Sunday night’s loss to the 49ers was one of those games that more or less leaves you in one of those situations where you’re left a little conflicted about how it turned out.
On one hand you’re angry and frustrated that they allowed quarterback Colin Kaepernick to run rampant and have his way in building a 31-3 lead, and on the other you’re resolved to at least be happy about the fact they battled back and made it a game before San Francisco ultimately delivered the knock out blow in a crazy 41-34 finish.
At the end of the day the only solace is the fact it wasn’t a playoff game and fortunately New England will play on and live to fight another day. The other part of what you’re left to wonder about is how different the game would have been with Rob Gronkowski on the field, and whether or not his presence would have been the difference. Offensively having him would have probably helped more in keeping him in for additional protection, which was a big problem in the first half and could have been a key factor during their final possession where San Francisco was able to prevent Brady from completing the comeback.
It was interesting watching this week’s “Sound FX” on NFL Network and hearing the 49ers talk about the fact New England had “never been in no fight” before, and the words “physical” and “pound ’em” was a huge point of emphasis before they took the field. If the Patriots believe that was a one time thing, there’s probably a good chance that won’t be the case, especially in a copycat league where people obviously jump on any strategy that works. As we head into these final two games it’s going to be interesting to see how team’s approach them, and the first one starts Sunday when they head down to Jacksonville.
That being said, here are 12 thoughts for Sunday’s game:
1) Good teams are supposed to beat up on bad teams – As much as you hate to think about it, this is one of those games where if the Patriots don’t blow out Jacksonville it would almost be a disappointment. Taking a closer look, bad almost doesn’t even do the Jaguars justice. They’re 31st in the league in nearly every offensive category, from points per game (a dismal average of 15.6) to 3rd down efficiency (28.6%), to total yards (3,977 – over 2,000 less than New England). This is one of those games where we should see New England’s defense go out and have big day, with Tom Brady and the offense hopefully feasting against a defense that’s allowed an average of 394.1 yards per game. Needless to say it’s going to be curious to see how this one turns out.
2) Bill Belichick’s handling of Stevan Ridley is a little troubling – Ridley obviously had a bad night against San Francisco with the one fumble he gave up, giving him four on the season. The non-call was because he was clearly down, but the one that did count was kind of hard to hold against him, albeit one that should teach him a lesson. The one he lost came after Donte Whitner’s helmet hit him just where it should have – right on the football on a night where the rain was coming down and the ball was wet. Ridley lost his grip on the football and unfortunately the 49ers recovered it and returned it 66 yards to set up a touchdown.
At the time it put San Francisco up 24-3 and that was the last time Ridley touched the ball. Danny Woodhead ultimately had a good game and that was great to see, but as we head into this stretch run they’re going to need Ridley’s head in the right place. Losing the ball and seeing the 49ers score off it had to be frustrating enough as a punishment, but not having them go back to him is something that has happened before and it just doesn’t seem like the best approach – at least not from a confidence standpoint. Unfortunately you just have to take it for what it is, the weather was terrible and Whitner made a good play. Hopefully that play is simply a reminder that he needs to be a little more careful in the elements should he find himself in a similar situation again.
3) Brady had a defining moment Sunday night – What Brady did Sunday night to get them back into the game was one of the most impressive performances we’ve ever seen from the Patriots quarterback. Most fans have seen a lot of football this season and if you can honestly say you’d feel confident about a team coming back from a 31-3 third quarter deficit, you’re clearly not telling the truth. It’s different if it’s midway through the second quarter and a game gets blown open like that, because there’s still so much football left to be played. For New England they started out just as bad in the second half as they were in the first, and it seemed as though the game was more or less out of reach.
Not for Brady.
The score didn’t matter and he went out and made everyone on that field believe they were going to come back. That’s something that really can’t be ignored and looking back is something that really reminds you of how special he is. They could have rolled over, but they didn’t and they fought back in the face of what seemed like a pretty hopeless situation. The bad news is they didn’t finish, which kept his name out of the record books on what would have been an even more memorable night than it ended up being.
4) Brandon Lloyd is peaking at the right time – We’ve had plenty of discussion over the course of the season about the fact Lloyd hasn’t been quite as exciting a player as most had hoped. Injuries have thrust him into a bigger role recently and he’s gotten better each week, with last week’s performance (10 catches, 190 yards) being his best so far as a Patriot. He had 7 catches the week before for 89 yards including a 37-yard touchdown, and not having a player like him during the postseason ultimately cost them a championship. Hopefully he continues having success in these final weeks.
5) Sitting Rob Gronkowski this week is the right move – This was mentioned earlier but it’s tough not to realize how critical having Gronkowski healthy during this postseason is going to be – especially considering they may need him for three games this time around just to potentially earn a repeat trip to the Super Bowl. There’s no point in playing him in a road game that – barring miraculous performances by Kansas City and Cleveland this weekend – really isn’t a ‘must-win’ game for them. Seeing him get a few snaps at home next week wouldn’t be a surprise, but having him sit this week definitely makes plenty of sense.
