The Patriots inexcusably lost to the Cardinals, 20-18, Sunday, and it didn’t happen because of play calling, the referees, the offensive line, or special teams (though the latter certainly didn’t help).
It happened because of the offense’s mind-numbing lack of execution on third down that brought back memories of the final quarter and a half of the Super Bowl.
The Cardinals tried time and time again to give the Patriots the game, but the Patriots would have none of it. And it’s because they’re discombobulated on offense. Tom Brady is trying to get used to offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels again. Brady is trying to get comfortable with receiver Brandon Lloyd while being force-fed Julian Edelman. And a cobbled-together line is trying to gain a rhythm that is lacking after not playing together for any of training camp.
The offense is a work in progress, but it will get there — as soon as they start converting on third downs. They were just 5 of 15 (33 percent), the first time they have been below 40 percent since last Nov. 21 against the Chiefs, which concluded a four-week stretch in the 30 percent range.
The ineptitude against the Cardinals — just 2 of 6 on third downs less than 5 yards — had to have the Patriots pulling their hair out:
■ Third and 9, New England 49-yard line, 14:53 second quarter: Brady forced a pass to Lloyd on the sideline while under a little bit of pressure. On the coaches’ film, Rob Gronkowski seemed to be the better option in man coverage underneath.
■ Third and 2, Arizona 11, 9:56 second quarter: Little trap play over left guard with Donald Thomas pulling. It should have worked but tight end Michael Hoomanawanui allowed linebacker Sam Acho to cross his face and take down Danny Woodhead for no gain.
■ Third and 4, Arizona 47, 46 seconds second quarter: Brady was sacked after 3.95 seconds but got skittish at 2.34 seconds. There was nothing wrong with the pocket. On the film, you can see why Brady didn’t want to throw. The Cardinals were playing a trap coverage (corner passes off receiver to a deep safety and sinks to jump an inside route; they ran this a lot) on both Gronkowski and Wes Welker. Brady didn’t appear to have much of anything. But he did have more time.
■ Third and 10, Arizona 33, 13:03 third quarter: Cardinals came with a rare zone exchange pressure but it was picked up well, and Brady delivered a strong pass to Welker. Sure looked like cornerback William Gay hit Welker before the ball arrived and should have drawn a penalty. Gronkowski had man coverage.
■ Third and 9, New England 11, 9:53 third quarter: Left tackle Nate Solder gave up a quarterback knockdown to Acho in 2.38 seconds on an inside rush, but Brady delivered a perfect pass over the right shoulder of Gay to Welker, who dropped the pass.
■ Third and 6, Arizona 30, 3:27 third quarter: Patriots were going to run a throwback to Brady but Thomas allowed Darnell Dockett to cross his face and take down Woodhead for a 9-yard loss. Not even sure the play would have worked because the Cardinals were in Cover 3.
■ Third and 1, Arizona 39, 12:37 fourth quarter: Thomas had to execute a reach block on Dockett on his outside shoulder, which is very tough. You have to wonder if right tackle Marcus Cannon was supposed to lend a hand for a second before continuing with his block. Hoomanawanui didn’t cover himself in glory against Patrick Peterson.
■ Third and 10, Arizona 35, 6:54 fourth quarter: Brady steps up and fires to Gronkowski but it’s broken up on a really nice play by linebacker Darryl Washington, who subtly held Gronkowski. Woodhead sneaked out of the backfield uncovered.
Missed opportunities galore, especially in Cardinals territory.
The positional ratings:
Quarterback (2.5 out of 5): Brady made double the amount of good throws in this game as he did against the Titans, but he again left some plays on the field. Not sure why Gronkowski didn’t get the ball more. The Cardinals didn’t pay him any extra attention. Brady just seems uncomfortable with the entire offense right now — calls, personnel, everything. Of the 12 quarterback pressures (four sacks, six hurries, two knockdowns), three could be attributed to Brady (1.5 sacks, 1.5 hurries). It was one of those jittery games we see every now and again in which he feels pressure that isn’t there. On first down with 3:50 to go, Brady made a curious decision to throw deep to Welker in the end zone when he had Gronkowski matched up in man coverage with safety Kerry Rhodes underneath. McDaniels must have said something to Brady in his helmet because they ran almost the same play again on the next play, and Brady hit Gronkowski underneath for 12 yards. Continued...