The Raiders are a better road team than the Patriots. Think about that for a minute. The fabled Oakland franchise that has become a laughingstock of ineptitude second only to the Lions has a better road record than the Patriots. To their credit though, the Patriots did find a different way to lose a road game on Sunday. Usually the fade begins in the second half. In Miami, they started their swoon in the second quarter of a 22-21 loss to the Dolphins.
What is going on in the second half with the Patriots offense? In all my years playing in and covering the NFL, I cannot recall another offense that has had such a disparity in scoring between the two halves.
Tom Brady was better than perfect in his first 15 passing attempts. His next 14 attempts made Pats fans long for the Scott Secules days. How could he be so bad after being so perfect? How do you go from a perfect QB rating of 158.3 to a rating of 14.8? Did Tom get hurt on that touchdown pass to Sam Aiken? Whatever it is, it is not an isolated incident. Brady and the offense get the failing grade because when they were given numerous opportunities to put Miami away, they failed miserably. Despite the fact that this Miami defense is not good. That interception to Vontae Davis was terrible. The pass was lousy. The throw should have been higher where only Randy Moss could reach it.
The coaches and play-calling are not off the hook for this debacle, but the players had plenty of chances to execute even some simple plays that would have sealed the game for New England.
Wes Welker was fantastic again. It must irk the hell out of the Miami fans when they see Welker do what he does and know that the Dolphins let him go for a song.
Moss should have made a better effort to break up that interception by Davis in the end zone. When Moss realized the interception might happen he should have tackled Davis. Moss also whiffed on a couple of blocks on screen plays.
Aiken made a phenomenal catch and run for the long TD. He came close to another great catch on a ball that was just inches out of his reach. He should have made that catch toward the end of the game. He was falling backward but got two clean hands on the ball.
The running backs played well enough. Laurence Maroney and Sammy Morris were adequate in the running game. That same fourth-and-1 play has worked for the Patriots in the past. Morris had no hole to hit and no head of steam to make it work. Kevin Faulk was pretty much an afterthought in the game plan.
The offensive line is not playing well enough. The injuries are a part of the problem. Dan Connolly has not done well enough filling in for the injured Stephen Neal. Nick Kaczur is struggling mightily. Even when Kaczur has gotten help he still has problems.
This big a problem is obviously not the fault of one player, one position or one coach. These second-half issues are so monumental that it is most certainly a group effort ... or lack of effort.
The Patriots defense gets the barely passing grade because it gave the offense more than one opportunity to win the game in the fourth quarter. I know there is a lot of anger at this defense right now, but when push comes to shove, the Pats held the Dolphins to 22 points. That should have been more than enough for a victory. They gave up plenty of yards and probably would have given up some more had they been facing a better quarterback. Points are what counts, and the Pats defense squeaks by by the slimmest of margins and gets a passing grade for a mediocre effort.
The defensive backs looked terrible. Jonathan Wilhite has a target on his back and the league is taking aim. Darius Butler looked like the rookie that he is. At least Brandon Meriweather learned his lesson from New Orleans. He was usually in position and helped out where he could. He was guilty however, as were all the defensive backs, of some poor tackling.
The linebackers were a non-factor in the game. Miami tight end Anthony Fasano had some easy catches in part because of lack of coverage from the linebackers. Like the defensive backs, Gary Guyton and Jerod Mayo were guilty of some missed tackles. Derrick Burgess and Adalius Thomas were there but not very active.
The defensive line could not get pressure at all on Miami. The linemen were ineffective in any pass-rush scenario. Blitzes were not working. Straight rushes were useless. They had more players available for the D-line rotation but they still looked tired. Vince Wilfork is still great against the run but he is not a pass-rusher.
Without a viable pass rush, the secondary will continue to look worse than it is. This is not excuse-making, but the secondary is the most inexperienced group on the field. The defensive backs really need whatever help a pass rush could give them. I think we got a little ahead of ourselves after the first six or seven games with this defense. This version of the Patriots defense is in the middle of some retooling. I think Bill Belichick assumed a more prolific scoring offense would hide some of the deficiencies when a defense is being reconfigured. This defense is more like what we imagined it would be when we saw the list of all the players who were gone. Unfortunately, the offense is not covering up anything or anyone at this point.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B-
Nothing special here. Chris Hanson is punting well. The return game is good. The kick coverage is adequate but not good. Is Stephen Gostkowski hurt ? Out of nowhere, starting last week in New Orleans, his kickoffs were considerably shorter than we had become used to. Keep an eye on him.
I could understand the fourth-and-2 call in Indy. You did not want to give the ball back to one of the all time great quarterbacks in NFL history, so you take a gamble. I can get my head around that. Manning was killing your defense that was sucking wind at that point. I get it. So why the need to get seven instead of three against an offense and quarterback that had not proven anything near the ability to beat you in a shootout? Sometimes three points is a good thing. That being said, I still did not have that much of a problem with going for it. I assumed the Pats would be scoring pretty much at will anyway. As they had up until that point. But why? Why THAT play? No chance for a cut. No head of steam for an extra push. Defensive linemen and linebackers stuffed in the hole. Disaster written all over it. Tom Brady said they had run that very play successfully a number of times. Maybe that is why Miami was ready for it.
Something has to be done. This second-half thing has gone on way too long. This is not a figment of our imaginations. We understand “getting back to the drawing board” and “working harder.” We are with you on that. But the definition of insanity is doing the exact same thing and expecting different results. The same thing is happening, and I am not sure I am seeing different approaches to the problem. I know that four or five plays one way or the other and things could be different. Well, that has not happened, and it is what it is. The coaches shoulder a share of the blame for the problems.