By Jeremy Gottlieb, Patriots Daily Staff
That’s all, folks. The halls of Patriots Daily University are now closed for the season on the heels of Sunday’s humiliating disaster at Gillette Stadium, in which the once proud Patriots lost a 33-14 wild card game to the Baltimore Ravens. The score may as well have 100-0, that’s how much of a chance the Pats of actually winning. Every aspect of the game was a complete catastrophe, from the passing game to the run defense to the special teams to the coaching. The Ravens showed up hungry to win and advance, the Pats didn’t show up at all. The score was 24-0 five minutes into the game and even though the Ravens only scored nine points for the rest of the afternoon and the Patriots had multiple chances to close the gap, they were so listless, so unprepared, so utterly and completely outclassed that they couldn’t capitalize on any of them. It wasn’t so terribly surprising that they lost; what was shocking was the way it happened. No Patriots team of the past 10 years has been beaten so thoroughly in a playoff game and offered such minuscule resistance to it. You’d have to go back to new Seahawks coach Pete Carroll’s team of 1998, which had Scott Zolak at quarterback and was lambasted by the Jaguars in the wild card round to find as bad a postseason defeat, one that someone called “a pre-season like effort,” and Vince Wilfork deemed, “JV.” The professors here have all agreed that we will try to avoid making this a post-mortem on the entire season, as there will be plenty of those to go around for weeks. We’ll just focus on Sunday’s game and we warn you, it will not be pretty. But before we do, thanks to all who’ve taken the time to read these report cards all year long. It was a rich experience to be able to watch and analyze the game this way and the readership is truly appreciated. So with that in mind, let’s get to the final report card of this crazy, up-and-down season.
OFFENSE: Overall Grade: F
Where should we start? The passing game was hideous. The running game never got going, thanks to the four-score deficit within the game’s first five minutes. The play-calling was atrocious. The offensive line played as poorly as it has all year. Tom Brady played the worst playoff game of his career. There were less than 200 yards of total offense. One pass play went for 20+ yards. There were five 3-and-outs on their first 13 possessions. Other than that, everything was great.
Brady passed for just 142 yards on a whopping 42 attempts, good for a brutal 3.7 yards per attempt. He turned the ball over four times, three of which were devastating. He was never comfortable in the pocket or out of it, forced one throw after another into double or triple coverage, as well as even more to receivers who were blanketed by their men. He looked ginger and unwilling to run, even with large swaths of turf open in front of him. Some of it had to be injury-related, some of it had to be his inability all year to connect with anyone other than Wes Welker with any consistency, some of it had to do with the fact that he had mediocrity all around him at the skill positions, some of it had to do with his line’s continued inability to handle three and four man rushes. The Ravens said afterward that they wanted to move him out of the pocket and keep seven or eight men in coverage to make him uncomfortable and it worked perfectly. There was nothing good about his performance, even his two TD passes to Julian Edelman, which only prolonged the inevitable. It was a humbling, sad, embarrassing day for the best player in franchise history.
Running Backs: D
Other than Kevin Faulk, who for a couple of stretches was the entire offense and totaled 89 of the teams 196 yards, there was nothing good to report. Laurence Maroney got back into the lineup and he didn’t fumble for a change. But he did follow up one vintage two-yard run with a total whiff on a blitz pickup right up the middle that cost the team a sack and Maroney , again, his job. He was never heard from another time after that sack by Ray Lewis and it’s hard to imagine him ever playing for this team again. Neither Fred Taylor or Sammy Morris had the chance to do anything given the circumstances and the two of them subsequently combined for 25 total yards on six touches. We’ll never know if the Pats could have run on the Ravens given the mammoth early deficit but when they did go to any one in their stable of backs, with the exception of Faulk, they did exactly nothing.
Wide Receivers: D
A lot of credit is due to Edelman, who was only asked to become Welker this past week. He did a reasonable job, making a couple of nice grabs on the two TDs and clearly playing through some sort of leg injury suffered in the second quarter. After that, nada. Randy Moss was supposedly dealing with some malady during the week which could have at least partially explained his (sadly predictable) no-show. he did catch five passes for 48 yards, but none came in the first quarter and none were of any consequence. Sam Aiken suffered a scary looking injury after halftime but before that, he was completely invisible (one catch, five yards) except for yet another play on which a catchable ball clanged off of his stone hands and into the arms of Ravens safety Ed Reed for one of the three picks. Here’s hoping that more due diligence is given to the receiver position before next season than there was before and during this one so that we never have to see him impersonate one again.
