The number 13 is unlucky to many and based on this past Sunday’s game, it proves to be ill-fated for the New England Patriots as well. Week 13 brought some surprising results, the Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints kept their records spotless and the Patriots lost two in a row, for the first time since their 2006 season.
Does this make the Patriots less of a threat? Does the New England ‘edge’ seem dull? With a record of 7-5, they still hold the lead in their division by one game but there's more to worry about beyond a slightly above .500 record. The mentality of the team is at stake and that is much more significant than another close loss.
The inability to win a game on the road takes a toll on a team, location should not matter since your job as a team is to win the game. Losing two games by just a single point is a tough one to swallow and perhaps an even more difficult one to shake off.
Last Sunday’s game was difficult to watch. Although incredibly encouraging at the start with Tom Brady’s 81 yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Sam Aiken, that was one of the few bright spots throughout the late season rematch. It might be a little soon to consider the once dominant Patriots to be struggling, but after losing two in a row, it might just be acceptable. Dictionary.com has a specific definition of struggling for athletes and competition, "4. (of athletes and competitors) to be coping with inability to perform well or to win; contend with difficulty." Coping with the inability to perform well? How does a team with three Super Bowl wins cope with an inability? The answer is they don't and should never have to.
The presence of talent is not in question on the New England team, but it is how these talents are being utilized that must be criticized. The Patriots running game as a whole is sporadically explosive. Laurence Maroney completed the game against the Dolphins with 13 carries for a total of 41 yards and no touchdowns. Maroney, Kevin Faulk and Sammy Morris only averaged a total of 4.2 yards a carry. This is simply not good enough if the Patriots have any plans to be a serious contender in the playoffs.
On the offensive end, quarterback Tom Brady still played relatively well by completing 19 of 29 passes for a total of 352 yards. In fact, he finished the game with a quarterback rating of 101.5. Brady's favorite offensive weapons were in place: Wes Welker had 10 catches and averaged 16.7 yards per catch. Randy Moss managed 66 yards with just two catches and managed a touchdown. This is where the distinct traits of a storied Patriots franchise stands out. For the defense, the past success is not so evident.
Defensively, the return of outside linebacker Tully Banta-Cain has added some spark to a young defensive line but it can't just be a one man show. While Brandon Meriweather and rookie Patrick Chung forced two turnovers against Miami, the aggressiveness of the entire line seems to quickly deflate soon after halftime. This is New England's greatest weakness.
Losing 22-21 to the Dolphins shows so much more than just a one point loss. It shows every other team in the league exactly how to beat the New England Patriots, with a striking pass rush and a rushing defense that is relentless.
ROOKIE REPORT CARD
A- Cornerback Darius Butler
Butler showed his variety on Sunday with two kickoff returns for a total of 34 yards and eight total tackles. Darius Butler fits well in left coverage with Leigh Bodden taking care of the right.
A Safety Patrick Chung
Chung is starting to make a massive impact defensively. Chung had two tackles, one assist and the single forced fumble of the game.
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