Fighting at home and fighting on ground to your liking are not one and the same. So said Robert Lee almost 150 years ago. Fast forward to yesterday and the Patriots got a heavy dose of what Lee was talking about as The Army of the Potomac stared him down in 1862. Yeah, they may have played yesterday’s game at Gillette Stadium but that game was not fought on ground that benefitted the Pats. And to these eyes, it is the reason why the Patriots are no longer standing.
There are a number of things one can point to why the Patriots lost yesterday’s divisional playoff game to the New York Jets but I think it really boils down to this …… the Pats were simply never able to get that game on their terms. So instead of jumping out with some quick scores and putting pressure on the Jets, the Pats made some early mistakes and got locked into a fight that was much more to New York’s liking. Tom Brady said as much today: “We were never able to put any pressure on them (offensively).”
Brady’s early interception was obviously a big part of that as the Pats were confidently driving and a score right off the bat would have given the Pats a “10-8 round” in the first. Crumpler’s four-point drop a few minutes later was equally troubling as that would sent a strong message, something akin to this ….. “you got your flukey turnover but we’re back and there is more behind it.”
Those mistakes were big but the real killer was the fake punt that went awry because from that point forward, the Jets had the high ground and could play the game accordingly. That meant less pressure to stop New England’s ground game and more resources could be used to clog things up downfield. The net result was there simply wasn’t a whole lot of room to make plays downfield. You couple that with so-so pass protection and the Pats offense in the second half was akin to 19th century dental work …. aka, pulling teeth the hard way.
While Belichick won’t publically admonish Pat Chung for screwing up that punt play, it is pretty clear that Chung was the lone gunman on that call. And personally, I don’t think it was a horrible move because if the Pats get that first down, they stand a good chance of rattling the Jets. At worst, if they get that first down, they go into half down four. More likely, it gives them some momentum and they either close to one or go up three, with the ball in their hands to start the second half. That strikes me as a decent payout and worth the risk if Pats truly had an eight-on-six advantage there. Unfortunately, Chung crapped all over the play, the Jets took advantage of the short field, and the Pats had to fight uphill for the final thirty minutes.
There are other recriminations flying about today. Why did the Pats show no urgency on that fourth quarter drive? How did Branch not come up with that huge fourth down grab? And where were the turnovers that the defense had generated all year? All are salient questions as each either played a role in the loss or deserves a second guess. But at the end of the day, I think the loss really boils down to this …. The Jets got to play their game and they simply played it better than the Pats. They won more plays. They avoided mistakes. And they prevented the Pats offense from getting off. So they move on and the Pats go home. Those are the breaks. Unfortunately, those breaks are becoming all too much a part of recent Patriots lore.
So where does this loss rank on the “bad loss” meter? Well, it is obviously to the right of “disappointing. “ I know there are some who say it can be minimized because little was expected of this club but that ignores the fact that the Pats were set up to do something big. I don’t care what expectations WERE in September because by December, those expectations had been significantly elevated. And to lose a divisional game, to the Jets, when a conference title was possible, seems a bit worse than just “disappointing.” So this might not approach the Super Bowl loss, but as far as bad losses in New England history goes, yesterday has a pretty strong claim on the two spot.
And that is that. There will be more to say in the weeks ahead but suffice to say, this was a tremendously fulfilling season that ended with a giant thud. Hopefully, it will fuel a big off-season and engrain the kids to come back on a mission. Clearly, this club did a lot with its resources and those resources should be greatly enhanced in April. Accordingly, this roster should be stacked next August. Given that, it is my hope that 2010 will be remembered as the year that the Pats laid the foundation for a big move. But it could have been so much more. If only they could have gained the higher ground.
[I hope Shelby Foote is not one of my readers because he would surely quibble with my bastardiazation of Lee’s saying. And it is important to note that when Lee played in his Super Bowl, he knew he was on unfavorable ground but fought anyways.]