|New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning celebrates his game-winning touchdown pass with teammate Zak DeOssie (51) during the fourth quarter of New York's 24-20 win over the New England Patriots in an NFL football game at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., Sunday, Nov. 6, 2011. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)|
Patriots offense struggling after strong start
FOXBOROUGH, Mass.—Punt, punt, interception, punt, punt.
And those were just the first five possessions for the New England Patriots in their latest loss.
Then came a missed field goal attempt, another interception, a fumble and another punt. Finally, with 5:29 left in the third quarter on Sunday, the Tom Brady-led offense that had been so powerful for much of the season managed to score --a field goal, not a touchdown.
The Patriots lost 24-20 to the New York Giants when they allowed a 1-yard touchdown pass from Eli Manning to Jake Ballard with 15 seconds left. But the porous defense, ranked last in the NFL for six straight weeks, isn't the only problem.
Moving the ball has become a chore.
The Patriots have lost two straight games for the third time in nine seasons, although they faced tough defenses with the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Giants.
But that's no excuse for Patriots coach Bill Belichick.
"We have to block what (the Giants) give us or run the routes based on the coverage they use," he said Monday, "but we can control what we do and I think that's what we're saying is that we need to do a better job of what we're doing -- coaching, playing. We all need to do a better job."
They better do it quickly.
The loss dropped the Patriots into a tie for the AFC East lead with the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets at 5-3. They play the Jets on the road on Sunday night, a team on a three-game winning streak with a stingy defense.
At times on Sunday, Brady was unusually inaccurate with his passes. At other times, passes were on target but receivers dropped the ball. And a running game that gained 18 yards on the first offensive play was inconsistent.
"Everybody's just got to take more on themselves and play better," said BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who made that run but picked up just 34 yards on his other 11 carries.
The Patriots started the season with an amazing offensive display -- 622 yards, including a team-record 517 yards passing by Brady, in a 38-24 win at the Miami Dolphins.
The attack kept rolling with 504, 495, 409 and 446 yards in each of the next four games. At that point, the Patriots were 4-1 with total offense of 495 yards per game and at least 30 points in each of them.
Since then, they are 1-2 with an average of 341 yards and no game with more than 20 points. And they needed a last-minute touchdown to beat the Dallas Cowboys 20-16.
On Sunday, the Patriots' regular-season home winning streak ended at 20 games. Also over is Brady's streak of 31 straight wins in regular-season games he started at home. And he's thrown 10 interceptions, tied for third most in the NFL.
What's going on?
"I don't think there's any doubt we can make good plays. We've done that all season," Brady said Monday on his contractually mandated appearance on WEEI radio. "We're not incapable of doing that. We're just making too many bad plays. And the bad plays are what get you beat."
On the first play of the second quarter, Michael Boley tipped Brady's poorly thrown pass and it was intercepted by fellow linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka.
"(When) a quarterback has a good arm like Tom does and is accurate, sometimes you feel like you can get a ball into a receiver," Belichick said. "A lot of times he does, and sometimes he doesn't."
On the Patriots next series, Rob Gronkowski dropped a well-aimed pass. Gronkowski did catch eight passes, including a 14-yarder for a touchdown that put the Patriots ahead 20-17 with 1:36 left in the game.
NFL receiving leader Wes Welker had nine more catches for 136 yards -- the exact totals Chad Ochocinco has for the season.
On Sunday, Brady threw five passes -- and no completions-- to Ochocinco.
Still, Brady and Belichick voiced support for the six-time Pro Bowl receiver the Patriots obtained from the Cincinnati Bengals in late July. Both said they've seen improvement in practice.
"It's just a matter of us ultimately getting it done in the game," Brady said. "Every week there's more confidence in what we're doing with him, and with him and me. ... There's a lot of things that go into our offense and timing of our offense. He and I have only played eight games together. And that was really with an abbreviated offseason."
But he said Ochocinco goes to the right spots on the field.
In a brief appearance in the locker room Monday, Ochocinco smiled when asked if he would talk but declined.
"They've made plenty of plays (in practice)," Belichick said. "Tom's made them with all the receivers. Hopefully. we can make more of them in the game."