Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Patriots 14, Jets 17 (11/12/2006)

Do you recognize this? "Somehow, we've got to recreate our offense, because right now, we're not doing anything that gives us a chance." That is a paraphrase of former Patriots head coach, Pete Carroll, during the 1999 season. Only a few months later, he was fired. I hope current Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels has taken note, because if he doesn't call a better game and get back to fundamental football, he will suffer the same fate as Carroll.

The Pats offense came out flat, didn't adjust well, turned the ball over, and played slipshod football -- and it cost the Patriots the game, a 17-14 loss to the division rival Jets. It also cost them a chance to wrap-up the division early and now puts them in a dogfight for the AFC East crown. It also put a serious hurt on their chances for a first-round playoff bye. No, the offense wasn't completely to blame, but as I said during the game, when I can predict if it will be run or pass, I think the other team might have an idea, too.

Except for the scoreboard, the Patriots topped the Jets in every significant statistic except two (1 to 4 in sacks and 25% to 46% in third-down conversions), but it didn't matter because the Jets made plays when they had to and the Patriots didn't. The offense was just maddening. Their best three plays of the game were a 50-yard run by Corey Dillon, a tipped pass that Reche Caldwell caught (and then scored a touchdown by making two guys miss and out-running two more to the end zone), and a Jets roughing-the-passer penalty that wiped out a terrible Brady interception.

The team's pass protection was laughable, with free blitzers on many plays and confused linemen and backs just spectating as Tom Brady got hit multiple times beyond the four sacks. With all that pressure, it took some great catches to move the ball at all, two by the lone offensive bright light, Reche Caldwell. Daniel Graham's return helped in the running game. But Brady's play-action fakes have become lazy, so they didn't take maximum advantage of the running game by using it to set up the pass. Maybe the coaches don't want Brady turning his back to the defense (there are a lot of injuries on the O-line). But the entire defense comes barreling toward the line when Brady hands off, so they could get *huge* yardage on play action.

I can't really fault the defense in this game, excepting Ellis Hobbs's bad play on the Jets last touchdown. They gave up one long drive for a touchdown; but they inherited bad field position on four other drives (one INT, and two bad kick coverages) and did well to hold them to 10 points on those possessions. They obviously missed Ty Warren, as most of the Jets running yards came right at his replacement, Jarvis Green. They also got a turnover, and most importantly, they kept the anemic offense in the game until the final gun. Junior Seau played more disciplined this week (finishing with 15 tackles), and Rosevelt Colvin was very good against the run and when he rushed the passer (but not so good in coverage). The chronically under-manned secondary played okay, and even though they got some timely help in the form of dropped passes by Jet receivers.

Special teams performed their specialty, giving up two long kickoff returns. The difference this week was that they didn't produce any long returns of their own to make up for it. If this continues, Brad Seely (special teams coach) might find himself next to Josh McDaniels in the unemployment line.

And as for the coaching... well, I think they need to do the following: better self-scouting to break them out of their offensive patterns; better play-action fakes and some up-the-field throws to make the other team pay for over-reacting to them; perhaps a day off for the players, because right now, they appear burnt-out; throw the ball long, even if it's incomplete, just to make the defense back off a bit; spend extra time on offense and kick coverage, because they killed you two games in a row.

So where does that leave us. Even with a one-game lead in the AFC East, their remaining opponents record (a .404 winning percentage) and their schedule (4 road games, and they are 4-0 on the road this season) still gives them an excellent chance for the division title. They play in Green Bay this weekend, and all you need to know about the Packers is they have won 3 of their last 4 while the Pats have lost 2 in a row (for the first time in almost 4 years). And as Sunday's loss points out, there are no gimmies this year.

Statistical Oddity of the Week: The Patriots had the same yards-per average both passing and running (5.7 yards per attempt). The last time they did that was the opening week of the 2000 season, when they rushed and passed for an average of 4.2 yards per attempt against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom: "Reche Caldwell is becoming Brady's go-to wideout, but the team needs either Doug Gabriel or Chad Jackson to get with the program. Gabriel's fumble was a killer. They were headed in for a 10-0 lead, but after the fumble, the Jets scored and we were down 7-3."

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 6-3!

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