Was Sunday’s game in Foxborough an indication of poor play by the Patriots, or is this an indication that their run — their AFC East run — is coming to an end?
The reason I ask this, and the reason I’m even brining it up a day after the Patriots lost 33-14 to the Ravens at home, isn’t to throw Tom Brady, Bill Belichick or the other members of New England with Super Bowl rings under the bus. No, instead it’s to point out the obvious, because there were some glaring issues brought to our TV screens yesterday that we don’t usually see from Belichcik-coached teams.
For starters, they were so soft up front — tissue soft. Can you remember a New England playoff team folding like that at the point of attack? I’m talking about more than just the opening 83-yard TD run by Baltimore’s Ray Rice.
The Ravens ran the ball down the throats of that defensive front seven all game long: 52 total rushes in one game. Those are numbers we see at Georgia Tech or Navy — and they run the triple option. But it’s obvious that John Harbaugh and his staff in Baltimore saw enough of this New England team on film last week to know that running the football — constantly — is the way to not only move the chains but also to control the clock, keep Brady off the field and basically dictate the flow of the game.
At the end of the day: 234 total rushing yards. Embarrassing numbers if you’re a member of the New England defense because, well, it was simple schemes that beat them. This wasn’t the wildcat or some exotic formation that provides enough pre-snap window dressing to cause defenders to misalign or forget their responsibilities. Instead, this was the power off-tackle running game. The Power O, the Lead Strong and the Lead Open. The running package you install on the first day of training camp.
And the Ravens whipped New England doing it.
But it doesn’t stop there. The Patriots are poor on special teams. They were gashed in the return game, and that should tell us that they’re lacking depth on the roster of young core special teamers. On other teams, we wouldn’t make a big deal about this, but the Patriots are supposed to be the model franchise, and when you’re poor on kicking units, it’s a reflection of a lack of talent.
I understand it’s hard to judge Brady — one year removed from major knee surgery — based on a Sunday in the postseason. But going against a pressure team, his offensive line looked porous, and we saw Brady force passes, throw off of his back foot and look, well, unlike the Pro Bowl QB he is. Randy Moss looked average and disinterested, and even with a healthy Wes Welker, the result would have been the same.
Yes, this was a real bad loss for New England. Someone asked me last week if I thought the Pats were “sleepers” in the playoffs. I thought they were, and I would never bet against a Brady-led team at home in the postseason.
But what I saw yesterday showed me that this team — which isn’t very young at some key skill positions — could be in trouble in the future. The Jets and the Dolphins, two young and very talented teams, are going to improve for the 2011 season. Buffalo will hire a new coach and install a new system, so maybe it’s time to wonder if that AFC East dominance is over.
If anything, Sunday made us question the Pats for the first time in years.
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For some another take on Brady and the Pats, check out this story from Bleacher Report.