Jan 072013
 

Patriots - Texans 1In 2010, the New England Patriots routed the New York Jets 45-3 in their Week 13 match-up. Just six weeks later the Jets walked out of Foxboro as 28-21 winners in the divisional round of the 2010 season in the infamous “Wes Welker foot in the mouth” game. Such a cautionary tale is served up for anyone who thinks that a repeat of the Patriots’ 42-14 blowout win over the Texans in Week 14 is a sure thing.

For the Texans’ part, this Sunday’s match-up in New England offers Houston an opportunity for redemption. The team was outplayed in every aspect of the game in Week 14, as Tom Brady threw four touchdown passes and the Patriots had a 21-0 lead before the Texans knew what hit them. The Texans had already been struggling, needing overtime to beat both Jacksonville and Detroit, but the loss to the Patriots sent them team into a full blown tailspin. The Texans dropped two of their last three games after the rout, falling from the first to the third overall playoff seed, and forcing them to beat the Bengals on Saturday in order to earn their chance at redemption.

The Texans’ performance against the Bengals was less than convincing, and Matt Schaub’s expression was one of relief rather than confidence as the Texans left the field with a 19-13 win over Cincinnati. While Schaub had a pedestrian day, going 29/38 for 262 yards and one interception (pick six), it was Arian Foster’s 140 yards and a stifling Texan’s defense that got the team to move forward in the playoffs. Moreover, it was poor play on the part of the Bengals’ offense that failed to adequately test a suspect Texans’ secondary that aided the Houston defense. That won’t be a problem this coming Sunday.

The Patriots are a team on a mission. They are 9-1 in their last ten games, the sole blemish coming when the Patriots’ barnstorming comeback fell just short against the San Francisco 49ers. Their offense is just as capable as ever, but it is the improving defense that has Patriots’ fans dreaming of a fourth Lombardi trophy. The Texans saw the newly improved secondary five weeks ago in the form of Aqib Talib and Alfonzo Dennard starting at the corners with Devin McCourty moving to safety, as the Patriots limited Schaub to a 19/32/232/1 interception performance, and limited Andre Johnson to eight catches for 95 yards. The Patriots’ run defense held Arian Foster to 46 yards on 15 carries, so both Foster and Schaub have plenty of motivation to play better this time around.

The Patriots will be on guard for a potential letdown as the coaches break out the racquetball rackets again in anticipation of JJ Watt. And the sound bytes to the media already tell you what the Patriots are going to be inundated with all week. “I think there’s certainly a lesson there about how the game that we play now doesn’t have much to do with the game we played before,” Head Coach Bill Belichick said. “It’s another example of that. … That is and always will be the case, there is little relevance to the previous game.” Tom Brady offered the same assessment. “I don’t think that game is going to have any bearing on what happens next week,” Brady said. “That was a big win for our season, it was a big win at that time, but this game is going to be entirely different and I think we need to put just as much preparation into the game as we did before … We know these guys. I think that’s the part that I enjoy, that I’ve already spent a lot of time preparing for them, so to have another week to do it, you feel like you’re going to know them that much better, so we still have to go out and execute against it. I know they felt like they didn’t play their best game against us, which they didn’t, and in a lot of ways, I think we can play better too and we need to play better, it needs to be our best week.”

Here’s how the contest breaks down:

When the Patriots run
In their first meeting the Patriots ran for 130 yards, with Stevan Ridley gaining 72 on 18 carries. The Patriots bring their full complement of running backs into this contest, with Ridley the main back and Danny Woodhead playing the role of scatback. Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden offer a change of pace, with Vereen’s speed serving as a threat particularly in the screen game. The Patriots found their success running behind the guards in the first meeting, particularly pounding the ball behind Logan Mankins in the second half. The Texans boast the second best run defense in the league, yielding only 80 yards per game, but the Patriots’ short passing game opened up the Texans defense, particularly after the Patriots had established the lead. Bradie James and Barrett Ruud must limit Patriots’ runners to under four yards per carry, as the Patriots ripped off thirteen runs of four or more yards between the tackles in December. Look for the Patriots to offer a balanced dose of Ridley, Vereen, and Woodhead to rush for around 120 yards as the run game serves to keep the Texans honest.

Patriots - Texans 2When the Patriots pass
In the first meeting between the two clubs Tom Brady went 19/32 for 232 yards and four touchdowns, and that was without Rob Gronkowski on the field for the Pats. Brandon Lloyd had an outstanding night, catching seven passes for 89 yards and a score, while Aaron Hernandez caught eight balls for 58 yards and two scores. Deion Branch replaces Donte Stallworth from the first meeting, while Wes Welker drew lots of attention from the Texans’ secondary and had a quiet night with only three catches. The Texans struggled in coverage all night long, and penalties aided three Patriots’ drives. This has to be a huge area of concern for the Texans, as the combination of Lloyd, Welker, Gronk, and Hernandez means that every play will carry some form of mismatch; it is simply up to the Patriots’ offensive line to give Brady the time to exploit it. The Patriots’ line did a fantastic job in the first game, holding the Texans to one sack, limiting pressure by the Texans’ pass rushers, and Ryan Wendell essentially removed JJ Watt as a factor from the game. Expect the Texans to make some adjustments to try and free up Watt, but the quick strike passing offense of the Patriots is not likely to be derailed this weekend. Expect Brady to throw for more than 250 yards as he takes advantage of a very suspect Texan’s secondary. Danieal Manning in particular had a rough outing against the Patriots last month and I expect the Patriots to go after Manning early and often on Sunday.

When the Texans run
The Texans bring in the fourth best rushing offense and one of the game’s most prolific running backs in Arian Foster. In the first meeting, Foster was held to 46 yards on 15 carries with one touchdown, and 15 of those yards came on one play. The Texans as a team were limited to 100 yards rushing, as Ben Tate also carried for 46 yards against the Patriots. The Texans’ performance was right on par for the ninth rated rushing defense, which yields only 101.9 yards per game, but it was also with the Patriots staked out to a huge early lead, essentially factoring out the Texans’ running game. The Texans will get their yards on the ground this week, but the Patriots’ solid run stuffers (Vince Wilfork, Brandon Deaderick, Jerod Mayo, and Brandon Spikes) should be able to keep big gains relatively in check. Foster was able to run for 140 yards against the Bengals by the Texan’s front line controlling the interior and staying away from Geno Atkins, but the Patriots have a better interior defense than the Bengals do. On the outside, the Patriots are effective at setting and holding the edge, courtesy of Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich. Foster and Tate will find their running lanes far more crowded than in their win over Cincinnati.

Patriots - Texans 3When the Texans pass
Matt Schaub has good numbers this season (4,008 yards, 22 TD, 12 INT) but seems to wilt under the spotlight in big games. Will this game serve as the moment where Matt Schaub stepped up, or will he begin to be labeled as a choke artist? Schaub is obviously most comfortable throwing to Andre Johnson, who had an outstanding season in 2012, and the Patriots will once again need to limit his production. Assuming everyone is healthy, look for the Patriots to leave Talib in single coverage on Johnson, occasionally offering safety protection over the top. More often than not however, the Patriots will need to bring a safety up for run defense, putting the pressure on Talib. Tight End Owen Daniels had 62 catches this season and is Schaub’s next favorite target, and the combination of Daniels and Garrett Graham (who missed the first meeting) could give the Patriots’ linebackers fits, as they occasionally struggled in coverage in the first contest without Graham playing. Kevin Walter is a dependable target, and Foster is a receiving threat coming out of the backfield. There is no doubt that the Texans have the tools to have a big game in the air, but they need Schaub to be a good decision-maker and to execute his throws. His interception by McCourty in the first game is demonstrative of the type of lapses that seem to hold Schaub from rising to an elite level of quarterback play. The Texans did a good job of protecting Schaub in the first game, despite the Patriots’ pouring on the blitzes. Schaub is likely to throw for over 250 yards in this game, but the key statistic is going to be his touchdown to interception ratio. Further, if the Patriots successfully limit the Texans’ rushing game, that will take away the play action pass as a significant threat. Without the play action, Schaub is simply not a great quarterback. The Patriots know this and took away Daniels in their first meeting, something the Texans need to correct.

Special Teams
Keshawn Martin is a dangerous return man for the Texans. Shayne Graham is a good, but not spectacular kicker, while Donnie Jones is one of the best punters in the league. On the Patriots’ side, Stephen Gostkowski is generally a reliable kicker, while Zoltan Mesko has had an inconsistent season. McCourty has been up and down as a kick returner, while Welker is always capable of breaking a big return in the punting game.

Intangibles
The Texans keep talking about contests as being the “biggest in franchise history.” My unsolicited advice to the Texans is to talk about any biggest games after they have won a Super Bowl, and not before. Such talk merely reiterates what the Texans have yet to accomplish, and serves as a reminder that in the “big game” department the Patriots have been there and done that. Mental edge to the Patriots.

Both teams are healthier this time around, and the Patriots have had an extra week of rest to get everyone prepared. Jermaine Cunningham is back and will aid in applying pressure to Schaub as well as stopping the running game.

In the turnover game, the Patriots and Texans were the best in the AFC, but the Patriots were the best in the league, coming in with 41 takeaways and only 16 giveaways (+25) while the Texans forced 29 turnovers while giving up 17 of their own (+12). This favors the Patriots, but both teams are good at protecting the ball.

Another intangible to keep in mind is that everything went right for the Patriots the first time around. Even when JJ Watt stripped the ball from Danny Woodhead, it was recovered for a touchdown by Brandon Lloyd. When the Patriots fumbled the ball early, Aaron Hernandez was able to rescue it and then score on the next play. Every break went the Patriots’ way, and the result was a blowout win. The Texans did not play with intensity in the first meeting, and know they must play a much better game to compete with the Patriots. Expect the Texans to show up on Sunday.

