I hate Halloween.
I really do. I used to like it as a kid, but now the whole thing just puts me in an odd mood. All my friends love it so much that they start planning their costumes in April, and it's the girlfriend's favorite day of the year, but I'm just not a fan of dressing up. I'm also learning, the hard way, that I am no longer at an age where I can eat an entire pillow case of candy and not have to worry about the repercussions. Halloween is just one of those holidays that I enjoyed as a child and hate as an adult. I know that I'm in the vast minority on this one, and that a lot of adults still get really into Halloween, so usually I keep my mouth shut about it. But overall, the days leading up to Halloween always give me a weird vibe.
Looking back on this last week, which culminated in yesterday's loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, I'm actually surprised I didn't see this one coming earlier. Everything started out just peachy, but as Halloween slowly crept closer, that weird feeling got stronger, and the way I felt a week ago vs. the way I feel this morning couldn't have been more different. Last Monday, I was about as cheery as they got; the weather was still nice and the New England Patriots were getting ready to come off their bye week healthy and motivated to create some real separation in their division. On Tuesday morning, I read my first article about how dominant the Pats have been over the Steelers as of late, and my good mood only increased. By Wednesday, at least a half dozen other articles emerged about how easy this game was supposed to be for New England, and I started to get a little worried. By Thursday, I finally woke up and realized that the football gods had spent the week pulling out every single anti-Patriots jinx ever invented, and real fear started to set in.
Then came Friday, which marked beginning of one of those weekends that can just suck out your will to live. To kick things off, the Patriots cut Leigh Bodden out of nowhere, thus adding him to the ever-growing list of defensive busts New England has brought in over the years and leaving us painfully thin at defensive back. Less than 24 hours later, Ras-I Dowling goes on IR, leaving us with 4 healthy DBs at our weakest position, two of which are basically practice squad players. And then, to top it all off, I woke up on Saturday to a wintry mix of snow, rain, ice, and pure misery. It's freaking October, and we got like 5 inches of snow - which also translated into the one joy I still take out of Halloween getting painfully ripped away from me: nary a scantily clad nurse, schoolgirl, or cheerleader in sight. I spent Saturday night home alone watching reruns of The League.
What started out as a good week quickly became a remarkably lousy one, capped off by that humiliating loss to Pittsburgh. As Patriots fans, we aren't used to seeing our team get knocked around like that, and it just plain sucks. Now we all have to sit here with egg on our face (the very same egg that will likely be on my car come tomorrow morning, courtesy of some local hooligans) all week and stew over how easily the Steelers walked all over us.
This one is going to leave a sour taste in my mouth not even the gooey sweetness of a King Sized Snickers bar can erase. Game notes after the jump.
- Yesterday's game was unbelievably frustrating to watch. The Steelers basically opened this fight by grabbing New England by the wrists and forcing the Patriots to punch themselves repeatedly in the face, all the while yelling "quit hitting yourself! Quit hitting yourself!" for 60 straight minutes. I think the internet term is PWNED.
- All-too-often, opening drives dictate how a game is going to go. Pittsburgh drove down the field at will and scored a touchdown. New England went 3 and out. And that was pretty much the way it went.
- One team spread the field, went exceptionally pass-heavy, and dominated the time of possession. The other team couldn't figure out the defense, had trouble getting anything going, and just didn't play good football. Just like all the experts have been writing about all week!
- 3rd and long on the opening drive - obvious passing situation. Where was Albert Haynesworth? It seems that downs like that are the reason we brought him in.
- Well, you can't blame Heath Miller's huge day on our total lack of DBs.
- Pittsburgh's opening drive was pretty much identical to every other team's opening drive against this defense. Just marched right down the field. The difference? They scored a touchdown instead of getting held to 3.
- I think at one point I heard Big Ben yell out, "Hey! Hey Arrington! Yeah, you! Just so you know - this play is a post out route to Antonio Brown, OK? It's gonna be good for about 16 yards. Get ready for it, here it comes!" Pitt then proceeded to run a post out route to Antonio Brown for a gain of 16 yards.
- It was nice to see Kevin Faulk back out there.
- Still - a little confused by the frequency with which they used him. Giving a 35 year old back the bulk of the carries against a stout defense when your regular starter is running well doesn't make much sense.
