Patriots

Turning Point: Patriots fourth-down failure opened door for Texans

Turning Point: Patriots fourth-down failure opened door for Texans

The Patriots were a middle-of-the-pack fourth-down offense coming into Sunday's matchup with the Texans, ranking 19th.

Not great.

But not so bad that when facing a fourth-and-one situation with 7:14 left in the third quarter at the Houston 42-yard line that they were afraid to go for it.

Quite the opposite, actually. Down 14-3 at the time, they'd had trouble sustaining drives for more than half the game. They were desperate to keep one going in Texans territory, so they gave it a shot.

Didn't work out. Led to a Houston touchdown that — given the way the Patriots offense was moving — seemed to put the game out of reach.

That's our Turning Point from this weekend's 28-22 loss for the Patriots. The fourth-down play itself, which we'll get to, wasn't necessarily the line of demarcation for where things went wrong for the Patriots.

You could've pointed to Tom Brady's first-quarter interception when he targeted N'Keal Harry for the first and only time that night.

You could've actually pointed to the third-down play before the fourth-down failure. Mohamed Sanu ran a crossing route right at the line to gain for a first down, then attacked Brady's pass as it approached. That's typically what the quarterback wants so his passes aren't undercut and broken up. But Sanu's path to the ball — an aggressive one — actually had him marked short of the sticks when he went down. Had he taken his route a yard deeper, then worked back to the ball, the outcome of the game might be different.

As it was, the Patriots went for it on fourth-and-short. Houston answered with six players right up on the line of scrimmage in the box. They were going to take away the quarterback sneak and any interior run.

The Patriots countered with a play-action pass, faking to Sony Michel in order to draw those box defenders forward and in the process open up the middle of the field for an easy throw.

Texans linebacker Zach Cunningham sniffed out the play-action quickly, though, dropped back to the middle of the field, gave Sanu a shove — which is allowed within five yards of the line of scrimmage before the ball is thrown — and Sanu was disrupted as the ball approached.

The play probably should've been called pass interference on Cunningham given that he was still contacting Sanu while Brady's pass was in the air. But it wasn't. It goes down as a drop and a turnover on downs.

After a long third-down completion to Kenny Stills, Watson had the Texans within striking distance. He had a touchdown pass to Will Fuller wiped off the board after review, but on the very next play, he hit Stills again for a 25-yard touchdown. The coverage by Jonathan Jones on the play was solid, but on third-and-10 the Patriots rushed five and got no pressure on Watson. He spotted Stills in single-coverage — with top option DeAndre Hopkins doubled — and hit him.

That made the score 21-3, putting a stuck-in-neutral Patriots offense in a bind the rest of the way.

The 14-3 lead the Patriots faced before our Turning Point seemed significant enough, but with Sanu dropping the fourth-down play — or running to a less-than-ideal depth on the third-down play before — they made a difficult situation even more so.

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Chiefs DE Frank Clark gives Patriots bulletin board material for possible playoff rematch

Chiefs DE Frank Clark gives Patriots bulletin board material for possible playoff rematch

The Kansas City Chiefs are feeling mighty confident following their 23-16 victory over the New England Patriots on Sunday.

Tom Brady and the Pats offense continued to struggle in the Week 14 matchup, and some of that had to do with the constant pressure the Chiefs defense put on the 42-year-old quarterback. One of the stars for Kansas City was defensive end Frank Clark, who notched one of the Chiefs' three sacks.

After the game, Clark made it clear he wants a postseason rematch against the Patriots while noting the shortcomings of New England's offensive line.

“We’ll be seeing them in the playoffs," Clark said, per The Boston Globe. "Hopefully we do. I want them again. They don’t have a tackle that can block us. Speed, power, whatever we were throwing at them, they couldn’t handle.”

If these two teams do match up again in the playoffs, you better believe that statement will be on a bulletin board somewhere in Gillette Stadium.

The Patriots will shake off their second straight loss -- which included a few very controversial calls -- and shift their focus to next week's game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

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Patriots rookie first-rounder N'Keal Harry sees only two snaps vs. Chiefs, leaves with injury

Patriots rookie first-rounder N'Keal Harry sees only two snaps vs. Chiefs, leaves with injury

FOXBORO -- N'Keal Harry's almost-touchdown will receive plenty of attention over the course of the next few days, and maybe more than that as the Patriots try to figure out where they fit in the AFC playoff picture. 

Receiving less attention is the fact that Harry played only two offensive snaps in the game, his fourth regular-season contest since returning to action off of injured reserve last month. Harry played 22 snaps last week in a loss to the Texans -- his lone target going for a game-changing interception -- but clearly was not a significant part of Sunday's game plan against the Chiefs.

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Harry left the loss to Kansas City with what the Patriots announced as a hip injury. He said after the game, however, that he was "good" health-wise. 

That he only saw two snaps before getting banged up is curious given that the Patriots appear to need all the help they can get at the moment on the offensive side of the football. Harry clearly has a long way to go before he's entrusted by Josh McDaniels and Tom Brady, but he also has physical skills -- skills he flashed on his near touchdown catch-and-run -- that could be useful.

Harry's two snaps Sunday consisted of his in-motion under route that resulted in his 12-yard catch. (That was the first time on 70 routes this season -- we analyzed them all here -- that Harry went in motion.) He also ran a clear-out vertical route on a fourth-down pass play that was intended for Julian Edelman but landed incomplete. 

In Houston, Harry ran five deep overs or dig routes. He ran three go routes, two shallow crossers, a comeback route and a hitch. He split his time almost evenly on the left and right sides of the formation and played one snap in the slot. That represented a reduction in workload for the rookie who played 55 snaps against the Cowboys in Week 11 as one of only three receivers active for the game.

While his snaps have almost disappeared, if he's healthy enough, perhaps the Patriots will try to find more ways to get the football into his hands more quickly. He showed something on his one touch Sunday. He's a large person (6-foot-4, 225 pounds) who has athleticism and is hard to tackle. At Arizona State he was a frequent recipient of short passes like the one he saw Sunday, taking them and making yards after the catch on his own.

His inability to grasp the nuances of the Patriots offense is relatively evident. Whether it was the way his ran the route in Houston that resulted in a pick, or if it was prior to his catch Sunday when he had to ask Brady about his responsibilities just before the ball was snapped, he's not fully up to speed. 

But this Patriots offense needs any and all answers it can find. Maybe Harry's second (and final) snap against the Chiefs told them he deserves more work next week in Cincinnati. If not, then it's fair to wonder if he's even more behind than we can tell.

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