EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — As the time ticked down on Sunday at the New Meadowlands Stadium, there was a nagging sense of déjà vu. We know how this story ends.
For the Patriots, the 2009 season brought with it a trail of tears that ran through Miami, Indianapolis, Denver and New York. The schedule was littered with all-to-familiar road defeats that followed pretty much the same script: good start, poor finish.
And in the end, Sunday’s game, a 28-14 loss to the Jets (click here for the complete recap), was just more of the same. A solid start led to an early lead, but all the good feelings were washed away in a wave of bad bounces, offensive inconsistency and defensive breakdowns in the third and fourth quarters that contributed to loss.
“We didn’t do so well on defense,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said after Sunday’s game. “Twenty-eight points is not going to win many games in this league. Scoring 14 and turning the ball over three times isn’t going [to win games] either. We just didn’t make enough plays this game.
“It's disappointing to come down here and play the way we did,” Belichick added. “It just wasn’t good enough.”
Asked about the fact that this was the seventh loss in the last nine road games for the Patriots and whether or not he’s concerned with carryover from 2009, Belichick was nonplussed.
“You start 0-0 the next game you play, home or away, whatever it is,” he said. “The score will be 0-0 at the start of the next game.”
Even though the sample size for the 2010 season is relatively small, there are certainly indications we are seeing many of the same problems that haunted the 2009 team, including a nagging inability to beat any team of substance on the road. But when pressed, team leaders all say that there is no connection between the ills of 2009 and this squad.
“Each year is different. Each game is different. Each situation of the game may be different,” wide receiver Randy Moss said. “It’s hard to tell what’s going to happen, but when things happen, it’s really what team can handle adversity the best.
“We came out and played a good first half, but this game is based on 60 minutes — four quarters of football. And we didn’t put it together today.”
“It’s a different team, it’s a different time. I wouldn’t say it had anything to do with last year,” quarterback Tom Brady said. “It’s an entirely different team.”
Not entirely. Until the 2010 Patriots are able to put together a series of consistent 60-minute efforts on the road, there is little reason to think that this current group won’t suffer the same fate as the relatively forgettable 2009 team.
Here are nine other things we learned Sunday in East Rutherford:
DARIUS BUTLER HAS HAD BETTER DAYS
It was a lousy day for the second-year cornerback, who was burned time and again by the Jets passing game. At one point in the second half, it was clear Sanchez and Edwards were exploiting the matchup — Edwards had five inches and roughly 25 pounds on Butler, and many of the balls thrown toward Edwards were jump balls, including a two-point conversion in the second half where the two could be seen jawing at each other at the end of the play. (Butler appeared to take a swipe at Edwards at the end of the play, but the cornerback said after the game he didn’t remember what happened.)
“Everybody has got a big receiver in the league. That’s nothing new. He made some plays out there,” said Butler, who finished with five tackles. “I have to do a better job making plays when my turn is called.”
The low point was on the Jets’ fourth-quarter scoring drive; a 63-yard series that took eight plays and ended with a 1-yard touchdown pass from Sanchez to Keller, 39 yards on the drive came as a result of pass interference penalties against Butler. The UConn product was yanked with roughly two minutes remaining in favor of backup Kyle Arrington.
“We’ll watch the film tomorrow and see exactly what happened. But they made more plays than we did. That was pretty much the bottom line,” Butler said. “It’s a long season. We can’t really walk around with your head down. You know you’re going to take some bumps, take some bruises. We took some today, but now, it’s just on to our next opponent.”
THE MOSS-REVIS MATCHUP DIDN'T LIVE UP TO THE HYPE
The Moss-Revis matchup was a bit of a letdown for several reasons, including the fact that Revis clearly wasn’t in top football shape just yet — his holdout has clearly left him a step or two behind at this stage of the preseason. In addition, the hamstring injury that dogged him throughout the week left him at less than 100 percent for Sunday’s game. He went to the locker room shortly before halftime, and didn’t play at all in the second half.
When Revis was in the game, he didn’t spend all his time on Moss. But over the course of the first half, Moss was targeted six times and came away with two catches for 38 yards.
“I thought they were going to come at me more straight off the jump with Randy,” Revis said. “He went across the field and he tried to run away from me on that play, and they threw the ball. I think they were trying to get me to run a little bit more in this game, and that’s what they did.”
Afterward, Moss, who complimented Revis, downplayed the head-to-head matchup.
“This game, a lot of people put this game’s on me and Revis, but there’s 10 other guys out there with me and there’s 10 other guys out there with him,” Moss said. “In order for me to be successful, in order for Revis to be successful, all 11 guys have to be working together. Like I said, we just didn’t work together in critical situations.”
The lone highlight came in the second quarter when Moss was able to split the seam down the middle of the field, gain a small measure of separation from Revis and haul in a laser beam from Brady … with only his right hand … for a 34-yard touchdown catch. It was his first touchdown catch of the season, one worthy of his all-time highlight reel.
