Monday, November 14, 2016

Seahawks Top Patriots, 31-24

The Patriots suffered their second home loss of 2016, falling to the Seattle Seahawks 31-24 last night. The loss dropped the Patriots into a three-way tie for best record in the AFC (Raiders and Chiefs) and cut their lead in the AFC East to two games over the Miami Dolphins. Next week is a semi-bye week, when the team flies out to San Francisco to take on the 1-8 49ers.

Sunday's game was hard-fought and competitive to the end. But the Patriots made a few uncharacteristic mistakes, losing the turnover battle 2-0 and letting the Seahawks close the first half with a 59-second touchdown drive. And even with those problems, they nearly came back to tie the game, coming up just short on a fourth-and-goal at the one yard-line with 14-seconds left.

It was a tough day for the New England defense, as Seattle marched the ball up and down the field all night. Russell Wilson's three touchdowns and 124.6 QB rating tell part of the story, but the Seahawks had at least five dropped passes that could well have made the game a runaway.

Most of the evening, the Seattle strategy seemed to be "target the receiver covered by Leonard Coleman or Logan Ryan." Coleman was burned repeatedly and received a (bogus) pass interference call. He was eventually rotated out of the lineup or into a zone coverage. Ryan fared slightly better, and Malcolm Butler slightly better than that, but overall the secondary struggled to keep up with Seattle's four-receiver sets.

Also noteworthy was the failure to cover running backs out of the backfield. Seahawks backs caught eight passes on eight targets, notching five first downs in the process. They beat linebacker Dont'a Hightower to the edge, or sliced through the line uncovered for easy pitch-and-catch plays.

The Patriots linebackers overall were a mess, playing out of position on many plays and allowing blockers to keep them engaged far too long on running plays. Elandon Roberts looked overmatched against the run and Rob Ninkovich really did appear out of place three yards off the ball.

The defensive line got carved up on running plays the entire first half (5.2 yards per carry), but rallied in the second half (2.2 ypc). They were a half-tick late shedding blockers the first thirty minutes, and that allowed backs to sneak through to the second level untouched. One bright spot on the D-line was Trey Flowers, who had two sacks and caused another incompletion with pressure on Wilson.

The Patriots offense started the game with a 75-yard touchdown drive on the first possession. On that drive, they looked poised and in control, mixing run and pass perfectly. But after that, they went three-and-out twice, and Tom Brady threw his first interception of the year (a terrible decision and throw) to kill another drive.

Some of Brady's numbers were decent: 72% completions and 316 yards against an excellent defense. But he missed several connections with Chris Hogan that could have changed the game: one on a back-shoulder throw where Hogan kept running, and the other on a long pass where Hogan stopped running.  Brady also failed to throw a touchdown, and there was that bad INT. (Trivia question: name the last time Brady played an entire game and did not throw a touchdown. Answer below.)

Hogan's problems notwithstanding, the receivers played very well overall. Martellus Bennett (7 catches for 102 yards) and Julian Edelman (7 for 99) led the team, while Rob Gronkowski (3 for 56) and Danny Amendola (1 for 14) had crucial third-down catches to keep drives alive.

However, Edelman had a crucial fumble, killing a drive that started with great field position. And the Seahawks cashed that turnover in for what turned out to be the winning touchdown. His two fumbles lost for the season are already a career high, and not what the team is looking for from the so-called Mister Reliable.

LeGarrette Blount was basically the Patriots running attack. He took a while to get started, but ended up with 69 yards on 21 carries and 3 touchdowns. James White had more impact in the passing game (4 catches for 32 yards) than the running game (5 carries for 7 yards). And we are all still waiting for the return of Dion Lewis, who was a threat in both aspects of the offense.

The offensive line improved over the previous game for the second consecutive outing. It wasn't always pretty, but Brady was sacked just twice and hit four other times, which is less than could be expected against a stout Seahawks front four.

Kicker Stephen Gostkowski cleaned up his field goal and extra point issues, but booted a kickoff out of bounds, which gave the Seahawks a short field for their first scoring drive. Additionally, rookie Cyrus Jones almost ruined his 43-yard kickoff return by fumbling on the play. Luckily it was recovered by Nate Ebner, or Jones, who just escaped the doghouse for poor special teams play, might have found himself inactive the rest of the season.

So where does that leave us? 7-2 is decent, and in fact, exactly where I thought they'd be at this point. Unfortunately, those AFC West teams haven't beaten each other up enough yet: both Oakland and Kansas City are tied with the Patriot atop the AFC. Next up is a road trip to San Fran, and probably a win over the 49ers.

Statistical Oddity of the Week: Russell Wilson has played the Patriots three times, once in Seattle, once in Foxboro, and once on a neutral field. In all three games, one team scored exactly 24 points.

Non-Brady MVP of the Week: Martellus Bennett caught sideline throws, slants, and in-cuts, and he blocked very well on running plays.

Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom: "A tough loss to swallow, but Seattle just outplayed the Pats. Simple as that."

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 7-2!

PPS. Trivia answer: On January 11, 2014, Brady didn't throw a touchdown pass as LeGarrette Blount ran all over the Indianapolis Colts in a 43-22 playoff route.

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