Friday, November 14, 2008

Patriots 31, Jets 34 (11/13/2008)


Two of the last three weeks the Patriots have lost very close games in prime time. The Colts beat them 18-15 and last night the Jets escaped with a 34-31 overtime thriller that catapulted the Jets into first place all by their lonesome. Both games were nail-biters and gave you plenty of entertainment value. But the Patriots could be 8-2 instead of 6-4 right now. Some of it is growing pains with new players in seemingly every position group. But four losses means they can't afford more than two more if they want to make the playoffs (and they probably want to keep that number to just *one* more if possible). Unfortunately those two close losses haven't left them much margin for error.

This game was really two games: one that saw the Jets bolt out to a 24-6 lead; and the other where the Patriots came roaring back in the second half to tie it 31-31 (on an amazing throw and catch from Matt Cassel to Randy Moss). Cassel helped dig the Patriots into their initial hole with missed throws in the first half. And his teammates didn't exactly help the comeback cause. Ben Watson fumbled out of nowhere, and Dan Koppen snapped the ball before Cassel was ready, causing a huge loss that ended the drive in a punt. Special teams even contributed to the ineptitude, giving up a 92-yard touchdown on a kickoff return.

Statistically the Patriots totally kicked butt. 511 total yards, 5 yards per rush, 7.1 yards per pass, 3 touchdown passes from Cassel (and no INTs), two sacks and a forced fumble on defense. But there were too many missed opportunities and too many field goals when touchdowns were needed. The Patriots defense got better as the game went on, at one point forcing four punts and a fumble on consecutive drives. Unfortunately, the offense only scored 14 points, and committed the aforementioned gaffes, during that time.

The offensive stars were quarterback Matt Cassel (his best game yet), wideouts Wes Welker (7 catches, 108 yards) and Jabar Gaffney (7 for 86), and running back... well, running back Matt Cassel (8 rushes for 62 yards). Watson (8 receptions for 88 yards) would have made the list if not for the inexplicable fumble, and Moss' spectacular catch is all he did for the game. A quick note: offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels gets credit for running Cassel on QB draws and for making very good adjustments in the red zone. Who knows, this might be the game that gets them over the red zone hump.

On defense, it was Jerod Mayo and then everyone else. I can't recall any game under Belichick where the Patriots had a single defender with *20* tackles (16 solo). The team defense concept simply doesn't allow that kind of one-man wrecking crew. But Mayo was everywhere, knocking down the QB, tackling runners for a loss, standing up entire piles of humanity, and knocking down passes to the tight end. It was only one game, but that one game reminded me of vintage Ray Lewis (with slightly less developed pass coverage skills). Looks to me like the Patriots made the right choice with that first round pick. Mayo could be a star for years under this system.

Other than Mayo... Vrabel was excellent at holding the outside point against the run. Seymour wasn't his dominant self, but he and Vince Wilfork did an admirable job helping out with Ty Warren out of the game. Mike Wright (#99 in your program) had a choppy game. Both Pierre Woods and Gary Guyton contributed, and even though Brandon Meriweather did a solid job helping with the run, it usually isn't a good sign when your safety makes 11 tackles. Oh, and the secondary wasn't anything special -- not terrible, not great. The Pats mostly got burned by a little known tight end, and that would be mostly on the linebackers.

Special teams... special teams are probably best not mentioned. Yuck!

So where does that leave us? A 6-4 record is edging just a bit too close to the middle of the pack for my comfort. And as mentioned before, it leaves very little margin for error. With ten days to prepare, it will be absolutely crucial to get a win in Miami -- which is not an easy task for the Patriots. Even with all of their recent success, they are only 3-5 in Miami under Bill Belichick.

Statistical Oddity of the Week: Last night was Bill Belichick's first overtime loss in eight years. I'd say that makes it an oddity.

Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom: "Nice to see players progressing, but at this rate they'll progress their way out of the playoffs. They gotta find a way to win some of these."

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 6-4!

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