EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

December 24, 2012

Patriots 23, Jaguars 16: Hector Longo's Two-minute Drill

Hector Longo
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — BIG SHOWS

1. Michael Hoomanawanui – Not all year did I believe this guy would lead the big shows. But this lifelong backup tight end caught two huge balls for 46 yards, delivering at the right time for a football team in serious need.

2. Stevan Ridley – Nice little bounce back effort from fumble boy. He ran 18 hard carries for 84 yards. They probably should have stuck the ball in his gut all afternoon.

3. Wes Welker – Ten more catches (88 yards) sent him past Jerry Rice on the list of all-time 10-grab games. He’s still money and deserves a contract.

NO SHOWS

1. Jerod Mayo – Nobody missed Brandon Spikes more, as Mayo got shoved back into the washing-machine spin cycle inside again with little success. Five solo tackles, yes fewer than Marquice Cole and Kyle Arrington. Thank goodness Pats fans again stuffed the ballot box so this guy makes the Pro Bowl.

2. Tom Brady – He’s getting pummeled in the pocket, and he’s playing like he doesn’t like it. Who would? His 3 of 9 start put this football team in a hole that should have been deeper. Luckily, it wasn’t. Finished a blasé 24 of 41 for 267 yards (6.5 per attempt) with two picks and a pair of TDs.

3. Dan Connolly – I watched him get stung the worst for one of the three sacks on Brady, so he takes the blame for a sub-par performance up front by the offensive line. Just not a good day. The third straight week their QB took a pounding.

4. Chandler Jones – The rookie was headed for the top spot, before his late pressure barrage. Yeah, he gets points for playing hard at the end. But you can’t disappear for 58 minutes, again as Chad Henne and the 31st-rated offense in the game is chewing you up.

5. Pat Chung – On fourth down, you don’t intercept the pass and risk a fumble. You knock it down. But our hero then had to get his pick, then dance and dash, forcing a potential injury situation to teammate Trevor Scott, one that Vince Wilfork tried to retaliate for, costing his team a penalty – again all that could have been avoided if Chung just lets the ball fall to the ground.

GRADING THE GROUPS

OFFENSE

Line (C+) … Too many one-on-one losses are costing Tom Brady his health. The mental breakdowns are popping up more frequently as well. Stevan Ridley earned the bulk of his 4.7 yards a carry.

Running Backs (B) … Again, the good Ridley returned. Danny Woodhead played his role to perfection, scoring a TD, although asking him to take on a blitzing Daryl Smith was asking a bit too much and cost Brady a shot to the chops. Nothing from Shane Vereen or Brandon Bolden.

Tight ends (B+) … Could you ask for more out of Daniel Fells and Michael Hoomanawanui than 3 catches for 54 yards?

Wide Receivers (C) … Brandon Lloyd caught six passes for 62 yards, but never got on the same page was Tom Brady. Wes Welker worked hard, again seeing his share of doubles in a 10-catch day. Aaron Hernandez was a non-factor, probably a physical matter, and that’s a situation to keep an eye on. He caught one ball of the five thrown his way.

Quarterback (C-) … The 73.9 passer rating tells you all about Tom Brady’s day. He looked uncomfortable all day, like he wanted to be back home on his couch, and he played like it.

DEFENSE

Line (B-) … Quiet day out of Vince Wilfork, Kyle Love and Co. Chandler Jones saved his best for last. Jacksonville only averaged 4.0 yards per run, but it seemed like a lot more, especially in the 202-yard first quarter.

Linebackers (C-) … Dont’a Hightower had his moments, especially looking competent in coverage. Jerod Mayo was quiet, and Rob Ninkovich was not heard from.

Defensive backs (D) … They melted. They stopped covering. And they needed Aqib Talib and his pained hip to hobble in and out of the fray. Where’s the ability to overcome adversity with these guys? It’s simply non-existent.

The turning point

Field goals and missed field goals yield defeat.