Tight Ends: F
It was nice to see Ben Watson reach the likely end of his tenure here by having a dump-off from Brady that traveled three yards bounce off his hands and shoulder pads and onto the turf in the first quarter on one of the rare occasions in which there was actually room for a play to be made. Watson caught one pass for three yards and Chris Baker caught none. All season long, the Pats inability/refusal to involve their tight ends more in the passing game hurt them badly and Sunday was no exception. Maybe it was because Watson, for all of his considerable athletic talent, is not any good, a topic discussed in this very space going all the way back to the preseason. Whatever the reason, Sunday’s no-show by these two underscored a season-long problem, yet another that will need fixing in the off-season.
Offensive Line: F
From Matt Light’s ole on Ravens beast Terrell Suggs that led to a strip-sack and subsequently another Baltimore TD on the Pats third play from scrimmage, to Brady being sacked or hit six times and heavily pressured several others, it’s safe to say that the O-line belongs as firmly in the camp of those who didn’t show up as anyone. Baltimore never really brought more than four pass rushers but, as seems to happen every time the have a numbers advantage in protection, the line couldn’t handle it. Light was blown away a few more times after that first fleecing by Suggs and with free agency looming, is likely a goner unless he’ll take less money and maybe even convert to guard. The majority of the Ravens pressure came up the middle and Stephen Neal, Dan Koppen and Logan Mankins (another free agent who will likely be gone), were inconsistent at best in picking it up. Even Sebastian Vollmer , who has a stellar rookie season and should be a cornerstone for years to come, gave up a sack. Over the years, this bunch, which has been together in some capacity for six years, has been one of the most obvious strengths of the team. It’s fair to say that at this point, to put it simply, they are not anymore. With the likely impending departures of Light and Mankins and the revelation after the game on Sunday that Neal may retire, it will be interesting to see how the line – only the most crucial aspect of an offense having consistent success – is rebuilt.
DEFENSE: Overall Grade: F
The Ravens ran for 234 yards on an astonishing 52 attempts. In other words, they basically announced over the house PA that would be running on virtually every play and then went out and did with the Pats powerless to stop them. All of this season’s biggest duds – Brandon Meriweather, Darius Butler, every linebacker not named Tully Banta -Cain – did at least one thing that could be classified as a horrible mistake. The Pats were dominated at the line of scrimmage and couldn’t counter-punch. If you need more evidence as to what a total mismatch this was, here you go: Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco had the fewest passing yards of any playoff winning quarterback since 1970 (34), only dropped back to pass 10 times all day and had a passer rating of 10.0 (!!??!!) and his team still won by three scores. Give credit to the Ravens, who knew what they wanted to do and did it, and give none to the Pats, who showed no pride in their attempts to stop it.
Defensive Line: D
It will be sad to see Wilfork go. Even though he was double-teamed out of Ray Rice’s game-opening, 83-yard TD run, he still was the only player on defense, with the possible exception of Leigh Bodden, who had an OK game. Wilfork was in on 13 tackles, nine of them by himself. He made stops from the nose and from the right end position, where he played in the second half after Jarvis Green was put out of his misery and benched following as dismal a first half as anyone on the entire team. When the Ravens needed to, they paid extra attention to Wilfork and dared someone else on the Pats defense to make a play and no one did, including Ty Warren, who gets a semi-pass due to the ankle injury he’s been battling since the trip to London all those weeks ago. It was said during the week leading up to the game that the Pats would have the advantage when Baltimore tried to run. Not too many more wildly incorrect assessments about football have ever been made.
