Monday's loss in New Orleans exposed the Patriots' flaws in more ways than one. While we still don't know whether this team can win a big game on the road (they haven't shown the ability yet), what we do know is this young, inexperienced secondary has a lot of work to do if the Patriots are going to be able to take down high-powered juggernauts such as Indianapolis in the postseason.
Saints' quarterback Drew Brees torched New England for five touchdowns and was as close to perfect as one could get, completing 18-of-23 passes for 371 yards with no interceptions. Against any defense, those are great numbers, but they're particularly eye-popping when they occur against a defense coached by Bill Belichick, whose game plans have always been tough to crack.
Apparently, this has more to do with personnel than coaching. No matter what game plan Belichick came up with, nothing seemed to work. Brees torched the defense early and often, coming up big on a 75-yard touchdown pass in the first half in which Devery Henderson was wide open over the middle.
"We just had a blown call," defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. "It was disappointing (Monday) because it wasn't exactly a call that was a new call. It's something that we have done numerous, numerous times. ... We even actually had the communication and for whatever reason, he froze and it happened.
"So it is rare and we've been doing a pretty good job in the past of not allowing big plays. And the biggest problem in this game was, I mean, that's all we gave up."
The good news for the Patriots is they still hold a two-game lead over Miami in the AFC East thanks to the Dolphins' dreadful loss to Buffalo this past weekend. That gives the Patriots a chance to bury Miami for good this weekend in southern Florida, however, they must correct their flaws from Monday night to avoid another pitfall on the road.
Generally, it's tough to mold a young defense into a savvy unit over 16 weeks, but Pees refuses to use inexperience as an excuse. The Patriots have only five games remaining, so they better grow up fast, or else their season will end prematurely.
"I don't think we're a young defense anymore. I don't look at it that way," Pees said. "I look at it like we've played 10 games going into that game last night plus preseason games. We've been around the system long enough and we know it."
Time To Be More Competitive
Even in the aftermath of a disastrous defensive meltdown in New Orleans, coach Bill Belichick isn't throwing in the towel just yet. Asked if what he saw was correctable, Belichick said, "I would like to think most all of it is correctable.
"The majority of the yardage that we gave up was on a handful of plays. I think they had eight players for over 300 yards or something like that, not saying all the rest of them were great, but anytime you give up that much yardage on a handful of plays it's bad. If you can find a way to correct those plays and not give them up all at once, you would be a lot more competitive out there."
Wilhite Keeps His Head Up
CB Jonathan Wilhite deemed Monday's loss a humbling experience after he got benched following a series of horrific plays on defense in which he ended up the victim.
"Me, personally, I like winning," Wilhite said, "so if I'm not on the field and we're winning, I'm fine. Obviously, I wasn't playing good. But if we win, I'm fine. This is the NFL, you're not gonna win every play. But our goal is to try and compete, and they did better doing that than us."
On his last play of the game, Wilhite got beat by Marques Colston for a 68-yard completion.
Why Kick It When You're Down Big?
The Patriots failed on another controversial fourth-down attempt Monday, failing to convert on a fourth-and-4 from the Saints' 10-yard line trailing by 14 points with 4:12 to go in the third quarter.
Belichick's rationale for not kicking the field goal?
"No doubt, we needed some points at that point," he said. "I thought we were running the game well at that point offensively. I thought we needed more than a field goal, the way the game was going."
--CB Darius Butler took over for Jonathan Wilhite on Monday and could play a bigger role in the secondary down the stretch following Wilhite's unceremonious benching. Look for him in the starting lineup in the next game.
--LT Matt Light returned to the lineup Monday after missing several weeks with a knee injury suffered in the loss to Denver. He should be in the lineup the rest of the way.
--OL Sebastian Vollmer, who filled in while LT Matt Light was absent, sat out Monday's game with a head injury sustained in the Jets' game. Vollmer will be a big asset down the stretch, so it'll be interesting to see how soon he can return to the lineup.
--WR Randy Moss suffered through another frustrating game, catching only three passes for 64 yards. Moss was only targeted six times during the game.
--S Brandon Meriweather suffered through a difficult game, missing his assignment on a backbreaking, 75-yard touchdown pass in which Drew Brees' target was wide open over the middle of the field.
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