Monday, October 21, 2013

Patriots Let One Get Away, Lose to Jets, 30-27

I guess if I could only have one victory this weekend, I'll take the Red Sox on Saturday night, rather than the Patriots on Sunday afternoon. After all, that win put the Sox in the World Series. The Patriots blew an 11-point halftime lead and lost to the Jets, 30-27, in overtime. The loss leave them at 5-2, just one game ahead of the Jets in the division. And next week's division tilt with Miami becomes that much more important, as the Patriots don't want to let the 3-3 Dolphins into the chase by blowing one to another team they should beat.

Against the Jets, it came down to winning the line of scrimmage. The Jets controlled it on both sides of the ball all game long, gaining 177 yards on the ground (to the Patriots 90), converting 52% of their third downs (to the Patriots pathetic 10%), and grinding the clock with 46:13 in time of possession (to the Patriots 23:40). It shows you how much more talented the Patriots are that they were even in this game.

By controlling the ball with the run, Jets rookie quarterback Geno Smith could stay with safe passes and run an occasional QB scramble. Bill Belichick excels at making teams win by doing what they do not want to do; but on this day, the Jets ran the ball and controlled the clock, which is exactly their game plan ever week. No Vince Wilfork, no Tommy Kelly, no Jerod Mayo, and no answers to stopping the run or getting off the field on third down.

On the other side of the ball, the Patriots offensive line looks to have been vastly overrated. They've gotten schooled the last three games in a row, and every week there were mistakes by left tackle Nate Solder, and the center/guard combo of Ryan Wendell and Dan Connolly. Tough to throw when the defenders are on you before you turn to look upfield, and even when Tom Brady had time, it was usually due to him stepping away from pressure first.

Not that the Patriots quarterback is absolved of blame. He forced the ball to returning tight end Rob Gronkowski over and over, threw long when they needed a first down late in the game, his INT was a terrible decision, and his passes were off-target too many times. He ended the day with a pedestrian stat line: 22 of 46 (48%), 228 yards, 0 touchdowns, 1 INT, 53.5 rating, and 4 sacks (23 yards). But 17 targets of Gronkowski (8 receptions for 114 yards) was just too much emphasis on one player, especially when that player wasn't open.

The other receivers were subpar at best. Aaron Dobson needs to catch it when it comes his way, and he and Brady need to get on the same page for the back-shoulder throw. Kenbrell Thompkins was barely targeted and ended up with 2 catches for 15 yards. And Julian Edelman was more memorable for his punt returns than for anything he did on the field.

The Patriots gained 4.5 yards a carry in the running game. But they didn't run often enough, especially in overtime. The Patriots only OT possession was four passes, against a Jets defense with only five men in the box to stop the run. Brady needed to audible to running plays to make the Jets respect the run -- the Jets six-DB defense was the reason three of the four passes fell incomplete.

On defense, it appears the loss of Jerod Mayo is going to hurt. A lot. Even though I've complained about Mayo's pass-coverage deficiencies over the years, he was doing much better this season. And his absence leaves hulking Dont'a Hightower on tight ends and running backs; and every pass-coverage assignment ate him up. Rookie Jamie Collins was drafted to help with defend the pass, but apparently he hasn't impressed the team enough to get significant playing time.

Linebacker Brandon Spikes was up to his old tricks, guessing properly most of the time, but overrunning some of those plays and giving up chunks of yardage. But the Wilfork/Kelly replacements, Joe Vellano and Chris Jones, got pushed back a lot yesterday, as the Jets imposed their will. Outside linemen Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich did a decent job holding the edge against the run, and Jones had consistent pressure on the QB. One caveat on the line; they did not play well together -- too often they lost lane-responsibility, giving Smith open spaces to run for big yards.

Rookie cornerback Logan Ryan got his first interception, and he took it back for a touchdown. And safety Devin McCourty played extremely well, doing a nice job in run support (7 tackles) and knocking away two passes. Corner Alfonzo Dennard's play was very impressive; not perfect, but he batted away a few passes that would have gone for long gains otherwise. Unfortunately, slot-corner Kyle Arrington wasn't up to the task of replacing injured Aqib Talib, so he was eventually replaced by journeyman Marquice Cole.

Punter Ryan Allen played well, a decent average and mostly didn't blow any kicks. However, two of his punts bounded directly into the end zone, and it would have helped a lot if they'd been able to pin the Jets back in those cases. Gostkowski was Gostkowski -- kicking through the end zone on a regular basis, and perfect on field goals.

As for the coaching; there was too much emphasis on Gronkowski, and not enough rushing attempts. Close games are maddening from an analysis standpoint, because every mistake or missed opportunity is magnified. And to that end, the overtime play-calling was piss-poor, and even toward the end of regulation, when a touchdown would have won the game, it made no sense to throw a 30-yard pass on third-and-10, when you should have been going for a first down, not a touchdown.

Also, Chris Jones committed a penalty that gave the Jets a second-chance in OT. He said after the game he didn't know about the new rule; and that is a coaching problem. If he is on your special teams, then he needs to know the rules -- even if everyone who wears a Patriots cap or t-shirt thinks the call was a homer-chicken-bleep call that handed the game to the Jets. But I'm not bitter... ::grumble::

So where does this leave us? 5-2 is good, but with the Dolphins losing to Buffalo, this game was a chance to knock out the Jets and put a few games between them and Miami. Instead, it looks like a dogfight with New York, and possible Miami, for at least another month to six weeks (if not for the rest of the year).

Statistical Oddity of the Week: Brady threw at least 1 touchdown in 52 straight games (second longest streak in NFL history). Since then, he has 1 total touchdown pass in 3 games.

Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom: "Gronk accounted for exactly half of the passing yards; think Brady missed him much?"

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 5-2!

PPS. Trivia Question even I don't know the answer to: When was the last time the Patriots won a game and then lost the next game by the exact same score? Email me if you know; I'm too tired to research it.

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