The Texans win if… Matt Schaub doesn’t make key mistakes, Arian Foster and Ben Tate are able to run for over 150 yards, Andre Johnson is able to exploit single coverage, JJ Watt is able to be a factor in the game, and the Texans’ secondary limits the Patriots’ passing attack.

The Patriots win if… The offensive line protects Tom Brady and keeps Watt from disrupting the passing lanes, the secondary is able to limit the production of Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels, the Patriots protect the ball, and the Patriots show up with the intensity to play four good quarters.

Prediction
This game is not likely to be a blowout, but rather a hard fought affair that won’t be decided until the fourth quarter. While the Texans have seventh best defense in the NFL, it is not a defense that matches up well against the Patriots massive amount of weaponry. As long as Tom Brady has time to make reads, he will complete passes; the Texans’ secondary is simply not as talented as the Patriots’ receiving corps and the Patriots’ top ranked offense. On the other side, the Texans have an explosive offense as well (7th in the NFL) but will be hard pressed to win a shoot-out in New England. The Texans will stick with the Patriots well into the second half before the Pats are able to create a big play and provide some separation. The Patriots ability to pound the ball late in games is a huge asset that will serve them well in this game. Schaub played scared against the Patriots in Week 14, and I don’t expect him to improve this quickly. The Texans, unlike the Patriots, use a similar offensive game plan for every opponent, and this is something that can aid the Patriots in forcing Schaub to make mistakes.

Patriots 34 Texans 24

Dec 032012
 

It wasn’t a pretty win. Nor was it a particularly efficient one.

But the New England Patriots, short-handed on both lines, battled through injuries and inefficiency to grind out a 23-16 win at Sun Life Stadium.

The win clinched the AFC East for the Patriots, and gave Tom Brady a record tenth division title, passing Joe Montana. The Patriots also moved at least temporarily into the second seed in the AFC playoff race, courtesy of a superior conference record over both Baltimore and Denver who, like New England, are now 9-3.

The Patriots took advantage of a Miami miscue to get an early lead. Brandon Fields bobbled a punt after Miami’s first drive, and the Patriots forced a change of possession at the Dolphins’ 12 yard line, scoring five plays later on a two yard touchdown run by Stevan Ridley.  After a Miami punt the Patriots drove to the Miami 31, but Stephen Gostkowski missed a 49 yard field goal to the right, continuing his struggles. The Dolphins were not able to take advantage of the field position, but Brady committed a rare miscue on the next Patriots’ drive, trying to force a pass to Aaron Hernandez despite excellent coverage by Reshad Jones, who picked the pass off and gave Miami the ball at the Patriots’ 34 yard line. The Dolphins were forced to settle for a field goal, cutting the Patriots’ lead to 7-3.

New England responded, as it often does, with a classic drive going 13 plays and using 5:40 off the clock to march down the field before Brady connected with Wes Welker on a 7 yard touchdown and increased the lead to 14-3. Then, on the next possession it looked like the Patriots would put the game away early when Trevor Scott sacked Ryan Tannehill and forced the ball out of his hand, which Vince Wilfork promptly recovered at the Dolphins’ 25. But the Patriots could not take advantage of the short field and were forced to settle for a 43 yard field goal to increase the lead to 17-3.

The Dolphins then responded with an impressive drive of their own, with Tannehill navigating the Dolphins on a ten play, 80 yard drive that took up almost all of the time remaining before Tannehill ran the ball in from two yards out, cutting the halftime lead to 17-10.

The third quarter saw the game develop into a defensive struggle, as neither team could sustain drives. The Patriots got things moving at the end of the third quarter and beginning of the fourth, putting together a 13 play drive, but again needed to settle for a field goal after a sack by Koa Misi ended a Patriots’ threat. The Dolphins struck back with a field goal to make it a one score game, but then the Patriots executed probably their most important drive of the day, using 16 plays and 7:18 while handing the ball off to Stevan Ridley ten times. The Patriots added a field goal with 1:15 left to extend the lead to 23-13. The Dolphins tacked on a late field goal, but Brandon Lloyd recovered the ensuing off-sides kick, effectively ending the game.

When the Patriots ran:
The announcers made a big deal out of the Patriots only rushing for ten yards in the first half, but the Patriots only ran the ball eight times; the run was schemed out in the first half. As the game moved on and it was clear that the game would go down to the wire, the Patriots shortened the game by pounding the ball effectively against the Dolphins. While the 108 yards gained by the Patriots wasn’t overly impressive, the fact that the Patriots ran the ball when they needed to, against one of the top run defenses, tilts this to the Patriots. Ridley ran for 71 yards on 19 carries, and went over 1,000 yards for the season. Danny Woodhead added 24 yards on 6 carries. Advantage: Patriots

When the Patriots passed:
For as bad a pass defense as the Dolphins have, the Patriots simply could not take control of the game through the air on Sunday. Brady was was not particularly sharp, missing throws while also under regular pressure from the Dolphins’ front seven. Brady was sacked four times but seemingly under pressure all day, as the Dolphins limited Brady to 24/40 for 238 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Wes Welker, the ultimate Dolphin killer, had twelve receptions for 103 yards and a score. Aaron Hernandez added 8 catches for 97 yards, but both Welker and Hernandez dropped balls that should have been caught. Advantage: Dolphins

When the Dolphins ran:
The Dolphins rushed for 101 yards, just seven fewer than the Patriots, but unlike the Patriots could not sustain drives with the run when they needed to. Reggie Bush was routinely stuffed in the second half as the Dolphins’ offense struggled to find any traction. Bush rushed for 64 yards on 16 carries, and both Tannehill and Daniel Thomas rushed five times each for a combined 29 yards. Advantage: Patriots

When the Dolphins passed:
Ryan Tannehill did not look sharp on Sunday, going 13/29 for 186 yards. He was stripped on one sack, though he avoided throwing any interceptions. Tannehill twice missed an open Brian Hartline deep, and was also undone by drops. The Patriots recorded three sacks on the day, two by Trevor Scott, but the pressure sometimes aided Tannehill as he was effective creating plays with his legs. At first blush the Patriots secondary played well, though Tannehill failed to take advantage of the lapses in New England’s coverages. Advantage: Patriots

Special Teams
Ghost missed yet another field goal, his sixth of the season, but connected on three others. His kickoffs resulted in five touchbacks as the Dolphins’ return game was neutralized. Carpenter went 3/3 on field goals, and added three touchbacks. Mesko had a mediocre punting performance, while the game turned in part on the performance of Fields, who was solid in pinning the Patriots deep in their own end twice, but whose early mishandling of a punt turned out to be a key play in the game. Slight edge to the Pats based on that.  Advantage: Patriots

Intangibles
The Patriots showed gutsy determination in putting away a division foe that has historically given them trouble, pounding the ball throughout the fourth quarter to put the game away. For their part, the Dolphins staved off being blown out in the first half, and Ryan Tannehill kept his composure and kept the Dolphins in the context until the end. The turnovers were even, with each team turning the ball over once. Advantage: Even

Key Moment: A Jerod Mayo sack on 3rd and 7 with 8:53 remaining in the game ended a Dolphins’ drive and forced them to settle for a Dan Carpenter field goal.

Game Ball: Wes Welker with 12 receptions for 103 yards and a touchdown

Nov 232012
 

At the end of the first quarter, the game was scoreless, though the New England Patriots were driving deep in Jets’ territory. Just ten game minutes later, Stephen Gostkowski was kicking an extra point to push the Patriots’ lead to 35-0 while the Jets and their faithful looked on in stunned disbelief.

Thus is the tale of two NFL teams headed in very different directions.

For the Patriots, last night’s 49-19 blowout win was their fifth straight victory, locked up the AFC East except for the technicality of math, and cemented the Patriots as a favorite entering the final five games of the season in preparation for the playoffs. For the Jets, the crushing loss confirmed that big off-season changes can be expected for a franchise that has collapsed under its own weight in each of the last two seasons. Mike Tannenbaum, Rex Ryan, and Mark Sanchez all have their jobs on the line as the Jets come to terms with the fact that they simply not a good team.

The game started as a defensive struggle as the teams exchanged punts before the Patriots drove to the Jets’ 21 yard line, but the Patriots came up empty when Stephen Gostkowski missed a 39 yard field goal. The miss seemed to spark the Jets, who rode Shonn Greene’s running and some short passes to the Patriots’ 23. But then Sanchez was fooled by the New England  secondary on the next play, and Steve Gregory picked off a pass intended for Bilal Powell, ending the threat. The Patriots offense then got into synch, as the Patriots drove 84 yards on 15 plays, with Tom Brady connecting to a wide open Wes Welker for a three yard touchdown and a 7-0 Patriots lead.

The Jets tried to answer back on the next drive, using Bilal Powell’s running  to push into New England territory. But on fourth down at the Patriots’ 31, the Jets called Greene on a very obvious run play up the middle, which was stuffed by Brandon Spikes, who forced a fumble that was recovered by Gregory at the New England 17. On the very next play Brady connected on a short pass with Shane Vereen, who outraced the Jets’ defenders for an 83 yard touchdown and a 14-0 lead.

After a touchback and a quick pass for 11 yards, Sanchez made a mental error and turned the wrong way to hand the ball off. Finding no running back to hand off to, Sanchez ran to the line, seeking running room. But Vince Wilfork manhandled Brandon Moore, shoving him back into Sanchez and forcing Sanchez to fumble the ball. Gregory continued his banner night by picking up the ball and racing 32 yards to extend the Patriots’ lead to 21-0.

But wait; there’s more…

On the ensuing kickoff, Joe McKnight got lit up by a shot from Devin McCourty and the ball popped into the air, landing in Julian Edelman’s arms as he returned the fumble 22 yards for a touchdown. The score was now 28-0, and the rout was on. Rex Ryan could be seen on the sideline shaking his head and muttering “bleeping unbelievable.”

