It's undeniable that New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady's end zone interception that was returned for a touchdown was one of the many turning points in the game. The Patriots were driving the ball early in the 3rd quarter with the score tied 14-14, and running back James White had taken the ball 24 yards down to the goal line.
The odds of the Patriots scoring a touchdown were great and the fact that the Eagles instead flipped the script and scored a touchdown offered a 14 point swing.
"When you give up 21 points when your defense isn't on the field," Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said after the game. "You lose about 98 percent of those games."
While the number is actually closer to 97% (come on, Bill), Belichick is right when he says that no one play tipped the scale. It wasn't just the ridiculous drop kick that made no sense, or the terribly executed blocked punt right before the half, or the Darren Sproles return for a touchdown, but the combination of all the poor executions and ideas that sank New England.
Once the Patriots had the ball on the 1-yard line, the following took place.
1-1-PHI 1 (8:26) (No Huddle) J.White right guard to PHI 5 for -4 yards (M.Jenkins).
The Patriots went right ahead and lost four yards on their first goal line play. It wasn't pretty, although the idea was understandable.
"It was the same thing that happened when we scored a touchdown in the same situation [against the Bills]," Belichick said. "Trap their dime defense on the field at the 1-yard line. We obviously didn't execute the play well, let [Malcolm] Jenkins run four yards in the backfield unblocked. That's not what we're trying to do obviously."
"We have seen in multiple games where they get a big play that is close to the goal line," Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "And if [Tom Brady] feels like the defense is slow to get back, he will hurry up to the offense and they run the same play most of the time. They try to get a quick run and catch you off guard, no matter what the personnel is and so we were prepared for that. We did a good job of getting everybody lined up and really I just shot up the gap and just was hoping to get a negative play and I thought that was huge."
Teams are starting to get a handle on the Patriots quirks this season and it's clear the offense needs to adjust. Whenever a defender can get into a situation and say, "they run the same play most of the time," it means the play calling isn't creative enough.
Jenkins sliced through the offensive line for a big tackle for loss, making the goal line drive even more difficult.
2-5-PHI 5 (7:49) (Shotgun) T.Brady pass incomplete short right to D.Amendola.
Brady threw the ball away out of the back of the end zone due to a combination of the Eagles pass rush and the inability of the Patriots receivers to get open.
Right tackle Marcus Cannon absolutely whiffs on a block of Eagles edge defender Vinny Curry, which blew up the whole play. Running back James White, likely expected to act as a blocker on Brady's bootleg, is forced to help inside with Curry, leaving tight end Scott Chandler to face a two-on-one free rush against Brady in the open field.
"We've got to play better football," Brady said. "I think it's just better execution all the way around, and that's what we're going to need to get a win. I don't care who you play or where you play. If you make the plays we made tonight, we're not going to give ourselves many chances to win."
3-5-PHI 5 (7:42) (Shotgun) T.Brady pass short middle intended for D.Amendola INTERCEPTED by M.Jenkins (W.Thurmond) at PHI 1. M.Jenkins for 99 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
Brady threw the ball into double coverage, off his back foot with pressure in his face. Patriots receiver Danny Amendola actually gets the inside step on his coverage, but there is a safety cheating up in the middle of the field that Brady either doesn't see, or ignores. As the pass made its way into traffic, Eagles defensive back Walter Thurmond III knocked the ball into the air, which Jenkins collected and returned for a touchdown.
Not a smart throw, especially with a safety literally smothering the receiver. pic.twitter.com/C1qZzvGXYs— Rich Hill (@PP_Rich_Hill) December 7, 2015
"And then the interception, I probably owe Walter Thurmond a Christmas gift," Jenkins said. "Because I am on [Danny] Amendola and he did a good job of really just beating me inside. I knew I had some help in there, but it wasn't a true double team. But Walter saw kind of the position I was in and he took it and was able to tip the ball up and I am right there to pick it, so he really, in my mind, made that play in my mind. I just kind of took the glory for it."
"It was just a dumb play," Brady said. "There was really not much chance of a completion, so I should've just probably thrown it out of the back of the end zone or found someone else to throw it to. We would've kicked three points. It was just a bad play."
There is clear, legal contact by Thurmond prior to the pass and Brady should never have even attempted the pass.
Brady stare down the right side of the field the whole time as both Brandon LaFell and Danny Amendola are double covered. The Eagles presented a bracket coverage that put a player on the inside and outside of New England's only two viable wide receivers. Perhaps Brady was hoping to move one of the safeties away from Amendola and on to LaFell, but the numbers games were never in the Patriots favor.
On the other side of the field, however, tight end Scott Chandler was wide open after Eagles linebacker Kiko Alonso took a bad step at the stem of the route. Brady should have been looking for the linebacker in coverage, but it's clear that his confidence in Chandler took a hit right before the half as a key third down pass went right through the tight end's hands.
When the Patriots are missing Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman in the red zone, and the offensive line is so porous, the offense becomes a lot easier to defend. Teams can generate pressure by rushing just three players, while devoting the extra players in coverage of LaFell and Amendola. No other offensive player was worth additional focus in the game plan.
"You'd love to have everybody healthy," Brady said. "I think every team would love that at this point, but it's just not the reality, so it's tough. You've got to find ways to adjust, and we do plenty of good things. I think tonight there were just some critical errors that it really came down to. Just a disappointing night, but we've got to figure out how to win a game next week."
This one drive showed critical error (predictabile play calling) after critical error (Cannon's whiff) after critical error (everything on the interception) and it led to a touchdown by the Eagles defense.
"If you want to win consistently, you've got to do things well consistently," Brady added. "And we just haven't played winning football for the last two weeks."
The Patriots head to Houston to face the Texans in prime time this week and the offense needs to find its consistency if they want to put the team back on track over the final weeks of the season.