Mother Nature came to the aid of a desperate Cincinnati team when it was needed most, hampering an already lethargic Patriots passing game. As the Bengals punted away to New England for the final offensive drive of the game, the rain finally began to pour down. Interestingly enough, it was prognosticated that there would be rainfall all day, yet it only came down—and caused trouble—when the Patriots had possession. The abrupt arrival of showers sent the network covering the game—CBS—scrambling for a new camera angle, but most importantly, interfered with Tom Brady’s grip on the ball. The quarterback’s release had already been inconsistent throughout the game, but with the added slickness to the football, made every one of his throws look excessively sloppy. Brady completed one of eight passes in the final 1:48 of the game, with the effect of rain most evident on his final throw (which resulted in an interception): Brady threw towards Aaron Dobson, who had good positioning on the sideline, but because of poor gripping could not place enough power on his throw, which came up short of his receiver.
It has unquestionably made strides since New England’s first few games, but Tom Brady’s rapport with his wide receiving corps is still faulty, and far from perfected. Of course, when throwing to players not initially intended to be consistently on the receiving end, there’s only so much blame one can place on the quarterback. Yet the distressing body language from Brady—from pure frustration with his receivers—still emerged at times against the Bengals today, and one can only imagine how long this disconnect can be overcome before really proving detrimental. On Brady’s second-to-last throw, he lofted a ball down the left sideline, intended for Kenbrell Thompkins, who had actually cut into the middle of the field and consequently sprung open. The football awkwardly sailed to the left side of the end zone, with the closest Patriot more than ten yards, and further proving how Brady and his receivers remain not on the right page (either Brady or Thompkins did not read the called play correctly).
This extends before the final offensive drive, but there comes a time after multiple, failed short passing attempts, that a deep ball or two become necessary to stimulate the offense and act in more urgent manner. How can starting the final offensive drive—in the perfect example of a “two-minute drill—be justified with three consecutive short-pass throws? Keep in mind that the Patriots had one timeout remaining, and none of these throws had any intention of allowing the receiver to step out-of-bounds to save valuable time. And once a pass was finally completed to the New England 41-yard line, for a paltry six yards, setting up a 4th-and-4, the Patriots (and presumably of Bill Belichick’s thinking) elected not to call a timeout. The game essentially came down to this one, chaotic, crowd-inciting play, where the logical choice would be to settle things down, and allow Brady and Belichick to effectively orient themselves in a 4th-down situation. Instead, the clock continued to trickle down to below the one-minute mark, and New England was fortunately saved—and granted a new set of downs—by a Bengal player crossing the line of scrimmage before the ball was snapped. After a shrewd running-play call that moved the ball twelve yards down the field (and to Cincinnati’s 42-yard line), the Patriots caught another break in the form of a late-hit on Brady, that placed the football fifteen yards further into Bengal territory. The next passing play resulted in an interception on a deep pass, but even then, over the course of their final nine offensive plays, the Patriots failed to attempt a single pass into the end zone. The need for urgency was clearly absent, especially when New England crossed over into Cincinnati’s side of the field: of the three plays within throwing distance of the end zone, none came close of landing in this elusive part of the field. Whether the onus deserves to go on the shoulders of Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, or even Josh McDaniels, the choice of offensive plays on Sunday—and especially on the last drive—could have been much better.