Like a lot of New England Patriots fans, I needed some time off from football after Sunday’s stunning 28-21 loss to the #6 seed New York Jets in the AFC Divisional Playoff Game. But here I am, writing about the Patriots one last time for this season.
It still seems unbelievable that the Patriots season is over so soon, but in a cruel way, it was perhaps destined to happen, despite the odds. Rex Ryan and the Jets needed to get that monkey off his their collective backs of actually beating their AFC East rivals in the playoffs, being 0-2 lifetime before the other night, just like he and his squad did the previous weekend in defeating Peyton Manning and his Colts. Consider it a job well done.
Now, the Jets are in the AFC Championship Game for the second year in a row. They really have to make the Super Bowl (if not win the whole thing, which I obviously don’t hope for) now or this will have been another wasted opportunity to backup their big mouths that they are the best team in the NFL. (Remember, Rex Ryan said this time last year that his Jets should be Super Bowl favorites. They never made the big game due to the Colts beating them for the AFC title)
The Patriots can’t blame the refs or anyone else for this loss, just a relentless Jets defense that mixed up coverages and made Tom Brady’s offensive line miserable early and often, to the point where they sacked the MVP QB five times, an unprecedented amount in one game this season. And the Jets secondary (Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie) held veteran wide-outs Deion Branch and Wes Welker to a combined one reception in the first half, while also covering tightly rookie tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski all game long.
Only veteran tight end Alge Crumpler was productive when it mattered, but even he dropped a TD pass from Brady. I’ll give him a break because he SAVED a TD in the first quarter when he chased down Jets linebacker David Harris, who picked off Brady’s pass that was bothered by fellow LB Calvin Pace and then thrown off the QB’s back foot, a rare bad move on his part and the first INT thrown in months.
Also disappointing was the Patriots defense, who even with Tully Banta-Cain back, had no pass rush on Sanchez and no sacks as a result. Bye week or no bye week, this is inexcusable for a team that held the Jets offense to three points last month. Sanchez, therefore, was comfortable enough in the pocket much of the game to make some impressive throws for big gains, notably to Jericho Cotchery (for 58 yards) and Santonio Holmes (for a seven-yard crucial fourth quarter TD that made a 14-11 Jets lead expand to 21-11).
Brady, on the other hand, was off on a couple of key passes (notably to Branch in the second half on a key third down play) but did all he could with major pressure on him for about half the game, throwing two TDs and for 299 yards.
Play of the Game: Near the end of the first half, the Patriots were about to punt (again), but Bill Belichick, for whatever reason, decided to trust second year safety Patrick Chung’s instincts and ok-ed him to handle a fake punt on a fourth-and-13 situation. Of course he fumbled it a bit and therefore blew what would’ve been a gutsy run for a first down. He’s inexperienced. That’s why you practice and try to execute these situations with VETERANS, not youngsters like Chung.
Belichick lived to regret that decision, as it set up Mark Sanchez and the Jets for touchdown, caught by Braylon Edwards that made a 7-3 deficit a 14-3 one going into halftime.
Another dumb move by the Pats head coach was to allow Wes Welker to field the Jets kickoff to start the game, but bench him for the first offensive series of the game due to the star receiver’s subtle jabs at Rex Ryan during a press conference last week. Either you bench him for the start of the game, or you don’t punish him at all. The latter would’ve been my choice, as this is the PLAYOFFS, not the U.S. military academy. (Remember, Belichick grew up learning football at one point from his father Steve, an assistant coach and scout at the U.S. Naval Academy for over three decades)
If anyone needed to be benched on either side, it was Bart Scott of the Jets, who threatened bodily harm to Welker in reaction to his constant foot references (to Rex Ryan) in that press conference. But Ryan would never do that because he knows the stakes are too high just to make a point about being disciplined in the media.
So now, the Patriots have officially lost that postseason magic they had in years past, with this being their third playoff loss in a row and second one at home, with Baltimore crushing them at Gillette Stadium last year and the New York Giants doing what we fans want to forget never happened in the Super Bowl three seasons ago.
This loss will be hard to forget as well, though most logically thinking Patriots fans feared in the back of their mind that at some point, postseason inexperience among the young players on both sides of the ball and even on special teams could cost them in the playoffs at some point along the way.
This 14-2 team was still developing at regular season’s end, especially on defense, where it ranks low compared to that of the other Super Bowl-caliber teams of 2003, 2004 and 2007. Those Patriots teams were expected to go far come postseason time. They had the right balance of good offense and defense (not to mention the reliable foot of Adam Vinatieri in 2001, ’03 and ’04).
Unfortunately, though this year’s team had an MVP QB and some worthy veterans on offense (Welker and Branch), with Kevin Faulk out for the season, it lacked playoff experience at running back and tight end (Crumpler aside) and didn’t have nearly enough on defense (Vince Wilfork aside) and special teams (coverage). And defense wins championships, as they say.
So until next season, us Patriots fans can just cry into our memorabilia, or with the DVDs at home, relive the glory from the three Super Bowl titles the home team have won in the Brady era.