2014 NFL Week 13: Patriots-Packers Analysis

Defensive highs and lows

The final boxscore paints an ugly picture, and would point to this game being closer than it really was. Yet despite yielding a gaudy 368 yards in the air and 130 on the ground, a once formidable Patriot defense did nothing if not hunker down once backed up in its own territory. Allowing a final tally of only 26 points, and most significantly forcing a currently unrivaled Packer offensive machine to a 0-4 mark in the red zone certainly represents a triumph in this aspect of the game. Greater talent and added reinforcements for the defense in 2014 no longer made the usual–giving up plenty of yards but sufficiently bottling up the opposing offense enough for Brady & Co. to leap ahead–acceptable. Yet in the context of facing a furiously hot Packers team, with perhaps the most balance and dynamism on the offensive side of the ball, forcing four field goals en route to a sub-30 point performance lifted at least some blame from the New England D. However, Aaron Rodgers’s 45-yard strike to Jordy Nelson with 14 seconds left in the half proved destructive. The lapse in late-half discipline obviously falls squarely on the pass defense, and notably disrupted the team’s progression into the second half of play. A hallmark of Bill Belichick and the Patriots’ game plan has been to finish the opening half strongly, so as to fluidly continue momentum into the second half in which the team often starts with the ball (Belichick nearly always defers possession to the second half). Yet by allowing this devastating late touchdown score–to stretch the deficit to nine–such a crucial transition could not occur. The Pats failed to carry momentum into the break, and subsequently flamed out on their first possession of the third quarter without a first down.

Nelson (87) ran about 35 yards after his catch and gave a huge boost to Green Bay heading into halftime. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Nelson (87) ran about 35 yards after his catch and gave a huge boost to Green Bay heading into halftime. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Rodgers’s vital adjustment 

Secondary to the much anticipated Brady vs. Rodgers showdown, the Patriot secondary (Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner) and top Packer wideouts (Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb) matchup was initially won by the former group. The New England cornerbacks controlled the explosive Green Bay receivers for the majority of the first half, even deterring the typical amount of targets from their quarterback. Yet Rodgers adapted to this situation, and maintained offensive efficiency, albeit with many drives culminating in mere field goals, while shifting the route of his passes to lesser known recipients. Rodgers acclimated himself perfectly, connecting with an array of new targets headed by rookie third-string WR Davante Adams, who ended the game with a career-high 121 yards. Rodgers had already led the Packers to 13 points before completing his first pass to either of his top receivers, the first to Cobb at the 11:22 mark of the second quarter. This, in turn, necessitated a change in the organization of the Patriot defense. As the game progressed into the second quarter and second half, Rodgers’s ability to sustain offensive potency diluted the defensive pressure placed on Nelson and Cobb, spreading it to other parts of receiver coverage. Consequently, the powerful duo became more freed up, ultimately attaining a combined 138 yards despite early struggles, all working towards Green Bay dictating the flow of the game.

An abandoned offensive dimension 

Encountering a porous 30th-ranked run defense, the Patriots at first seemed inclined to develop an effective rushing attack for the third consecutive game. Three running plays in the first four offensive drives indicated at least some focus on establishing this facet of the offense, especially when the first third down situation called for LeGarrette Blount instead of Brady (which resulted in a failure to convert). But even though Blount gained 58 of the team’s total 84 yards on the ground, the Patriots did not adequately exploit this potential advantage. Offensive balance has not only keyed the previous seven-game win streak, but has facilitated Brady’s mid-season renaissance. For several long stretches during offensive drives, and particularly in the first half when the team permanently fell behind, the Pats elected to exclusively pass the ball. It was as if New England felt it was already in a late fourth-quarter hole–and not in an early game situation, where it failed to devote enough patience to establish a ground attack against one of the worst run defenses in the NFL.

Life after loss

Although the heavyweight tilt concluded in a loss, several factors work towards New England’s favor moving forward. Despite the aforementioned lack of a true rushing attack, a clinical job done by the opposing, future MVP quarterback, and the top receiver (Julian Edelman) hampered by injury for much of the day, the Patriots contested the game well. Losing by only five points in one of the toughest road environments proved not so much a demoralizing result, as indicated by the upbeat character of Patriot players following the game. And since New England did not necessarily play to its full capacity on Sunday, and suffered a loss but was not pummeled, such a defeat often works positively once evaluated in retrospect. For whatever reason, entering the postseason with a long win streak and long-built momentum doesn’t always bode well. If the Patriots finish the regular season powerfully, this Week 13 loss could easily serve as a blessing in disguise and stabilize this playoff-bound team’s sense of momentum.

