When the Patriots took the field Sunday at 4:25, everyone figured they would win going away, regardless of their tough loss to Denver last week and the ridiculous amount of injuries they were dealing with on offense. For the first 23 minutes of the game, everything was going according to plan as the Patriots took a 14-0 lead and were on their way to a typical route of an NFC team.
Then the coaching staff decided to get cute.
With 7:30 left in the second quarter and the Patriots kicking off, Bill Belichick and his staff decided to attempt a DROP KICK with Nate Ebner. Let me repeat- they attempted a drop kick that was designed to drop between the first and second line of the Eagles kick return team where the Patriots must have seen a hole on tape. The Eagles recovered the ball at their own 40, the best field position they had all day, and promptly drove down the field to make the score 14-7. As much as the defense is to blame for giving up 60 yards so easily, the drop kick was the reason the Eagles were facing a short field, and that isn't anyone's fault but the coaching staff. The whole thing makes no sense; as soon as Philly saw Ebner line up to kick, they knew something was up and prepared accordingly. If that was a surprise onside kick, which is still foolish at that point considering the way the game was going, it still would have made a lot more sense than the drop kick. The whole thing made no sense and all it did was allow Chip Kelly and the Eagles to remain in the game.
In most cases this brain camp would be the only blip on the radar for New England and they would get back to strong coaching and playing, but that just wasn't the case yesterday. The Patriots and Eagles exchanged three-and-outs on the ensuing two possessions, and the Eagles punted the ball back to New England with 1:32 on the clock. Typically, New England would take that 92 seconds and try to score to build up their lead before the half, but with all the injuries, they can't move as fast as they normally do. It felt like they wanted to run the time out, but they had two strong runs and they decided to get aggressive, but when they were facing a 3rd-and-five from their own 38 with just 19 seconds on the clock, they should have run the ball and forced the Eagles to call a timeout if they wanted to force a punt. Instead, they threw the ball, which was an incompletion, and then were forced to punt. The punt was blocked due to awful A-gap blocking, and the Eagles tied to game with eight seconds to go in the half. Indecision led to a blocked punt, touchdown, and a brand new ball game. Again, bad decision making, coaching, and execution on the part of the punt team killed the Patriots.
The second half started like the first- slow. The Patriots first possession lasted only six plays as they picked up one first down and 20 yards before they were forced to punt. The Eagles weren't much better, moving one yard on three plays before punting the ball back to New England. Finally, the Patriots woke back up and started moving down the field. An eight play drive that was highlighted by a 25-yard catch-and-run by James White moved the Patriots down to the Eagles one yard line and on the verge of taking a touchdown lead, a miracle when you consider how awful the last seven minutes of the first half went and the first drive of the second.
On first and goal, the Patriots rushed and the play was blown up for a five yard loss. The explanation from Bill Belichick was that Philly was in a dime defense and the Patriots were trying to take advantage and pick up the quick six, but the interior of the Eagles defensive line was prepared. James White was tackled at the five, pushing New England back four yards and forcing them into a position where they had to pass. On second down, Brady couldn't connect with Danny Amendola, and when he tried to connect with him again on third down, Malcolm Jenkins picked off the pass and took it 99 yards for the Eagles touchdown. Any momentum the Patriots may have built was completely gone and the trend of huge mistakes continued. Unfortunately, things were about to get a lot worse.
Philadelphia, after scoring on the interception, forced the Patriots offense off the field again on the following possession, allowing just one first down. New England punted the ball, which was hauled in by Darren Sproles and promptly returned for a touchdown. In two weeks, the punt team has fumbled late in the fourth with a two touchdown lead, allowed a blocked punt that was returned for a touchdown, and a straight punt return. No team can win when they let this happen, no matter how talented they may be.
New England was down 28-14, but as we've learned in the past, 14 point deficits are not difficult for Tom Brady to overcome, and today was going to be one of those days. The Patriots ensuing drive started great; seven yards on two carries for Blount led to a trick play where Danny Amendola received the direct snap, sold that he was running the sweep, and then turned around and threw it back to Tom Brady, who in turn ran for 36 yards. The drive started to have the same feel as last season when New England stormed back and beat the Ravens in the playoffs. All the positive energy quickly disapated on the next play; Brady tried to go deep to Lafell, who was in double coverage, and the Eagles came up with another interception. That makes two promising Patriots drives ended by interceptions; that's just unacceptable.
Philadelphia took over at the Patriots 20, and if New England was going to win this game, the defense was going to have to get a stop and get the ball back to the offense as soon as possible. Instead of stepping up, the defense had their worst series of the game, allowing the Eagles to methodically drive down the field on 12 plays for 80 yards and a touchdown. It was 35-14 Eagles, and no matter how magical Brady can be at the end of games, it wasn't going to matter because no phase- offense, defense, or special teams- was willing to step up and make a play.
After trading three-and-outs, the Patriots finally got rolling offensively. New England drove 71 yards on seven plays in just pver two minutes, cutting the lead to 14 and giving the Patriots a fightinh chance. With five minutes left and down two touchdowns, the Patriots decided it was time to go onsides, this time conventionally, and it worked. The Patriots took over at their own 44, and nine plays and 56 yards later, Brady plunged into the end zone to make the score 35-28 Eagles with exactly three minutes to go. The Patriots had two timeouts and three minutes; there best bet was to kick it down the field, but they decided to go onsides, using Nate Ebner AGAIN which didn't make any sense. The Eagles recovered and it appeared the game was over. After picking up a first down and the Patriots having no timeouts, the game seemed over. Kenjon Barner took the ball on third and five and fumbled while trying to gain more yardage and the Patriots once again had life. Brady and the offense took over at their own 25, and after picking up one first down, they fizzled out and the Eagles came up with the turnover on downs.
When it comes down to it, all three phases struggled, although the defense did make enough plays to win the game. Special teams blunders, awful coaching decisions, and untimely interceptions ultimately did in the Patriots Sunday and may cost them a bye and homefield throughout the playoffs.
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