By Alan Segel
From the start of yesterday’s 28-21 playoff loss to the New York Jets something was off. The 68,756 at Gillette Stadium and the millions more watching on TV saw things from the Patriots that had not been seen in weeks and for most of the season. For instance, Tom Brady’s fifth pass of the game, a screen attempt to BenJarvus Green-Ellis, ended up in the hands of Jets linebacker David Harris. It was the first time that one of Brady’s offerings landed in foreign territory since October 17th. It signaled something was up and in this case it was definitely not a positive signal.
However, there was a fool’s gold kind of moment as the interception led to a missed Nick Folk 30 yard field goal. In turn the Patriots took a 3-0 lead on a Shayne Graham 34 yard field goal. But, that event too gave an indication of what was to follow. The Patriots had marched to the Jets 12 and seemed ready to punch it in.
Since their last loss in Cleveland, on November 7th, these kind of moments usually launched an onslaught of points that had brought forth eight straight wins. However, yesterday Brady threw an incomplete pass to Alge Crumpler and then was sacked back the 16 yard line by Shaun Ellis bringing the field goal attempt. The negative gates were opened and they never seemed to close completely.
The Jets deserved this game pure and simple. They had the better game plan. They had the better execution. They also played, it seemed, at a much more poised and consistent level than the Patriots did. The Patriots, for the most part, are a young team(especially defensively) and it brings the question did their playoff inexperience help produce this season ender ? In my opinion it is a resounding yes.
The Patriots were comfortable with their two weeks of preparation leading up to yesterday’s game. However, when the curtain went up something happened. The players expected more from themselves and were surprised they did not get it.
“You’re always surprised and disappointed when you lose a game, especially the way we’ve been playing,” said Pats linebacker Jerrod Mayo. “I think the coaches did a good job getting us prepared and getting us ready for the game. We just didn’t go out and execute. I was disappointed we couldn’t get it done today.”
Tom Brady’s numbers have been off the charts the past several weeks. In fact he should be named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player in the week leading up to the Super Bowl. However, yesterday he was 29-45 for 299 yards. He had two touchdowns and the interception but his quarterback rating was only 89.0. He mentioned that he was not surprised by anything the Jets did but at the same time the Jets were not the blitzing team Pats fans or players had come to know.
“I think they played a lot more coverage today–probably similar to what they did last week, ” said Brady. “They mixed it up quite a bit. They certainly have a lot of calls. It was a good plan by them and you’ve got to give them a lot of credit.”
The Jets did mix it up. There were too many times that Brady was standing in the pocket looking for an open receiver. Instead of watching for Jets pressure, which did come on a few occasions, Brady was seeing Jets defensive backs all over his receivers. Darelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie took Wes Welker and Deion Branch out of the game long enough to build 14-3 and 21-11 leads. At the half Branch had no catches and Welker had just one. Brady’s other passes went to his tight ends and backs. And while Alge Crumpler,Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Danny Woodhead, and BenJarvus Green-Ellis are talented, without production from Welker and Branch the Pats, more times than not, get into trouble.
Brady thought that the Patriots handled the Jets defense well at times and not so well at other times. He just feels that the Patriots didn’t make enough plays. Why did that happen ?
“Just a lack of execution,” suggested Brady. “In order to score points, you have to be able to put together plays and we could never really do that or find a rhythm. They made a lot of plays and didn’t make many mistakes. We made too many mistakes. There were too many plays that weren’t the way we drew them up”
The biggest example of what Brady just mentioned came in the second quarter. The half was coming to a close and the Pats found themselves at their own 38. They trailed 7-3 with 1:14 left. Zoltan Mesko, on a 4th and 4, was ready to punt it away but a direct snap, and fake attempt, went to safety Patrick Chung. He fumbled it and recovered. However, the Jets were set up on the Pats 37 and 4 plays later Mark Sanchez hit Braylon Edwards for one of his three touchdown passes.
“We just made a bad mistake on the play. Just a bad mistake,” said Bill Belichick. He was then asked if the bad mistake was in calling it or was it a bad mistake in execution. He said simply, “I’m not even going into it.” I personally think this is one of those times when Bill Belichick needed to explain further. I know it is not his M.O. but sometimes there needs to be an explanation. Of course, if Patrick Chung had a flawless execution and was able to run for a first down the thoughts of Patriots fans would be different from where they are now. However, as President Harry Truman once said, The buck stops here. Was the fake punt a bad call or just bad execution ? There is no shame in admitting a mistake if one is made. It also would not diminish anything that has been accomplished in the past or will be accomplished in the future. In this case that play delivered a chance for the Jets that probably turned the game for good.
The play was a microcosm of the game as a whole. There were mistakes all around. Brady saw passes go through the usually able and sure hands of Wes Welker and Deion Branch. He also was sacked five times for 40 yards. All season long he had been brought down just 25 times(4 in San Diego). The Pats rushed for just 113 yards and had 6 penalties for 44 yards. Defensively, the Jets found room over the middle. They rushed for 120 yards and were 6-13 on third downs. When all was added up the Patriots season came to a sudden halt.
“It’s like you’re on a treadmill running at 10 miles an hour and then someone just hits the stop button,” said Brady. “I think we certainly expected to play better today. I think we’re a pretty good football team, but not when we play like today. Like I said, a lot of the credit goes to the Jets and the way their players performed. It’s disappointing the way we performed. I certainly wish I did a better job.”
So do the many members of Patriots Nation.
NOTES: Alge Crumpler’s 28 yard reception in the first quarter was his longest as a Patriot. His previous high was 27 yards in Detroit on Thanksgiving Day……..Tom Brady now has 17 straight playoff games with at least one touchdown pass….Rob Gronkowski’s 37 yard third quarter reception was the longest in his brief Patriots career. His previous high was 28 against Miami on January 2nd……….16 Patriots made their playoff debut; Sergio Brown, Landon Cohen, Dan Connolly, Jermaine Cunningham, Brandon Deaderick, Dane Fletcher, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Kyle Love, Devin McCourty, Zoltan Mesko, Eric Moore, Quinn Ojunnaka, Brandon Spikes, and Brandon Tate…..The Patriots, after 11 straight home playoff wins, have now dropped two in a row. They lost to Baltimore 33-14 last season……They are now 11-3 at home in the post-season….