“It was just everyday work — I don’t know,” Moss said. “It was just making a play. … I really didn’t care.
“My job is to go out here and move the ball and score touchdowns, and I don’t think I did a good job of that today, so, regardless of the touchdown, the one-handed catch … my teammates commended me on it, but we didn’t win the game. Like I said, I didn’t really care too much about it. We lost the game.”
“I don’t want nobody to score on me or the secondary. But I pulled up,” Revis said of the catch. “I usually I rely on my speed, but I tried to speed up and it wouldn’t let me speed up to make a play. It was just a nice throw and catch. I’ll be on SportCenter tonight.”
MARK SANCHEZ CAN TELL EVERYONE TO GO SHOVE IT
After the season opener against the Ravens where the New York offense posted just 74 yards passing, no one was ripped worse than Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez, who looked overmatched in the face of the Baltimore defense. But after a rough start Sunday where the Jets ran just three offensive plays in the first quarter and didn’t get their first first down until just under 12 minutes were left in the second quarter, things turned around for Sanchez and the New York passing game.
On the Jets' first scoring drive of the second quarter, Sanchez engineered a 12-play, 77-yard drive that took 6:55 and ended when he connected with Braylon Edwards — who was facing single coverage from Darius Butler — on a 10-yard pass play in the corner of the end zone to tie the score at seven with 6:22 left in the first half.
In the end, Sanchez crafted three touchdown drives and finished 21-for-30 for 220 passing yards, three touchdowns (one each to Edwards, Jerricho Cotchery and Dustin Keller) and no interceptions. Despite the fact that he was sacked three times — including one where he got absolutely cracked in the back by Patriots’ defensive lineman Gerard Warren — he looked calm and in control, especially in the second half. Buoyed by a New York running game that allowed him to play complimentary football, he certainly looked worlds away from the quarterback who struggled last week against the Ravens.
“I’m not surprised — you don’t draft a guy first round for nothing. He’s got the tangibles to do it,” said Patriots linebacker Tully Banta-Cain. “Today, we let him looked down the field and make plays to his big play receivers, [Jerricho] Cotchery and Edwards and [Dustin] Keller. And those were the guys he’s looking at. There weren’t too many throws to the running back — a lot of the throws were downfield throws. It’s something that we prepared for, but we didn’t do a good job executing.”
“I thought he played great,” Jets coach Rex Ryan said of his quarterback. “There’s no question that you’re going to get some criticism here, but we never stopped believing in him. We know this is the guy that’s going to do it for us. We’ve been saying it all through training camp, and tonight, we really saw it. He was on the money with almost every throw.”
TOM BRADY PROBABLY STILL HATES THE JETS
While Sanchez started slow and picked up steam, the opposite was true for Brady. The quarterback was on point in the first half, finishing the first two quarters in style as he guided two touchdown drives (one that took 15 plays and ate up 8:10) with touchdown passes to Wes Welker and Randy Moss and a line of 13-for-20 for 179 yards. There was offensive balance, with long drives, no sacks and no turnovers.
The second half was a different story. He threw one pick in the third and one in the fourth, and was the second-best quarterback on the field through the latter stages of the game. The first interception dropped neatly into Antonio Cromartie’s lap, and the second came on a batted ball along the sideline where Brodney Pool made a really nice play coming away with the errant pass and keeping his feet inbounds.
To be fair, the two interceptions could be explained away — the pass to Cromartie came in 3rd and long and was a glorified punt (the Jets got the ball on their own three) and the second was a fluke of a batted ball — but there’s no denying that Brady’s second-half numbers were ugly: 7-of-16 passes for 69 yards with two picks and a sack. In all, the Patriots quarterback ended his day 20-for-36 for 248 yards.
Brady’s struggles mirrored the teams’ offensive inefficiency in the second half — no balance (the Patriots carried the ball just six times in the second half), bad turnovers and the sort of offensive inconsistency that is baffling. The quarterback was clearly upset after the game.
“We couldn’t run it, we couldn’t throw it. We just sucked,” Brady said after the game. “There were times when we had opportunities to make plays and we didn’t, starting with me. I have to do a better job of leading this team and certainly execute better when it’s crunch time.”
THE JETS AREN'T AS UNDISCIPLINED AS WE WERE LED TO BELIEVE
In their season-opener last week against the Ravens, the Jets were flagged 14 times for 125 yards — ugly penalties in a brutal defeat. On Sunday against the Patriots, New York was flagged just twice in the first half and six times overall.
There were still some undisciplined calls by the Jets — defensive back Eric Smith hit Welker around the head on a third-down pass play, picking up a flag for unnecessary roughness and keeping a New England scoring drive alive. In addition, Edwards picked up a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct call when he celebrated his second-quarter touchdown reception from Sanchez.
