It’s too bad that Tom Brady can’t also play defense.
Sunday afternoon saw more heroics by Brady, although this time it was in a losing effort as the defense couldn’t produce enough stops against the Panthers to prevent a frustrating 33-30 loss at Gillette Stadium.
It was a long afternoon for a team that moved the football well offensively but gave up too many big plays and couldn’t do much to slow down Cam Newton. Newton missed on just seven passes on the afternoon, finishing the day 22-of-29 for 316 yards and three touchdowns.
But one of the biggest areas that cost them was the fact Newton connected on 4-of-5 on third down Sunday, with his one miscue resulting in an interception. However, the more difficult part of that equation was the fact Newton lit them up when the Patriots managed to put them in third-and-long.
The Panthers were 6-of-9 (67%) on third down, but on four of them, they faced 8-yards or more and Newton completed passes of 13, 43 and 39 yards, as well as giving up a run by Newton for 13 yards to move the chains. The two long plays were staggering, especially given that New England gave up just four plays of over 30-yards on third down during the entire regular season in 2016.
New England also made two key mistakes, with Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore drawing illegal use of hands penalties on two of them, including one on what proved to be the game winning drive by Carolina. Those two plays won’t show up in the stat sheets, but they were two big miscues that hurt them.
Overall, Newton finished 4-of-5 passing on third down (all four completions moved the chains), for 100-yards and an interception.
Third Down Plays From Sunday’s Loss:
(Bold plays represent penalties, italicized show conversions)
- Q1: 3rd-and-6 – Newton scrambles for 4-yards.
- Q1: 3rd-and-3 – Newton interception.
- Q2: 3rd-and-8 – Newton completes a 13-yard pass to Funchess.
- Q2: 3rd-and-9 – Newton completes a 43-yard pass to Benjamin.
- Q3: 3rd-and-2 – Newton scrambles for 2-yards.
- Q3: 3rd-and-8 – Gilmore called for illegal use of hands.
- Q3: 3rd-and-7 – Newton scrambles for 13-yards.
- Q4: 3rd-and-4 – Newton completes a 39-yard pass to Benjamin.
- Q4: 3rd-and-5 – Newton sacked for a 12-yard loss.
- Q4: 3rd-and-7 – Gilmore called for illegal use of hands.
- Q4: 3rd-and-5 – Newton completes a 5-yard pass to Funchess.
There were clearly several moments of miscommunications going on in the secondary, with Gilmore seemingly a part of whatever issues they were having. New England actually pulled Gilmore out of the line-up after they came out in the second half with Eric Rowe taking his spot opposite Malcolm Butler to begin the third quarter. But Rowe re-aggravated his groin muscles mere minutes into the half, which put Gilmore back into the game.
Gilmore admitted afterwards that he’s not on the same page yet, telling CSNNE’s Mike Giardi, “I gotta see it how my teammates see it, I gotta get better.”
That might be the understatement of the century. Through the first four games of the season, New England’s defense has allowed all four quarterbacks, one of which was a rookie in Deshaun Watson last week vs Houston, to pass for over 300 yards. They’ve allowed 10 passing plays of over 30-yards, just four shy of the 14 they allowed all of last season. Given the signing of Gilmore and the fact Butler ended back in the mix despite the fact it looked like he might be headed out of town, the Patriots were seemingly set to have the best secondary of the Bill Belichick era. Instead, they’re off to their worst defensive start of Belichick’s tenure.
Brady can only do so much, having pulled off more heroics despite the loss Sunday.
Meanwhile, Brady did about all he could have done. He even pulled off an unlikely drive with just 0:26 on the clock at the half where he took the Patriots from their own 25 yard line all the way to the Panthers 40, giving Stephen Gostkowski the chance to hit a career-long and franchise record 58-yard field goal with 0:04 to go in the half to pull within a point at 17-16 as time expired.
That ultimately played a key role given that Carolina had the ball to start the second half, allowing the Patriots to keep it close enough to give them a chance to win. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t enough.
“We made some mistakes,” said Belichick after the game. “They made some plays. We’ve just got to do a better job. We’ve got to do a better job of coaching, a better job of playing. We need to do better in all three phases for 60 minutes. It’s just too inconsistent.”
Belichick wouldn’t get into details, but it’s obvious that whatever they’ve done so far isn’t working. Brady and the offense has put up point totals of 27, 36, 36 and 30 through the first four games and have just a 2-2 record to show for it. Granted he wasn’t perfect and likely wishes he could have a couple of throws back, but the offense has been moving the football well enough where they shouldn’t be a .500 team.
In the past, this has been a team where even as bad as it’s been, they’ve made key plays when it mattered most to at least win the game. On Sunday against the Panthers, the Patriots managed to pull that off after rookie Deatrich Wise Jr. seemingly pulled off a sack in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter on a 3rd-and-7, which would have ended the Panthers’ drive and forced a punt and a potential game-winning drive for New England’s offense. Instead, the officials called Gilmore for a questionable illegal use of hands penalty where his hands made contact with the helmet of the receiver, giving the Panthers a new set of downs.
Wise Jr. was disappointed when he found out the play was nullified with a penalty.
“It was tough,” said the rookie after the game. “I was very excited and then I found out I didn’t and I wasn’t [excited] anymore.”
That was all they needed, with Newton getting them down to the 30-yard line before kicker Graham Gano connected on a 48-yard kick for the win.
Right now, they know they’re better than they’re playing. But one of the most aggravating parts of each of the two losses was the fact they’ve made mistakes to beat themselves, which Butler admitted is a problem.
“It’s not where it needs to be,” said Butler on the defense. “We’ve got to play better. We’re beating ourselves. We lost the game ourselves. It was nothing Carolina was doing. Basically, we beat ourselves [with] penalties. We’ve just got to do better overall, everywhere and every area.”
It’s their second loss of the year at home. Why they’ve struggled there this season is the least of their problems, with Brady telling reporters that it really comes down to how they play and not where, and they’ve just got to start playing better football.
“We just haven’t done a good job at home,” said Brady. “At the end of the day, I mean, it’s not really where you play. It’s how you play, and road, home, night, day, 1 o’clock, 4 o’clock – it’s really how you play. We just haven’t done a great job putting together four quarters of football.”
The one bright spot now is the fact they’ll be forced to quickly move on and forget about it now that they’re back on the road this week with a quick turnaround to Tampa Bay to take on the Buccaneers Thursday night. The offense seems to be improving and Brady has been Brady-esque when it’s mattered most thus far despite what their record says.
With one quarter of the season now in the rear view, hopefully the next four games turn out a little better. There’s still a lot of football left to be played, but it’s obvious that not even Brady can carry them unless they’re able to finally turn things around on defense. Belichick admitted that there have just been too many mistakes, and they’ll just have to continue working on that until they figure it out.
“Well, look, whatever they are, they are,” said Belichick. “OK, I mean, we play a different team every week. Nothing’s quite the same, so in the end the team we play against we’ve got to do a better job of defending. We’ve got to do a better job of attacking, got to do a better job of field position in the kicking game. We just need to do a better job in every area, so that’s what we’ll work on.”
Hopefully for their sake, the improvement they’ve been looking for will start this week.
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary