EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 20, 2014

An angry end to amazing Pats' season

Six reasons this defeat to Denver is simply painful

On Pro Football
Hector Longo

---- — In a day, a week, or a month, the true New England Patriots football fan can look back on 2013 with affection and even a little bit of joy. The Pats of ‘13 took on so many troubles and rose above time and time again.

But how do you escape the immediate anguish from yesterday’s AFC title embarrassment at Denver, a 26-16 humbler at the hands of Peyton Manning?

Tom Brady and Bill Belichick fell to 5-3 in AFC title games and by the way, a pedestrian 8-8 in their last 16 playoff games.

“I wish we could have done a little better job today … especially me,” said Belichick.

It’s the whimper they fell with, doing little or nothing defensively or offensively to even involve themselves in the decision.

The gameplan, the performance, the lack of adjustments … It was one of the worst efforts by Belichick and his staff in a long time.

In a year where Belichick owned the National Football League … he didn’t show up yesterday.

Here are six head shakers.

1. The offensive response:

Look, Denver wasn’t in gear early. The Patriots defense fortunately forced a punt and a field goal.

So how does the offense respond?

Short pass, rush, short pass, punt.

Followed by short pass, rush, long pass, punt.

Thank you, Mr. (Josh) McDaniels for Play Calling 101. Don’t try to get tricky here at all. Look at you, Mr. Sneaky, trying to hide the attempted bomb to Matt Slater of all people. I never would have figured the guy who hasn’t played offense in weeks and is wicked fast to run a fly pattern.

The possession of the game hung in the balance and the offensive coaching was out to lunch.

2. Where are the safeties:

Can somebody call Steve Gregory and tell him the game is over. He lined up and played so far off the ball, that it was like a 10 on 11.

Soft and cushy, it was the perfect call on the perfect day … for Peyton Manning.

3. Nothing at the point of attack:

Sooner or later, New England’s four defenders with no linebacker help, are going to be stout enough to stop Denver’s six blockers at the point of attack and shut down their running game. Oh yes, and the likes of Chris Jones, Joe Vellano, Sealver Siliga and Rob Ninkovich will have time to pressure Manning, too.

So drop your seven guys back into deep zone coverage on every play. Sooner or later Manning (32 of 43, 400 yards, 2 TDs) is going to miss these wide open players.

What an awful defensive gameplan?

4. No urgency, ever:

The Patriots had no offensive verve, no energy, no pep and they never tried to crank it up. They plodded, wasted downs and time on wasted running plays into a thick front and simply walked their way out of Mile High instead of going down with a better fight.

5. The linebackers:

Can you imagine the look on the Denver coaching staff when the Pats lined up Jamie Collins one-on-one vs. Julius Thomas (8 catches, 85 yards)? Or how about the look when the Pats gave Manning the same 4-5 man in the box look all day like the San Diego Chargers did last week?

I thought we learned the last couple weeks that Collins can play this game when he’s moving forward. Instead, the Pats coaching staff took him out of his comfort zone and turned a player into a punching bag.

6. “The key play of the game:”

Belichick must have said it a half-dozen or more times. When Wes Welker decked Aqib Talib and knocked the Pats corner out, it was “the key play of the game.”

So why, coach, if you and Matt Patricia could answer one question for me, did the key play of the game not alter your game plan over the final 34 minutes or so?

Why didn’t you adjust one bit if the loss of Talib was so huge? Why did you let Alfonzo Dennard get repeatedly roasted while your safety was so far off the ball he couldn’t even read the numbers on Demaryius Thomas’ jersey?

Look, the 2013 Pats provided so much joy and overachieved incredibly. They were, as a group, from the head coach on down, an amazingly resilient machine.

It’s just too bad that group didn’t show up in Denver yesterday.