Brady (right) and the Patriots have likely faced their toughest opposing quarterback in Rodgers (left) this last Sunday. (AP Photo/Tom Lynn)

Brady (right) and the Patriots have likely faced their toughest opposing quarterback in Rodgers (left) this last Sunday. (AP Photo/Tom Lynn)

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2014 NFL Season Opener: Patriots-Dolphins Analysis

Patriots On Offense

After a very promising first 30 minutes of action, the course of the offense’s performance throughout the contest could only be described as a tale of two halves. Firstly, the response to a Miami punt-block and subsequent opening-game touchdown was very resounding. Notably, the impact of mercurial star tight end Rob Gronkowski–severely hampered by injury in the previous season–became evident long before his TD grab at the 8:37 mark in the second quarter. Despite a few years away from his true breakout campaign, Gronk nevertheless garnered plenty of attention from Dolphin pass coverage, opening up valuable space for the other recipients of Tom Brady’s darts (which turned wobbly later on in the contest) in the first half of the game. Beneficiaries namely included Julian Edelman, Kenbrell Thompkins, and even Shane Vereen out of the backfield, as well as the rushing attack to a lesser but still considerable extent. After utilizing short to medium passes for progress downfield for most of the first half, Brady finally slung a deep ball with 11:31 left in the second quarter, a pass with just enough air under it to neatly fall in the hands of Edelman. This explosive play–of which the Pats had few and far between–jumpstarted what would ultimately turn into the team’s second touchdown drive, but Brady mysteriously chose not to challenge Miami’s secondary in the remaining relevant junctures in the game (before the insurmountable deficit towards the end).

Wake (91) forced fumbles on both on both of his sacks of Brady (12). (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Wake (91) forced fumbles on both of his sacks of Brady (12). (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Yet a 17 unanswered point-streak and 10-point advantage constructed in the first half figured insignificantly in the final outcome, as in the latter 30 minutes of play, the Fins defensive effort–particularly the overwhelming pass rush–drowned out any rapport Brady built with his receiver corps in the first 30. Furiously-pressing defensive end Cameron Wake and company grabbed a stranglehold on the battle at the line of scrimmage, but it was the now-punchless and helpless Patriots offensive line that harshly disrupted the rhythm of both Brady and the entire offense more so. The key to countering the New England attack has always centered on the amount of time Brady has to throw the ball, so one can only speculate how Logan Mankins (freshly and inexplicably shipped to Tampa Bay weeks prior to the season’s start) could have mitigated the Fins’ QB pressure. As a result of the line’s instability, Brady had much poorer placement on several of his throws in a half that his offense was brutally shut out, a reaction to a pressurized pocket that the Patriots can only hope to be anomalous for him with respect to the remainder of the season.

Patriots On Defense

The final Dolphin touchdown drive was the unequivocal coup de grace, but beforehand, it would be unreasonable to think that the Patriots defense should shoulder the responsibility for the first two times Miami crossed the goal line. A shocking blocked punt 75 seconds into the game saw the Fins start their first drive 15 yards away from seven points, and a strip-sack by the aforementioned, terrorizing edge-rusher Wake gifted QB Ryan Tannehill and his offense the ball at the opposing 34-yard line (9:14 mark in the third quarter). Both of these momentous plays gave the recently-augmented Patriots D horrible positioning–an aspect of the game the unit simply cannot control.

Perhaps one cause for concern pertains to the eerie similarity of this year’s defensive squad–supposedly a revamped one that would get the team over the proverbial hump, and possibly rank among the league’s finest–to those in the recent past: once again, the tendency on this side of the pigskin is yielding plenty of yardage but clamping down effectively once backed up in its own half of the field, and limiting the opposition to field goal tries while opportunistically manufacturing turnovers (in fact occurring on two consecutive Miami drives in the second half). This of course can prove effective when coupled with an excellent offensive personnel, but the Pats defensive group appears capable of much more, and should aid rather than burden an aging leader of the offense in Tom Brady on the other side of the ball.

