Patriots

Hard Truths: Patriots' porous defense kept Bears alive all game

Hard Truths: Patriots' porous defense kept Bears alive all game

Were it not for the sawed-off shotgun accuracy of Mitch Trubisky, this one almost certainly would have been different.

And as it was, the Patriots avoided overtime against the Bears by about 12 inches.

It really shouldn’t be this hard. But it is.

On 14 possessions Sunday, there were only two on which the Patriots didn’t allow a first down. Everybody was having a good laugh at Trubisky’s nibbles of yardage in the final minute of the game until he wound up and completed a pass inside the Patriots 1-yard line that allowed him to finish the game personally accounting for 414 yards (333 passing, 81 running).

He’s not good. You know it. I know it. The Bears know it. And they almost sent this game to overtime.

Over the last 10 quarters (going back to the second half against Indy), the Patriots defense has allowed 1,197 yards of offense.

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Yards, shmards, right? What about points? Over the same span they’ve allowed 92 of those.

Tom Brady’s pick in the fourth quarter when the Patriots were ahead 38-24 was a horrible idea. But the Bears still had to go 63 yards to score and make it a one-touchdown game. And they did.

The Patriots lost contain on Trubisky throughout the first half, allowing him to run five times for 42 yards. Instead of that being remedied at the break, Trubisky ran for 39 yards on the third play of the second half to set up a touchdown.

When Trubisky wasn’t letting the Patriots off the hook with his inaccuracy -- his underthrow of Anthony Miller in the second half allowed Patriots corner Jonathan Jones back into the play to make a terrific interception -- the Patriots were letting Trubisky off the hook by dropping would-be picks. Both Elandon Roberts and Stephon Gilmore failed to come up with end-zone interceptions that would have stopped drives that ended in touchdowns instead.

If the plan was to allow the Bears to pile up yards between the 20s and wait for Trubisky to make a mistake in the red zone, the trap was perfectly set. But the Patriots failed to spring it. The Bears went 3-for-4 in the red zone.

The Patriots got peppered in the middle of the field by Trubisky and Bears tight end Trey Burton who finished with nine catches for 126 yards on 11 targets. Running back Tarik Cohen caught another eight passes for 69 yards.

Last week, the Patriots were fortunate defensively in the first half when Patrick Mahomes overshot Kareem Hunt and Tyreek Hill in the red zone and had to settle for a field goal. And when Mahomes made a young quarterback mistake before halftime and threw into a Patriots team meeting, they made their own break.

The Patriots talk a lot about complementary football. One aspect of that is having one until bail out another when necessary. Three times, the Patriots defense was called on to bail the team out after turnovers.

Every time, the Bears scored a touchdown.

With Sony Michel likely down and Rob Gronkowski now battling both an injured ankle and a bad back, the New England offense might need a hand in the next few weeks.

Sunday, the defense didn’t provide it. And that’s turned into a habit with no signs of slowing down.  

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Tom Brady explains why he's become 'much more guarded' with media

Tom Brady explains why he's become 'much more guarded' with media

Tom Brady isn't just frustrated with the New England Patriots' offense. He's frustrated with the people who talk about his frustration with the Patriots' offense.

E! News aired a 30-minute profile of the Patriots quarterback Wednesday night on its "In the Room" show, which featured host Jason Kennedy's exclusive interview with Brady.

And ironically, the first item Brady discussed was how much he dislikes interviews.

"I'd rather run out in front of 80,000 people and throw a football," Brady told Kennedy.

Brady then explained why he's become more careful with what he says on record.


"I've become much more guarded with the media, just because everyone is looking to (say), 'I gotcha, man! You said that!' " Brady said. "I definitely respect my private life, because it's very important to me, and it's very sacred."

"Especially in today's age it's very tricky, is what is too much exposure for people? Now everyone can show everything, and that's not my personality, which is why I won't do that.

"But I am a public person at this point based on my career, but there's still things that I want to just keep for myself so I can enjoy them without sharing them with anyone else."

Brady's wariness is understandable in a sense: He's one of the most heavily-scrutinized athletes in the world whose comments are always being dissected. (How does Brady REALLY feel about his rookie wide receivers?)

It's also why the 42-year-old has adopted an apparent solution: Say less to reporters and more on Facebook and Twitter, where he can control his own narrative.

This isn't the first time this season Brady has expressed his disregard for the media, and if New England hits any more bumps in the road down the stretch, that relationship likely won't improve.

Check out Brady's full interview with Kennedy here.

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Reality check: What Patriots do well offensively right now ain't sexy

Reality check: What Patriots do well offensively right now ain't sexy

It's a question we've tried to answer all season: What do the Patriots do well offensively?