But while the Patriots equaled the Jets with six penalties of their own (New England was assessed 79 yards in penalties), theirs were far more ill timed. New England was hit with six penalties, including three bad ones in the first half. Linebacker Tully Banta-Cain was flagged for unnecessary roughness (hitting Jerricho Cotchery while he was out of bounds — he sat for the rest of the Jets’ drive, replaced by Jermaine Cunningham), and Kyle Arrington was hit for running into Jim Leonhard when Leonhard was trying to field a punt.
The killer was a delay-of-game call in the first that negated a 32-yard field goal from Stephen Gostkowski. Forced to kick again from five yards back, Gostkowski was off the mark. Points are always at a premium, and never more so than when you face a rugged defense like the Jets, so taking them off the board would come back to haunt them. Later on, Butler would pick up two pass interference calls, which would pave the way for a late New York score.
“Penalties and turnovers are what they thrive off of,” Banta-Cain said after the game. “They’re a capitalizing team. And we gave them everything they needed to win.”
THE PATRIOTS ARE STARTING TO GET MORE PRESSURE UP THE MIDDLE
We saw it last week against the Bengals when Gerard Warren, Vince Wilfork and Mike Wright all made disruptive plays in the Cincinnati backfield, getting a great push up the middle and caving in the pocket on Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer.
That same group of defensive linemen was able to do the same thing on Sunday against Sanchez and the Jets. The Patriots’ pass rush got four quarterback hits on Sanchez (two from Warren, one from Wright and one from Tully Banta-Cain) and three sacks (two from Warren, one from Banta-Cain) and were able to force punts on three of New York’s first five possessions of the afternoon.
In particular, Warren did a terrific job disrupting the New York passing game, getting after the quarterback for a pair of sacks — one 10-yard sack in the second quarter and the second a six-yard sack on the first play from scrimmage in the third quarter. That included a good shot on Sanchez from behind, a play where Warren launched himself into Warren’s back.
“He readjusted my back,” Sanchez said of Warren’s hit. “That was terrible. He made a pretty good hit on me.”
SOMETHING IS WRONG WITH THE BRADY-TO-MOSS DEEP BALL
One of the hallmarks of the New England offense has been those occasions where Tom Brady rares back and fires the ball downfield for Moss, usually from distances of 50 yards or more. But that accuracy that was there in previous years seems to be missing this year.
That’s not to suggest the two haven’t been able to connect on intermediate routes in the range of 30 yards or so — the two had a 32-yarder in the opener, as well as a spectacular 34-yard touchdown pass on Sunday. In addition, there was one deep ball of note thrown in the preseason, a 65-yard thunderbolt from Brady to Moss against the Rams.
But for whatever reason — the ball is overthrown, the ball is underthrown, the defensive back makes a nice play or maybe they are just trying to force the action in hopes he can make a play — the two have missed more than they’ve made through the first two games of the regular season.
On Sunday, Brady tried for Moss five times on pass plays of roughly 30 yards or more, and they only connected on one. In the first quarter, there was a deep down the right sideline that went incomplete. In the second quarter, Brady tried to go deep down the middle to Moss, and again, the ball was incomplete. On the following series, Brady hit Moss with the 34-yard touchdown pass, but there were two more missed connections deep in the second half, including one underthrown ball that was picked off by Cromartie.
As we said, there are extenuating circumstances around both picks, including the first one. But it still goes into the book as an interception and turnover for Brady, as well as another missed opportunity on a deep ball between the quarterback and wide receiver.
EVEN IN AN UGLY LOSS LIKE THIS ONE, THERE ARE POSITIVES — NAMELY, THE PLAY OF AARON HERNANDEZ
At 20, Hernandez was the youngest player in the league when the season opened a week ago, but on Sunday, he played far beyond his years. The rookie tight end was targeted six times and caught six passes for a team-high 101 yards. Three of his six catches helped convert third downs, including a 46-yarder at the end of the first half where he eluded a boatload of tacklers and got the ball down to the Jets’ 34-yard line, setting the stage for Moss’ one-handed touchdown catch a play later.
“It was third-down play and we needed a catch,” explained Hernandez when asked about the 46-yarder, a career-best. “I tried to win the match-up on my route, (Tom) Brady threw a great pass and we got the first down.”
THE PATRIOTS ARE HOPING BUFFALO IS THE CURE FOR WHAT AILS THEM
As bad as things were on Sunday, they should get a little easier for the Patriots. They return home on Sunday to face a reeling Bills team that has started 0-2, which included a 34-7 road loss to the Packers on Sunday. If timing is everything, it’s a good week for New England: it’s getting a division game at home against a reeling opponent that has scored just 17 points in its two games.
And as bad as things went on Sunday, if the host Dolphins can beat the Jets and Patriots beat the visiting Bills next weekend — both of which are pretty safe bets — New England would be ahead of the Jets in the division standings.
“The good thing about that is, like I said, we just get to come out here next week and try to make up for this game,” Moss said. “And just get back to work tomorrow.”
“It’s going to be a long week, I can promise you that,” Brady said. “We have to get better in a lot of areas.”