The play of Darrelle Revis:

However much buzz surrounded the matchup between the newly-minted Patriot Revis and a rebound season waiting-to-happen in WR Mike Wallace, and how the former would stay true to his character, establish his suffocating “island” in the secondary, and cruelly render the latter ineffectual, it just didn’t happen. Wallace, in his second year as a Dolphin, ended up with a flashy stat line of seven receptions for 81 yards and a score. On a few of his catches, Wallace did shed Revis off himself along the progression of his route, but the result of this WR-CB clash was more of Revis not living up to his billing than anything else. It may just be part of an acclimation process to a new defensive structure, and it’s worth noting many regard his opposition as one of the swiftest in the league, but Revis often failed to stick with his marker, granting Wallace more freedom than one would expect in this contest.

Moreno (28) torched the Pats run defense on Sunday. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Moreno (28) torched the Pats run defense on Sunday. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Miami’s game-sealing drive:

Critical third-down conversions would ultimately put the Dolphins ahead 30-20 in the fourth quarter–as part of a drive in which 6:01 elapsed, and that clinched their opening-season victory–but even more notably, the drive highlighted the influential play of Miami’s run game. Knowshon Moreno paved the way with an overpowering 134 yards on 24 carries, and along with another 59 yards on the ground from Lamar Miller, the Fins rushing attack dictated tempo throughout 60 minutes of play, a notion that materialized only in retrospect of the entire game’s action. By instituting a formidable ground game that continually ruptured through the Pats’ unit hovering around the line of scrimmage, Moreno and Miller attracted increased defensive attention to create two important by-products: shifting New England’s focus off Tannehill and thus giving him more comfort in the pocket, and decreasing the number of opportunities for the Pats offense by simply keeping it off the field.The Dolphin offensive line deserves much praise as well in this area, and in addition to allowing more time for its quarterback to throw, perhaps has begun the process of proving its many detractors wrong.

Patriots Offseason 2014: Thoughts

In the early parts of the 2014 offseason, it appears that the New England Patriots will let more key players go, such as Aqib Talib and eventually Vince Wilfork, than they will retain, such as Julian Edelman. Yet in these decisions, and also by adding two new faces to the secondary, the Patriots brass have handled the offseason period fairly well for the time being.

Parting ways with two defensive anchors in an already mediocre unit seems questionable in theory. But allowing Talib to sign with the Denver Broncos and eventually releasing Wilfork after his refusal to restructure his contract only makes financial sense. Perhaps these moves can now give leverage to Robert Kraft and Bill Belichick in either pursuing offensive weapons for Tom Brady or bolstering the defense.

And while New England has not yet acted on the potential loss of Wilfork, it responded within days to not resigning Talib by inking Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner to two- and three-year contracts, respectively. The additions of these two former Pro Bowlers–and for Browner after he serves a 4-game suspension at start the season–will certainly shore up a usually suspect pass defense, and can help fill the void created by Talib’s departure. Furthermore, these signings reveal a proactive approach to the offseason by the Patriots front office, one that if continued for the rest of the offseason could pay dividends.

On that point, the Patriots cannot let up now: bringing Julian Edelman back on board was the right move, but beyond that, plenty of work has yet to be done if the Pats want to make the most of their championship window. It starts by maintaining their aggression with this free agency period, and continues into the upcoming draft, which holds several enticing offensive options.

AFC Championship 2014: Analysis

Manning (left) out-dueled Brady (right) in the 15th edition of their storied rivalry. (Photos by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Manning (left) out-dueled Brady (right) in the 15th edition of their storied rivalry. (Photos by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

The Task for the Pats D

There’s no question that the Broncos will amass more offensive yards and first downs than New England. The key for the Patriots defense–and what has been essential to its underrated, effective play–is to minimize the damage done by Peyton Manning and company.

And through Denver’s first two possessions, the defense did just: yielding alarming chunks of yardage through the passing game, and even allowing the Broncos to enter Patriot territory, but then stiffening up when most needed and forcing punts. In Denver’s third drive, the Patriots D once again did its part: stuffed a Broncos drive, seemingly destined for the end zone, at its own 9-yard line. And though Denver grabbed the upper side of the scoreboard with an chip-shot field goal, the proverbial “win” goes to the Pats D: the difference between allowing field goals and touchdowns will undoubtedly determine the victor of this contest.

