Patriots

Curran: Did the Patriots hesitate to show their cards vs. Ravens?

Curran: Did the Patriots hesitate to show their cards vs. Ravens?

It was such an uncommon sight: the Patriots defense – suffocating since last December – getting summarily stomped by the Ravens running game.

It was so foreign that, in trying to come up with a reason for the defense allowing 210 rushing yards and 30 points, more than a few people wondered whether the Patriots didn’t show their whole bag of defensive tricks against Lamar Jackson and Co.


My initial reaction to that theory was that it was nuts. To borrow from Herm Edwards, “You play. To win. The game. Hello?”

This was Week 9, not Week 17 or the last game of the preseason. You empty the tool chest trying to find the right wrench to tighten on a team that’s having its way with you like Baltimore was.

But just to be sure, I asked Matt Cassel on our Patriots Talk Podcast this week whether a team would ever hold something back in a game against an opponent it MIGHT see in the postseason.

“No,” said Cassel. “I’ve never been a part of (a plan) where they said, ‘Let’s save this play. It’s a really good play and it might be the difference maker, but let’s save this play because we might play them later.’

“It’s never been that type of situation where they’re holding anything back,” he added. “If they have something that’s going to put them in a good position to win or an advantageous situation when they’re out there and you have a great third-down concept that you want to use that week, you’re gonna use it.”

Another reason that would be a horrible idea, especially against the Ravens? The 8-1 Patriots are, in essence, now just one game ahead of 6-2 Baltimore in the AFC standings. Because the Ravens hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over New England, if the two teams finish with identical records, the Ravens would be the higher seed.

The only time I can recall the Patriots planning for the postseason during games of import was in 2015. In Week 16, a banged-up Patriots team went to New York with a conservative game plan and lost in overtime to the Jets. The next week, they put wind in the sails of a 5-10 Dolphins team under an interim coach by trying to hammer the ball on the ground early. They ran it 21 times in the first half, threw it just five, lost 20-10 and had to travel to Denver for the AFC Championship Game which they lost, 20-18.

The logic then, though, seemed to be trying to keep players healthy for the postseason and establishing a ground game after losing LeGarrette Blount and Dion Lewis. Their hand was somewhat forced.

But against the Ravens with a fully healthy team? No. They wanted the win and needed the win.

Cassel did allow that there’s one scenario where a team would hesitate to use something.

“Sometimes if there’s a really good concept that comes up during the week … you might hold it for down the road because you haven’t had a lot of reps with it,” he explained. “Guys aren’t familiar with the route concept or what we’re trying to accomplish with the release pattern or something like that. So you might not feel as comfortable having repped it just once or twice a week in practice. You might hold that for the next week because guys may not understand how this concept or scheme itself is gonna play out.

“But there’s only so many games in an NFL season and everybody goes out week in and week out and puts together their best game plan that they think is going to work,” he added. “The only time I’ve ever seen anything held back is when teams haven’t had enough time to prepare it. Other than that, everything is full-go. When you put that game plan together, the reason you’re doing it is you want to go out and win that game.”

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Patriots downgrade S Patrick Chung, RB Damien Harris to out for Eagles game

Patriots downgrade S Patrick Chung, RB Damien Harris to out for Eagles game

The Patriots have downgraded safety Patrick Chung and running back Damien Harris from questionable to out for the game Sunday against the Eagles in Philadelphia.

Chung has had heel and chest injuries but did play in the Pats' last game before their bye week, the Nov. 3 loss to the Ravens. Harris appeared on the injury report for the first time on Friday with a hamstring issue. The rookie third-round pick from Alabama has only been active for two games this season.

The loss of Chung could impact the Patriots most in their coverage of Eagles tight ends Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert. Taking on tight ends is something Chung has excelled at. 

ESPN Mike Reiss reports that Patriots tight end Matt LaCosse, out with a knee injury since Oct. 10, did travel with the team to Philly so he will likely be active for the game.

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Ten years ago today, on fourth-and-2, Bill Belichick made one of his most controversial decisions

Ten years ago today, on fourth-and-2, Bill Belichick made one of his most controversial decisions

It was one of the most controversial calls in Patriots history...and it didn't come from an official.

It was Bill Belichick's decision to go for it on fourth-and-2 in the final minutes against the Indianapolis Colts. And it was 10 years ago today.

THE DECISION

It remains Belichick's most talked-about moves this side of Malcolm Butler. In a Week 10 matchup in Indianapolis, the 8-0 Colts faced the 6-2 Patriots in a high-scoring affair. Leading 34-28 but backed up at their own 28-yard-line and needing two yards for a first down, Belichick chose to go for it on fourth down and try and keep the ball out of quarterback Peyton Manning's hands.

THE PLAY

Tom Brady completed a pass to running back Kevin Faulk, who was driven backward by the Colts' Melvin Bullitt. After a measurement, Faulk was ruled short of the first down. Three Colts plays later, a Manning-to-Reggie Wayne TD pass and extra point with 13 seconds left a 35-34 victory.

THE AFTERMATH

There was plenty of second-guessing of Belichick's move. Had he outsmarted himself? Why didn't he punt and show more faith in his defense? 

“We thought we could win the game with that play,” he explained at the time. “That was a yard I was confident we could get.” Belichick had maintained it was more like fourth-and-long-1, rather than 2. Where the ball was spotted after the Faulk play is still the subject of debate.

Those Pats would go on to lose two of their next three, finish 10-6, still win the AFC East but get smoked by the Baltimore Ravens 33-14 in Foxboro in a wild-card playoff game. Manning's team won its first 14 games, then rested its regulars and lost twice before reaching its first Super Bowl as the Indy Colts and losing to the New Orleans Saints. 

TODAY

When Indianapolis reporter Kevin Bowen tweeted about the play's 10th anniversary on Saturday, it stirred up memories for former Colts linebacker Gary Brackens, who recalled the disrespect he felt from Belichick's decision to test the Indy defense. 

To this day, "Fourth-and-2" means only one thing to most NFL fans.

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