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January 22, 2013

Observations of a disappointing end to 2012

Here are 10 observations from Sunday night’s loss to the Baltimore Ravens with a look toward the future:

1. No play-makers on defense.

While Aqib Talib pretty much made the defense respectable, just with his presence (or the non-presence of substitutes failing to cover good wide receivers), the Patriots had no playmakers when it counted on defense. None. Rob Ninkovich was the closest, with his sack of Joe Flacco on third down. At one point in the first half, Kyle Arrington couldn’t hold a bad Flacco pass, and the Ravens eventually scored on that drive. January and February are where playmakers star. There were no stars on the Patriots defense on Sunday.

2. The need for Ed Reed.

This might cost the Patriots some money, but it would be worth it. The Patriots need a captain on the back end of the defense. They also need an “edge” to them, one they haven’t had in the defensive backfield (see No. 3). Reed will cost the Patriots about $16 million, guaranteed over the next two years if Belichick can convince him to forego retirement for 24 months. He is exactly what this defense needs ... a bona fide leader.

3. Chung a disappointment.

We were sold a bill of goods on Patrick Chung. He appeared to be a steal in the second round in the 2009, sort of a Rodney Harrison clone. But he was about three inches shorter (at 5-11) and 20 pounds lighter (205), and missed too many games (14 over last three years), losing his starting job to Devin McCourty. The soon-to-be free agent is a solid special teams player, but they needed him to be run-stopper, big hitter on defense and there was too little of that.

4. Rookies weren’t ready.

Sometimes, rookies are ready in January to play like, well, veterans. None of the Patriots Big 3 Kids, Chandler Jones, Donta Hightower and Alfonzo Dennard did anything of note in the playoffs. Dennard, a seventh round pick, at least was solid. Jones and Hightower were non-entities when needed on Sunday night. Are these three guys going to be the cornerstone of the next Patriots defense? It remains to be seen.

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