By Jeremy Gottlieb, Patriots Daily Staff
They say learning from history is the best way to not repeat it. While this is certainly a fair, logical mantra, I’d prefer to take as little time as possible to grade out the Patriots disgusting, 28-14 loss to the hated Jets on Sunday and forget it ever happened. The Pats did the same thing on Sunday. They lost road game after road game after road game last season in a similar fashion to the way they lost to the Jets,, which is to say get off to a good start, cruise into halftime with a lead, then completely disintegrate in the second half en route to a brutal defeat. Sound familiar? It was the same old, same old on Sunday, with the Pats getting outscored 18-0 after halftime and turning a 14-10 lead that should have been bigger if not for a couple of boneheaded penalties, into a 28-14 defeat. Apparently, no lessons learned. The Pats have now been outscored 116-41 in the second half of their last eight road games. To (sort of) quote Tom Brady himself, that just sucks. So with that, let’s post-mortem this one fast so we can look forward to taking it all out on the lowly Bills this weekend.
OFFENSE: Overall Grade: C-
Hard to figure this one at all. The first half featured a perfect balance of run and pass, Brady spreading the ball around to a variety of targets, including his rookie tight ends and a few beautifully executed drives. There were 216 total yards in the first half against the big, bad Jets defense. In the second half, there were 98 total yards and three turnovers. Oh and no points. It looked even worse than it sounds. Running game? Abandoned. Use of those tight ends, or any other receiver than Randy Moss? Nope. Just a total, complete meltdown. The Pats are going to have problems on defense all year long given their youth and inexperience on that side of the ball (kind of like on Sunday). If there are the kinds of breakdowns, bad decisions and numbskull plays on offense like there were against the Jets as well, 6-10 will wind up looking more realistic than 10-6.
Brady passed for 248 yards and two TDs but more than 200 of those yards and both scores came before the half. In the second half, he was his own worst enemy. Jets corner Darrelle Revis left with a hamstring injury after being beaten by Moss on a gorgeous, one-handed TD catch right before the half, which led to one forced pass after another in the second half while Revis was in the locker room. Whether he got such instructions from the sideline or came to this decision himself, the results were disastrous. Moss was targeted 10 times while Wes Welker, who only caught 123 passes in 14+ games last season, was not even thrown to after the five-minute mark of the third quarter on Sunday. Repeatedly, Welker and others were open, sometimes wide open, while Moss was blanketed by the Jets other corner, Antonio Cromartie, and a safety in many cases, but the passes seemed to keep on flying in his direction. Both of Brady’s picks were on forced throws to Moss. The idea that his favorite receiver was the open receiver went out the window after halftime. It was somewhat astonishing watching it unfold, especially after how well things were working in the first half. Brady took responsibility for his shoddy performance (which featured a career high six straight incompletions at one point) after the game and there is no doubt that coaching decisions were complicit in the collapse. But he still deserves as much of the blame as anyone, a trend that began last season, and is now officially alarming. He would have been better served listening to the advice he gave Pats’ fans last week and not left early.
Running Backs: C
After Fred Taylor’s 38-yard run in the first quarter was wiped out by a brutal, illegal formation penalty, he was never heard from again and even though BenJarvus Green-Ellis made a couple of tough runs, he managed just 19 yards on 10 carries and the Pats running game was pretty much null and void after that first 15 minutes. Kevin Faulk saw a few reps as the primary ball carrier and averaged 4.4 yards per attempt before leaving with a knee injury, which if serious, may well make the Laurence Maroney trade to Denver (gulp) look like a bad idea. Overall, the Pats gained 52 yards on the ground in 20 attempts, just six of which came in the second half.
