PATRIOTS RECAP: Defense Is Holding Them Back

The New England Patriots were almost blown out of their game early in the third quarter against the Denver Broncos. By then, the Pats defense had surrendered 28 points in what looked to be another rout. Then something happened -- they got better, quickly. Tom Brady directed the offense in what looked to be an improbable comeback. If it weren't for a couple of dropped passes, the comeback could have been complete. In the end, it was too much to overcome, and the Patriots slipped to 3-3.

PHOTO: New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) sets to pass as Denver Broncos Trevor Pryce (93) applies the pressure in the first quarter in Denver, Sunday, Oct. 16, 2005. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

PATRIOTS RECAP: Defense Is Holding Them Back
By Site Staff

No team needs a bye as much as the Patriots, who will enjoy this week off to lick their wounds and try to solve their myriad problems. The two-time defending champs are 3-3 after a brutal opening stretch that included road games at Carolina, Pittsburgh, Atlanta and Denver and home games against San Diego and Oakland.

Injuries have devastated the Pats in the early going, and while safety Rodney Harrison will not return this season, linebacker Tedy Bruschi is slated to begin preparing for a return to the field eight months after suffering a mild stroke. If All-Pro Richard Seymour and cornerback Tyrone Poole can return after the bye, perhaps the Patriots defense might at least approach its championship level, something it's yet to do this year. Last week, 19 Patriots appeared on the team's injury report.

Bruschi's return could provide the emotional boost lost when Harrison went down for the season and instantly made the Patriots susceptible to uncharacteristic big plays. Additionally, it could, if he is indeed 100 percent healthy, bolster a run defense that has struggled with consistency.

That inconsistency has led to a total breakdown. Because the Patriots have worked so hard at accounting for a run defense that has allowed more than 125 yards per game, they have been vulnerable in other spots. And with Harrison out, the secondary has looked shaky at best and lost at worst.

New England allowed three plays of 55 yards or more in last week's lost to Denver after allowing 10 plays of 25 yards or more in the first five weeks of the season -- a trait uncharacteristic of Bill Belichick's teams.

New England, which allowed 260 points last year and 238 in 2003 while compiling a 28-4 record over that span, has already allowed 164 points in six games this year and is ranked last in the NFL in red-zone defense, having allowed 15 touchdowns in 19 trips.

Offensively, the Patriots go as quarterback Tom Brady goes. He has been exceptional through the first six weeks or the Patriots likely would be 1-5 rather than 3-3. With very little ground game to speak of, the offense has relied to heavily on the passing game. When it has clicked, the Patriots have outgunned teams. When it hasn't, the Patriots have struggled to find any offensive rhythm. New England is averaging just 82.3 rushing yards per game while Brady has thrown for 1,821 yards, which puts him on pace to throw for a career-best 4,856 yards or almost 1,100 more than his previous best set in 2002, the last season the Patriots missed the playoffs.

SECOND LOOK

The Patriots were burned by big plays and a consistent Denver rushing attack that led to a 21-3 halftime deficit and an eventual 28-20 defeat.

The Broncos' lead ballooned to 28-3 before the Patriots battled back in the fourth quarter. But two dropped passes, one by David Givens and the other by Deion Branch, on a would-be game-tying drive ended the Patriots' last-gasp comeback hope.

Quarterback Tom Brady was under siege all day while connecting on 24 of 46 passes for 299 yards and a TD, but it wasn't enough. The Patriots defense could not come up with a big play to slow Denver, which rushed for 178 yards. Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer was an efficient 17-for-24 for 262 yards and two scores.

PLAYER NOTES

--DL Richard Seymour missed his second straight game with a knee injury. The Pats hope to have Seymour back after the bye.

--CB Tyrone Poole reported being much better last week but was held out of the Denver game. He should return for the team's Oct. 30 game against the Bills.

--RB Corey Dillon, who injured his foot against the Falcons, was active for the Broncos game but did not play. Patrick Pass led the Patriots with 10 carries for 64 yards and a touchdown. Dillon was coming off his only 100-yard rushing effort of the season the week prior in Atlanta.

--TEs Daniel Graham and Benjamin Watson caught six passes for 152 yards and two scores in Week 5 against the Falcons, but disappeared in Denver with two receptions for 11 yards.

--CB Duane Starks, who is battling what has been termed a thigh injury, continues to struggle. He was beaten deep by Denver's Rod Smith for a 72-yard gain and then by Ashley Lelie for a 55-yard gain, both in the second quarter. Both set up Denver touchdowns.

--S James Sanders earned the start at Denver ahead of Guss Scott. Sanders filled the spot vacated by the injured Rodney Harrison.


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