The Jets tried to calm the game down on the next drive, seemingly more focused on preventing disaster than in striking back. Greene was finding room to run and rushed for 19 yards on the drive, but a Jerod Mayo sack snuffed out the drive and forced a punt. The Patriots then needed only four plays to cover 77 yards, as Brady hit Julian Edelman for a 56 yard touchdown pass and a 35-0 lead. The Jets would end the half with a field goal to get on the board, but the Jets’ fans booed loudly as the teams went in for the half, with some calling for Tim Tebow to replace Sanchez.

The Jets were forced to punt on their opening drive of the second half and the Patriots went back to work. New England drove again into Jets’ territory and seemed well on its way to another score before Eledman got hammered by LaRon Landry, forcing the ball out of his hands and knocking Edelman out of the game. The Jets then drove to the Patriots’ one yard line, but Greene was again stuffed by Spikes on a run, turning the ball back to the Patriots. However, on the next play Stevan Ridley was called for a chop block in the end zone, netting a safety and turning the ball back to the Jets. The Jets, now seemingly playing for pride, then drove 71 yards on 4 plays, ending with a Bilal Powell 4 yard touchdown and cutting the Patriots’ lead to 35-12.

Then, just as Al Michaels and Chris Collingsworth began filling the Jets’ fans heads of visions of a comeback, the Patriots marched methodically down the field, going 17 plays and using seven and a half minutes off the clock with Brady taking the ball the final yard for a score and a 42-12 lead. On the next play from scrimmage, Alfonzo Dennard stripped the ball from Chaz Schillens and Rob Ninkovich recovered at the Jets’ 37 tyard line. Brady then hit Welker on a 28 yard pass play before Ridley scampered the final 8 yards and a 49-12 Patriots’ lead. The Jets would add a late touchdown pass from Sanchez to Keller to close out the scoring, but it did little to mitigate the completeness of the Patriots’ domination of the game.

When the Patriots ran

Stevan Ridley ran for 97 yards on the night, never rushing for more than 9, but getting consistent chunks all night long. The Jets were soft up the middle, and Vereen added 42 yards as the Patriots amassed 152 yards on the night. The Patriots’ balance on offense kept another opponent off balance throughout the evening. Advantage: Patriots

When the Patriots passed

Brady threw for 323 yards and three scores, but could have had much more as he missed several open targets during the course of the game. None the less, the Jets had little answer for the Patriots’ passing attack. Welker caught 7 balls and was the primary target on the night, as Lloyd caught 3 passes and Vereen, Edelman, and Hernandez each grabbed two while Brady spread the ball to seven different receivers. Brady’s long connection to Edelman and Vereen’s big run after the catch on the way to his 83 yard touchdown helped pad Brady’s numbers for the night. The make-shift line did a great job protecting Brady, as the Jets rarely pressured Brady and did not register a sack on the night. Advantage: Patriots

When the Jets ran

The Jets found running room in the middle early, but then Vince Wilfork and Brandon Spikes seemed to will themselves to shut down running lanes and intimidate the running backs. Greene was able to gain an impressive 71 yards on the night as the Jets ran for 119 yards. Although productive early, the Patriots’ huge lead took the Jets out of their running game, although they were able to use it for some success in the second half. But the inability to convert on fourth and one on two occasions killed any hope the Jets might have had. We’ll call this one a push. Advantage: Even

When the Jets passed

Sanchez was able to throw for 301 yards, but much of this was in “garbage time” as the game was already out of reach and the Patriots were simply limiting damage.  Kerley caught seven passes on the night, while Keller added five and Jeff Cumberland caught four. The Patriots gave up yards but the secondary also broke up several passes, and Dennard forced a fumble after he had been beaten on one play. Steve Gregory’s interception was a beautiful job of baiting Sanchez into throwing an ill-advised ball. Kyle Arrington had a better performance last night than in the previous outing against the Colts. Slight edge here to the Jets. Advantage: Jets

Special Teams

The Patriots created a touchdown on special teams by forcing a Joe McKnight fumble on a kickoff return. This negated an otherwise decent performance by the Jets’ return unit. Malone was the better of the punters this night and Ghost missed a field goal, but McKnight’s gaffe tips the balance towards the Patriots. Advantage Patriots

 Intangibles

The Jets needed to win the turnover battle to have a fighting chance. Instead, the turnover difference was +4 in favor of the Patriots as they affected big plays on defense and, with the exception of the Edelman fumble, protected the ball on offense. The Patriots did commit eight penalties to the Jets five, but this game was decided by turnovers. Belichick and his staff did the superior coaching job this night as well, as Rex Ryan must now be scrutinized for his refusal to make personnel changes despite  some awful offensive performances. Advantage: Patriots

Key Moment:  Vince Wilfork creating a Mark Sanchez fumble that was scooped up and returned for a touchdown by Steve Gregory. Sanchez never really looked confident after that play, it put the Patriots up by three scores and utterly demoralized the home crowd.

Game Ball: Steve Gregory for his interception, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery that he returned for a touchdown.

Notes: As noted by Patriots Life, Last night marked Bill Belichick’s 200th NFL coaching win, and marked the first time ion NFL history that a team has scored 100 or more (108) points in a five day span. Finally, the Patriots scored 35 points in the second quarter despite only possessing the ball for 2 minutes and 14 seconds. That is an amazing accomplishment.

Nov 122012
 

There were two important lessons that came out of the Patriots’ 37-31 victory over the Bills on Sunday.

First, the decision to move Devin McCourty to safety was a good one. McCourty undercut a route in the end zone late in the fourth quarter to pick off a Ryan Fitzpatrick pass and seal the Patriots’ win. McCourty seems to play better when he can see the play developing in front of him and then react, although he still has a ways to go in run defense, as he looked out of position on occasion, most notably on a 14 yard touchdown run by Fred Jackson in the second quarter. Overall, the Patriots’ defense continued to struggle on Sunday, yielding 337 passing yards and 162 rushing yards to a Bills’ team that nearly pulled off the upset win.

And that brings us to the second lesson of this game; the Bills will simply never be a good team as long as they continue to defeat themselves on the field. The Bills committed 14 penalties for 148 yards, stalling out drives on offense and setting up easy Patriots’ scores on defense. The Bills also turned the ball over three times, as Fitzpatrick threw the late interception to McCourty and had the ball stripped from him on a sack in the first quarter that led to a Patriots’ touchdown. Fred Jackson also fumbled at the Patriots’ one yard line, squandering a key scoring opportunity in the second half.

From the outset, the game looked like it would develop into a slugfest. After the Bills stalled out their own first drive through three straight penalties, the Patriots drove to the Bills’ 25 before being forced to settle for a 43 yard field goal to take a 3-0 lead. Two plays later Fitzpatrick was sacked and stripped of the ball by Vince Wilfork, which was recovered by Jermaine Cunningham at the Bills’ 13 yard line. Five plays later Stevan Ridley took the ball in on a one yard touchdown run and the Patriots were up 10-0.

The Bills then went on an 11 play drive which stalled at the Patriots’ 23 as Rob Ninkovich sacked Fitzpatrick and forced the Bills to settle for a field goal, cutting the lead to 10-3. The patriots struck back by executing a eight play, 83 yard drive that was capped by a 15 yard run by Danny Woodhead for a touchdown and a 17-3 lead. Early signs were looking good for the Patriots, and a blowout seemed like a distinct possibility at the time.

The Bills struck right back, driving 80 yards on the back on two key passes to tight end Scott Chandler, and Fred Jackson eventually finished the drive with the 14 yard run where McCourty found himself drawn into the middle rather than protecting the edge where Jackson eventually found room to run. The brought the score to 17-10, but the Patriots continued the offensive onslaught, needing only six plays to drive 82 yards. The first three plays of the drive were incomplete passes, but the Patriots were saved by a pass interference call against Jairus Byrd. Two plays later Stephon Gilmore was also called for interference, moving the ball to the Bills’ 1 yard line, and Tom Brady connected with Rob Gronkowski on a pretty two yard pass to put the Patriots up 24-10.

But the first half scoring was not over. The Bills used the next three minutes to go on an 11 play drive, with Fitzpatrick eventually connecting with Chandler on a three yard touchdown pass to bring the deficit to seven points at the half.

Midway through the third quarter the Patriots struck again after a poor Buffalo punt and personal foul set up the Patriots at the Bills’ 39 yard line. Four plays later, Brady connected with Woodhead on an 18 yard touchdown pass to extend the lead to 31-17. But no sooner did the Patriots increase the lead than the Bills cut back into it, as Fitzpatrick carved up the Patriots’ secondary on an 11 play, 84 yard drive that resulted in a 1 yard Fred Jackson touchdown to close the gap to 31-24.

The next Patriots’ drive started out strong as two quick passes netted 18 yards before Ridley tore through the Bills’ defense for a 24 yard gain. But the drive stalled at the Bills’ 30 and the Patriots settled for a 48 yard field goal by Gostkowski, increasing the lead to 10. The next drive saw the Bills start at their own 6, but they drove to the Patriots’ 13 aided by penalties to Cunningham and Brandon Spikes. Fred Jackson then ran 12 yards to the 1, but lost control of the ball, which was stripped by Devin McCourty and recovered by Kyle Arrington at the Patriots’ 1. The Patriots were then forced to punt after three straight incomplete passes that only consumed 19 seconds off the clock, and the Bills’ needed five plays (again aided by two Patriots’ penalties) as Fitzpatrick closed the drive with a 2 yard touchdown pass to Donald Jones, narrowing the lead to 34-31. The Patriots’ offensive possession prior to the Buffalo score is one more example of Josh McDaniels over-thinking his play calls in a situation that demanded the Patriots run the ball against a vulnerable run defense while working the game clock.

The scoring barrage continued on the next drive. Passes to Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd helped the Patriots move the ball down the field, but Ridley had a tough time finding running room and incomplete passes to Deion Branch and Woodhead forced the Patriots to settle for Gostkowski’s third field goal of the day, extending the lead to 37-31, but leaving Buffalo the opportunity to win the game.

