Patriots

Patriots

FOXBORO -- “Why is this happening?” @JumpsuitJim wondered on Twitter early Sunday evening.

At that point, it was 35-14, Eagles. Patriots Twitter was a mass of snapping, snarling, freaks flipping out about an onside drop kick that happened 35 points earlier.

Out of the darkness came @JumpsuitJim, elbowing his way to the front of the line and demanding clarity.

The beatdown, @JumpsuitJim, was happening because the Eagles scored 21 straight points on a blocked punt, punt return and a pick-six. And after those 21 were scored, the Patriots failed to ask for a replay challenge that would have ended an Eagles touchdown drive. So put that tally up to 28.

Add at least three points from the two drives that ended with Tom Brady interceptions and you have a net total of 31 points “against,” all coming on breakdowns, @JumpsuitJim.  

Special teams breakdowns. Quarterbacking breakdowns. Coaching breakdowns. Three spots where the Patriots enjoy a massive advantage every single week came up way short on Sunday.

Your attention will be directed elsewhere. The onside drop kick the Patriots attempted when they were up 14-0 in the second quarter is the shiny object that people seized on as the one that caused a seismic shift.

It was the kind of play that would have launched a dozen memes and been commemorated on t-shirts and Christmas stockings if it worked. Instead, it became the most lamented play since Chris Harper’s punt muff last week. The Patriots -- too smart for their own good, the thinking went -- breathed life into the Eagles.

 

How’d that conversation go on the Eagles sidelines?

“Look, we gave up 90 points in our past two games and humiliated ourselves on Thanksgiving in front of the whole country but an onside DROP KICK!!!??? THIS WILL NOT STAND!!!”

Please. The shoe-peeing began not because the Patriots tried an onside kick, but because it was a drop kick. Too cute! Belichick the historian trying to get another line in the football encyclopedia!

If Philly returned the thing 50 yards that would have been a momentum shift. But they fell on it at their 41, about where they would have been with a very good kickoff return. Or 21 yards past where they’d have been after a touchback. The bigger play on that drive came less than a minute later when the Eagles, facing a third-and-10, got a 20-yard completion to Jordan Matthews.

Of course, discussing that 20-yard completion is a non-starter compared with discussing the dropkick and trying to determine whether it was arrogance, fear, sloth, greed or envy that led to the Patriots attempting it.

To me, the bigger issue in this game is that the onside kick, the Brady throwback pass and his two forced interceptions were all indicators that the Patriots were trying too hard. And they really didn’t need to. What they needed to do was simply be themselves. Hard to do with all the injuries, right?

I don’t think this loss was about injuries, though. Even though the Patriots were missing their best defensive player in Dont'a Hightower (that’s what I’ve concluded) and their best non-Brady offensive player in Gronk, this loss was in the details. Darius Fleming peeling out too early on punt coverage and missing Chris Marangos. Fleming -- and others -- missing tackles on the Darren Sproles punt return. The weird clock management at the end of the first half that forced them to punt. And the missed challenge.

That’s a play that should haunt a coaching staff that’s usually so prepared for the most minute eventuality.

Here’s what happened. On third-and-3 from the Patriots’ 48 with 13:07 left, Sam Bradford rolled right and tried to find receiver Nelson Agholor on the sidelines. The pass fell incomplete but Malcolm Butler was whistled for an 11-yard pass interference, giving Philly a first down. But Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins was gesturing wildly that he’d tipped the pass. Once a ball is deflected, defensive pass interference is waved off. That’s a play that can be reviewed. The flag would have been picked up if it was determined Collins tipped it . . . and it’s clear by watching the ball’s trajectory on replay that it was tipped. The Eagles would have punted. At that point, with the Patriots down 28-14 and holding all their timeouts, there was minimal risk even if the challenge went against them. The Eagles went on to score at the end of that drive putting the Patriots down 21 points with 11:14 remaining.

 

Now the Patriots have lost two straight and the question becomes whether this is a trend or a five-quarter (plus overtime) aberration dating back to last week against Denver.

My hunch? Aberration. As Belichick pointed out, if a team allows 21 points without having its defense on the field, it will lose 98 percent of those games. The Patriots offense is in a state of disrepair and it suffered some uncharacteristic pilot error on Sunday. The spate of special-teams gaffes is also out of the norm. The Eagles coaches had a better day than the Patriots coaches did. That happens once every other season.

The fact the Patriots have gone from undefeated to the third seed in the AFC in just five quarters is unsettling. So is the idea they might be traveling in the playoffs if the final quarter of the season doesn’t break their way.

But what happened Sunday against Philly doesn’t signal looming disaster. It was just a rotten, no-good, very bad day for a team that doesn’t have many of them.