Wide Receivers: C+
Moss’s TD catch was absolutely sick, a jaw-dropping thing of beauty. I can’t imagine anyone else making such a play and he deserves to be lauded for the one-handed grab. But what else? Before Brady locked in on him in the second half, he’d made but one other catch all day, a four-yarder. Twice he was open by a step on slants over the middle and twice he short-armed the ball. It’s good to know that Moss is out there and that he’s capable of making plays like that one-handed TD catch from time to time, but the guy who should (and who always has been, until yesterday) be the focal point of the passing game is Welker and he was invisible in the second half. At first, I thought he might have been dinged up after taking that cheap shot from noted Jets headhunter Eric Smith in the first half. But he played just three fewer snaps in the second half than he did in the first. When he faced the Jets last season, they couldn’t cover Welker and he responded with 15 catches for 192 yards. On Sunday, he had six catches for 38 yards. That’s not going to cut it at all. Julian Edelman returned to make one catch, as did Brandon Tate, who day was more notable for being the culprit on that formation penalty on Taylor’s long run than anything else.
Tight Ends: B+
Last week, it was Rob Gronkowski. This week it was Aaron Hernandez. The first-round talent with the fourth-round fondness for psychotropics had a 46-yard catch and run against the Bengals last week, then did the same thing in the second quarter on Sunday. He finished with six receptions for 101 yards, catching the ball every time Brady threw to him. The guy is big and fast, he can get open in the middle of the field and he can run with the ball after the catch. It will be nice to see him continue to develop going forward – if the Pats continue to throw to him, he should well be able to accomplish big things. Other than Moss’s TD catch, he was the brightest spot for the Pats on Sunday. Gronkowski had just one catch but blocked well and seems as though he’ll be counted on more as a red zone target.
Offensive Line: B-
Another mostly solid performance from this group, sullied only by Matt Light’s bullfighter job against ancient nemesis Jason Taylor that led to a sack and fumble by Brady on the Pats final possession. Sebastian Vollmer mostly stayed with pass rushing demon Shaun Ellis save for one play that, luckily for the Pats, didn’t wind up in a sack. Dan Koppen and Stephen Neal looked fine as usual. But the most praise has to go to Dan Connelly, who had his second straight good game and looked a lot like Logan Mankins at left guard. If Mankins comes back at any point, it won’t necessarily be a surprise to see him backing up Connolly. That said, the run-blocking on the whole wasn’t so hot as evidenced by the numbers, and needs to be better.
DEFENSE: Overall Grade: C-
Thanks to defensive lineman Gerard Warren and linebackers Tully Banta-Cain and Jermaine Cunningham, the defense avoids an F. Any time a guy as lousy as Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez can complete 21-of 30 passes (a career high) for 220 yards, three TDs (another career high) and a 124.3 passer rating (yet another career high) all while completely outplaying a guy with the pedigree of Brady, you don’t really deserve much better, do you? Then throw in 136 rushing yards by Jets backs at 4.3 yards a pop (including a jaw-dropping 76 yards on just 11 carries from old man LaDanian Tomlinson). These are the same Jets who had 134 total yards last week against Baltimore. This was the fear headed into the season – that the defense would struggle and struggle mightily. Well, as a group it’s allowed scores nine of the last 14 times it’s been on the field going back to the Cincinnati game. Yikes.
Defensive Line: C
Props are certainly due to Gerard Warren, the veteran who has basically taken the place of Ty Warren, and came up with two bone-crushing sacks on Sunday from the right end spot, one of which looked like it might knock Sanchez out of the game. It was also a pleasant surprise to see second-year man Ron Brace, who has been persona non grata for the most part since his arrival, start and play pretty well (four tackles). But the run defense was pretty bad with even anchor Vince Wilfork talking publicly about it. According to ESPN’s Mike Reiss Wilfork said on the radio yesterday that most of the issues against the run came when the Pats weren’t in their base, 3-4 alignment. Even so, more plays need to be made on the line of scrimmage, especially when the chief ball carrier for the other team is someone as washed up as LaDanian Tomlinson, who out of nowhere looked like his 2005-2006 self on Sunday. It was a relief to see pressure on the quarterback from this group – now they need to get back to basics on stopping the run.