The final drive began at the Bills’ 20, and Fitzpatrick hit Steve Johnson on a key third down conversion for a 21 yard gain to get the Bills out to the 42. Fitzpatrick then connected with Jones for another 14 yards to get into Patriots’ territory. Two plays later Spikes forced another Fred Jackson fumble, but the Bills were able to come away with the ball. Fitzpatrick then connected with Chandler for a first down, getting the ball to the Patriots’ 29. CJ Spiller then took a short pass for 14 yards, halving the distance for the Bills. After Fitzpatrick failed to connect with Chandler in the end zone on first down, he went looking for receiver TJ Graham on the next play, and McCourty picked it off to seal the win.

The Patriots move to 6-3 on the season with a two game lead over Miami in the AFC East. Buffalo now sits at 3-6, tied with the Jets for last place in the division. The Patriots now look forward to activating newly acquired cornerback Aqib Talib as they seek to shore up their secondary next weekend against the surging Indianapolis Colts. The Bills have dropped three straight and will face the Dolphins next weekend.

When the Patriots ran:
The Patriots ran for 117 yards, below their season average. But Stevan Ridley rushed for 98 yards and was able to pick up big chunks of yards to key Patriots’ drives. Woodhead had only one carry, but it was a big 15 yard touchdown. Slight edge to the home team. Advantage: Patriots

When the Patriots passed:
Brady threw for 237 yards, two scores and no picks on the day. He was able to pick apart the Bills’ defense at times but struggled at others. He had some miscommunication with his receivers, most notably Julian Edelman, and Wes Welker dropped two passes, including an easy touchdown pass on the game’s opening drive. Welker still led the team with six catches for 74 yards. Again, only a slight edge to the Pats. Advantage: Patriots

When the Bills ran:
Fred Jackson ran for 80 yards and CJ Spiller another 70 as the Bills gashed the Patriots for 162 yards on the day on only 28 carries. The Pats had trouble with Jackson but he was once again his own worst enemy, as he fumbled twice, losing one. Advantage: Bills

When the Bills passed:
Once again, Ryan Fitzpatrick had a good statistical game against the Pats, throwing for 337 yards with two touchdowns and one key interception. Stevie Johnson and Donald Jones both caught six passes, and Jones and Chandler each had a touchdown reception. The Patriots were able to prevent one shot big plays, but still gave up a host of passes over twenty yards. Advantage: Bills

Special Teams:
The key distinction on special teams was starting position on kickoffs. Stephen Gostkowski forced six touchbacks, and the two kickoff returns the Bills brought out resulted in the Bills starting at their own 16 and their own 6. Advantage: Patriots

Key Moment: Interception in the end zone by Devin McCourty

Game Ball: Danny Woodhead, for one rushing touchdown and one receiving touchdown

Oct 292012
 

The UK Patriots signs were in abundance at Wembley Stadium in London on Sunday, despite the designation of the St. Louis Rams as the home team. At the end of the game, 80,004 fans saw the short-handed New England Patriots thrash the Rams 45-7 to go into their bye week on a positive note, and with a 5-3 record.

The highlight of the game for the Rams (3-5) came early. On the very first drive Sam Bradford connected with Chris Givens on a 50 yard touchdown pass to put the Rams up 7-0. Safety Tavon Wilson bit on a double move from Givens and the pass was an easy one for Bradford. After that the Rams would only connect for two passing plays of more than 20 yards as the Patriots’s defense shut down the vaunted St. Louis running attack and forced Rams’ mistakes for the rest of the afternoon.

On the Patriots’ first offensive drive, they tied the game at 7 after Tom Brady connected on a 19 yard touchdown pass to Brandon Lloyd, capping an 8-play, 78 yard drive. After the Rams punted, the Patriots then drove 83 yards on 9 plays, with Shane Vereen taking the ball the final yard for his second touchdown of the season. The Rams then gave the ball back on another punt, and the Patriots drove another 78 yards on 9 plays, resulting in a 7 yard Brady pass to Rob Gronkowski for a touchdown and one of the better touchdown celebrations in recent memory. After the game, Gronk described the dance and spike as both a “palace guard” and as “the little Nutcracker dude, guarding the house.” In any event, the salute delighted the London fans, especially after spiking the mike in a pre-game rally.

The Rams then went on a 9 play drive that only resulted in 27 yards before a 54 yard field goal attempt was muffed and the Patriots started at their own 44 yard line. The Pats needed 9 plays to cover the remaining 56 yards, ending with a one yard by Stevan Ridley to close the half at 28-7 and effectively end the game by halftime.

The Patriots came out in the second hald determined to close the game, and exhibited some of the offensive swagger of previous seasons, going for the kill rather than playing conservatively on a big lead. The Patriots needed only six plays to drive 80 yards to open the second half, with Ridley gaining 30 yards on a long run before Brandon Lloyd caught his second touchdown pass of the day, upping the lead to 35-7. Chandler Jones ended the next Rams’ drive with a huge 17 yard sack of Bradford, and the Patriots drove 58 yards again before the Rams finally forced New England to settle for a Stephen Gostkowski field goal to end the third quarter with a 38-7 lead.

Brady played the first series of the fourth quarter, driving 55 yards on 6 plays and ending with a 14 yard touchdown pass to Gronkowski to close the scoring before Ryan Mallett came in for the final two drives. The Rams twice drove deep into Patriots’ territory in the game’s final minutes, and both drives ended with Patriots’ interceptions by Alfonzo Dennard and Tavon Wilson.

How the game broke down:

When the Patriots ran
The Patriots had no problem exploiting the Ram’s defensive line to spring outside runs. The Patriots hit their season average with 152 yards on the ground, and they were able to run for chunks almost at will. Stevan Ridley led the way with 127 yards and a touchdown while Shane Vereen added 22 yards and a touchdown. Advantage: Patriots

When the Patriots passed
The Patriot’ offensive line (even without Logan Mankins) was masterful against the Rams’ outstanding pass rushers, stopping the Rams from getting to Brady. There were no official quarterback hits and no sacks as Brady was able to patiently and consistently take advantage of mismatches, often involving Rob Gronkowski, who caught eight passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns. Brady routinely picked on cornerback Bradley Fletcher, who racked up three legitimate defensive pass interference calls, all on third downs. Wes Welker caught six passes and Danny Woodhead added five receptions as Brady used eight different receivers to rack up 304 passing yards and four touchdowns. The Rams’ defense had no answers for the Patriots’ spread attack, and Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer both did terrific jobs of negating the pass rush of Robert Quinn and Chris Long. Advantage: Patriots

When the Rams ran
As noted in the preview of this contest, the Patriots set out to shut down the Rams’ running game and did so convincingly. Daryl Richardson led the way for the Rams with 53 yards, but much of that was in “garbage time” in the fourth quarter. Steven Jackson was held to a paltry 23 yards while Isaiah Pead added 32 yards on three late carries. The Rams managed to squeeze out 107 yards on the ground, but they were meaningless stats in a blowout loss. Advantage: Patriots

When the Rams passed
For the first time since Week One, the Patriots actually notch a victory in this category. Sam Bradford was held to 205 yards, with 69 of those yards coming on the first drive of the game. After that, it was all Patriots. Lance Kendrick had four catches, and Chris Givens, Brandon Gibson, and Austin Pettis each had three for the Rams. Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones each had keys sacks for the Patriots, who were able to deliver some timely pressure on Bradford. Sterling Moore had six tackles and one pass defensed, while Marquise Cole and Brandon Spikes each broke up two passes. Advantage: Patriots

Special Teams
Make it a clean sweep, though special teams did not factor significantly into the outcome. The Patriots’ Zoltan Mesko was effective in his limited opportunities and Ghost added two field goals on two tries while the Patriots’ limited the Rams’ return game and kept field position in favor of the Patriots throughout the game. Advantage: Patriots

Key Moment: Pass interference call on Bradley Fletcher when the Patriots were already up 21-7. The Rams had botched a field goal attempt that would have made the score 21-10 and the Patriots’ drive appeared to come up short on a third down pass to Brandon Lloyd, but officials caught an obvious grab that put the ball on the Rams’ 20 yard line, setting up a one yard Stevan Ridley touchdown and effectively ending the game by the half.

Game Ball: Sebastian Vollmer and Nate Solder, who negated the Rams’ pass rush and gave Brady enough time to shred the Rams’ pass defense. Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels deserves an honorable mention for an exceptional game plan on offense that built an early lead and helped take the pressure off of a secondary that has been under siege.

Note: The Patriots set an NFL record on Sunday for offensive productivity, recording their 17th consecutive game with at least 350 yards of offense, totaling 473 yards against the Rams. This surpasses the record set by the 1999-2000 St. Louis Rams, then dubbed the “greatest show on turf.” The streak dates back to November 6, 2011 and includes the following totals:

11/6/2011 vs. Giants – 438 yards (332 passing, 106 rushing)
11/13/2011 at Jets – 389 yards (329 passing, 60 rushing)
11/21/2011 vs. Kansas City – 380 yards (223 passing, 157 rushing)
11/27/2011 at Philadelphia – 457 yards (353 passing, 104 rushing)
12/4/2011 vs. Indianapolis – 362 yards (289 passing, 73 rushing)
12/11/2011 at Washington – 431 yards (352 passing, 79 rushing)
12/18/2011 at Denver – 451 yards (310 passing, 141 rushing)
12/24/2011 vs. Miami – 400 yards (281 passing, 119 rushing)
1/1/2012 vs. Buffalo – 480 yards (360 passing, 120 rushing)
9/9/2012 at Tennessee – 390 yards (228 passing, 162 rushing)
9/16/2012 vs. Arizona – 387 yards (297 passing, 90 rushing)
9/23/2012 at Baltimore – 396 yards (319 passing, 77 rushing)
9/30/2012 at Buffalo – 580 yards (333 passing, 247 rushing)
10/7/2012 vs. Denver – 444 yards (193 passing, 251 rushing)
10/14/2012 at Seattle – 475 yards (388 passing, 87 rushing)
10/21/2012 vs. Jets – 381 yards (250 passing, 131 rushing)
10/28/2012 at St. Louis – 473 yards (321 passing, 152 rushing)

Both teams now go into their bye week. The Rams will visit the 49ers on November 11th while the Patriots will be at home against the Buffalo Bills.

