Coming off two excellent efforts, I was expecting better. Perhaps not a Piccasso. Or even a piece from a white hot up-and-comer. But certainly something better than my horrifying attempt in 8th grade to re-paint a Botticelli. If memory serves, I was given a charitable “C” for that assault on art history. Using that grade as a benchmark, I can’t give the Pats anything better than a C- for yesterday’s test in San Diego.
I guess Pats fans should be thankful for the victory but truth be told, that was one of the worst Patriots victories I can recall. Try as I may, I simply can’t recall a win feeling that hollow. Sure, there is some stiff competition from the likes of Opening Night a year ago where the Pats were miserable for 55 minutes and stole a game from Buffalo in the final moments. And there was that Monday nighter in 2007 against Baltimore that, because of some questionable calls, sure didn’t feel deserved. But those games have nothing on yesterday where the Pats squandered many opportunities to put the game away and then, when the game was finally on ice, they mysteriously decided to re-open the bidding and let the Chargers have a final chance. To say that was anything but disappointing is simply being disingenuous.
Watching the Pats yesterday, I kept wondering if the New England offense had actually practiced this week. That is how poor their execution was, particularly in the first half where they finished with something like thirty-four total yards. The pass protection was poor, the running game was nearly non-existent and most problematic, the receivers were simply being swallowed. Yeah, Brady’s first-half line looked like something you might find in Arizona or Carolina, but in his defense, you can’t complete passes to guys who are spooning with their defender. And that is what if looked like out there for thirty minutes …. One giant early morning snuggle.
Meanwhile, the Pats defense played passably. They caused some turnovers, they graciously accepted a turnover, the pass rush was decent and San Diego wasn’t able to do anything on the ground. But throughout, the Pats were WAY TOO respectful of San Diego’s passing game. By playing a soft zone where the safeties were at least five yards too deep, the Pats gave the Charger receivers far too much open space. And that made absolutely no sense to me. With the pass rush doing a decent job, the Pats should have been pressing San Diego rather than sitting back. And at the very least, the zone should have been tightened so safeties were at least in the right area code to crack receivers at the moment a catch was made. Unfortunately, the New England brain trust seemed so concerned about the big play that yesterday’s game plan was code named CUSHION.
As unseemly as yesterday was, at least it didn’t end in a loss, which would have been pretty disheartening when one considers that the Pats led by 17 with eleven minutes to play. Thankfully, the offense did manage one excellent third quarter drive, they matched a SD fourth quarter FG with a nice drive of their own, and the defense stiffened when it had to late. Yet despite all that, the Pats still had to sweat a game tying FG. And had that kick just drawn a bit to its left, the Pats would have been guilty of re-gifting a gift that SD had just put under the Pats Christmas tree. How can you get excited by that?
Anyway, the Pats crossed a tough one off their schedule yesterday and now seem to be in decent health as Minny comes to town next Sunday. I don’t love that matchup or the storylines that come with it, but if the Pats can get by that game, they should reach the halfway point at 7-1. In a WIDE open AFC, that should look pretty good and it’s important to remember that most of New England’s difficult games will be played at home in the second half. So while yesterday wasn’t pretty, keep in mind that the Pats are probably a game ahead of plan at this point. That is a pretty good place to be for a young team whose three-week moving average is still pointed up.
I was an ardent supporter of Belichick’s decision to go for it in Indy so you won’t hear any second-guessing from me when it comes to yesterday’s big call. Had the Pats been up four, it may have been a different story but up three and with two minutes to go, I think the decision to go is a layup. That they screwed up the play is irrelevant. The laws of probability say go for it and thus I was fully on board.
Brandon Spikes was quiet yesterday but Jermaine Cunningham seems to be breaking out. He played well again yesterday and at his current trajectory, Cunningham looks like he will be a big factor in the second half.
There are probably a couple of reasons why Sergio Brown wasn’t drafted this season out of Notre Dame but poor tackling is not one of them. That guy can finish receivers off.
By my count, the Pats were playing five rookies on defense for most of the second half and they were supported by another undrafted free agent (Dana Fletcher) and a third year guy (Crabble) who hadn’t played until this season. It is impossible to imagine that this defense won’t be better in a month, let alone Christmas or 2011.
Logan Mankins …. your presence is now being requested. For the first time this year, the Pats offensive line looked overmatched yesterday and I, for one, am not looking forward to that Jared Allen-Matt Light matchup on Sunday.
The early returns on Brandon Tate filling the shoes of Randy Moss don’t look so hot. He caught just one ball yesterday and that followed a week where he caught no balls. In Tate’s defense, he may be a guy who needs play action to get off and the Pats haven’t had much luck running the ball the last two weeks. If they can get their running game going, perhaps Tate will find more space downfield. And let’s be honest … as yesterday showed, the Pats need at least the appearance of a downfield threat to open things up in the middle.
Just a hunch, but I am going to say 3-12 on third down yesterday will be the worst conversion percentage of the year.