by Jeremy Gottlieb, Patriots Daily Staff
October 13, 2009
Just so we’re all clear, there are four quarters in a football game. Two halves. It’s at least conceivable that the Patriots forgot those guidelines out in Denver, where they lost to the Broncos, 20-17 in overtime. Maybe it was the thin air. Regardless, one team made some major adjustments at the half and it didn’t look like the Pats. And that’s the biggest reason they are now 3-2 while the amazing Josh McDaniels’ Broncos are still unbeaten. After looking like he’d gotten things figured out last week against the Ravens, Tom Brady regressed back to the first half of the Atlanta game, missing multiple open throws, two of which would have gone for easy touchdowns. There was no Joey Galloway to blame this time. Just Brady, who simply is still not all the way back. On defense, a couple of the usual suspects (Vince Wilfork, Brandon McGowan) had their typical strong games, and the return of Jerod Mayo was a pleasant development. But the continued inability to get one iota of pressure on the quarterback (hello yet again, Derrick Burgess!) led to multiple sustained Denver drives, culminating in a stunning, 98-yard march in the fourth quarter that wound up tying the score at 17. The Patriots had multiple chances to win anyway, but couldn’t capitalize, each time more frustrating than the last. Brady admitted as much, saying that “we really squandered some opportunities that we had in the second half that we don’t normally do. The offense left the defense out to dry.” So with that, batten down the hatches for this week’s report card. The professors here at Patriots Daily University are none too pleased.
OFFENSE: Overall Grade: C
At halftime, this side of the ball was humming right along toward a big, fat A, thanks to two TD passes for Brady, a solid effort in the running game by Sammy Morris and Wes Welker’s continued consistency and excellence, especially on third down. But zero points and 63 yards passing, along with one failed third down attempt after another in the second half broke the Pats collective back. If anyone wants to relive the pain and happens to have the game Tivoed, just watch their first drive of the fourth quarter, on which they were stopped twice, got the ball back each time thanks to penalties by Denver’s punt return team, and still could only move the ball 40 yards in 13 plays. It’s the perfect microcosm of the entire game from the New England perspective. Ouch.
Boy, was this an tough game for Brady. He’s never played particularly well against Denver (now 1-6) but after looking like he might shed some of those past failures with a very nice first half, he crashed and burned in the second. He finished the day at 19-of-33 for 215 yards and 2 TDs with a 97.4 passer rating, but again, he was just 5-for-14 for only 63 of those yards in the second half. His second quarter overthrow of Randy Moss, who was basically standing alone in the end zone, was a precursor of things to come. In the fourth quarter, on a crucial third down after Denver had tied things up, Brady had Welker over the middle with a step and half on the entire Broncos secondary. But where Welker stayed in stride, Brady threw as if he expected his favorite target to pull up. The throw was right around Welker’s shoetops, wound up bouncing off the grass and marked the second probable score Brady had missed on the day. After a lightning quick three-and-out following Denver’s 98-yard drive, the defense got Brady the ball back with 2:27 left but he fumbled near midfield after a sack by the Broncos’ Vonnie Holliday, which was less his fault than Logan Mankins’, who was torched by Holliday on the play. But still, it ended any chance to win in regulation. The Pats converted as many third downs in the second half as they had points – none. It’s a group effort, undoubtedly, but Brady’s inability to make plays against the completely for real Denver defense was the biggest reason.
Running Backs: B
This was mostly Sammy Morris’ day as he got the bulk of the reps in the absence of Fred Taylor. Morris responded well with 17 rushes for 68 yards (4.0 YPA) and two catches that he turned into a pair of long gains. Kevin Faulk not surprisingly made a couple of nice plays in both the running and passing games, though he only got one third down chance in the second half and was stopped for a one-yard gain on a third-and-3 draw play out of a shotgun formation on that excruciating, early fourth quarter, multiple chance possession. Would have been nice to see BenJarvus Green-Ellis get a few carries with Taylor missing – maybe something of the like is yet to come. And for all you Laurence Maroney fans out there, you can breathe easy. No Maroney bashing this week, but not because he didn’t dance or actually made it through a full game without getting hurt. It’s because he barely played, netting just five carries for 21 yards.