Oct 222012
 

Let’s start with the positives for the New England Patriots: they won the game, beat a division foe, and took sole possession of first place in the AFC East. And for a few key moments at the end of the fourth quarter and in overtime, Tom Brady was clutch again. After that, it gets pretty hard to find positives from Sunday’s performance against the New York Jets.

It’s no secret that the Patriots have had a dreadful time closing out games on both offense and defense this season. In the three games won prior to today, the Patriots outscored their opponents by a total of 55 points. In the three games they had lost, they were outscored by only four points, lost late leads, and squandered opportunities to close out games, either through not converting first downs on offense, or giving up huge chunks of yardage on defense. And Week Seven against the Jets was shaping up a lot like the three losses.

And then Rob Ninkovich came to the rescue.

The converted long snapper to linebacker to defensive end had several big plays on Sunday, but none bigger than the sack and forced fumble that ended the game as the Patriots survived a sub-par effort and squeezed out a narrow 29-26 victory over the new York Jets.

The game started out as expected. The Jets drove 75 yards to open the scoring with a one yard touchdown run by Shonn Greene to put the Jets in front 7-0. From there the Patriots took control of much of the first half, with Devin McCourty returning the ensuing touchdown 104 yards to tie the game. After a Jets’ three and out, the Patriots then marched 58 yards, culminating in a Brady to Gronkowski touchdown and a 14-7 Patriots lead.

Early in the second quarter things went from bad to worse for the Jets. Starting on their oen 12 yard line, Mark Sanchez muffed a hand off to Greene and the ball rolled into the end zone, where Sanchez made a heady play and kicked the ball out of the end zone, resulting in a safety and a 16-7 Patriots lead. After a Patriots’ punt, the Jets once again started deep in their own end but had moved the ball to near midfield before Sanchez was late on a throw, allowing Alfonzo Dennard the opportunity to pick off the pass and thwart the Jets’ drive. The Patriots started the next drive at their own 2 and were able to punch the ball into Jets’ territory, aided by a facemask call against the Jets which otherwise would have had the Patriots punting from their own 32. The Pats pinned the Jets at their own 5 and looked ready to get the ball back and post another score before the break. But Sanchez and the Jets wouldn’t cooperate. Aided by Greene’s running, a 15 yard pass play to Dustin Keller, and a defensive holding call the Jets were able to drain the rest of the first half clock, ending the drive with a 54 yard field goal by Nick Folk to cut the Patriots lead to 16-10.

The Jets opened the second half by driving deep into Patriots territory with the aid of another Sanchez to Keller connection, and then surprisingly did not go for it on a fourth and one, opting for a 21 yard Folk field goal and closing the gap to 3. The Patriots’ offense then seemed to click into gear, at least momentarily, as Brady drove the Patriots 83 yards, primarily on the back of Stevan Ridley, before connecting on another touchdown pass to Gronkowski and extend the advantage to 23-13.

The Jets then went three and out on the next drive and the Patriots looked like they were on the verge of finally putting a close game away. Shane Vereen ripped off 24 yards on the next two plays to close the quarter, but then Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels’ play calling to open the fourth quarter seemed to tajke the wind out of the Patriots’ sails. After Vereen ran for another two and a Patriots first down, the next Vereen run also only netted two. Instead of looking downfield to the tight ends or Wes Welker on 2nd and 8, McDaniels tried a short screen to Welker, which the Jets blew up for a two yard loss. Then on third and ten McDaniels went back to the same well, trying another short pass to Woodhead which also got blown up for a two yard loss and forced a Patriots’ punt. The series was a bizarre set of downs and seemed to reinforce the notion that McDaniels can get too cute for his (and the Patriots) own good.

The Jets started the next drive again deep in their own territory, thanks to a poor decision by Jeremy Kerley to field the ball at his own 8. But Sanchez, looking like a far better quarterback on Sunday than the Patriots had seen in a long time, engineered a 14 play drive that featured a 17 yard pass to Stephen Hill, a 19 yard pass to Kerley, and another 15 yard pass to Hill before Sanchez connected with Keller for a 7 yard touchdown, cutting the Patriots lead to 23-20. the next Patriots’ drive opened with a push-off by Brandon Lloyd that was flagged for offensive pass interference, immediately putting the Patriots in a hole. Three plays later the Patriots punted again, and most Patriots’ fans around the country were undoubtedly having flashbacks to the Seahawks’ game (I know I was) as the Jets started at their own 35 and began moving in for the kill. Sanchez hit Keller for a 20 yard game before Joe McKnight reeled off a 12 yard run, and the Jets were off and running. Three plays later though Hill dropped a pass that would gave given the Jets a first down deep in Patriots’ territory, and the Jets had to settle for a Folk field goal and a 23-23 tie.

On the kick off, McCourty coughed up the ball, and the Jets recovered the ball at the Patriots’ 18 yard line. But the Jets stalled, picking up three yards on two plays before Sanchez was sacked by Dont’a Hightower. Folk then kicked his fourth field goal of the game to put the Jets up 26-23 with only 1:42 remaining. But that’s plenty of time for Tom Brady, and he smoothly connected with Gronkowski for 15 and then for 12 more, and then with Danny Woodhead for a 20 yard gain that got the Patriots to the jets’ 32 yard line. Two plays later Gostkowski exercised some demons by connecting on a 43 yard field goal that tied the game at 26 and sent it into overtime.

The Patriots won the toss and methodically drove the ball 54 yards on 12 plays before Gostkowski kicked a 48 yard field goal to put the Patriots up 29-26. The Jets then began at their own 15, and netted only five yards on their first two plays, them failed to convert on a long pass. But Dennard was flagged for defensive holding and the Jets got a fresh set of downs at their own 15. McKnight then got blown up by Ninkovich for a two yard loss, but Sanchez responded with a beautifully thrown 17 yard connection to Kerley to keep the drive moving. McKnight was then stuffed again by Vince Wilfork for no gain, before Sanchez dropped back to pass on the next play. Jermaine Cunningham got to Sanchez’ legs and held onto him while Ninkovich hit Sanchez in the chest and arm, forcing the ball out of his hands. Ninkovich then promptly pounced on the ball to end the game and snuff out the jets’ chances of an upset.

This game will do little to relieve Patriots fans who think that this team, which is capable of utterly dominating its opponents, has something wrong with it. Between the Patriots’ tendency to give up big plays on defense, and the offense’s ability to inexplicably fail to execute at key moments, and the recipe for disaster never seems far away. Add in Josh McDaniels own lackluster coaching performance, and I expect the Boston faithful to be up in arms this week despite the Patriots pulling out a narrow win in a game that they could have won handily.

This is to take nothing away from the Jets’ performance. Sanchez executed well all game and looked like a far more patient quarterback than normal, though he still missed connecting on a couple of key plays in addition to having his receivers drop a couple of important passes. The Jets’ defense was hardly spectacular, but it made key plays at key times to keep the Jets in contention. If nothing else, the jets proved that rumors of their demise are still premature, and that this team still has a lot of fight left in them despite the rash of injuries that has taken away some of their best players. It may not last long, but the reinvigorated Jets were tough to put away for this one Sunday in October.

When the Patriots ran:
For the most part, the Patriots were able to run the ball effectively on Sunday. They simply didn’t call running plays at the right times. Stevan Ridley gained 65 yards on 7 carries, well below his usual productive level. But Shane Vereen added 49 yards on just 8 carries and Danny Woodhead added 17 yards. Advantage: Patriots

When the Patriots passed:
Once again, when the Patriots called the right plays they were highly effective. Although Brady only threw for 259 yards, he had two touchdown passes to Rob Gronkowski and did not throw an interception, although Antonio Cromartie managed to drop an easy one. Gronk and Welker both had six receptions and Aaron Hernandez added five as Brady connected with eight different targets on the day. Advantage: Patriots

When the Jets ran:
Although Shonn Greene was able to carry the ball effectively on a few occasions, he had an unspectacular game, rushing for only 54 yards on 16 carries before leaving due to a head injury. He did return for one play but was then taken out again. McKnight provided a spark off the bench, with 23 yards on 7 carries, and five other rushers combined for 29 yards as the Jets tallied a total of 116 yards. It was more the timing of the Jets’ running game than the 3.5 average per carry that made the Jets’ ground game effective. Brandon Spikes was a beast against the run on Sunday, recording ten tackles and routinely stuffing the Jets’ rushers. Advantage: Jets

When the Jets passed:
Mark Sanchez threw for 328 yards with one touchdown and one interception. And while Sanchez’ own blunders and the mistakes of his receivers likely cost the Jets the game, it was the ability of the Jets to gain major chunks of yards through the air all day that kept the jets in the game at all. The Patriots gave up six passing plays of more than twenty yards and committed a slew of defensive penalties in the secondary that only served to underscore the current state of the Patriots’ secondary. Advantage: Jets

Special Teams:
Devin McCourty sparked the Patriots early with his 104 yard kickoff return for a touchdown, then nearly cost them the game with his kickoff return fumble late in the fourth quarter. Ghost connected on both of his field goal attempts and Folk on all 4 of his, but the real difference was in the punt game, where Zoltan Mesko routinely pinned the Jets deep and was aided by Jeremy Kerley’s questionable decisions to field at least two punts deep in his own end that might have resulted in touchbacks. In the game of field position, the Patriots won the day and were aided by uncharacteristic Jets’ errors. Advantage: Patriots

Key moment: Twenty yard connection from Tom Brady to Danny Woodhead to help move the Patriots into field goal range to tie the game before the end of regulation.