6) Patriots need to account for Jaguars defensive end Jason Babin Sunday – Babin has been a bright spot for them in recent weeks, having forced two fumbles over the course of the last two games. Ridley meanwhile is coming off of a game where – as we mentioned – he coughed up the ball and you can bet Jacksonville will try and go after him. Hopefully Babin’s streak comes to an end this weekend.
All signs seem to point to a good day running the ball Sunday in Jacksonville. (FILE:USPresswire)
7) New England should be able to run the ball on Sunday – If ever there was a team primed to give up a ton of rushing yards, the Jaguars are that team. Looking at what other teams have been able to do against them in recent weeks, Sunday should be a big afternoon for the Patriots ground game. Jacksonville allowed 242 yards rushing to the Bills back on December 2nd, 166 to the Jets the two weeks ago, and 180 to the Dolphins last Sunday. Needless to say their run defense isn’t their strong suit and it should be a good opportunity for New England to have a decent day.
8) Chad Henne definitely makes me a little nervous – It’s tough not to wish this game featured Blaine Gabbert instead of Chad Henne. The last time we saw Gabbert was during the 2011 preseason and he seemed like he had a bright future. We won’t get to see him this week due to the fact he suffered a torn labrum this year and was placed on injured reserve, and that’s put Henne at the helm over the last four games. As most people may know he had a monster game against the Patriots while playing for the Miami Dolphins last season, finishing 30-of-49 passing for 416 yards and two touchdowns during a wild night on Monday Night Football. Jacksonville has some offensive firepower, with receivers Justin Blackmon and Cecil Shorts both as dangerous targets who will probably have their moments at some point in this game. New England does have a history of guys like Henne coming alive against them in recent years, and hopefully Sunday isn’t one of those days.
9) The Josh McDaniels situation is interesting – The thought process from most when McDaniels returned to New England was that Bill Belichick was eventually going to turn the reigns over to McDaniels once he – God forbid – decides to finally call it a career. It would leave him set up in an ideal situation with a terrific owner in a stable franchise. The news this week that the Browns are potentially interested in luring him to Cleveland seems like an opportunity you wouldn’t believe he would be interested in, but he’s an Ohio native with a chance to coach there. That would be the equivalent of growing up in New England and working out in Green Bay with a chance to coach the Packers in a few years, only to find out the Patriots want you to coach here. Tough to say if I’d turn down that chance, so should he move on – I completely understand why.
10) Kyle Arrington has been a disappointment this year – Fans have complained about the drafts and offseason moves in recent years, but when you really look at what’s gone on, what has transpired could never have been foreseen. After Devin McCourty’s impressive rookie season and the play of Leigh Bodden that year, New England thought they had everything in place for a solid follow up year on both sides of the field. Instead, McCourty struggled, and Leigh Bodden ended up sidelined with a back injury that ultimately seems to have ended his career. Over the course of the season Kyle Arrington emerged as a solid cornerback on one side, and most thought McCourty would be able to come back this year and rebound having had a full offseason to work out the kinks.
Instead Arrington kept the streak of not being able to have a good follow up year going and has seen himself struggle quite a bit this year, while McCourty has ultimately ended up back at safety for the second straight year. It’s tough to build a roster if you can’t predict the future, and the Patriots simply haven’t had secondary players put together solid back-to-back years. For Arrington it’s frustrating because he played so well and came such a long way last season, but getting burned on that play Sunday night where he gave up what ultimately was the game winning touchdown was ridiculous considering he simply completely missed the tackle. Plays like that shouldn’t be happening against him, and as much as you really want to see him succeed, he’s been someone who has regressed this season.
11) This has been a tough season for Wes Welker – Welker may be enjoying the huge paycheck he got by signing his franchise tender but you have to admit, he’s really had to earn it this year. Watching film over the past few weeks one thing that has really stood out is the fact he’s basically had to fight for the majority of his catches this season. Teams have clearly focused on beating him up and being physical with him this year and the fact he’s still managed to catch 100 passes is extremely impressive. Through 14 games last season Welker had 104 catches for 1380 yards and 9 touchdowns, so his totals are similar, he just hasn’t seen the endzone as much. But he’s battled hard all year and after having his role questioned early on, he’s definitely shown how valuable he really is.
12) It has to be miserable being a Jaguars fan – Jacksonville went from being a championship contender in the early years of their franchise to declining to the point where they’ve been more or less irrelevant over the past few years. It has to be frustrating, especially considering the fact they just can’t put together any form of stability at several skill positions, with quarterback being the most obvious. Imagine if the situation was reversed and it was New England dealing with a 2-12 season, things would be pretty ugly. The worst part about the whole situation is the fact they have a great new owner in Shahid Kahn, who really loves the fans and is trying to turn things around with that franchise. If you watch a recent feature that aired on 60-Minutes on him it’s hard not to root for them, but it should be a good reminder of how good fans here have had it over the last decade.