Monday Observations, Coaching, STs Blunders Cost Patriots in Costly Loss

Steve Balestrieri
December 7, 2015 at 6:44 am ET

The Patriots played very un-Patriot like football on Sunday on both the field and on their sidelines and lost to the Philadelphia Eagles 35-28 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro.

With very uncharacteristic blunders by Bill Belichick and a melt-down by one of the better special teams units in the league, the Patriots committed the cardinal sin in all of sports; don’t ever, ever let an inferior team hang around, because it will come back to bite you.

And it did, Philadelphia scored 35 straight points which never happens to a Belichick coached team to take a commanding 35-14 lead where Brady led a furious comeback in the final seven minutes that came up short. The loss dropped the Patriots from the top spot in the AFC all the way down to the #3 seed. They’re tied with Denver and Cincinnati with 10-2 records but the tiebreakers put them currently in third. If the playoffs started today, they’d be hosting a Wild Card playoff game.

Brady Gets it Going: After appearing to sleepwalk thru a scoreless first quarter, the Patriots offense began to get on track and Tom Brady led them to back-to-back 80-yard drives which were finished off with touchdown passes to James White and Danny Amendola. Amendola returned to action on Sunday and played very well.

Down 14-0, the Eagles looked dead in the water and things appeared to be playing out the way they had been envisioned all week. It was here that Belichick pulled an unbelievable boner by attempting an onsides kick …with Nate Ebner.

Poor timing and Decisions: Belichick had raved all last week at what a outstanding special teams unit the Eagles had. So why try an onside kick up 14-0 when the defense had been playing well and the Philly offense, besides a few nice runs from Darren Sproles, had done nothing?

Worse, once Stephen Gostkowski flipped the ball to Ebner, it alerted the Eagles that something was up and the element of surprise was gone. The play had little chance of success and gave Philly a boost and great field position at their own 41 where…lo and behold, they went right down to score a touchdown.

That charged up the defense and they started to play much better after that point. Belichick and Josh McDaniels refused to stick with the running game although LaGarrette Blount was showing some signs of being able to sustain a ground game and take some pressure off of Brady.

But late in the second quarter, the Pats got the ball back and had the chance to march down for a late score and then double dip while getting the ball to start the third quarter. It is a scenario we’ve seen so many times before. But the coaches couldn’t make up their minds whether to milk the clock or try to go down the field with their second tier group of receivers.

Last Minute Meltdown: That indecision cost them dearly. With under 15 seconds to play in the half, Brady attempted a sideline pass where both Scott Chandler and Keshawn Martin were in the same place. One of them ran the wrong route, Chandler attempted to corral the high pass that perhaps was earmarked for Martin and it bounced incomplete. That gaffe would force the Patriots to punt and the special teams unit that Belichick raved about last week, showed up in force.

Shooting multiple players up the center gap, Ebner as the designated punt protector was in a no-win position of having to block one or the other. Ryan Allen’s punt was blocked and the Eagles scored a tying touchdown with eight seconds left on the clock. It was Philly’s first scoring play in the final two minutes of the half for the first time in nearly two years. What looked to be an easy victory was now a dogfight.

After trading possessions to start the third quarter, Brady moved the Patriots down into scoring position. With a first and goal from the one, they attempted that quick run which hasn’t been fooling anyone lately and White was stuffed for a four-yard loss. On third down, Brady joined the gaffe parade. He attempted to force a pass to Amendola at the goal line into double coverage. The ball bounced up and Malcolm Jenkins returned it 99 yards for a touchdown. It was Brady’s third red zone interception of the season and a very costly one. The 14-point turnaround gave Philly the first lead of the day at 21-14.

Another special teams meltdown occurred after New England’s next possession. Darren Sproles received the punt at the Philadelphia 17-yard line and raced 83 yards for the score. The Pats were now in a 14-point hole and the handwriting was on the wall for this one.

The Pats tried a little trickery with a play we saw back in training camp. Brady moved out to the right, a direct snap to White who rolled left and then pitched the ball to Amendola. He came back across to the right and found Brady all alone down the right side line for a 36-yard gain. But on the very next snap Brady attempted to go deep to LaFell who broke off his route at the ten-yard line. Brady said afterward that he attempted to throw it away but didn’t put enough on it. It didn’t seem that way watching it live, and the Eagles picked him off for the second time.

Comeback Falls Short: The Eagles would score again this time with their offense to make the score 35-21 and fans started streaming for Route 1. With under seven minutes to go, Brady mounted a furious comeback. He moved the team down the field and hit Chandler on a fade to the back of the left side of the end zone to make it 35-21.

An onside kick was recovered by New England and Brady moved them down once again where he took the ball across from the 1-yard line to make things now interesting at 35-28. But the special teams gaffes resurfaced again. A third onside kick was again attempted by Ebner and the Eagles’ Riley Cooper smartly swatted the ball out of bounds. Why is Ebner kicking the ball twice on attempted onside kicks rather than the actual kicker Gostkowski?

Philly was killing the clock and was in easy field goal range when they committed a gaffe of their own.  Kenjon Barner who was having a nice day running the ball, carried a third down play into the center of the line. He was well short of the first down and instead of protecting the ball, he lunged up backwards trying in vain to make extra yardage. He was hit by Jamie Collins and stripped of the ball where Malcom Brown recovered at the Pats 25-yard line.

The energy was back in the stadium where Brady with no timeouts and just a minute to go had to get them in for a tying touchdown. They made it up to just shy of the 40 yard line where they had three straight drops by Martin, LaFell and Amendola. Game, set, match.

Double Digit Breakdown: For the second week in a row the Patriots had a double digit lead that they couldn’t hold because of special teams mistakes. This week’s blunders were much more egregious and they have no beef with the boys in stripes this time. These were wounds of the self-inflicted variety and it starts with the coaches Belichick, McDaniels and STs coach Joe Judge.

It isn’t often Belichick is criticized for his coaching but today it is warranted. There was absolutely no reason to attempt an onside kick at the early juncture of the game and his team up 14 points. McDaniels showed little confidence in the running game early and should have stuck with it. Once the game got out of hand, his options were then nil and Brady was again was battered in the pocket.

He was hit 12 more times on Sunday, bringing the total to 36 in the past three games. That is what they call playing with fire folks. And just to remind everyone, the Patriots play Houston next Sunday night with JJ Watt who’s been on fire lately with the Texans defense.

While social media was alive with the lamenting of missing Gronkowski, Edelman and Lewis, that had nothing to do with this loss. Sure they would have altered the way the offense approached that final 30 minutes but on a game where you give up two special teams’ scores, you won’t win many of those. On a day where the Patriots defense gave up just 120 yards passing and just 248 yards in total, this was a game they let slip away and may cost them in January.

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