Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Patriots Lose Squeaker to Bucs & TB12, 19-17

The Patriots played better but it wasn't enough to top the Super Bowl champs in Tom Brady's return to Gillette. The 19-17 loss drops them to 1-3 and into a three-way tie for second/last place in the AFC East. Next up is a trip to Houston to take on the reeling Texans.

It seems apparent to me at this point that the Patriots were looking past the Saints toward this showdown. And of course, it went as expected. Their game plan, in-game adjustments, and performance under pressure were all much better against the Bucs than the Saints.

Given the lateness of this entry, I'll just cover a few topics.

1. Should have gone for it on 4th-and-3

Live, at the stadium, in real time, before they kicked the ball, I said this to the folks around me. Apparently the analytics say that attempting the field goal gave the team a 42% chance of winning, whereas going for it held just a 34.5% chance of a victory.

But the analytics don't take a few things into account:
  • A rainy and windy night makes the kick much tougher
  • The previous two drives: 10 points and a whopping 9.5 yards per play
  • Even if the kick was good, TB (and TB12) would have had 50 seconds and two timeouts to go about 45 yards and try a field goal to win it anyway.
In Super Bowl 49, Belichick famously did not call timeout with the Seahawks threatening to run it in for a winning touchdown. He did this because he sensed confusion on the Seattle sideline and thought a timeout would have helped them. In that case, even though the conventional wisdom was to take the timeout, as head coach his job was to decide if that was right for the game situation.

IMO, he blew this one. Some theorize that he was protecting the young quarterback, allowing either himself or his kicker to take the blame if the field goal was no good. But that's bogus in my book. The game flow and situation said it was best to go for it. And it was actually important because there is a massive difference between a 1-3 and a 2-2 record.

2. Mac Jones won the QB battle

Jones played well in the face of yet more pressure. The O-line allowed 12 quarterback hits and four sacks, and yet Jones completed 77.5% of his passes and got two touchdowns and just one interception (under pressure, naturally). He also audibled to the right play several times and twice he avoided the rush when blitzers came untouched up the middle.

Also impressive was his ability to overcome not one, but two, holding calls on the same drive. They forced him to convert a first-and-20 and also a second-and-20 later in the drive. He was poised, took the plays he could make, and converted both to keep possession.

Brady didn't play great, but of course, just like when he was here, he came up with the plays he needed to win.

3. Matthew Judon can blow stuff up

Judon is a beast against the pass. He had two quarterback hits, one sack, two tackles for a loss, and drew a key penalty on a 50-yard pass by the Bucs. He does lose outside contain against the run, but I hope that doesn't get him in the doghouse because he is so effective against the pass.

4. Josh McDaniels is still mediocre, IMO

Once McDaniels realized the Patriots couldn't run he finally adjusted with play-action on early downs. The problem is it took him way too long to make that adjustment. In the first half they ran the ball on first down 6 times for -14 yards (including a penalty). McDaniels needs to figure out these things faster and adjust quicker.

Once he went play-action the Patriots basically shredded the Tampa defense with short passes most of the rest of the game. In the stands we were calling for that after the first two or three drives -- not sure why we can see what the offensive coordinator can't.

I give him credit for the two trick plays and eventually abandoning the run. But if he'd gone pass-heavy one drive earlier it might have gotten the points they needed to win.

5. The offensive line flat out stinks

As a team the Patriots had 8 rushes for -1 yard. And a wide receiver got 4 yards on an end around, so the rest of the runs totaled -5 yards. Please pause for a moment to consider just how hard it is to end up with negative rushing yards. Especially in a league that stacks defenses to stop the pass.

As if that wasn't enough, they gave up 4 sacks and 12 quarterback hits, and it would have been much worse if Jones hadn't thrown the ball so quickly. Trent Brown's injury doesn't explain it all. Center David Andrews isn't playing well, Brown's replacement tandem have been horrifyingly bad, and left tackle Isaiah Wynn stacks one dreadful game after another.

Does anyone have Dante Scarnecchia's cell number on speed dial? Remember that when he retired the first time the O-line was fine the next year and imploded the year after. That prompted BB to call Scar out of retirement. Well, this is the second year since his second retirement, and it looks like the same pattern.

(And note; Wynn and left guard Michael Onwenu are on the COVID list, so this isn't likely to get better this Sunday against Houston.)

6. Problems with the little things

The team is still making basic mistakes they should have corrected by now. Poorly timed penalties (Matthew Slater, O-line holds), yet another time out because they only had 10 men on defense, a penalty because they had 12 men on defense, and they lost the turnover battle 2-0.

Belichick teams are famous for avoiding these pitfalls. And they can't make any more excuses about the missing/extra players on defense. Someone needs to be punished for this; it can't keep happening.

7. I didn't see the television coverage, but...

Who has their "tongue out Steve Belichick" costume on order for Halloween?

Where does that leave us? 1-3 and hoping to catch fire and get a sniff of a playoff run. The pity is they should have won against Miami and could have beaten the Bucs, which would have given them a 3-1 record and a share of the division lead. Even if they had split those games, 2-2 sounds a lot more hopeful than 1-3.

Unfortunately their offensive line is in even deeper trouble, with COVID taking a toll this week. The Texans aren't good, but at this point no game looks like an easy win.

Biggest on-going concern: The Offensive Line is now the biggest problem on the team. Penalties and turnovers are big. But if they don't improve up front, Mac Jones might not make it through the season.

Non-QB MVP: Judon, a man among boys.

Statistical oddity: In addition to beating all 32 teams, Tom Brady's victory over Belichick marks the 100th head coach he has topped in his NFL career. (Trivia question: who was the NFL head coach Brady beat in his first NFL start? Answer below.)

Water-cooler wisdom: "This loss was expected; the one to the Dolphins will haunt them later in the year."

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 1-3!

PPS. Trivia Answer:
The first game Tom Brady won as a starter in the NFL came over none other than Jim "Playoffs?!?!" Mora, a 44-13 drubbing of his Colts.

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