It will be easy to blame the New England Patriots’ defense for their 28-14 loss to the New York Jets at the New Meadowlands. After all, they did give up 28 points to the Mark Sanchez-led, offensively-challenged, New York Jets.
Many will point their collective fingers to second-year cornerback Darius Butler (see Ron Borges’ article in the Boston Herald) for his two pass interference calls on the Jets’ last scoring drive. Butler was also made to look foolish as he looked like a child futilely trying to take the ball away from his taller big brother on a 2-pont conversion fade pass to wide receiver Braylon Edwards in the final minute of the third quarter, complete with a feeble slap to Edwards’s shoulder at the completion of the play.
But the onus for this defeat falls on the shoulders of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. There is no denying this defense has been in a transition ever since the loss of Mike Vrabel, Asante Samuel, Mike Vrabel, Richard Seymour, and Rodney Harrison. This defense will be good, maybe even dominating, someday. But it is not now.
More than at any point in his career, the pressure is squarely on Tom Brady and his right shoulder. He no longer has Bruschi and company to bail him out on defense. He doesn’t have a Corey Dillon or even a workhorse like Antowain Smith in the backfield to put him in comfy 3rd-and-2 situations.
Brady is 33 years old and has just signed a four-year, $72 million contract extension. He has expressed interest in playing into his 40’s. However, the cape has come off in the last season-plus since suffering a serious knee injury in the opening game of 2008, as he has come up small in big games.
Yesterday, Brady completed a modest 20 of 36 passes (55.6%). That’s a far cry from his 69% completion percentage of his record setting season of 2007. He also threw two interceptions and fumbled in the red zone on a pivotal drive late in the fourth quarter which sealed the victory for the much hated-Jets.
Belichick also has to foot blame for this game, and perhaps ultimately the season. He has been unable to bring in any veteran pass rushers on defense like a Julius Peppers or Jason Taylor, who coincidentally forced that decisive Brady fumble. If Mark Sanchez is allowed the time to tear apart the Patriots’ secondary, imagine what the likes of an Aaron Rodgers, Philip Rivers, or Peyton Manning will do.
Belichick also had a chance to draft a pass rusher like Jerry Hughes. He could have drafted a big-play wide receiver to divert some coverage from Randy Moss, and ultimately replace Moss in the future. If anyone saw Dez Bryant’s performance yesterday, you know who I am talking about.
In terms of in-game coaching, Belichick used to be notorious for making halftime adjustments. Yesterday, the Patriots’ offense controlled the clock in the first half with quick-hitting passes to Wes Welker, a big play to Randy Moss, and solid contributions from rookie tight end Aaron Hernandez en route to a 14-10 halftime lead. Those players, for whatever reason, were non-existent in the second half as the Patriots were held scoreless.
This team will win more games than it loses this year. This young defense will get better. But for this team to play deep into January and beyond, the offense will need to regain the swagger they’ve had in the past. They will need to get out to early leads to take pressure off the defense and put opposing offenses into obvious passing situations. Stephen Gostkowski cannot be missing 37-yard field goals. Coaches need to make halftime adjustments and not just assume that things that worked in the first half will still work in the second half.