By: Steve Balestrieri
“Build up your weaknesses until they become your strong points.“~ Knute Rockne
On Sunday night the New England Patriots lost a last second game to the Baltimore Ravens as a 27 yard field goal from Baltimore’s Justin Tucker went just inside the goal post to finish the 31-30 comeback win.
Defense Never Rests-
Forget about the replacement officials, there will be more about that later. The bigger picture is the Patriots defense has to look in the mirror this morning and say they have no one to blame but themselves for this one.
The defense certainly started out just fine getting the Ravens to start the game with three straight three and outs, but it was all downhill from there. The run defense, so stout this season with the front seven then couldn’t contain Ray Rice. It opened up the play action pass and Baltimore was testing the deep perimeter of the Patriots defense all night.
But the most glaring item for the Patriots in this one has to be the total absence of an effective pass rush. Going into this game, the Patriots front four was supposed to have a huge advantage against the Baltimore offensive line. Many wrote about it and it was supposed to be New England dictating the issue up front. It wasn’t, Baltimore controlled the line of scrimmage in both the running game and the passing game.
Coaching staff drops ball-
Joe Flacco had all day to throw and when your game plan is to test the field deep, you need plenty of time to allow the play to develop, and he got it all game. Here is where I fault the Patriots coaching staff.
The Ravens were throwing deep all game, and with no push from the front four, why didn’t the coaches try to help the secondary by blitzing and overloading the offensive line and forcing Flacco into mistakes? Or at least forcing Flacco getting rid of the ball before he was ready to. This is a situation that needs to be rectified; the result was Flacco had plenty of time and he could put the ball where he needed to.
Contrast this to what was going on with the Patriots offense. QB Tom Brady was methodically carving up Baltimore’s defense. The Ravens then started sending the house on every big third down call, allowing them to make plays and make Brady and the Patriots offense to nibble on short, underneath throws where they were able to make stops.
This is the third week in a row Defensive Coordinator Matt Patricia has failed to give the defense enough of the reins to make plays. They are playing a passive, Cover 2 and it hurt them last night going down the stretch.
As bad as the numbers looked last night, there were still plenty of plays on the field where if the Patriots make them, then they win the game. Devin McCourty had the opportunity for a couple of interceptions and came away empty.
In the fourth quarter Flacco laid out a horrible deep throw that should have been an easy interception for Kyle Arrington and he lost his footing and fell down. Shoddy tackling all night hurt, most especially on the second quarter touchdown where Steve Gregory and McCourty both whiffed badly.
McCourty played strongly all game credited with four passes defensed but became the target for Baltimore on the final two drives and was burned, both in coverage and with penalties. Kyle Arrington fared little better, being picked on all game as the cornerback play took a major step backwards in this game.
Afterwards, McCourty put the blame on himself, “We fell short, especially me,” said McCourty. “You have to make plays, plain and simple. There were more plays, not just the last drive, that I can make and my team counts on me to make. It’s simple, I have to make those plays.”
Offense does the job-
Many people will point the finger at Tom Brady and the offense today for failing to close out the game, while its true to a point, anytime your offense puts up 30 points on a Baltimore defense, you should be in good position to win the game.
Brady was generally excellent and his rapport especially with WR Brandon Lloyd is growing. Both were on the same page for the first time last night and the results were dynamic. Brady finished 28 of 41 for 335 yards, with one touchdown, while Lloyd finished with 9 catches for 108 yards.
Wes Welker returned from M.I.A. status to have an outstanding game, 8 catches for 142 yards to be a big part of the offense. However, Josh McDaniels once again tried to out-smart himself with a silly double-reverse at midfield that lost 14 yards and killed an important drive, but overall the Patriots offense did the job.
If there is one fault there, it’s that at crunch time, McDaniels abandoned the running game with Stevan Ridley when they could have closed it out. In fact Ridley was barely used, Danny Woodhead and Brandon Bolden getting more of the important carries during the game.
Officiating a Joke-
The official stat is that there were 13 first downs awarded via penalties during the game, a new NFL record. It doesn’t begin to tell the story of how horrible this officiating crew was right from the opening kickoff.
This crew had zero control over this game and it was painfully obvious. While letting some stuff go unchecked, they then proceeded to call the ticky-tack. They whiffed on the Julian Edelman push off that would have given the Patriots a first and goal but let Torrey Smith’s go in the endzone.
The non-existent McCoury hold on what would have been a 3rd and 15 reeked of Ben Drieth, as well as call on Brandon Spikes that wiped out the only Patriots sack of the game. Things started to go downhill for New England when on third down Jerod Mayo was called for another phantom call. It led to Baltimore’s first touchdown and the calls only got worse.
While everyone could read the “MFer” that John Harbaugh leveled at the officials, was it really worthy of a unsportsmanlike conduct penalty at that point of the game? Belichick could be seen earlier in the game saying “this is a f###ing disgrace,” one would tend to agree with that assessment.
And…aren’t all scoring plays reviewed, the final kick was definitely worthy of a review and yet the officials didn’t feel it necessary. While the replay showed that it indeed was probably inside the goal post, it was close enough that it should have been looked at. Perhaps after that debacle, they were in a rush to get out of town…they should have been. For a billion dollar business that the NFL is, putting officials like that on the field is embarrassing, especially for the marquee game of the weekend on Sunday night. Absolutely disgraceful and no excuse, the NFL deserves better and so do the fans.