Despite a horrendous late hit penalty, Banta-Cain was the best linebacker the Pats had on Sunday. He had a sack while also getting to Sanchez another time and was led the team with eight solo tackles, one for a loss. It’s comforting to see further evidence that his big ‘09 season wasn’t a fluke. And Cunningham, the rookie who barely played in the preseason then took all his reps during Week 1 as a down lineman, looked solid and like he had a good grasp of things when he stepped in for Banta-Cain after the late hit as well as on most of his other snaps. Cunningham was drafted to be a pass rusher but anything else he can give would be big. Other than that, not much. Brandon Spikes had nine tackles but none were particularly impactful while Jerod Mayo perpetuated the theme of this year looking a lot like last year by doing absolutely nothing and being completely invisible. Mayo picked a bad time to pull a no-show not just because the defense can’t afford anything like that from anyone who is at least supposed to know what he’s doing, but also because he shot his mouth off regarding Revis and his balky hamstrings last week. Hey Jerod, if you feel the need to talk shit, no matter what it’s about, please go out and do something, anything. Thanks.
Defensive Backs: F
I’ve seen a lot of high school football in my day and right now, I’m not sure Darius Butler could cover a 16-year old who gets thrown to 10 times all year. Sanchez routinely picked on Butler all day and why not? The former UConn star was beaten pretty much every time the ball came at him, he displayed no real technique on balls that may have been up for grabs and capped off his pathetic afternoon with two pass interference penalties in the fourth quarter when the Pats were technically still in the game. You know you’ve got a problem when the corner on the one side is a rookie (Devin McCourty) but the opponent still throws at your other one every chance it gets. Oh yeah, did I mention Butler was also toasted left and right last week against the Bengals? The Pats are stuck with this guy for better or worse – here’s hoping he figures it out. McCourty didn’t have such a good game either but since the ball wasn’t thrown at him as much as it was at Butler, it was harder to notice. Patrick Chung followed up his demonic Week 1 performance with a much more mundane, six tackle day, though he nearly made a great interception on a dive at a tipped ball in the second quarter. And Brandon Meriweather, he who played practically every down last year and (undeservedly) made the Pro Bowl, didn’t start again and barely saw the field. We’ll discuss that more later this week.
Special Teams: D
Not an F thanks to my favorite rookie Zoltan Mesko’s booming punts. Beyond Zoltan’s exploits though, are one failure after another. Stephen Gostkowski has now missed three straight field goals and the 37-yarder he shanked in the first quarter – which left the Pats with no points after a 13-play, 7:31 drive – was a killer. Granted, there was an inexplicable delay of game penalty that nullified the 32-yarder he made moments before, but still, there’s no real excuse for the miss. That delay penalty wasn’t the only one on special teams. Kyle Arrington, arguably the team’s best special teamer last year, mind-numbingly picked up a fair catch interference call in the second quarter that cost the Pats 15 yards and a huge field position advantage after a boomer inside the Jets 10 by Zoltan. And while no one on either return unit did anything all that bad, no one on either return team did anything all that good either. Another link in the lousy chain that was Sunday at the new Meadowlands.
Well, that makes two losses in three tries against the Prius-swallower and he’s outcoached the Hall of Fame-bound Bill Belichick both times. On Sunday, the Pats came out with a great, balanced game plan on offense, then abandoned it out of nowhere in the second half even though it had netted them those 216 first half total yards. And on defense, in addition to the fact that from pretty much the beginning, they chose to give up the entire middle of the field in lieu of allowing a big pass play even though the Jets’ offense will often make a living with their intermediate passing game, they also never sent anyone over to help poor Butler from getting eaten alive by whichever receiver was victimizing him at any given moment. The list goes on – the delay penalty on the field goal in the first quarter was a result of indecision on the sideline, the eschewing of any semblance of a running game for the final three quarters was the failure to make the correct adjustment, and so on. Last year, these sort of mistakes – the kind that fall at the feet of Belichick and his staff – happened more often than ever before but given Belichick’s pedigree, it felt almost natural to dismiss them as fluky, even sometimes random occurrences. Well, there they were again on Sunday. A pattern? We shall see.