Game ball: Rob Ninkovich with four tackles, 1.5 sacks, another tackle for loss, a quarterback pressure, and the strip that ended the game.

Oct 142012
 

The Seattle Seahawks needed every break to go their way if they were going to pull off the upset against the New England Patriots on Sunday afternoon. And everything did. Despite dominating much of the afternoon, the New England Patriots squandered opportunity after opportunity, and the Seahawks offense took advantage of major coverage lapses to pull out the 24-23 victory over New England at CenturyLink Field.

The Patriots followed the expected script for most of the first half. After trading scores with the Seahawks, the Patriots found themselves down 10-7  before taking the ball down the field on a 15 play drive that ended in a Tom Brady to Aaron Hernandez one yard touchdown pass and a 14-10 Patriots lead. On the ensuing possession, Chandler Jones stripped the ball from Russell Wilson and it was recovered by Rob Ninkovich at the Seahawks’ 47 yard line. The Patriots then drove to within the 5 yard line before being forced to settle for a Stephen Gostkowski field goal and a 17-10 lead.

The game should have been decided on the next drive. After the Patriots forced the Seahawks to punt, punter Jon Ryan bobbled the ball and took a 14 yard loss, turning the ball over on downs at the Seahawks’ 24 yard line. The Patriots again drove inside the 10 yard line before a Brady pass to Rob Gronkowski was batted away, bringing third down with six seconds left. But on the next play, Brady threw the ball away without a receiver in the area, netting an intentional grounding call and a ten second runoff, ending the half without any additional points. This would come back to haunt the Patriots later in the game.

The second half began with the Patriots seemingly taking control of the game, as the Patriots forced a quick Seahawks punt and driving eight plays before being forced to settle for another field goal, upping the lead to 20-10. The drive was aided by a gritty 7 yard run by Danny Woodhead and a 35 yard pass play to tight end Daniel Fells. The next Patriots’ drive ended with an underthrown deep ball by Brady that was picked off by Richard Sherman, who had a big game for the Seahawks. After another Seattle punt, the Patriots were again driving deep in Seahawks’ territory when Earl Thomas picked off a misfired pass by Brady. It didn’t result in Seahawks’ points, as just three plays later the Seahawks would give the ball back deep in New England territory after a Zach Miller fumble, but it was another wasted scoring opportunity for the Patriots’ offense. The Patriots did capitalize on the Miller fumble, driving seven plays (with big plays from Brandon Lloyd and Woodhead) before settling with another Gostkowski field goal and a 23-10 lead.

The Seahawks started the next drive at their own 17, and on the first play Wilson hit Golden Tate on a long bomb, and a roughing call on top brought the ball to the Patriots’ 17 yard line. Four plays later Wilson hit Braylon Edwards for the score and the lead was cut to 23-17. The Patriots’ next drive short-circuited early with the aid of another intentional grounding call on Brady, forcing a New England punt. Three plays later New England had the ball back with the opportunity to close the game out, but two short runs and an incomplete pass later the Patriots’ were forced to punt. Lean Washington then raced 25 yards with the punt return, setting up Seattle at their own 43 yard line to start the next drive. After Wilson ran a keeper play for nine yards, the Patriots were forced to call their final time out when they had twelve defenders on the field. Lynch then ran for the first down, and on the next play Wilson hit Sidney Rice for a 46 yard touchdown pass that decided the game and gave the Seahawks a 24-23 come from behind win.

The Patriots can look all over the field for reasons they lost. Brady made several uncharacteristic mistakes, and Kyle Arrington, Patrick Chung and Tavon Wilson got beat routinely and badly in the secondary to allow Russell Wilson the opportunity to lead his team to the dramatic win. The Patriots were successful in shutting down Marshawn Lynch (41 yards on 15 carries) and forced the game into Russell Wilson’s hands, but the Patriots’ pass defense suffered breakdown after breakdown in blown coverages, getting beat to the ball, or committing penalties as Wilson passed for 293 yards and three touchdowns. Brady threw a career-high 58 times as the Patriots’ abandoned the ground game, with Brady throwing for 395 yards and two scores, but for two interceptions as well.  Wes Welker had 10 catches for 138 yards, his fourth straight game over 100.

How bad was the loss for the Patriots? The Pats ran 86 offensive plays to Seattle’s 57; a difference of 29 plays. And they still lost. That one number crystalizes the wasted opportunities that the Patriots left on the field on Sunday. Here’s how the game broke out.

When the Patriots ran:

The Patriots didn’t rely on the run nearly as much today, as they seemed to like the match-ups against the linebackers and safeties with Welker, Hernandez, and Gronkowski. Bolden ran for 28 yards on 6 carries before leaving with an injury, and Stevan Ridley ran for 34 yards on 16 carries. Danny Woodhead added 25 yards on 4 carries. The Patriots were able to run at key times, but on the whole could never really get the run game started. Ridley held on to the ball today, but was never really able to get into the flow of the game. Advantage: Seahawks

When the Patriots passed:

Despite the mistakes, Brady threw for 395 yards, connecting with eight different receivers. Welker had 10 catches, Lloyd, Hernandez, and Gronk each had six and Woodhead added five. The Patriots were able to throw at will and took advantages of mismatches against the linebackers, as well as working Gronkowski against Kam Chancellor and Welker paired up against Marcus Trufant. But for the Brady mistakes the Patriots  could easily have surpassed 35 points today. Advantage: Patriots

When the Seahawks ran:

Marshawn Lynch was an afterthought today, running for just 41 yards on 15 carries. Robert Turbin was more effective with 5 carries for 27 yards, and Russell Wilson was opportunistic in gaining 17 yards on 5 carries. Like the Patriots, the Seahawks were able to get some good situational runs, but the overall running game was ineffective. Advantage: Patriots

When the Seahawks passed:

Brady may have thrown for more yards, but Wilson was able to connect on five passes of 20 or more yards, including the 46 yard touchdown to Edwards and a 24 yard touchdown strike to Doug Baldwin. The Patriots’ secondary was horrendous today, and even Alfonzo Dennard, last week’s pleasant surprise who eventually replaced Kyle Arrington after his struggles, looked miserable as Wilson picked them apart like he was Joe Montana in piling up 293 yards and three touchdown passes. Tavon Wilson regressed in his second start at safety for the Pats. Nate Ebner is a liability at this point and shouldn’t even be on the field. Advantage: Seahawks

Special Teams:

They say the last act is the one that is often remembered. Both squads has highs and lows today. Ryan botched the punt attempt that should have given New England a commanding halftime lead, but he also averaged 60 yards on 4 punts. Wes Welker had a good day returning punts (68 yards on 4 returns), and both kickers were perfect on the day. But it was New England’s return breakdown on the final punt that allowed Leon Washington the scamper 25 yards and get the Seahawks in great field position that will be remembered on special teams in this game. Advantage: Seahawks

Key Moment: Take your choice. Brady’s picks, the intentional grounding at the end of the first half, any of Wilson’s downfield throws that netted points, or Washington’s key punt return. Too many to call.

Game Ball: Russell Wilson, for stepping up in the clutch. The Patriots’ game plan was to force Wilson to win the game for the Seahawks, and that’s exactly what he did. It was a great performance by the rookie quarterback, aided by an historically awful performance from the New England secondary.

Sep 302012
 

The New England Patriots clearly saw something in the Buffalo Bills’ defensive front seven of which they thought they could take advantage. And after struggling through an awful first half the Patriots got back to their game plan and asserted their will over the Buffalo Bills, crushing them 52-28 in Orchard Park, New York. The Patriots dominated the Bills on the ground, rushing for 247 yards. Undrafted rookie free agent Brandon Bolden carried the ball 16 times for 137 yards and one touchdown, while Stevan Ridley rushed for 106 yards on 22 carries with two touchdowns. But it wasn’t just the ground attack that shredded the Bills. Both Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski surpassed 100 yards receiving with Gronkowski catching one touchdown after both players lost fumbles in the first half.

The Patriots went into the half down 14-7 after missing two field goals and turning the ball over twice in the first half. Only a defensive blast by Brandon Spikes stopped the Bills from taking a 14 point lead into the half after his devastating hit knocked the ball out of CJ Spiller’s hands before Vince Wilfork came away with it. The Patriots went into the half looking vulnerable, after dropping the last two contests against the Cardinals and Ravens by a total of three points.

The second half started out the same way. After a Patriots’ punt to open the half, Ryan Fitzpatrick hit Donald Jones for a 68 yard touchdown pass and the Bills went up 21-7. It looked like the rout might be on. But eight plays later scrambled out of the pocket to find Danny Woodhead on his way to the end zone and the Patriots closed the gap to 7. After a Bills’ three and out, the Patriots started deep in their own territory, but again used an eight play drive to find the end zone, this time with Brady scrambling it in for a four yard touchdown. After a four play Bills possession, the Patriots were again on the march, this time resulting in an easy Brady to Gronkowski touchdown pass that pushed the Patriots ahead 28-21.

The Bills were reeling at this point, and three plays later Fred Jackson fumbled and the Patriots recovered at the Bills 42. Stevan Ridley scored six plays later for a 35-21 Patriots’ advantage. Three more plays later Devin McCourty picked off Ryan Fitzpatrick and returned the ball to the Bills’ 12, and Bolden scored to make it a 21 point lead. The Bills struck back on the next drive with a terrific play from Fitzpatrick to Brad Smith, cutting the lead to 42-28. But the Patriots struck back with a touchdown pass to Brandon Lloyd and a Stephen Gostkowski field goal to seal the 52-28 win.

The win had many blemishes. Besides sloppy play, the Bills’ offense shredded the Patriots’ secondary for 350 passing yards and 4 touchdowns, though Fitzpatrick also threw four interceptions as Patriots’ pressure resulted in underthrown balls and poor decisions on the part of the Bills’ quarterback. Stephen Gostkowski had a forgettable game. After missing the game-winning kick against the Cardinals two weeks ago, the Ghost missed his first two attempts this week, pushing one kick to the right and pulling another to the left, before finally connecting on a 30-yarder in the games closing minutes.

