PHOTO: Kevin Faulk #33 of the New England Patriots runs from the defense of the Carolina Panthers on September 18, 2005 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Miscues Drag Patriots
By Michael Reardon
In a contest in which the New England Patriots were defeated in all aspects of the game, there is certainly ample blame to be distributed over the offense, defense, special teams, and the coaching staff. However, as one examines all of the points at which the Patriots broke down, it becomes clear that the offense was a main factor in the team's failings in these other departments and as such, the most prominent reason why the Patriots will travel to Pittsburgh next Sunday in desperate need for a win.
The most notable and disconcerting malfunctioning aspect of the New England offense is obviously the ineffectiveness of Corey Dillon and the running game. Now two games into the season, Dillon, who rushed for over 1,600 yards last season, has just 99 yards on 37 carries; a paltry 2.7 yards per carry. Dillon gains a lot of the power he runs with by hitting the hole fast and hard, and thus far, he has looked hesitant and sluggish getting to the line of scrimmage. Those watching Dillon run with a skeptical eye will wonder if the years (31 next month) and the carries (average 281 a year) are finally taking their toll on the veteran running back.
However, Dillon's apparent decrease of explosiveness is not the only reason for his poor production. The offensive line has, thus far, shown an inability to open and maintain running lanes for the veteran running back. With an injury to Steven Neal and two disappointing performances by Matt Light, the offensive line woes have been an unpleasant surprise for the Patriots.
On a day like Sunday on which Brady is not at his best, this kind of ineffectiveness on the ground augmented and amplified the problems the offense had in the air. Unfortunately for both Dillon and the offensive line, next week at Pittsburgh may prove a very difficult game to right the wrongs they've experienced so far.
When the running game sputters as it did on Sunday, it adds a lot of pressure on Tom Brady and the passing game. Normally this isn't a problem for the historically clutch quarterback, but, for the first time in recent memory, Brady was unable to play up to the challenge. He turned in what will almost certainly be one of his worst performances of the year. While his final numbers weren't terrible (23/44, 270 yards, 1 TD, and 1 INT), Brady was inaccurate all day. His first big miscue was on the 2nd drive offensive drive of the game when he overthrew a wide-open and waiting Ben Watson. He also seemed to be having communication problems with his receivers, throwing a few passes that were nowhere near anyone in a Patriots jersey. As a result, Brady was seen jawing with some of his teammates as they came back into the huddle throughout the game.
Some of Brady's criticism was certainly warranted. Deion Branch finished the day with 8 receptions, but still had a few sloppy drops, as did Troy Brown. . Brown did have a 71-yard reception (it lead to the offense's only touchdown of the game) but it was essentially a glorified short pass that was turned into a long reception because of confusion in the Carolina secondary. Ben Watson disappeared for most of the game, his performance remembered only for the one time he was wide open and for a fumble late in the 4th quarter that put the game finally out of reach. Trying to gain an extra couple of yards, thereby ending any hopes of a late New England comeback
Despite the sub-par performance turned in by almost every offensive player, the game as actually put out of reach by mistakes, not poor play. The Patriots could have overcome Brady's low completion percentage, their poor protection in the 2nd half, even their anemic running game had they simply managed to play mistake free football in the 2nd half. Turnovers and penalties killed the drives and with them any chance at a comeback.
In the third quarter, the Patriots had one substantial drive that stalled out and resulted in an Adam Vinatieri field goal. After the defense forced a Carolina punt, the Patriots gave the ball back 6 plays later by fumbling the ball and putting the Panthers offense on the 12 yard line. The fumble was the result of poor protection by the offensive line as Brady's hand was hit as he threw the ball. Stephen Davis ran it in for the score 6 plays later, putting the Panthers up by 10 points with 14:51 left in the 4th quarter.
Now, with the game still in reach, it seemed like the quintessential Brady situation. The broadcasters started citing Brady comeback statistics and noting that this Patriots team is no stranger to 4th quarter comebacks and high-pressure situations. Patriots fans everywhere braced themselves for another vintage Brady moment, in which he and the rest of the defending champion offense would certainly rise above the competition, and pick apart the Carolina defense in yet another valiant late game comeback.
Instead, the offense committed two consecutive penalties; a 10 yard holding penalty by Corey Dillon and then a 5-yard false start on by Daniel Graham. The 1st and 25 proved too much for the Patriot offense and three players later, Josh Miller came in for a dismal 27-yard punt. The Patriots defense them came up with three consecutive stops, two three-and-outs and another short 6 play drive. Despite the opportunities provided by their defense during this span, the New England offense could not even make a first down until their final possession of the game.
On that final drive of the game, with a comeback still possible, the Patriots committed their final and fatal error when Ben Watson's fumble gave the ball back to Carolina and put the game out of reach.
At the end of the game, as the dust settles on the first Patriot loss since December 20th of 2004, most of the fingers must be pointed at Tom Brady and his offense. As a group, they committed careless penalties, including 6 false starts. They continued to display a complete inability to run the ball. They bore a wildly inconsistent passing attack, both via errant passes by Tom Brady and dropped balls by his receivers. They committed three turnovers, 2 that lead to scores by the Panthers and a third that put the game away for good. They put up just 10 points, wasting a defensive effort that contributed 7 points to the effort and played decently despite being put into tough field position situations because of offensive turnovers and special team failings.
All in all, they played like the anti-Patriots; mistake-prone instead of disciplined, choke instead of clutch, mediocre instead of champion.
You can find more stories about the players in the HOT NEWS section or in their player profiles. Michael Reardon is a longtime contributor to Patriots Insider. Comments or suggestions send us an email
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