Wide Receivers: C+
Don’t look at the fairly mediocre grade as an indictment of Moss and Welker. Moss was blanketed by all-world cornerback Champ Bailey for most of the afternoon, resulting in just four targets and one catch (which was perfectly executed, timely 36-yard catch and run). Welker made eight grabs for 86 yards and a score and while Brady may have been looking to him a little too much in the second half, that’s not his fault, nor was the the missed connection on that late third down play. No the weaker grade reflects what there is after the two stars. The answer is not much. Julian Edelman continues to have his moments, but he is still very much a work in progress, his failure to get a first down on a second quarter catch near the marker on which he went backwards trying to make a play instead of knowing where he was on the field the most prevailing evidence. And then what? Sam Aiken? No catches, not much more than a special teams guy anyway. And the second consecutive healthy scratch of Galloway signals that the coaching staff must have next to no faith that he can help out in any way. With the trade deadline a week away, I wonder if the Pats may make a move here. It’s unlikely, but at least worth thinking about.
Tight Ends: B
Pity Ben Watson had to leave the game with a head injury. He made another big play before departing – seemingly a weekly occurrence – with his seven-yard score at the end of a textbook, two-minute drill to close out the first half. Chris Baker made no catches but was involved in a close play that involved a replay review that went against the Pats and blocker Michael Matthews almost able to make a running grab of a Brady bomb to the end zone in the fourth quarter that looked like it was intended for a well-covered Moss. All three looked good when called on to stay home and block.
Offensive Line: C
It’s not that this group played all that bad. It’s that one of them had an absolutely horrible day. Logan Mankins, annually regarded as one of the best offensive linemen in the game, had better forget about this one quick. First, on a second quarter third down run by Faulk that moved the team into the edge of field goal range, Mankins leaped onto the two Broncos defenders, elbows out, after the play was over, costing the his team 15 yards and potentially three points in a game that was ultimately decided by that very amount. Then in the fourth quarter, he was singed by Holliday on the sack and fumble that wound up the Pats last chance in regulation (and the game, thanks to the overtime rules). Matt Light was pretty good for three quarters yesterday in keeping Denver speed demon and NFL sack leader Elvis Dumervil off the stat sheet until he got his knee rolled up from behind by Dan Koppen and had to leave. Everyone else was solid in giving Brady time to throw all day, including giant rookie Sebastian Vollmer, who filled in fairly well for Light. But Mankins, who hasn’t had too many days like this one, dragged the rest of them down.
DEFENSE: Overall Grade: C
More victims of the one good half/one bad half syndrome that plagued the offense, the guys on D couldn’t get off the field after halftime, letting the Broncos go up and down the field for scores on them three times, including of course, the 98-yard killer. To be fair, this group did make a couple of stands on the waning minutes, preventing Denver from taking a late lead and allowing the offense a couple more chances to do something. But they were clearly gassed by the time the extra period began with the Broncos charging 53 yards in 11 plays en route to the game winning field goal and subsequent on-field celebration by McDaniels (which, by the way, we can’t say we have a problem with here at PDU). Again, Jerod Mayo’s return was productive and Wilfork and McGowan continued their season-long stellar play. But beyond that, the only good news here is that the next two opponents for the D to redeem itself against are the woeful Titans and Bucs, respectively.
Defensive Line: B
Most of this grade comes courtesy of Wilfork, who was an absolute beast. He was credited with five tackles, including a big stop on third and short in the third quarter and a couple of trips into the backfield both on running and passing plays. Big Vince was the anchor and while Denver did wind up surpassing the 100 rushing yards barrier as a group, rookie burner Knowshon Moreno was mostly just OK. Ty Warren wasn’t as visibly good as in the past couple of weeks and also racked up a rather egregious roughing the passer call when he blasted Denver QB Kyle Orton a good two seconds after Orton released the ball on a second quarter play. Mike Wright didn’t provide much of an encore to his breakout game last week against Baltimore and Jarvis Green, so solid the first four weeks, didn’t register a single statistic.