Achieving Offensive Fluidity

After two opening, stagnant possessions, the Patriots finally develop rhythm and productive plays, a process of settling down perhaps aided by a relatively clement whether in Denver right now. Tom Brady finds a way to spread the football around the field–to his right, left, and across the middle–and help his team finally move the chains. Although the drive makes no mark on the scoreboard, the Patriots show they can effectively move the football.

Denver’s 3rd Drive Couldn’t Go Worse for Pats

The Broncos’ third drive proves devastating in multiple ways. The greatest of which occurs when all-important cornerback Aqib Talib leaves two-thirds way through the second quarter with an injury, presumably aggravating what has plagued him throughout the season.

The Patriots also have an opportunity to stall Denver’s drive after forcing a 3rd-and-10, but a Knoshown Moreno draw play completely fools the defense and gained another set of downs.

And of course, the Broncos offense tacks on another seven points, extending their lead to ten, and looking as powerful as ever.

Brady’s Response 

Tom Brady immediately serves up quite the emphatic reply to being placed into a troublesome situation, rifling a strike to Aaron Dobson for 27 yards in the middle part of the field. A pass to Shane Vereen in the flat left that totals 13 yards and another completion across the middle to fullback Michael Hoomanawanui for 15 yards follow. This further demonstrates how the Pats have settled into this game offensively through Brady’s decision to spread his pass attempts in all parts of the playing field. A Brady sack halts the drive, but the Patriots finally accomplish an important thing: scoring by ways of a Stephen Gostkowski field goal prior to halftime.

First-half look:

-LaGarrette Blount has posted 6 yards on 5 rushes, and what seemed like a potential game-changer has been nullified

-although holding the high-powered Broncos offensive to only 13 points, the Patriots defense has not applied any pressure to Peyton Manning, allowing the quarterback to feel comfortable in the pocket and consequently yielding loads of yards through the air

-as a result of the time Manning has had in the pocket as mentioned in the last note, the Denver quarterback has created fantastic rapport with his receivers–if this high level of chemistry continues in the 2nd half, the Broncos will unquestionably win this game; the task will be even taller for the Pats secondary in hindering this development, as Talib looks doubtful to return to the game

HALFTIME: Denver 13 New England 3

Demaryius Thomas's (88) TD grab on Denver's first drive of the half opened up a 17-point lead. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Demaryius Thomas’s (88) TD grab on Denver’s first drive of the half opened up a 17-point lead. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Balanced and Commanding: Broncos Half-Opening Drive

It takes 13 plays for the Broncos to march 80 yards down the field, in a span of about seven minutes, to take full control of this game. While Manning maintains his near-perfect performance, notching 52 passing yards on 6 completions out of 7 attempts, the Denver rushing attack plays an important role too: Moreno and Monte Ball combine for 28 yards, one key first down, and a couple of effective early-down runs.

Lost Points

Now facing a 20-3 deficit, a determined drive led by Tom Brady ends catastrophically and ironically: what the Patriots have failed to do all day–pressure and sack the opposing quarterback–is what the Broncos use to stall New England’s march downfield, sacking Brady on 4th down.

Broncos D-lineman Terrance Knighton's sack of Brady caused a turnover on downs. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Broncos D-lineman Terrance Knighton’s sack of Brady caused a turnover on downs. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

The wasted possession–the last for the Pats in the 3rd quarter–becomes even more gut-wrenching considering that it featured a surprising emergence of the running game (22 yards on 3 carries at one point, before a -1 yard rush by Ridley that eventually led to the failed fourth-down attempt), and two spirited third-down conversions by Brady.

Defense Mitigates the Damages Again

While Manning has carved up the opposition, the Patriots defense has done its part. Furthermore, considering it has faced the best offense in the NFL, and doing so without one of the league’s best cornerbacks in Aqib Talib for the most part, the D may have done the best job it could do today.

This becomes apparent once again in Denver’s second drive that started in the 3rd quarter and entered the 4th: the Pats defense held its own deep in their own territory, stalling Manning and his offense at the one-yard line, and consequently only yielding a field goal.

A Touchdown at Last 

If the Patriots were to succeed on only their second possession of the half, and commence the comeback trail, Tom Brady would have to look farther down the field for his throws and overall, play sharper than ever. After passing for 54 yards on three passes, converting on a 4th-down play soon after, and ultimately throwing a touchdown to Julian Edelman, Brady does just that.

The Final 10 Minutes & End-Game Thoughts 

It’s easy to pin the brunt of the blame on the Patriots defense.

