Upset At Special Teams Play
By Scout.com and Patriots Insider Staff
When the Patriots lose a game, panic starts to carve its way into Patriots Nation. That's where the expectations have been set for a team that has won 36 of its last 41 games dating to the final game of 2002.
And while the 1-1 Patriots are hardly ready to declare 2005 a lost season despite a woeful performance at Carolina last week on the heels of a shaky Week 1 win, there are some obvious problems to address. The unproductive running game is probably problem area No. 1 - Corey Dillon has 99 yards through two games - but the play of the special teams is close behind.
The Patriots had a punt and an extra point blocked in the opener against the Raiders and then allowed a 76-yard punt return against Carolina while also having a 77-yarder for a touchdown called back by a penalty.
"It's a matter of everyone playing better individually," special teams captain Larry Izzo said. "We've had breakdowns and for the amount of work we put into it and the coaching we get and the players we have, it's embarrassing. It's not what we're about. We need to play better. It's absolutely embarrassing."
Perhaps the biggest concern is that some of the problems have carried over from last year despite off-season efforts to correct the issues. Coach Bill Belichick spoke openly in the off-season about needing to improve in both coverage and the return game, and while punt returner Tim Dwight has helped on one side, the coverage remains weak and looks slow.
Izzo was particularly incensed about the kickoff coverage last Sunday, when Carolina's Rod Smart muffed a kickoff inside his 5-yard line and then picked it up and raced 22 yards to the 25 and out of harm's way.
"It's another embarrassing play," Izzo said. "There's no excuse for that. We should've had him inside the 10. It's a big play. It makes you sick to your stomach. We had him hemmed up and somehow he squeezed through. If the ball hits the ground in coverage, that's like the jackpot. You should go down there and kill the guy."
--QB Tom Brady is looking to rebound from a tough week in Carolina in which he completed 23 of 44 passes for 270 yards with a touchdown and a costly interception. He remained on the injury report with an injured right shoulder and while he eased concerns with a solid opening performance in Week 1, the pressure from Carolina's front affected his play on Sunday. Brady now has three TDs and one interception. His interception broke a string of 157 straight passes without a pick.
--QB Doug Flutie has not seen action in the first two games.
--RB Corey Dillon has struggled through two games with 99 yards on 37 carries for a 2.7 yards per carry average. He has had very little room to run, but hasn't turned his shoulders upfield and run downhill at all through two games. Dillon continues to keep display patience about the situation, refraining from throwing his teammates under the bus, and believing that things will get turned around. "There ain't no finger pointing coming from me, or anybody else around here," Dillon said. "We'll find a way."
--RB Kevin Faulk saw significant action Sunday in Carolina with the Patriots trailing and unable to run the ball. Faulk had three receptions for 27 yards and added two runs for 3 yards.
--WR Deion Branch did not drop a pass in 2004, but dropped two last week. "It was bad," Branch said. "I felt like I let my guys down. I have to play better." Branch still caught eight passes for 60 yards and now has 15 receptions for 159 yards in two games.
--WR David Givens dropped only one pass last season, but he also had a drop Sunday in Carolina. He finished with five receptions for 56 yards against the Panthers. He was held to 11.2 yards per catch while Branch had just 7.5 yards per catch.
--WR Troy Brown may take some defensive reps this week in practice after the Patriots lost a third cornerback (Randall Gay) last week to injury. Brown caught three passes for 87 yards including a 71-yarder on Sunday.
--WR Bethel Johnson missed the Panthers game, but made the trip to Charlotte and will have a chance to play this week in Pittsburgh.
--WR Andre' Davis will likely remain questionable this week after missing each of the first two games with a foot injury. He did not travel with the team.
--TE Benjamin Watson was held down in Carolina after showing promise in Week 1 when he caught two passes for 55 yards. He was limited to one catch for 7 yards and fumbled at the end of the play.
--PK Adam Vinatieri connected on his only field goal try from 45 yards Sunday and is now 2-for-2 on the year.
--CB Randall Gay was walking on crutches Monday in the locker room after injuring his lower left leg against the Panthers. He missed practice on Wednesday and is listed as questionable on the injury report. He won't likely play in Pittsburgh.
--CB Chad Scott did not make the trip to Carolina because of a shoulder injury suffered against the Raiders. He also missed practice on Wednesday and is listed as questionable on the injury report. He probably won't be available in Pittsburgh either.
--CB Tyrone Poole (left ankle) also sat out the Panthers game and will remain questionable this week. Poole was not seen dressed for practice and is the third cornerback listed as questionable on the Wednesday injury report.
-- CB Duane Starks played against the Panthers, but continues to suffer from a thigh injury, and is listed on the Wednesday injury report. Starks is the fourth out of six corners on the roster who are listed on this week's injury report as questionable for the Pittsburgh game. The two healthy DBs are Asante Samuel and rookie Ellis Hobbs.
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