How the game broke down

When the Patriots ran:

The Patriots had a monster game on the ground, rushing for 247 yards and having two backs rush for over 100 yards, the first time the franchise has done that since 1980. Brandon Bolden blasted through the line at will, seemingly picking up big chunks on every play while Stevan Ridley rotated between sizable chunks and churning out tough yards for first down conversion. The front seven of the Bills, highly touted all week leading up to the game, had no answers for the Patriots’ devastating ground attack. Advantage: Patriots

When the Patriots passed:

Tom Brady was 22 of 36 for 340 yards, with three touchdown passes and no interceptions. Brady connected with seven different receivers, with Welker catching nine passes, Gronk six, and Brandon Lloyd snagging three. Good secondary play by Stephon Gilmore being the only thing that prevented a complete Bills’ meltdown as he defended well against Brandon Lloyd on the outside. Still, Brady shredded the middle of the field and the Bills had no answers thanks to the effective Patriots’ rushing attack that let Brady strike at will in the second half. Advantage: Patriots

When the Bills ran:

The Bills netted only 98 yards on the ground despite having both Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller in the line-up. Worse for the Bills, both players lost fumbles for Buffalo. New England’s front seven routinely blew up runners and Brandon Spikes had a big day, as did Vince Wilfork. Advantage: Patriots

When the Bills passed:

Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for 350 yards and four touchdowns, and seemed to hit big plays all day long against the Patriots’ secondary. Only Ryan Fitzpatrick’s lack of arm strength stopped the Bills from being even more effective, and his underthrowing contributed to four Patriots’ interceptions on the day. One could look at Devin McCourty and feel good about his two interceptions today, but on one of those he was clearly beat and Fitzpatrick threw the ball right to him. The Patriots were able to apply decent pressure on Fitzpatrick, but the Patriots coverage group broke down on numerous occasions. Advantage: Bills

Special Teams:

Close call here. The Ghost missed two field goal attempts but hammered kickoffs through the end zone. Zoltan Mesko was effective in giving the Bills difficult starting position. The shanked punt by Shawn Powell gives the Patriots the edge. Advantage: Patriots

Key Play: Brady’s four yard touchdown run to tie the game, which was upheld after review. As the play was upheld, Brady could be seen saying “F%#k you, B($#hes to no one in particular, which amused Wes Wlker to no end. Clearly, Tom was pumped and angry, and he fought to lead the Patriots comeback.

Game Ball: Brandon Bolden, who ripped through the Buffalo defense on his way to 137 yards and 8.6 yards per carry.

Game Log

Pre-game Notes: Gronk in. Hernandez, Edelman. Mankins out. These absences making the game a bigger challenge than it would already be. Expect heavy doses of Gronk and Welker today from the Patriots. Wearing the new official #12 game day jersey; let’s see how it fares!

FIRST QUARTER

Patriots defer on coin toss.

Bills’ possession

Jackson for a first down on the first play. Misdirection pass for another first – expect to see that a lot today. Jackson stuffed on the next play. Fitzpatrick scrambles for 7. First down to Chandler. Jackson for 5. Jackson for 3 more. Jackson stuffed for loss. Great play by Chandler Jones. Bills punt to New England 10.

Patriots’ possession

Fells across the 25 on first down. Vereen short catch for 6. Big play downfield to Gronk to the Bills’ 26. Gronk inside the 20. Ridley for a first down in the red zone. Walker to the 6 off play action. Ridley touchdown. Patriots take an early 7-0 lead. 90 yard drive in 7 plays.

Bills’ possession

Quick pass for 8. Spiller chased out of bounds for a loss by Hightower. Johnson for first down to the Bills’ 40. Short pass to Spiller for 3. Hightower takes down Fitzpatrick for one yard sack. Pick by Mao on a deflection by Wilfork.

Patriots’ possession

Incomplete pass batted down by Darius. Ridley for 8. Incomplete to Brandon Lloyd. Patriots punt to the Bills, 5, fielded by Matthew Slater.

Bills’ possession

Screen pass to Dickerson out to the 30. Jackson for 4. Jackson for another yard. Sack by Chandler Jones. Bills punt and Patriots start at own 29.

Patriots possession

Incomplete pass to Lloyd. Bolden runs for a first down. End of first quarter.

SECOND QUARTER

Patriots possession

Brady misses Welker for an incompletion. Bolden for 2. Woodhead reception short of the first down. Patriots punt to the Bills’ one yard line.

Bills’ possession

Spiller to the 3. Patriots call time out #1. McCourty picks off deep pass, who was beaten and came back for the under thrown ball.

Patriots’ possession

Bolden for 12. Gilmore hurt on play. Incomplete pass on first down under late pressure. Bolden for short loss. Deep pass to Lloyd is incomplete. Ghost is wide right by 49 yard field goal try.

Bills’ possession

Chandler crosses midfield on first down pass. Short loss for Jackson; holding against Bills declined. Fitzpatrick overthrows deep pass. Third down pass to Chandler incomplete. Bills punt fair caught by Welker at the 9.

Patriots’ possession

Short pass to Gronkntomthe 24; Gronk drops the ball and the Bills recover.

Bills’ possession

Fitzpatrick to Chandler for 24 yard touchdown completion. Patriots 7 Bills 7.

Patriots’ possession

Welker pass for 9. Ridley for another 8. Ridley for 7, and then another 6. Vereen for no gain. Intentional incompletion follows on broken screen play. First down pass to Lloyd. Incomplete pass on next play. Ridley pounds out 8 yards. Ridley runs to the 29, bringing up forth down. Patriots call time out #2. Gostkowski 42 yard field goal is wide left; three straight misses now for Ghost. Points being left on the field again today.

Bills’ possession

TJ Graham for 7 on quick pass. Jackson stuffed on screen. Great pass from Fitzpatrick to Fred Jackson to the Patriots’ 27. Spiller to the 20. Another Fitzpatrick touchdown pass to Chandler for 14-7 Bills’ lead.

Patriots’ possession

Ridley for no gain. Brady sacked for 7 yard loss, bringing up long third down. Welder take a pass to the 27, then fumbles it. Bills recover. It’s like the Pats are trying to implode before halftime.

Bills’ possession

Bills start at Patriots’ 21. Incomplete pass defended by Chung. Errant pass by Fitzpatrick on second down. First down pass to Brad Smith at the 8. Two minute warning. Spiller to the 4. Spiller fumble recovered by Vince Wilfork after huge hit by Brandon Spikes.

Patriots possession

Ridley to the 14. Ridley four more for first down. Patriots run out the clock, trailing at halftime 14-7.

THIRD QUARTER

Patriots’ possession

Patriots open the half lucky to not be down two scores. Pats start at their own 20. Welker big catch and run to the 46. Bolden for 2. Gronk drops a Sure touchdown after a hit by Glimore. Third down pass batted down. Patriots punt to the Bills’ 17.

Bills’ possession

Jackson taken down for no gain. False start sets Bills back five yards. Fitzpatrick pass to Chandler tipped away by Spikes. Screen to Jackson nets a first down. Jackson for 4. Fatzpatrick quick pass to Donald Jones goes for a long 68 yard touchdown. Bills 21 Patriots 7.

Patriots’ possession

Pass to Bolden for first down. Bolden big gain for 27 yards. Bolden for another first down run. Ridley for 7. Ridley for a first down. Gronk drops a pass at the 3 yard line. Ridley for 2 to the 17. Brady scrambles out of trouble to complete touchdown pass to Danny Woodhead. Bills 21 Patriots 14. Brady: 36 consecutive games with at least one touchdown pass.

Bills’ possession

Long pass incomplete with good coverage by McCourty. Spiller stopped by Wilfork for one yard. Pass to Chandler incomplete. Bills punt all the way to the Patriots 25, but penalty against the Patriots adds 10 more.

Patriots’ possession

Welker first down pass to the 28. Ridley for 1. Welker to the 45 yard line. Bolden rips off a 20 yard run. Bolden for 4 more. Brady to Welker to the 13; roughing gets the ball to the 7. Bolden to the 4. Brady runs it in for the score. Patriots 21 Bills 21.

Bills’ possession

22 yard pass to Jones to stat the drive. Jackson stuffed by Ninkovich for two yard loss. Ninkovich sacks Fitzpatrick and forces fumble, which Bills’ recover. Left tackle Cordy Glenn hurt on play. Fitzpatrick pass incomplete on third down. Bills punt is a shank to the Patriots’ 37.

Patriots’ possession

7 yard out to Welker. Ridley pushes for the first down. Gronk for 14. Ridley for 11. End of third quarter.

FOURTH QUARTER

Patriots’ possession

Brady splits the secondary for touchdown pass to Gronk. Patriots 28 Bills 21.

Bills’ possession

Spiller to the 36, but hurts shoulder on play. Jackson for a short gain. Jackson fumbles after hit from Spikes. Patriots recover at the Bills’ 42.

Patriots’ possession

Incomplete pass to Lloyd. Ridley runs it to the 29 for a first down. Bolden for another first down run. Bolden to the 2. Incomplete pass in end zone. Ridley for the touchdown. Patriots 35 Bills 21.

Bills’ possession

Wilfork blows up Donald Jones to blow up a first down screen. False start on Bills. Dropped pass on second down. Interception by McCourty, who returns it to the 12.

Patriots’ possession

Bolden to the 7. Bolden in for the touchdown. Patriots 42 Bills 21. Blowout now official after a rough start.

Bills’ possession

Graham for 9 yard completion. Johnson for a first down catch. Spiller catches pass for short gain. Fitzpatrick throws wide incomplete. Bills call a time out. Completion to Dickerson for first down at midfield. Pass play broken up Arrington. Quarterback draw to the 45. Spiller goes 8 yards for the first down. Pass to Johnson incomplete on missed opportunity. Fitzpatrick scrambles for three. Fitzpatrick to Smith for the touchdown. Patriots 42 Bills 28.

