No, I'm not referring to the Super Bowl. Other than Brady and a couple other holdovers this is a completely different team. I'm talking about the 24-20 loss to the Giants at home earlier this year. It was the only loss at home this year for the Pats, and one that is probably worrying a number of fans. So I went back and watched the game to see what went wrong.
-Throwing deep is dangerous. In the Super Bowl, the Pats were constantly trying to throw the ball deep to Randy Moss. Add in the lack of a consistent running game due to Maroney's happy feet, and the front four of the Giants was simply able to tee off on the Pats offensive line. This was not so much the case in this year's game, but there were a couple of similar plays. The few times when the pressure got to Brady, it was when he was waiting for deep routes to develop downfield. Michael Boley had a key strip sack early in the 3rd quarter that allowed the Giants to score an easy TD one play later. It was 3rd and 10 and the Giants blitzed off the edge. Instead of the usual dump offs that Brady thrives on during a blitz, he was holding the ball to throw it deep. Staying away from these obvious passing situations as much as possible is crucial, and when they do come up, there need to be quick outlets for Brady to look for if he's about to be swarmed.
-The offense was just plain sloppy. More than anything that the Giants were doing defensively, what stood out to me in this game was how poorly the Patriots executed on offense. Brady missed some throws and threw some that he shouldn't have into non-existent windows. There were drops, penalties (including a surprising number of false starts for a home game), and guys who weren't on the same page. Ochocinco in particular was a complete non-factor, as none of Brady's throws in his direction even looked close to being completed. Four turnovers and a missed chip shot field goal should tell you the story of this game. The Pats could have scored 40 points if they had simply executed better-Welker is a beast. As he did in the Super Bowl years ago, Wes Welker eventually had his way with the Giants defense. They don't seem to have anyone who can match up with his sudden quickness, and his ability to get open in a hurry makes him an ideal target when facing the Giant pass rush. I look for the Pats to pull out the full bag of tricks when it comes to creative ways to get him the ball. Also Gronkowski's health is key for a number of reasons, but one of the biggest ones in this game could be taking defensive attention away from Welker.
-The D did a nice job...except at the end of the game. Considering how they had been carved up the week before by Pittsburgh, the defense was surprisingly good in this game. They held the Giants to 4/14 on third downs and had a couple of nice red zone stops, including a great interception by Arrington in the end zone. But at the end of the game they reverted to some of their bad habits. On the next to last drive Arrington had a bit of a ticky tack 35 yard pass interference call that could have probably been prevented if he turned his head even a little bit. Then, on one of the last plays of the game, Sergio Brown inexplicably crashed into a receiver in the end zone on a ball that had no chance of being completed. Again, he didn't get his head around at all, and it cost him. Overall though the D did its job. The offense did them no favors with the four turnovers, and some bad clock management by the offense left Eli with a lot more time than he should have had at the end of the game. Speaking of which...
-Don't leave time at the end! I was scratching my head on the Pats last drive when, after running for a first down at the Giants 35 yard line, instead of letting the clock run down to the two minute warning they rushed up to the line and threw a quick incompletion, leaving 2:01 on the clock. On the next play they had a big completion to Gronkowski at the 15, but the two minute warning prevented them from running some clock. Add in a running play one snap later where Woodhead went out of bounds, and instead of scoring with less than 30 seconds left, they left Eli Manning with 1:36 left and all 3 timeouts. In a 3 point game! Eli is often at his best in the two minute offense, so the Pats would be foolish to make that same mistake again.
Really this was a game that the Pats should have won. A lot of missed opportunities, a lot of mistakes, and an offense that for much of the game looked totally out of sync. Kind of like what we'd be saying about the Baltimore game if Lee Evans had managed to hold onto the ball. But really, other than the strip sack, the Giants D didn't do anything special. If the Pats don't beat themselves, the opportunity to put up some big numbers could be there. Hopefully the defense can have a similar performance, although this time they'll have to deal with Hakeem Nicks as well. It should be a great game, and an exciting one!