They haven't been the ground-and-pound machine they were at the end of 2018. They haven't been the spread-it-out-and-chuck-it attack we thought they might morph into.

So what are they good at?

If you listen to offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, he'll tell you. It's not glamorous.

"Taking care of the football has historically been a thing we've done well and certainly is a big factor to winning and losing," McDaniels said this week. "The other night [in Houston] the one turnover seemed to really flip the game a little bit there in the first half. But we've done that decent, and we have to continue to do that well. Certainly, that's going to be a huge factor in this game this week against Kansas City.

"Protecting the quarterback, and not going backwards in the running game, and trying to stay out of long-yardage situations to improve your chances on third down . . . There were times the other day when we were pretty good in that area. We tried to keep it in third-and-manageable and actually converted a decent chunk of third downs the other day, too."

They don't turn it over. They don't take sacks.

Tom Brady throwing the football at the feet of his offensive linemen on a screen isn't going to make a season-long highlight reel anytime soon. Neither is James White holding on tight to the football with a defensive back trying to punch it free. 

But that is the state of the Patriots offense at the moment. What they do best isn't necessarily procuring good outcomes, it's avoiding bad ones.

Whether or not it's enough to get the Patriots back to where they were at the end of last season remains to be seen. Their defense has been good enough, and scored points frequently enough, that the team is 10-2 and sixth in the league in scoring (26.8 points per game).

The numbers do, however, support McDaniels' assessment of where the offense is effective right now.

The Patriots are plus-18 in the turnover department (best in the league) with just 11 total giveaways (fourth in the league). They have seven interceptions as a team, and they've lost only four fumbles.

Their sack numbers are borderline astounding. No one in the NFL has had more pass attempts than Brady (486), and only Jameis Winston has dropped back to pass more (533) than Brady has (508). Yet, Brady has only been sacked 21 times. That's 24th in the NFL.

Aside from a scheme that encourages Brady to get the ball out of his hands quickly (he's seventh-quickest to get rid of the football, on average, according to Pro Football Focus), Brady also leads the league in throwaways with 30. That number is already the highest Brady's posted going back to 2006, per PFF.

"I’m throwing it away because I don’t want to take a sack," Brady said when asked about his throwaway total last week. "So, I think part of it’s just you feel like you have an opportunity on the play, and if you don’t have that, then I think negative plays actually have a big impact on the game. Turnovers and negative plays I think really keep you from winning games. 

"So, if you can drop-back pass, because I’m not really a scrambler...I mean, I have scrambled in the past. I wouldn’t say I never scramble, I’m just not really that much of a scrambler. But, if I’m going to hold it back there, then usually good things aren’t going to happen. So, I try to throw the ball away to save plays and live for the next down."

Avoiding those negative pass plays has helped the Patriots maintain reasonable down-and-distance scenarios over the course of the season -- even when their offense hasn't been as potent as Brady would like. 

They're fourth in the league in terms of the number of manageable third-down situations they've faced this year. (For our purposes, we'll define "manageable" as third-and-5 or less.)

The Patriots have run more plays (840) and more third-down plays (176) than any offense in football this season. So when looking at their third-and-manageable situations as a percentage of their overall third-down plays, they're 18th in the NFL when it comes to staying in manageable situations.

That ranking would indicate that keeping themselves in good third-down scenarios is not exactly a strength. But that they've had that many plays to begin with, that they've been able to maintain possession as they have, speaks to a certain level of offensive effectiveness. 

It's just not the type of effectiveness that Brady, McDaniels and the Patriots are used to. They've been a top-six offense each of the last four seasons in terms of yards per game. They've been a top-10 team in that category almost every year going back to 2004. The only two years they weren't -- 2014 and 2006 -- they were 11th. 

This year, they're 14th.

"I think there's a lot of things that you could look at that you could say we could improve on," McDaniels said. "Certainly, that's the truth. I think it's been the truth most seasons that I've ever coached. But, at the end of the day, there are certain things that we have to do well in order to give our team the best chance to be successful, some of which we've done decent throughout the course of the year and some of which we certainly need to do better."

The things they've done well so far have been the things they need to do to win. And they've won quite a bit. But when they haven't, the fact that they can't do more has been readily apparent.

"I think the bottom line is you have to feel like you have an opportunity to improve in each area at practice each week, and each week's a new challenge," McDaniels said. "We certainly want to try to take care of the ball, we certainly want to try to keep the ball moving forward, we certainly want to improve on third down and in the red zone, two-minute offense, those situational plays that can certainly change the outcome of a drive or a quarter or the half of the game. 

"I start with me. I can do a better job of trying to do that and that's what my focus is on, and hopefully, we can make some strides and improve in a lot of areas this week as well."

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