Saturday night’s loss to the Titans was certainly disappointing, leaving the Patriots on the outside looking in and marking the start of an offseason full of questions.
Here are some thoughts following this one:
1) A lot of the headlines this morning centered around Titans running back Derrick Henry’s performance Saturday night, who finished with 182-rushing yards during the Patriots frustrating Wild Card playoff loss to Tennessee. However, as good as Henry was, give the Patriots defense credit for eventually settling down and limiting the damage after a fast start.
Henry picked up 49-yards on the first drive on 7 carries and finished the first half with 106-yards, but New England’s defense did a decent job in the second half, coming up with several stops that were key in keeping the game close, including a big turnover thanks to a fourth-quarter interception by Duron Harmon. However, the biggest issue in this game was the simple fact the Patriots couldn’t come up with the plays they needed to score touchdowns instead of kicking field goals.
New England was 1-for-3 in the red zone Saturday night, including just 1-of-2 on goal to go. Considering this one was being played at home, it was surprising to again see them struggle the way that they did.
Anytime a Tom Brady led team has a defense hold the opponent to 14-points, that should be good enough to win the game. Saturday night, it obviously wasn’t but as much as people will talk about Henry’s performance, the defense gave it their all out there and just didn’t get any help on the other side of the football.
Brady and the offense got into the end zone just once Saturday night.
2) The 1st-and-goal from the 1-yard line early in the first half was a frustrating sequence, especially when they tried three times and couldn’t punch it in.
The first play saw running back Sony Michel dropped for a 1-yard loss, followed by a run by Burkhead that picked up a yard and put them back at the 1-yard line. However, on 3rd-and-1, they tried running Michel again and Tennessee’s defense was able to break through and drop Michel for a 2-yard loss.
Oddly enough, that was the first time all year the Patriots failed to punch it in facing a 3rd-down on the opponents’ one-yard line, with the offense having scored all three times on their three previous attempts. Brandon Bolden scored in the second quarter back in their October meeting against the Giants on a 3rd-and-1, while Michel scored twice in the same situation in a road game against the Jets a couple of weeks later, with 1-yard TD runs in the second and fourth quarter.
For whatever reason, this year’s offensive line just wasn’t able to provide the same push as last year’s group, which was also obviously missing Rob Gronkowski’s terrific blocking ability. But their inability to score at that point in the game was probably one of the biggest moments in the contest because instead of going up 17-7, New England settled for just a field goal. That took the pressure of Tennessee, who ended up marching down the field and punching it in on their next possession, which gave them their final offensive points of the evening and it ended up being enough to win the game.
3) This has been mentioned before but one of the most frustrating aspects of the later part of this season was the fact the Patriots just didn’t have the offensive skill players to come up with big plays in key situations, which was probably the most notable difference from past seasons.
2019 will probably mark the gutsiest performance of Julian Edelman’s career, with the veteran receiver putting forth an unbelievable effort over the final half of the year. While Edelman had a key drop Saturday night, one thing worth noting was the fact that he appeared to suffer a hand injury after making a diving attempt prior to that play.
Edelman finished the night with 3 receptions for 30-yards as well as two carries for 12-yards, which included a touchdown.
But aside from Edelman, the Patriots never had anyone else step up. Rookie N’Keal Harry had some good moments, but he was targeted 7 times with just two receptions. Mohammed Sanu’s performance was a disaster, with Sanu finishing with just one catch on five targets, including the ball going off his hands on their final possession and ending up in the hands of Logan Ryan, who took the interception into the end zone for the touchdown.
Phillip Dorsett became a non-factor down the stretch after suffering a midseason injury and he was a dismal 1-of-4 catching the football Saturday night, with his one reception going for just six-yards.
You can’t win football games that way and it’s just amazing given how deep they were in the preseason that things turned out the way they did. One would have to believe this will definitely be a focus this offseason heading into the 2020 season.
It would be hard to imagine life without Brady.
4) Listening to Brady after the game on Saturday night, he sounds like a player who is really hoping to return next season.
Brady was asked about his future after the game and said that he doesn’t know what the future looks like and also called any chance of retirement “unlikely”. I posted this on our message board last week but going back to before the start of the season, the sense I get is that something was seemingly said during the negotiations that may have upset him, which appeared to lead to the sequence of events where we heard about the “no franchise tag” clause after this season, his house going up for sale, etc. Brady’s an emotional guy and he’s not the type of player to become greedy and selfish, and there were moments for the first few weeks where he was lauded for not appearing to be happy after wins. That makes me think there was possibly something more behind the scenes playing a factor.
It’s been a long, frustrating year and things might have turned out differently had it not been for two players completely blowing up in their face. For Brady, the situations with Antonio Brown and Josh Gordon, two guys who he invested a lot personal time and energy with, were obviously the most frustrating. Both players each imploded in their own ways and both, most notably Brown, would have certainly been helpful Saturday night. Instead, they lacked playmakers and couldn’t come up with key plays to come away with the win.
For now, it sounds like Brady wants to come back but that there might be a concern about whether or not the team wants him back at whatever number he and his agent are looking for. As a result, that will probably lead to an offseason that will likely be fairly interesting.
Will Belichick be here in 2020?
5) Another report after the game that raised some eyebrows came from Greg Bedard of Boston Sports Journal, who indicated that like Brady, Bill Belichick’s future may be in question.
According to Bedard, there are rumblings that hadn’t previously been heard and that any move by the head coach would likely have to come “soon”.
“There have been increasing NFL rumors that perhaps Belichick is not as wedded to Foxborough as many of us, certainly me, thought. Is Belichick setting up a final test on whether he has complete control of the football operations? I think Belichick would be OK with Brady being back, but not at the expense of the rest of the team. There are four openings out there and they won’t last forever. If Belichick is contemplating a move, it would have to come soon. There’s no solid intel, but some rumblings I hadn’t heard before. So I don’t rule anything out,” wrote Bedard.
“For the record, my money is still on Bill and Tom being back together again for Year 21.”
As frustrating as that would be to see him leave, unfortunately, the timing sort of makes sense. If Belichick was to start over with another franchise, making a move now would be the logical choice. At age 67, if he planned on coaching for another 4-5 years, it would make sense to do it now vs in another few years when he turned 70. The big question that we’d have to wonder about is where a potential landing spot might be. Obviously, everyone knows about his affinity for the Giants and the other franchise that seems to be gaining steam appears to be the Cowboys, with many within the Dallas media pushing for owner Jerry Jones to throw however much money it might take to get him there.
Needless to say, this should set up an interesting few weeks. One would have to believe if it is going to happen, Bedard is probably correct in terms of a move needing to be made fairly quickly. Hopefully, it’s just noise but if the unthinkable does happen, hopefully, we’ll at least find out fairly quickly whether or not we’re finally about to experience an end of an era with either of the two greatest pieces of this franchise to begin 2020.