get a first round bye as either a one or two seed.
If the Patriots can somehow break through and win, then they would only need to match Denver for the best record in the conference and get the top seed and homefield throughout the playoffs. A Patriot win would bring them within a game of the Broncos and give them at least a chance for that lofty goal.
But the Patriots have to come up with their best effort of the year against Denver. They need their best execution game of the season too. The Patriots cannot play flawed football like they did at Carolina. Their A+ game is a bare minimum requirement.
Big game number one came up short. Big game number two cannot turn out to be a "ditto". The rest of the season hinges on this one game.
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