Allowing Manning to pass his way into New England territory to set up a 54-yard field goal that Matt Prater knocked down with ease made a potential comeback even more difficult, now requiring two touchdowns–both with 2-point conversions–to just tie the game. On the following offensive drive, this proved fatal as although Brady managed to cross the goal line, Shane Vereen was stuffed on the 2-point attempt that kept it a two-possession game.

And of course later, the defense failed to stop the strong-willed Denver offense–spearheaded by Manning–and thus couldn’t give Brady another chance with the football as time ran out.

By the time the game clock struck 0:00, the Pats defense had surrendered 400 yards through the air, another 107 on the ground, 27 first downs, forced only one punt, and allowed the Broncos to remain on the field for more than 35 minutes.

Yet despite all of this, the only number that truly matters in evaluating the Patriots defense was the points posted by the opposing offense: in this case, 26. That’s 26 points for perhaps the most explosive and potent offense in the history of the NFL, led by a quarterback in Peyton Manning who had the greatest season of any quarterbacks in the league’s history, but was held to only two touchdowns today.

The defense was never the key to winning this game–especially when its best cover-corner left the game in the 2nd quarter–but it did more than its part in keeping the Pats in the game by forcing more field goals than giving up touchdowns.

Rather, the “key” to this game, was how the offenses would match up. Scoring only three points through three quarters of play, the Patriots offense did anything but effectively match up with the opposition, with much of the onus inevitably falling on quarterback Tom Brady. While there’s only so much you can blame Brady for–forced to deal with endless injuries and losses to his receiving corps throughout the season–the future hall-of-famer had to play exceptionally throughout the entirety of the game. Simply put, he failed to do so in Denver on Sunday, and therefore deserves much of the fault for the loss.

FINAL: Denver 26 New England 16

NFL Week 15 Thoughts: Patriots in Peril, Bears Have Hope, and Seahawks Somehow Look Even Better

A Patriot Predicament 

It’s hard to know what to make of the New England Patriots right now.

Having sustained so many crushing losses–whether literally in terms of highly-controversial game finishes, or in the form of injuries to an already unreliable roster–would only point to a designation of this season as “not their year”. Yet after compensating for the early-season absence of Rob Gronkowski, and then somehow managing to mitigate the damages from season-ending injuries to Jerod Mayo and Vince Wilfork, it began to feel more like it was in fact New England’s “year”, simply because the team overcame so much adversity. Perhaps this unprecedented display of fortitude and adaptability could only bode well and be a harbinger of greater things to come.

But in light of failing to complete a comeback against division rivals Miami this Sunday, might the wheels be finally falling off of this resilient Patriot team? Home-field advantage seemed a necessity for postseason success, and when the Denver Broncos assumably take care of business against the likes of Houston and Oakland, New England could find the road to the Super Bowl much more strenuous, and even impossible, to accomplish.

Importance of starting Cutler 

Marc Trestman may have made the biggest decision of his tenure in Chicago on Sunday. And not only did it pay off in the short-term, but the long-term impact will prove even more beneficial.

When first considering the debate over the rightful starter of the Chicago Bears–a now healthy Jay Cutler or an upstart Josh McCown–one would be disposed to choosing the latter: the Bears have been desperately seeking a sense of momentum and lasting efficiency, and who would better provide that than McCown (13 TDs and averaging 250+ passing yards in 7 games played) who has played a key part in keeping the team’s playoff hopes alive.

Nevertheless, in tabbing Cutler as the starting quarterback–the position Cutler held before his ankle injury–head coach Trestman affirmed a key team philosophy: an injury would not make a player lose his job, therefore sending a message to his players to not fear of playing with a “reckless abandon”. Trestman laid down the precedent of prizing playing with an unmitigated passion for the game and laying it all on the line above all, albeit a chance of resulting in injury.

Cutler shook off some rust in the early-going in Cleveland, throwing for three touchdowns with 265 yards in the air, and maintaining the Bears well within the race for the NFC North crown by helping record the win. Barring another injury, Cutler may be on the path back to quarterbacking stability, backup hero Josh McCown even remained in high spirits/content with Cutler as the starter, and Marc Trestman positively influenced his team. The Bears will now need to win out and hope that the Detroit Lions lose in the next fourteen days, but even if this doesn’t occur, only good will come out of this past week’s events.