The weakest element of the Pats defense all year was also the weakest element of the Pats defense on Sunday. Starting with that long run by Rice on which Jerod Mayo overplayed the running lane and allowed himself to be easily sealed off, giving Rice a galaxy-sized hole, it was one awful effort after the next. Mayo only made two solo tackles all day, an astonishing statistic given the Ravens 52 rushing attempts. The Pats had better hope that Sunday, and the whole season for that matter, were just byproducts of a sophomore slump or lingering effects of his Week 1 knee injury because he was utterly horrendous all game long and had an overall dreadful season. He can’t shed blocks, he over commits himself too often and whiffed more times over the course of the year than Mark Bellhorn did at the height of his Red Sox days. There is very legitimate cause for alarm with Mayo. Gary Guyton is a nice player, fast and with reasonable coverage skills, but he is not an inside backer in a 3-4 defense. Let’s hope he doesn’t get another year to prove that to us. Adalius Thomas had another mediocre to lousy game and will probably be driven to the airport by someone in the front office at warp speed, he’s so gone. And Derrick Burgess, who had come on of last and was praised for his run defense by Bill Belichick last week, had one tackle and barely played after halftime. Only Banta -Cain didn’t humiliate himself, finishing his breakout year with eight tackles and a right-place-right-time interception after he was beaten in coverage by four steps but adjusted to a different route and came down with a ball tipped by Bodden . If the Pats decide to spend any money in free agency, which they don’t do (other than – you guessed it – with Thomas three years ago), they had best fins themselves at least two linebackers who can make plays because right now they have one and who knows if he’ll ever be able to repeat his performance of this season again.
Even though Flacco only completed four passes all day, when he needed to complete two of them in the second half, one to Mark Clayton, one to Derrick Mason, both to convert third downs, he just found Butler and victimized the rookie for the umpteenth time this season. I think Butler will get better – of all the Pats lousy young DBs, he seems to be the one who has the best instincts and most polished skill set. But with a few exceptions, this was a nightmarish year for him and he’s got a lot of work to do. Bodden had a decent game, making an incredibly athletic play to tip that interception in Banta-Cain’s direction. But he was also in the vicinity of one of those two second half completions, making him at least partially guilty. He was easily the Pats best corner this year; naturally he’s also a free agent. On a great team, he’s the No. 2 guy, maybe even a nickelback, just to give you an idea of how awful this secondary is. Meriweather proved once again that all he’s good at is playing 50 yards from the line of scrimmage and fielding overthrown deep balls like punts – he was burned to a crisp by Rice and Co. over and over again, routinely taking terrible angles to the runner and thus putting himself out of position. I’m really on the fence with Meriweather . He had his moments this season, especially in the first few games and against bad teams. But when he sucks, he sucks so badly that one has to wonder if he’ll ever turn out to be even a very good player let alone a great one. It will be nice to have a few months off from seeing him look so utterly lost.
Special Teams: F
Another day of bupkus on kick returns. The Pats averaged a pathetic 19.7 yards per return, about in keeping with their numbers there all year. Chris Hanson hit one of his five punts well, sending it 53 yards, but that was of course nullified when the punt team allowed it to be returned 34 yards and into Pats territory. Stephen Gostkowski even got into the act, chunking a 44-yarder that could have cut the deficit to two scores early in the fourth quarter. The non-recovery of the muffed punt in the second quarter that set up the Pats first score wasn’t even a real positive since it shouldn’t have counted and wouldn’t have if Ravens coach John Harbaugh had bothered to challenge the ruling on the field. Only Edelman did anything noteworthy, with his weaving, spinning, tackle-breaking punt return in the third quarter. Given all of the other complete and total failures, it didn’t really matter.
Belichick ends his worst season since his first one in 2000 with an effort that should and probably does embarrass the crap out of him. Any adjustments that were attempted to curb the Ravens running game either didn’t work or weren’t even made. When it became clear that the Ravens would pressure Brady up the middle and were all over the screen pass game, the play-calling did not change one bit. And, most glaringly of all, the lack of preparedness, mental toughness and pride, while certainly having a lot to do with the players, ultimately falls at the feet of the coach. The Pats didn’t have enough good players on Sunday or all year for that matter.Belichick the personnel guy totally failed Belichick the coach this year, in numerous ways. He never pulls any punches when they lose and always holds himself as responsible as anyone, never failing to point out when he and his staff is outcoached. He was outcoached a lot this year, never worse than on Sunday. He has as much work to do as anyone, starting yesterday.