Patriots

Romo not to blame this time

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Romo not to blame this time

FOXBORO The Dallas Cowboys once again found themselves in a down-to-the-wire nailbiter.

And once again, the Cowboys came up short as the New England Patriots rallied in the closing seconds for a record-setting 20-16 win.

Several mistakes and missteps throughout the game contributed to the Cowboys (2-3) losing their second straight game, but the usual suspect for their late-game collapses -- Tony Romo -- was not to blame for this one.

New England certainly played a major role in Dallas' problems, but the Cowboys committed 10 penalties for 77 yards, which included some late-game, drive-killing mistakes.

On Dallas' second-to-last offensive series, negative yardage run plays on first and second-down, set up a third-and-long with 2:47 to play. Cowboys coach Jason Garrett certainly gave some thought to throwing the ball in that situation. But those thoughts were tossed to the curb following a false start penalty on rookie tackle Tyron Smith, which made it third-and-18 from their own 20.

Romo's play was actually one of the bright spots for a Dallas team that continues to come up short when the game matters most.

After an early interception, Romo seemed to get into a nice groove for Dallas. He completed 27-of-41 passes for 317 yards which included a touchdown. He also had 17 yards on the ground, which more than doubled his rushing total (8 yards) this season.

Dallas didn't come into Gillette Stadium looking for any moral victories, but Romo's play falls under the category of things to build on moving forward.

"He did a good job," Garrett said. "He managed the game well. We got into a little bit of a rhythm after the first couple of drives on offense."

The Patriots were concerned with the big-play ability of Dallas' 6-foot-2 wide receivers, Dez Bryant and Miles Austin. By preventing the Cowboys from launching the deep ball, it opened up several passing lanes for Romo underneath the coverage, and create a number of one-on-one situations that at times seemed to work in Dallas' favor.

"Tony did a good job of seeing what they were playing, getting the ball to the right guy," Garrett said.

Hurting Romo's play to some degree was the Cowboys' inability to balance his passing game with a adequate running game. Dallas came into the game with the sixth-best offense in the NFL, which includes 86.8 yards rushing which ranks 27th (out of 32 teams) in the NFL.

On Sunday, the Patriots limited the Cowboys to just 77 yards on the ground.

Dallas' top running back, Felix Jones, suffered an ankle injury that limited him to just eight carries for 14 yards. Leading the Cowboys rushing attack -- if you can even call it that -- was DeMarco Murray, who had 10 carries for 32 yards.

"We didn't run the ball the way we needed to run the ball," Garrett said.

Despite the woeful running game, Romo did his part to at least give the Cowboys a shot at beating a New England team that has now won a franchise-record 20 straight regular-season games at home.

For Romo, Sunday's game was the fourth time this season he has passed for more than 300 yards. But after yet another disappointing finish -- one that for a change, he had little control over -- Romo was in no mood to talk much about his play.

"I don't even think about that," he said. "It's just about winning and losing. Nothing feels good when you lose."

What's missing from Patriots? A defense that has a clue

What's missing from Patriots? A defense that has a clue

FOXBORO - We’re not quite at the point of fire and brimstone coming down from the skies, or 40 years of darkness, or even dogs and cats living together, but this Patriots season isn’t headed down the right path, despite a 4-2 record and the top spot in the AFC East. 

There are several elements that appear missing at this juncture - chief among them a defense that actually has a clue. Please don’t celebrate holding the Jets to 17 points - I’m looking at you, Dont’a Hightower. Josh McCown threw for just 194 yards against the Cleveland freakin’ Browns for goodness sake, but he got you for 354 and two scores?! Even the 2009 Patriots defense is offended by that.

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We’d be foolish to think the Pats can’t get this leaky unit fixed for reasons so obvious I won’t state them in this space so as not to waste my time or yours. We also know - long before Bill Belichick’s 6 1/2-minute explanation on the Monday conference call - that it's not supposed to be perfect right now. Actually, it’ll never be perfect. That’s not how this game works. 

Yet week after week, we see uncommon breakdowns and one defender looking at the next as if to say, “I thought you had him?” or more to the point, “what the hell were you doing?” It started Sunday at MetLife on the third play of the game. Malcolm Butler, playing 10 yards off Robby Anderson, looking as if he’s never played the position before, inexplicably turning his back on Anderson even though the wide receiver makes no real move to the post. That results in just about the easiest completion of McCown’s life, a 23-yarder on third-and-10. 

On the same series, on another third-and-long, the Pats rushed four and dropped seven into coverage. Defensive end Cassius Marsh continued his season-long trend of rushing so far upfield he ended up in Hoboken. With Deatrich Wise ridden outside on the opposite edge, McCown wisely stepped up and found prime real estate with New York City views. He wanted to throw and could have when the Pats fouled up a crossing route from the backside of the play. But with that much room to roam, McCown took off, scooting for a quick 16 yards and another first down.

Fittingly, that drive ended with a Jets touchdown on yet another dumb play, this one courtesy of Mr. Hit or Miss, Elandon Roberts. Channeling his inner Brandon Spikes, the second-year pro blew off his key and responsibility on third-and-goal from the 1, charging hard to the line. This, despite one of the most feeble play-action fakes you’ll see. In fact, I’m not even sure it was a real play-action fake. Anyway, score it as a touchdown to Austin Seferian-Jenkins and an indictment on David Harris, who apparently can’t vault past the erratic Roberts on the depth chart.

Similar to the week prior in Tampa, the Pats found better footing after that. They forced three straight three-and-outs in the second quarter and then helped turn the game when Butler intercepted an ill-advised throw by McCown just prior to the half. They got another turnover to start the third, with Butler coming off the edge on fourth-and-1 and forcing McCown into panic mode. The veteran QB fired an off-target throw to - get this - a wide open receiver who went uncovered on a drag route and Devin McCourty was gifted an interception.

But this group frowns on prosperity. It took a little-seen rule to prevent a Seferian-Jenkins touchdown in the fourth, and on the game’s final drive, the Pats allowed a 32-yard completion on fourth-and-12. Then, on what turned out to be the Jets final play, the Pats let Tavaris Cadet leak out of the backfield and run unchecked 20 yards down the field. Had McCown not soiled himself again, Gang Green would have had a first down and at least one crack at the end zone. Then, who knows what the heck happens?

It was just a season ago that the Patriots led the entire NFL in scoring defense. If you’ll recall, we spent a better part of the year wondering if that defense was championship quality. Turns out they were. Right now, we’re wondering once again if this defense is of that ilk, but through an entirely different prism. It’s on the players and staff to change the current outlook, or those cats and dogs will have to figure out their shared space.

Have the offseason changes negatively affected the Patriots locker room?

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Have the offseason changes negatively affected the Patriots locker room?

The Patriots improve their record to 4-2 with a win over the Jets, but there are still a lot of concerning factors for New England. Mike Giardi and Dan Koppen talk about something the team isn't used to - close games.

Giardi also dives into whether there is a major problem with the locker room dynamic, and whether all the moves they made in the offseason were blown way out of proportion by the media and fans of the talent added, but didn't factor in the personalities they lost.

Koppen and Giardi also look at how the offensive line play has fallen off, despite the same personnel as last year. Finally, discussing the late scratch of Stephon Gilmore due to a concussion. Anything to read into the timing?