- There was a period of about 4 snaps in the 2nd quarter where the referees had absolutely no idea what was going on.
- You gotta love Logan Mankins. Wes Welker got hit late on one play and Mankins was off into the scrum like a freight train. Intensity like that is one of the many intangibles that makes him so valuable to this offensive line.
- That said - he had one of his lousier games yesterday. A couple false starts and got beat to the inside on more than one occasion.
- I'm just gonna go ahead and say it: Phil Simms - YOU ARE AN IDIOT. I very rarely mute a football game, but I just couldn't deal with Simms at all yesterday.
- Pittsburgh yesterday reminded me of when I was a kid playing Madden on PlayStation at the easiest setting. Just marching down the field milking the clock and scoring whenever I got bored of playing offense.
- Ben Roethlisberger went to the locker room at one point, but at no point did it even cross my mind that he wouldn't be coming back in. The man is just too tough.
- Why oh why can't Gillette Stadium ever get that rowdy? As sick as it makes me to say it, Steelers fans know how to get up for a game.
- Remember how excited we all were about those three and outs over the last few weeks? Yesterday I would have felt the exact same way if we had just stopped Pittsburgh on 3rd and 19.
- Our kick returner is 5'6 and 160 pounds.
- Rob Gronkowski wore Troy Polamalu like a backpack towards the end of the first half. That was awesome.
- Watching Isaac Redman get sandwiched between his own linemen on that draw play was great. Classic "guy trying to catch the subway and getting caught in the doors" moment.
- Classic example of what an awful human being I am: I was happy, excited, and relieved when Lamarr Woodley got hurt.
- There's no way to prove it, but I think that the biggest casualty of the lockout-shortened season and the ensuing new practice rules imposed by the CBA is tackling. Players just aren't tackling the way they have in the past.
- Tommy B didn't reach 100 yards passing until late in the 3rd quarter. That speaks volume about Pittsburgh's "old" defense.
- You know all those articles about how Tom Brady had the formula for beating the Steelers? Well I guess the Steelers had the formula for beating the Patriots. And that formula was pretty simple: pass the ball.
- Good to see Taylor Price getting some action.
- Randy Moss probably would have caught that deep ball intended for Chad Ochocinco. Just sayin'...
- That was a TD to Rob Gronkowski, 100%. I get not challenging it at the time, since there was no concrete replay and we needed to conserve timeouts, but that play would have put upwards of an extra minute on the clock
- As much as I support going for the onside kick towards the end of the game, New England was only down one score with all three timeouts and the 2 minute warning remaining. A 3 and out would have given New England the ball back with upwards of 1:50 to play. That decision says more about the state of this defense than any stat, ranking, projection, or analysis has ever said or will ever say.
- Under pretty much any other circumstance, I would have found that horribly executed onside kick hysterical. Stephen Gostkowski kicked it maybe 15 feet, and everyone kind of just stopped and stared at it while it dribbled uselessly to the New England 38. You could almost hear the kick coverage team saying, "welp...that didn't work."
- New England had the ball in a 4 WR set with 19 seconds to play, and Ocho still wasn't on the field.
- Why do reporters even bother asking Bill Belichick questions during the postgame press conference after a loss? At this point I think they are better off building a life-sized Belichick doll with one of those pull strings in the back that spouts out four generic "we didn't execute" phrases. It will save everyone some time.
You really have to give credit where credit is due here. Pittsburgh never allowed New England to get into a rhythm and at no point did I feel comfortable with the way things were going or confident that New England was going to get back in this game. I know New England only lost by one score, but this game wasn't even remotely close and the Steelers completely imposed their will on this team. Yesterday's game raises the question: were the defensive performances against the Cowboys and Jets just flashes in the pan, or does this defense really have what it takes to help this team win games when things aren't working for the offense? I think that our defensive play over the next few weeks is going to say a lot about how long into 2012 New England's season is going to go. By no means is it time to panic yet, but losses like that really put things into perspective and remind everyone that the Patriots still have a long way to go.
And now, to top it all off, I have to sit here and deal with Halloween, watching all these kids walking around happy as can be collecting free candy. I like free candy. How come I can have any treats?
What really worries me, though, is that New England might be running out of tricks.