Such a mixed bag from this group. On the plus side, Mayo’s return netted six tackles and a forced fumble while also allowing the rapidly developing Gary Guyton to move back outside which is his more natural spot. Guyton kept up the good work with five more tackles and rookie Rob Ninkovich, in his first extended time of the season, took advantage of the opportunity with a big pass deflection as well as one of the Pats two sacks. Which brings us to the not so good. Tully Banta-Cain had the other sack, this one on the Broncos last possession of regulation, and it prevented a potential game-winning field goal attempt. The bad news isn’t just that he almost completely sullied the big sack with a completely egregious offsides call that allowed Denver kicker Matt Prater to boot the winning kick from 41 yards instead of 46. It’s that not only did he and Ninkovich record the team’s only two sacks, they recorded the team’s only two hits on Orton all day long. It’s impossible to go any further without pointing out that once again, Adalius Thomas, who looks like he’s aged about 10 years since last fall, was invisible (one tackle) and has not made a play of any kind since he body slammed Bills QB Trent Edwards and was called for it in Week 1. And once again, we’ll shine the spotlight on Derrick Burgess, supposed pass-rushing specialist (he even has a radio ad in which he refers to himself as such). I don’t know too much about football, but I think pass rushing specialists are supposed to be able to, you know, rush the passer. Burgess has one sack (in the final minutes of Week 1) and eight tackles in five games. He appears to be useless. I hope he does something at some point this season – given the law of averages, I expect he will, someday. But for now, he remains the most puzzling, frustrating player on the defense and arguably, on the entire team.
The worst game of the season so far for the DBs. Other than McGowan, who registered nine tackles, two pass deflections and a fumble recovery, no one had anything to brag about. Brandon Meriweather followed up his game ball from the Baltimore win with a gigantic dud. He was consistently out of position, overran multiple plays, was dragged at least five yards by former Pat Daniel Graham on a third quarter play and, perhaps most conspicuously, cost his team 15 yards by taunting Denver receiver Eddie Royal on an incompletion near the end of the 98-yard drive. Yikes. Corners Leigh Bodden and Shawn Springs took turns being abused by Denver’s Brandon Marshall, each of them looking awful on Marshall’s two scores, respectively. Bodden led the team with 11 tackles, but that’s a deceiving stat that pretty much only means he was bringing down players who made catches in his general vicinity. Jonathan Wilhite seems overmatched the last couple of weeks and he also failed to come down with a pass on third-and-14 that was tipped by McGowan and went right through his hands before being caught by Bronco Jabar Gaffney – for 14 yards! Darius Butler didn’t play much a week after his big game against the Ravens and rookie Patrick Chung saw some time with the regulars given the injury to James Sanders. This group was victimized by Orton, who completed 35-of-48 for 330 yards and two TDs, a) because there was zero pressure on him all day and b) because McDaniels found the soft spots in the Pats’ zones and subsequently called play after play on which Orton was throwing short to medium range passes that were very low risk. It certainly helps when there is any semblance of a pass rush. But regardless, someone other than McGowan needed to make a play and no one did. Special props to Moss for collecting his first career pick on a last second Hail Mary in the first half.
Special Teams: C
Edelman was the return man du jour and he acquitted himself fairly well, averaging 23 yards per kick return and 11 per punt return. Kick and punt coverage was solid too. But this grade is in the realm of the mediocre because of one Stephen Gostowski, yet another victim of the good half/bad half disease. In the first half, he drilled a career long, 53-yard field goal. In the second, with the Pats up seven late in the third quarter, he shanked a 40-yarder, keeping the Broncos within one score. It was his first miss in his last 12 attempts, an excellent percentage to be sure. But given the circumstances and the eventual outcome, it was as costly a miss as can be.
It wasn’t the first time Bill Belichick was outdueled by a former protege. But it may have been the most glaring. Again, that good half/bad half thing must be mentioned because it was the intermission that made all the difference. In the first half, the Pats seemed to have concocted the perfect game plan to combat the Broncos top-ranked scoring defense. They posted 17 points, just nine fewer than Denver had allowed all season prior to the start of the game, and easily left even more out on the field. But if there’s one thing McDaniels learned from Belichick it’s how to make adjustments at the half, a quality that was very much on display in this game. What wasn’t there for the Broncos on both sides of the ball in the first half was there in the second. And even though he blew a couple of replay challenges and didn’t see too much from his variation on the Wildcat after the game’s opening drive, he made the right calls when it mattered most. Belichick will be fine, naturally. He’s only the best coach in the game. But McDaniels will only get better and given how good he’s looked through his first five games, especially against the Pats, that’s a scary thought for the rest of the league.