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BOB RYAN

Team judged to be lacking

FOXBOROUGH -- Wait a minute. What about the Minnesota game? That was only two weeks ago, and we all had visions of the Patriots playing a highly regarded football game on the first Sunday in February after watching them demolish the Vikings in the Metrodome.

"You get judged week to week," quarterback Tom Brady reminded us all yesterday, "and each week it doesn't carry over. So you have to line up and play a lot better next week, knowing we're capable of playing better, and we have played better."

We all know that. What the Patriots did at Gillette Stadium just wasn't good enough. They significantly outgained the New York Jets (377-278), but the only thing that matters in the end is the scoreboard, and that told the tale. The Jets were 17-14 victors because they made the kind of plays that win NFL games and the Patriots didn't. You know what Tony Soprano always says:

"End of story."

We need some new story lines. The Patriots never lose two in a row? Forget that one. They've lost their last two. The Patriots are a terror at Gillette? Table that one. That was loss No. 3 this season at the House Vinatieri's Field Goal In The Snow Built. Tom Brady always, always, always bounces back with a big game after a bad one? Time to re-evaluate. Sometimes? Yes. OK, usually. But not always. He was highly ordinary yesterday. Chad Pennington made the "Brady" plays, not Tom Brady.

This was a sobering loss. If the Patriots are the Patriots, they do not lose to the Jets at home. On day, off day, no matter. They will find a way to win. Only they didn't.

"We were a step slow all day," said receiver Troy Brown with a sigh. "They played a lot better than us. You've got to give them credit."

It was a bad day for the Patriots all-around, and forget the phony-baloney final score. The only touchdown came way too late, and it had an element of luck to it (a favorable tip). And you can't moan and groan about running out of time at the end, either. There was a reason Brady was given the football at his 11 with 1:08 remaining and no timeouts.

"We just couldn't stop 'em," Brown pointed out.

The time to stop the Jets had been when they regained possession at their 26 with 4:14 to play, after the aforementioned New England possession had resulted in a four-play, 61-yard scoring drive, all in the air. Get a three-and-out and the Patriots might have been in business.

But the Jets moved the chains three times, mixing daring Pennington passes with solid runs. When the defense actually did make the Jets give it up, the game had moved into miracle-finish territory.

I cannot tell you how fraudulent the final stats were. The Patriots got 50 of their 143 rushing yards on one second-quarter Corey Dillon run from the way-back machine. They got 61 of Brady's 255 passing yards on that one scoring drive. The rest of the day was pretty blah offensively.

"They pressured us a lot," said center Dan Koppen. "It comes down to doing the right thing with your assignments and picking up people when they're going to pressure, and we did not do a good enough job of that."

But there were a couple of chances to score, and the Patriots could not capitalize on those opportunities. An advance late in the first quarter to the Jets 13 only resulted in a 31-yard Stephen Gostkowski field goal. Another advance to the New York 11 late in the half resulted in a 21-yard Gostkowski field goal. And equally damaging was a Doug Gabriel fumble that wiped out all the good of a pass reception-and-run good for 22 yards that would have put the Patriots in excellent position to score early in the second quarter. That it came two plays after Artrell Hawkins had picked off a Pennington pass intended for Laveranues Coles was even worse.

The flip side was equally disastrous. For the second week in a row Brady was intercepted at a very bad moment. His fourth-quarter pass intended for Laurence Maroney was off target and picked off by Erik Coleman. That gave Pennington the ball at the Patriots' 35, and four plays later he lofted one into the end zone, where Jerricho Cotchery made a four-star over-the-shoulder grab in front of Ellis Hobbs for a 17-6 lead.

"I mean, Coach Belichick always says to us it's just undisciplined football," Brady said. "You have got to eliminate this type of stuff. I mean, it's hard enough to move it when you are not shooting yourself in the foot. But we did just a little too much of that today."

The same was true last week, of course, and so sooner or later we will be within our rights to ask, "Why?" Are these not the three-time Super Bowl champion Patriots? Isn't the one thing the team's followers have been able to count on in this run is the idea that, while they could be beaten, at least they would not be co-conspirators in their own demise? But that is part of the problem. Isn't a nice gain being negated by an "illegal formation" something the other guys are supposed to do?

It is an ever-changing roster, of course, and some of the old mainstays are no longer here. But isn't Mr. Belichick supposed to be able to take whatever Scott Pioli can provide and coach 'em up to avoid the Self-Inflicted Wound Syndrome?

Make no mistake. This was a true all-around L. The offense could not get the job done. The defense could not get the Jets off the field often enough, things deteriorating to the point that the Jets banged out a 16-play, 81-yard second-quarter touchdown drive that consumed a staggering 9:12. And the special teams continued to allow rival kickoff returners to give rival quarterbacks dream field position.

So who are these guys as they start preparation for Green Bay?

Said Brown: "We're 6-3, wherever that puts us in the pack, that's where we are -- in the middle of the pack somewhere, at the back of the best teams, the top of the worst teams," Brown said. "We are where we are."

Can't argue with those facts. But two weeks ago they were 6-1 and there was a bounce in everyone's step. Right now it doesn't look good and it doesn't feel good.

Practice this week should be pretty grim stuff.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is ryan@globe.com.

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