Seahawks make a statement

For all the hubbub about Seattle’s rise to the top of the NFL’s pecking order, the one knock on the team has been there supposedly inconsistent and faulty performance away from the confines of CenturyLink field. After all, the Seahawks’ only two losses this year came in contests away from home in Indianapolis and San Francisco. And prior to facing the New York Giants for their final away game of their regular season, their average margin of victory for away game wins was 9.6 points (take out the 33-10 anomaly of a win at Atlanta and you have 6.25 points)–a stark contrast from the average of 18.67 points that the Seahawks beat their opponents by at home.

Anyways, the Giants seemingly posed a threat to the visiting Seahawks on Sunday, having won five of their last eight, three of which coming at home, and thus carrying a semblance of momentum. But MetLife Stadium felt like home for Seattle, drubbing New York to the tune of 23-0, and in doing so dispelling doubts of their away-game ability to some degree. Not only did Seattle shut out the home team, but they dominated the Giants in every aspect of the game: the Hawks ran more plays (67-53), possessed the ball longer (33:58-26:02), had more first downs (21-12), totaled more offensive yards (327-181), and won the turnover battle (5-1).

And that’s as if the Seahawks needed to prove any more skeptics wrong.

Or as if a win on Sunday was necessary to lock up home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, which they would have had a great chance to do, even if they didn’t beat the Giants, with season-ending home games against Arizona and St. Louis.

Or as if Seattle even needed this display of away-game success–one more victory in the regular season, and the only foreseeable “true” away game the Hawks would face in the 2013-14 season would be on February 2nd…in MetLife Stadium, again.

Explaining New England’s Unsuccessful, Final Offensive Drive

(Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports) Rain served as one of the many factors for New England's inability to produce a touchdown at the end of the game.

Rain served as one of the many factors for New England’s inability to produce a touchdown at the end of the game. (Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports)

Rain

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.

Disconnect

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).

Play-calling

Bolden's 12-yard scamper gave the Patriots a momentary sense of hope.

Bolden’s 12-yard scamper gave the Patriots a momentary sense of hope. (AP Photo/Tom Uhlman)

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.

Tebow’s Presence: A Boost in Dimensionality

Tebow could find his niche in the Patriots offense.

Tebow could find his niche in the Patriots offense.

Before the Patriots faithful starts to push Tim Tebow out of Foxboro, it’s worth considering what the most polarizing quarterback brings to the table–and perhaps not at his natural position.

It’s hard to blame the bleak outlook on Tebow during his stint with the Patriots thus far: through two preseason games, the third-stringer has only connected on 5 of 19 passes for a total of 54 yards, and according to Pro Football Focus’s assessment, owns the lowest QB rating. While he’s shown flashes of the creativity he utilized to revive the Denver Broncos’ season two years ago, he’s appeared disoriented and helpless at other times as well.

Yet the idea that Tebow must stick to signal-calling in order to succeed would not only have given him a ticket out of Foxboro long ago, but it is also erroneous. Despite his displays of ineptitude throwing from the pocket, Tebow works best at creating chances–particularly on the ground–which was evident during the games against Philadelphia and Tampa Bay: in total, he run for 61 yards on 10 attempts in those contests.

And if Tebow presumably relinquishes his resolute desire to play at the quarterback position for the time being, he has potential to supply a valuable contribution to a Patriots offense in need of an extra lift. There’s no question that the absence of so many prominent offensive fixtures heading into the 2013 season creates a dire need for new options on offense. And with Tebow, occasional appearances would fill the void for creativeness. Whether it’s lining up in the backfield in the role of a fullback, or taking charge and implementing a wildcat formation, Tebow has the ability to serve as a unique and beneficial asset, perhaps becoming an offensive hybrid for the Patriots. The emphasis will surely remain on Tom Brady and his new corps of receivers, but adding a crafty playmaker like Tebow to a rushing attack already on the rise adds a useful wrinkle on the offensive of the ball.

And if added versatility to an offense looking to reinforce itself isn’t enough of an incentive to give Tebow a chance, take into consideration the popular New Englander motto of “In Belichick We Trust”. The longest-tenured mastermind has proved correct in judgement a countless number of times, earning a special trust in the hearts of the Patriots organization and fanbase. And with Belichick’s fondness for backup quarterbacks, and recent remark about Tebow’s improvement, what’s the harm in entering the season with a chance to reap only the best of “Tebowmania”?