The old saying about learning how not to lose before learning how to win rang painfully true for the New England Patriots in their 21-17 defeat at the hands of the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday. The team of head coach Bill Belichick repeatedly put itself in unfavorable situations before eventually falling short in its comeback bid.
One of the most frustrating parts of this was an uncharacteristically high number of penalties. After averaging 6.4 infractions over the first five weeks of the season, they were flagged 11 times versus the Raiders.
Of those penalties, 10 were accepted for a loss of 79 yards — the highest such numbers for the team this year.
The volume of penalties was not the only issue for the Patriots. The timing also was, at times, unfortunate.
While some calls such as personal fouls against defensive tackle Sam Roberts and linebacker Jahlani Tavai ultimately did not turn out to be big game changers, the same might not be true for some of the other infractions. One of those came in the second quarter, when it appeared running back Ezekiel Elliott had broken through the defense for a long touchdown.
However, tight end Hunter Henry was flagged for offensive holding. The call turned a 74-yard catch-and-run into a net gain of five yards — still enough to move the chains on third down, but a drastically different end result on a series ending in a field goal.
In the fourth quarter and with the Patriots down 19-17, the penalty hits kept coming.
Among those was a pass interference call against cornerback J.C. Jackson to keep a Raiders drive alive despite an incompletion on 3rd-and-8. The conversion via penalty allowed Las Vegas to burn through New England’s timeouts late in the fourth period before punting the ball back with just over two minutes left in the contest.
On the subsequent Patriots drive, two penalties moved the team back and thus contributed to the unsuccessful attempt at a comeback. The first was a holding call on rookie guard Atonio Mafi that turned a 2nd-and-4 into a 2nd-and-11; following an incompletion intended for wideout DeVante Parker, the team was then flagged for delay of game to set up a low-percentage 3rd-and-15.
Mac Jones was sacked in the end zone on that final play, resulting in a game-clinching safety.
“It’s hard to win like that,” the third-year quarterback later said about the team’s high number of penalties.
The Patriots did not lose because of penalties, but they put additional pressure on the team to perform on the subsequent plays. Given that small margin of error right now, that created hurdles that proved to be too big to overcome.