So not sure if you had heard but apparently the NFL is using replacement officials. When did this happen?
Alright, all jokes aside, clearly this little experiment is not working. The Baltimore/New England game was called atrociously (on both sides) and the Golden Tate game winning touchdown reception that wasn’t really a reception it would be irresponsible not to mention and or discuss this issue. But really there isn’t much to discuss. The owners (who are somehow not taking much of the brunt of the hate), NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and the real referees need to get in a room and figure this out. Honestly the rest of the season cannot have games like this past weekend.
I’d go on but really at this point between Twitter, SportsCenter and the personal blogs of millions I’d just be throwing a bucket of water into the Atlantic Ocean. Fix this referee issue. That is all.
Now to the actual reason fans care about the NFL, you know the football. On second thought maybe I should keep discussing the referee debacle since I really don’t feel like writing about yet another crushing New England Patriots defeat.
Before I get into that I would like to say that I wish Torrey Smith and his family the very best in these terrible times. As much as I hated to watch the Patriots lose it was nice to see Smith have such a huge game when he clearly needed it.
Anyway back to the less important stuff. I thought about just writing “The Patriots lost. The End” for this post but that was on Sunday. Now that I’ve been able to stew I can be more objective. (Okay not really but I can pretend).
Let’s spin it positively. New England is 1-2 but if you look at its defeats its not as devastating a record as it appears. The Patriots lost two games by a combined score of three points against two opponents that have a combined record of 5-1.
But there is also a negative angle to be taken. The Patriots lost two winnable games by not closing in a trend that seems to be becoming more and more prevalent. Yet again the Patriots built a lead early and controlled the game for the first three quarters or so before suddenly folding in the fourth quarter. It happened against Baltimore (up nine halfway through the fourth), against Arizona to an extent (out gained the Cardinals 387-245 but lost because of a blocked punt that set up a two-yard touchdown drive). It goes further back to last season in the Super Bowl (team needed just one first down but Wes Welker dropped that pass) and you could even argue that it happened against Baltimore in the AFC Championship game because if Lee Evans makes that catch or that field goal goes in things could have gone entirely differently.
I’m not sure which of these outlooks is more of an accurate assessment but my feelings are that the second option is more indicative of what this team is right now.
After playing extremely well in the first two games and the first few drives of the matchup with Baltimore suddenly the defense couldn’t stop the Ravens at all. In fact on the first three drives of the game the Patriots forced two punts and an interception. From there Baltimore scored on five of their last seven possessions. Now part of the blame can go to the officials as time and time again Baltimore seemed to get bailed out on mysterious holding penalties but its not the only issue. The secondary just didn’t do a good job in coverage. Devin McCourty dropped an interception or two and the defense just didn’t get off the field enough. Watching this defense, especially in tight games, is painful because you just never feel like they’ll get a stop when they need to.
One positive was the stop the unit got on a fourth and one play. As I watched that I remarked that I didn’t think the Patriots had stuffed a run play on fourth and short since John Hannah was still on the team. In fact the run defense was pretty solid although Ray Rice did gallop for 101 yards.
Then there’s the offense which in these tough losses always seems to be just one first down from sealing the game only to fail to convert. Despite getting bailed out themselves on some dubious penalty calls (although the reversed interception in my mind was legit) the Patriots drive to kill the clock featured just six yards of offense actually gained without help from the zebras and had an alarming number of poor play calls. It needs to be mentioned that Josh McDaniels still seems to be readjusting to being the offensive coordinator again. I mean that double reverse to Edeleman was just a dumb play. You don’t need to run trick plays like you’re playing Boise State in the effing Fiesta Bowl.
The offense also failed in the fourth quarter when instead of putting the final nail in the coffin after driving deep into Baltimore territory with a touchdown, it settled for a 20-yard field goal. Seven of the team’s last 11 scoring drives have ended in field goals. That just can’t happen when you have the talent on offense the Patriots have.
Those struggles all come down to one thing; closing. The Patriots have to figure out how to better close out drives on offense and defense and even more importantly how to close out games if they want to rise from this 1-2 rut.
Some quick hits from the game:
-Brandon Llloyd might be able to catch anything and clearly Brady feels that way. He has somehow become Brady’s favorite receiver even though Wes Welker had a vintange performance with eight catches for 142 yards. Time and time again Lloyd made catches that just didn’t seem possible.
-Has Gronkowski become just the most expensive decoy in the NFL? Three targets, two receptions, 21 yards. I don’t know if it’s the play calling or that Gronk just isn’t open but he just doesn’t seem like that important a piece in the offense right now. Could losing Hernandez being an even bigger loss than once thought?
-Stevan Ridley has certainly begun a slow descent back to earth. His carries and yards have all gone down each week with the 13 carries and 37 yards against Baltimore nowhere near the Barry Sanders-esque performance he had in week one. Granted Tennessee’s run defense is horrible. So horrible that even the Lions managed to rush for 100 yards against it.
-Heaping praise on the Patriots front seven, especially rookies Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower, seems to have jinxed the unit. The Patriots issues in stopping the pass, especially late in games, has a lot to do with the team not creating pressure. Against Baltimore on Sunday the Patriots had zero sacks and just one tackle for loss. Anybody is going to toss up 380 yards if they have all day to throw the ball.
The Patriots are 1-2 after last weekends loss. The first time since 2003 that they have been below .500. Here’s hoping this weekend everything (referees included) gets back to normal.
Should the Patriots feel okay about the 1-2 start? Let us know on Twitter (@seeuinoctober) or in the comments.