Well, that was terrible. What we witnessed on Sunday was arguably the worst home regular season loss of the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick era. With a first-round bye on the line, the New England Patriots came out flat, and got pushed around offensively. Brady started the game by being wildly inaccurate — he was throwing over receivers heads, and behind open guys, it was probably his worst game of the season. The defense, unfortunately, didn’t play much better.
I’m going to try to start with some positives. I thought both Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead ran incredibly hard yesterday, and it looks like the rushing attack is going to be formidable in the playoffs. Of course, the question will be if offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels will stay with it, and they are playing a physical team in Tennessee in the first round that should be tough to run on.
Sorry, positives, moving on.
Julian Edelman is an absolute warrior. He’s banged up, and really only a shell of himself, and yet he still finished the year with over 100 catches and over 1,000 yards. The guy is a true Patriot, and someone who I hope has at least a few years left in the tank.
Lastly, even though Brady played terrible, he and the offense got the ball back with just over eight minutes left in the game, down three, and proceeded to drive 60 yards for the go-ahead score. During the drive, Brady was four-of-five for 47 yards and a touchdown. Once again, when the team absolutely had to score, he was lights out and came through. In fact, the only incompletion was to N’Keal Harry in the back of the end zone when the rookie wide receiver couldn’t get his second foot down in bounds. It would have been an amazing catch, but the ball placement wasn’t the reason Harry did not come down with it.
Now on to the negatives, and there are certainly quite a few.
As I said, Brady started off terribly, and just couldn’t hit open receivers. Then, already trailing 3-0, he threw a pass to Eric Rowe who returned it 35 yards for a touchdown. I say he threw it to Rowe because it was a few feet over Sony Michel’s head, and would have landed at Julian Edelman’s feet, so I can only assume he thought Rowe still played for the Patriots. When the Patriots eventually scored their first points, it was only after they were bailed out on a ticky-tack pass interference call on third-and-11. If Brady continues to play the way he did yesterday, you won’t have to worry about the Patriots winning in Arrowhead, because they won’t even beat the Titans.
And then the defense. Oh, the defense. It had been so dominant all year long, but was just unable to stop the Dolphins. For the second week in a row, and the third time in five weeks (really four, the lowly Cincinnati Bengals shouldn’t count), they failed to force a turnover. Ryan Fitzpatrick ran for a touchdown and threw for 320 yards, 137 of which to DeVante Parker, who was being covered by Stephon Gilmore — who picked a really bad time to have his worst game of the season.
Now, they only allowed 20 points, but the Dolphins also only had nine drives. When four of nine drives end up in points, that’s usually not a good thing. And then, the biggest problem of all, is that, after finally taking the lead with just under four minutes left, the Patriots allowed a 13-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. Miami easily converted both of their third downs on the series, and the defense provided practically no resistance while letting the Dolphins score with just over 20 seconds left in the game.
Maybe it’s not fair to expect the defense to step up in the biggest moment of the season so far, but they have been pretty dominant up to now and yesterday was for a first round bye. Yet, they couldn’t stop them. Am I worried about the defense moving forward? Not as much as I am about the offense. However, they have struggled against the run a bit, especially when teams have tried to run to the edge, and Tennessee’s running back is Derrick Henry. Maybe you’ve heard of him? He led the league in rushing this year, and he’s great at running at the edge of the defense, so it’s going to be tough. Also, Ryan Tannehill has been lights out recently, so the struggles in the secondary aren’t exactly comforting.
Lastly, I’ll talk about the coaching. The biggest issue is that they talked all week about how this was a playoff game and they were treating it that way, yet the Patriots came out flat and uninspired. They didn’t look ready to play, and that is on Bill Belichick and company. It seemed like they thought these Dolphins were going come up here and just roll over and die as other Dolphins teams have late in the season. Well, that was not the case, and by the time New England figured it out, it was too late.
Also, not taking a timeout at the end of the first half is a complete and utter joke. I could not care less what Belichick’s reasoning was, it’s playing football scared, and the Patriots don’t play that way. You have the best quarterback in the history of the NFL, you had scored on back-to-back possessions, you had just stopped the Dolphins three-and-out, and you were getting the ball back to start the second half. There is no excuse for not at least taking one timeout and seeing where you ended up on the field.
It’s showing your offense that you have no faith in them, and your team that you’re scared of being too aggressive and losing. And, so what happens, it’s instant karma. The Patriots get the ball back to start the third quarter and go three-and-out, and the Dolphins take the next possession 83 yards for the go-ahead touchdown. When you play not to lose instead of to win, you lose. Belichick knows that, and he still pulled that crap. I don’t care how much your offense is struggling, at a certain point you’re going to have to trust your quarterback to make something happen. If not, then simply let him walk and start over.
So, what does this game mean? Nothing, outside of New England now having to play next week against the Titans. Does it mean the team can’t get to or win the Super Bowl? Not necessarily. But my very strong advice would be that Patriots fans shouldn’t look past the next game coming up. They are going to need to play much better on both sides of the ball to have a chance against the Titans. If they’re able to pull that off, well, then we can talk about what it’s going to have to take to beat the Kansas City Chiefs.
Pat is a host of The Patriot Nation Podcast
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