Jacksonville fit the mold brilliantly, early in the game with a pair of Tom Brady interceptions handed to them.

The three key possessions that ensued yielded a field goal, a field goal miss and a field goal. The potential for a 28-3 lead was there.

Instead, it was 13-3. And all that was left was for Brady and the Pats to walk upright and take the win back.

Why Belichick is better

The Patriots sensed this one coming. You could feel it in Brady’s words and Bill Belichick’s warnings all week long.

The team made the proper contingency plans for this, with a simple gameplan on both sides – one that could be tweaked easily enough.

He and the coaching staff were not surprised. And they handled everything handed their way in stride.

Welcome to Football Purgatory

Contrary to reports, Jacksonville is not football hell (that’s East Rutherford, N.J., with the Jets).

But it is certainly the prototypical miserable NFL purgatory, where you are left wanting more over and over again.

As Tom Brady called it, “a bad 60 minutes of football,” was still enough against the now 2-13 Jags, who inched repeatedly to within the whiskers of a gigantic upset, only to stumble, trip and implode.

Football purgatory … With explosive players like Marcedes Lewis, Jordan Shipley, Cecil Shorts III, Justin Blackmon and Montell Owens – only to be muted by one of the worst clutch QBs to ever take a snap, Chad Henne.

Football purgatory … Where you are a TD down and move the football to the Patriots’ 1, with nifty passing and some sweet mis-directional cutback runs.

Then on second-and-goal from the 1, you run a fullback dive right at Vince Wilfork.

And on third, you panic and jump offsides, followed by a third-down sack and a fourth-down pick.

Check out that video again on Pat Chung’s first pick. Henne was throwing into quadruple coverage. If he doesn’t get hit, one of three other Pats picks it off.

When you think your life is tough, or too much to handle, remember, you could be in Jacksonville.

Vince’s delusion

The NFL’s brand of postgame pain-killers had better not hit the street. They turn folks delusional. How else can you explain Vince Wilfork at the microphone yesterday?

“When we can just play together, play well, we’re awesome,” he said of the NFL’s 27th-rated defense after allowing the games 31st-ranked offense to roll up 436 yards, or about 150 percent of its season average.

“Awesome” was 2004, Vince. You’re the engineer on the mediocre train, big guy.

Secondary crumbles

Apparently, Aqib Talib is the modern day Ronnie Lott, Deion Sanders and Mike Haynes all rolled into one.

How else do you explain this secondary absolutely melting with Talib hobbled by his hip woes again yesterday?

The secondary caught Chad Henne on a bad day with receivers, who dropped at least six bunnies. Yet, the ultimate journeyman Jag threw for 348 yards and twice somehow had his team in position to win.

Devin McCourty, the corner, resurfaced with expected results. Interference dispenser Kyle Arrington was back at it, giving out free first downs again.

And we again saw plenty of Brandon Meriweather’s proudest protégé Pat Chung … bad angles, stupid plays, cheap head shots for penalties.

Talib had better get healthy quick. Can you imagine what a real offense might do to this group?

Five thoughts as we look ahead at 11-4 …

1. Phew! Now, look at the pressure on Houston, which tangles with the Colts next week, needing a win to lock down a top seed.

2. On the other hand, one part of me wishes the Pats’ fate was already locked in. It pains me to watch Tom Brady get bludgeoned more and more lately. He needs a break before the bullets start to fly for real.

3. Belichick had better have plenty of duct tape on hand. His defense is tearing to shreds right now. Not having Brandon Spikes matters, and the secondary remains a glaring point of worry.

4. I think what we’re seeing with this defense, especially the secondary, is the lack of character. You can make a play or two, fine. But when you make a play and spend 30 seconds patting yourself on the back, and that was one play after you were roasted – that’s a severe lack of character. There is no Rodney Harrison or Ty Law back there. And that matters.

5. I have no worries whatsoever about this offense. When Rob Gronkowski returns, this group will again be unstoppable.