Patriots’ possession

Gronk recovers onside kick. Brady to Fells incomplete. Ridley for 1 yard gain. Brady complete to Welker at he 30 for a first down. Bolden for 7, then a one yard loss. Bills use last time out. Brady long pass to Lloyd for the touchdown. Patriots 49 Bills 28. The rout is back on, and the stadium is starting to look empty.

Bills’ possession

Tavon Wilson picks off Faitzpatrick on the first play of the ensuing series.

Patriots’ possession

Ridley for two yard loss. Ridley gets the two back on the next play. Lloyd to the 11. Two minute warning. Ghost puts it through the uprights for a 52-28 Patriots’ advantage.

Bills’ possession

Choice for a short gain. Choice runs for a first down. Screen to Choice for short gain. White runs for about 6. End of fourth quarter.

FINAL SCORE: Patriots 52 Bills 28

 

Sep 162012
 

So what are the highlights in Week Two? The Giants came from way down to beat the upset-minded Buccaneers, while to cardinals pulled off the real deal against the Patriots. The Jets’ offense crash-landed against the Steelers, while Joe Flacco (pictured) took out his pacifier just long enough to whine after the Eagles tipped the Ravens. The Browns and Raiders lost again (what else is new?) and the Seahawks ripped the Cowboys at home. So much for thinking all of their (‘Boys) problems were cured. Finally, the Saints fell to 0-2. Well, at least there’s no hangover from Bountygate.

In total, here are the results from Week Two:

Still to come: Denver-Atlanta

Sep 162012
 

What Gronk giveth, Gronk taketh away.

Rob Gronskowski helped Tom Brady lead a feverish comeback against the Arizona Cardinals, overcoming multiple drops on the day, but then two late penalties against Gronk cost first a touchdown and then five yards on a missed field goal attempt that ultimately doomed the Patriots in a stunning 20-18 loss to the Cardinals in the home opener at Gillette Stadium.

Here is the game recap:

FIRST QUARTER

The Cardinals came out with a good game plan, trying to take whatever the Patriots defense would be willing to give. The Cardinals used a solid rcompleted tack, complemented by a Peterson wildcat and opportunistic passing to advance to the Patriots 20 yard line before being forced to settle for a field goal and an early 3-0 lead. On the first play of the ensuing New England possession, the Cardinals were able to turn a pass deflection  into an interception to takeover the at Patriots 36. But the Pats’ defense stiffened forced the Cardinals into another field goal and a 6-0 lead.

The Patriots came out with a mix of running and passing in their first drive, assisted by a key third down offsides by the Cardinals on their way to a 46 yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski, closing the gap to 6-3.  However, the drive resulted in the Los of tight end Aaron Hernandez, who was assisted off of the field with what appeared to be a painful ankle injury.

The Cardinals were then forced into a three and out, with a key third down stop by Rob Ninkovich. The Patriots then closed the first quarter with two Stevan Ridley runs netting 21 yards.

SECOND QUARTER

The Patriots opened the quarter with two straight incomplete passes, forcing a Mesko punt. Chandler Jones began asserting himself on the next Cardinals drive,stuffing one run for a loss and drawing a holding call while relentlessly pursuing Kevin Kolb. The Patriots got a good punt return from Julian Edelman to start the next drive on the Cardinals side of the 50. Ridley began the next drive with four hard runs to bring the ball to the 16, before the drive stalled and the Patriots were forced into a field goal to tie the game at 6. The officials blew an obvious offsides call on the field goal that would have extended a drive with an automatic first down, annoying the faithful at The Razor. The Cardinals were executing a solid drive until the Patriots forced a turnover near The Patriots 40. Two big Patriots losses led to a safe third down draw and another Patriots’ punt.

Brandon Spikes opened the next possession with a sack, and Hightower added a key stop on third down. The Patriots started their next drive at their own 10 and went into safe mode, but a big connection to Welker after the two minute warning ignited some offensive movement.  After a near miss in the end zone to Gronk, the Pats stalled near midfield to end the half.

THIRD QUARTER

The Pats opened with a huge pass play to Welker for 36 yards. But the drive stalled at the 32 and the Patriots were forced to settle for a third field goal and a 9-6 lead.  The Patriots forced a punt on the next possession, with Dont’a Hightower making his presence felt. The Pat riots then suffered a three and out deep in their own territory, before the Cardinals blocked the punt and recovered at the Patriots’ 2 yard linE and turned a third down into a Cardinals touchdown and a 13-9 lead.

The Patriots went to the air attack on the next series, passing three times before Ridley hammered out a first down run. Then they went back to the air to Lloyd, before Ridley again moved the chains. Hilliard churned out the next first down before the Patriots again we shut down by the tenacious Cardinal defense forced a Patriot punt. The next drive by the Cardinals was a methodical march down the field, aided by a personal foul by safety Steve Gregory.

FOURTH QUARTER

The Cardinals’ drive was capped by a 6 yard quarterback draw by Kevin Kolb for a touchdown and a 20-9 lead early in the fourth quarter. With no choice left, the Pats went back to the air and in two quick strikes were in Cardinals’ territory. An acrobatic catch by Brand on Lloyd netted another nine yards, but a bad play call on third down forced another Patriots’ punt. Frankly, I found Belichick’s decision not to go for it on fourth down to be a questionable call given the ability of the Cardinals offense to execute all day.  Predictably, the Cardinals used the running of Beanie Wells to mete out a first down, killing time off the clock, before the Patriots stiffened on the next set of downs.

Julian Edelman started off the next series bringing the ball across midfield and then Brandon Lloyd made a catch for another first down. But poor play-calling on a second down run and a nice pass defense on third down led to another  Gostkowski field goal and a 20-12 deficit.

The Cardinals’ next drive was stuffed by the Patriots defense, after a review of a third down non-catch by Larry Fitzgerald. The Pats took over at the 35, and the ensuing drive was vintage Brady, as he carved the Cardinals’ defense before connecting with Rob Gronkowski for the touchdown. The Patriots were unable to convert the two point try, and the Cardinals’ lead was cut to 20-18.

The Cardinals ran the ball for almost five yards to bring the clock to 2:00, and then Ryan Williams slashed through the middle for a first down, essentially ending the game… or so it should have. On the ensuing third down play, the Cards inexplicably handed the ball off to Ryan Williams, who lost it on a hit by Brandon Spikes, and the ball was recovered by Vince Wilfork. The Patriots then seemingly won the game on a touch won run by Danny Woodhead, but the play was called back on a questionable holding call on Rob Gronkowski. While Gronk did turn the player and thus draw the flag, the call was likely one that would have gone as a no-call with regular officials (or dare I say, real ones). The Patriots then moved into easy field goal range but lost five yards on a false start penalty, again on Gronk. Still, the Pats were set up for a 42 yard field goal by Gosttkowski, which he promptly pulled left to pull defeat out of the jaws of victory.

FINAL SCORE: CARDINALS 20 PATRIOTS 18

Post- Game Analysis:

The Cardinals wanted tis game more than the Patriots, and executed their game plan almost flawlessly. They were able to effectively move the chains on offense, and defensively took the Patriots out of their own game plan. Aaron Hernandez’ injury seemed to have the affect of knocking the Patriots off kilter. Wes Welker picked up the slack for Hernandez, solitude Cardinals’ defense repeatedly punched the Patriots in the mouth all afternoon, and the Patriots had few answers until the closing minutes, and then a failure to execute routine plays cost them the chance at their comeback win.

Patriots’ fans can take heart in knowing that the last time the team lost a home opener was in 2001, when the Patriots won their first Super Bowl which, coincidentally, was in New Orleans.

When the Patriots Ran:

Stevan Ridley ran for 71 yards and Danny Woodhead ran for another 18, but the Patriots were unable to run at key times, or chose to run at times where a pass play was the better call. Despite the productive play, disruption caused by the Cardinals gives the cards the edge. Advantage: Cardinals

When the Patriots passed:

Tom Brady threw for 316 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Welker, Gronkowski, Lloyd and Edelman all had big receiving days in the absence of Aaron Hernandez. If anything, the Patriots didn’t pass enough today given the tempo of the day and the grittiness of the Cardinals’ defense. The Cardinals were able to apply consistent pressure on Brady, sacking him four times. Advantage: Patriots

When the Cardinals ran:

The cards used a balanced rushing attack, with five runners posting double digits in yards and outgaining the Patriots 105-86. It’s wasn’t an outstanding attack, but it was a consistent one. The error by Williams (really a play call error) nearly cost the Cards the game. That play had to be one of the worst play calls I have seen in recent years, as the Cards should have taken a knee to insure a punt and a long field for the Patriots. Advantage: Cardinals

When the Cardinals passed:

Kevin Kolb only threw for 140 yards with one touchdown and no interception, but it was his headiness that won the day for the Cards. Kolb made good decisions, took what the defense would give, and knew when to take a loss.  Todd heap caught five passes before leaving with an injury. Still, the Patriots once again kept their opponents from any long gains, holding the longest reception to 36 yards. The Patriots shut down Larry Fitzgerald (1 catch for 4 yards) but Kolb took advantage of his other options. Advantage: Even

Special Teams:

The Ghost made four field goals and two from beyond 50 yards, but missed a makable 42 yarder that would have won the game. The Patriots were able to contain the Cardinals’ return game, and Julian Edelman was the more effective returner today. Still, we will remember the last play as the key in the Patriots’ loss. The punt block was a key play, setting up the Cardinals on the Patriots’ two yard line, which the Cards punched in for a score. Advantage: Cardinals

Key Moment: Holding call on Rob Gronkowski that cost the Patriots a 30 yard touchdown by Danny Woordhead. While it was a questionable call, any holding was unnecessary on the play, as Gronk had effectively shielded his man on the play.

This week’s game ball goes to Calais Campbell, who registered seven tackles and two sacks