The Patriots coaches, led by Bill Belichick, are almost always on the ball when it comes to in-game management and decision-making.
That was not the case Sunday in Seattle during the inexplicable 24-23 loss to the Seahawks.
Yes, the players, as a whole, did not play well in all three phases of a game.
But from this vantage point, they played well enough to emerge with a victory if some critical mistakes and risky decisions weren’t made by the coaches.
The laundry list of issues/questions:
■ Even before Tom Brady’s intentional grounding penalty, the possession to end the first half was a debacle. The Patriots started the drive with two timeouts and 40 seconds left. It’s inexcusable for the coaches to waste 15 seconds after the Wes Welker catch before a timeout was called with 19 seconds left. Then they wasted another four seconds after the next play. Considering how they butchered that sequence, the Patriots just should have kicked the field goal. But they pushed their luck, probably thinking of the score against the Ravens in the same situation that came with seven seconds and one timeout in their pocket, and went for the score with six seconds and no timeout. The lack of a timeout against the Seahawks pushed the risk over the top. The Patriots cost themselves at least 3 points, if not more, because of time management — not Brady’s intentional grounding.
■ The Patriots should not have burned the first of their three timeouts with 1:50 left in the third quarter. Being forced to take one because of a defensive look is fine. But that’s not what happened. Brady liked the play call and was going through the silent count. The Seahawks still were trying to get lined up, but Belichick called the timeout. The problem was that the team broke the huddle with 11 seconds on the play clock. That shouldn’t happen.
■ On third and 2 at the Seattle 17 with 10:06 left in the fourth quarter, why did the Patriots run into a stacked nine-man box? The Patriots were in tight, but with Welker and Deion Branch in H-back roles. I didn’t mind the formation, but how about a check to a pass by Brady? Was there really a high chance for success running behind Branch?
■ The second burned timeout, with 5:35 left, also shouldn’t have happened. From the time Stevan Ridley was tackled on first down, the Patriots had 48 seconds of real time to get a play off but failed to do so — for no good reason.
■ The Patriots came out of that timeout and ran for 9 yards with Danny Woodhead, to give them 15 rushing yards on back-to-back plays. The clock was at 4:55, the Patriots had the ball at the 47-yard line, and they looked poised for a game-killing drive. What did offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels call on the next play? Shotgun formation with no running backs, and Brady threw an incompletion — the first of three straight (including a grounding penalty). The Patriots punted at 4:07. The problem with running the ball — even out of shotgun — in that situation was . . . what exactly?
■ This was perhaps the second-most maddening sequence. The defense delivered a crucial three-and-out and the Patriots got the ball back with 3:02 remaining. McDaniels sent on his “load” package with no receivers: running back Ridley, guard Dan Connolly at fullback, and tight ends Rob Gronkowski, Daniel Fells, and lineman Nick McDonald. With virtually no threat to pass, the Patriots ran for 1 yard on back-to-back plays before an incompletion on third down. Let me get this straight. Before this drive, you passed 54 times and ran 24 because you correctly assessed the Seahawks were going to be tough to run against. It was a smart plan. Yet when the Seahawks know you’re going to run the ball, the plan was to run it without the defense even having to contemplate a pass? McDaniels has done a lot of good things in his return to the Patriots, but in every game he has some sort of episode of overthinking. This personnel group was a perfect example. Why not go with regular personnel and give Brady the option of winning the game with a pass if the Seahawks sold out against the run?
■ After the Seahawks got the ball back with 2:38 to play, the Patriots didn’t get lined up correctly — on first down, mind you — and Russell Wilson easily ran around the vacated right end. Personnel confusion again reigned on second down, and the Patriots were forced to burn their final timeout.
■ The clock was running at 1:29 and the Patriots had their base defensive personnel on the field against the Seahawks’ two backs, one tight end, and two receivers. That would be great outside of the final 90 seconds of the game. Why did the Patriots care if the Seahawks ran the ball at the New England 46-yard line? Why did the Patriots fall for play-action? The Seahawks weren’t grinding the clock for a game-winning field goal, they needed to score a touchdown with one timeout. Yes, the Seahawks basically ran a two-man route. The Patriots should have had it covered with their Cover 2 (two deep safeties) zone scheme. But when three of the four defensive backs — including both safeties — are rookies playing their sixth NFL games (cornerback Alfonzo Dennard and safeties Tavon Wilson and Nate Ebner), wouldn’t the prudent thing have been to err on the side of caution with extra pass defenders?Continued...