Monday, January 17, 2011

What went wrong?

True, I rarely write about stick & ball sports (I do write about NASCAR once in a while), but after the Patriots blew up their season last night I thought I should twist it around a little more before officially going into "anyone but the bleeping Jets" mode for the rest of the no-longer-interesting to me playoffs.

The game started really well, forcing the Jets into a 3 and out on the first possession. The Pats then started moving the ball easily, making mostly short passes to running backs and the tight ends and very quickly getting down the field. Even when Brady made his first pick in over 3 months, it didn't seem like a killer - the resulting defensive stand was outstanding and the field goal miss gave the ball back in good shape.

But the ensuing drive for a field goal wasn't quite as sharp as the opener, and now 2 dominant drives that resulted in a pick and only 3 points total had left the game tight early. The Patriots had been winning with early offensive execution that forced the other team into mistakes. That was the last offense we saw from the Pats until late in the third quarter.

The other killer play in the first half was the failed fake punt. Even if Chung had handled the snap fine, coverage looked like it might have gotten him anyway. A poor play call at a bad time. That resulted in what turned out to be the back-breaking score.

The way the Patriots blew up the Jets in December was to get ahead enough of them that Mark Sanchez was forced to take chances that he's not really experienced or talented enough to succeed with. He's not a terrible QB, but spotting them a lead gives the Jets a chance to cover up his weaknesses easily.

The sequence that clinched it was after the Patriots drew to 14-11 late. The defense had settled in well after the Jets got a lead and was playing effectively. But they immediately allowed the Jets to score to turn it back into a 2-score game. That took the momentum back and pretty much ended the game.

There's a lot of soul-searching that has to take place in Foxboro this winter. Right now, the Pats are losers of their last 3 postseason games and even though none of us expected a 14-2 dominant regular season, getting smoked in the divisional round by a team that we trashed a month prior (especially the Jets) is not the way to go out. The young secondary is a strength, the linebacking corps is solid, but the defensive line is thin and the Patriots' offense now has a 3-game track record of failing to show up in big playoff games. Not good. This may be a good year to use those stockpiled draft picks.

And one FOOTnote: Sitting Welker for the first series. Really bad move. Might have even contributed to the INT Brady threw. Yes, the Pats are all about discipline and marching orders, but if you can't even get out a few under-the-text gags without being punished that's just stupid. Deal with that in-house without sitting your key receiver.

Hearing that Welker was sitting was the first moment I started to have fear about this game. Winning the game is more important than maintaining the Patriot Way.