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Monday, 6 February 2012

A broken man’s take on where it all went wrong

Last night hurt. A lot. Rather than go over everything and add to the orgasmic pieces about Eli Manning I’m going to run through the key plays where the Patriots basically shot themselves in the foot,  what went wrong, and how I view them. It won’t be pleasant for Pats fans, it was incredibly difficult to put together a slightly coherent sentence that wasn’t full of anger and expletives. There are no pictures or flowery hyperbole, just the moments that made me punch the sofa and hold my head in my hands. Sometimes I really hate football.

1st Quarter; Patriots ball; 1st & 10 @ NE 6; 0-0.

Intentional grounding in the endzone, safety.

I have very few problems with this play. The coverage down field was good, Justin Tuck had worked himself free and Brady threw it away. It was by far the safest option there. Better to give up the safety with a flag than give the Giants the confidence of a sack or even risk the ball coming loose back there.

However this was after a 10 play drive opening drive from New York. After some good defensive work to halt it at midfield the Pats D needed a chance to gather itself and discuss what was going on, instead they got all of 1 play and a free kick before heading back out there.

1st Quarter; Giants ball; 3rd & 3 @ NE 11; 2-0 NYG

4 yard completion to Cruz, fumble; recovered by Patriots. Defensive penalty for 12 men on the field, replay the down.

Sterling Moore (who had a pretty good game) was able to rip the ball out and Brandon Spikes recovered it. This was a huge play. It was the 8th play of a drive that started on the Giants own 22 yard line. The Giants had all the momentum, they had kept Tom Brady to 1 play in the first 10 minutes of the game. And anytime you can keep him on the sideline you’re doing well.

The problem was that Anquan Molden was running around in the defensive backfield like a headless chicken when he should have been stood on the sideline.  It’s the kind of brain fart that the Patriots normally avoid. But this isn’t a normal Patriots defense. The years of poor drafting in the secondary has lead to players like Molden and Moore coming in towards the end of training camp/star t of the season, throw in the contracted training camps because of the lock out and the limited practices now enforced and you have a recipe for mistakes. 2 weeks ago, when Sterling Moore made the fantastic play to get the Patriots here by stripping the ball from Lee Evans in the endzone he admitted that he didn’t really know what the play call was so he just went into man coverage. It’s things like that which used to be absent from a Belichick defense but have begun to creep in.

2 plays later and Victor Cruz was dancing in the endzone. The 7 point swing would end up being crucial.

4th Quarter; Patriots ball; 1st & 10 ‘ NE 43; 17-15 NE

Deep left for Gronkowski, Intercepted by Chase Blackburn, Giants ball at their 8.

Pressure up the middle from Linval Joseph, who very nearly sacks Brady only to have him escape, blows this play up almost immediately. A fantastic cut block by Logan Mankins prevents a probable strip sack by Chirs Canty as Brady rolls right. With Pierre-Paul in his face Brady heaves it deep for Gronkowski but it’s behind him, giving Blackburn better position and he makes a very good play to go up and pick it off.

Once again I don’t have too many problems with this play. The field position change is equivalent to a good punt, it was a broken play almost from the get go due Joseph’s quick pressure up the middle and Gronkowski one on one with a linebacker is a good match up for New England. Normally.

It was clear from the start of the game that The Gronk wasn’t moving freely. He ended up with just 3 targets and was off the field or blocking in a lot of situations where he’d normally be a 1st or 2nd read for Brady.
As the ball arced downfield Gronkowski was slow to adjust and didn’t get anything like a normal leap, a fit Gronk is able to at least knock that ball away. An injured one? Intercepted.

As I said, it wasn’t the worst possible outcome for that, trying to fit it into a small window on a short pass there could have been more catastrophic. And while it was disappointing, what happened next was worse.

4th Quarter; Giants ball; 2nd & 10 @ NY 8; 17-15 NE

Bradshaw runs right for 5 yards, ball knocked out by Spikes but recovered by Chris Snee at the 11.

4th Quarter; Giants ball; 3rd & 7 @ NY 11; 17-15 NE

Incomplete to Cruz, Offside penalty on Rob Ninkovich

Having turned the ball over New England’s defense came out needing to make a statement. After an incomplete pass they made it, forcing their 3rd (but only the 2nd to count) fumble of the day. But once again the ball bounced kindly for the Giants and they were able to recover it.

On the very next play Rob Ninkovich, lined up at right defensive end, jumped a half second to soon and what would have been a 3 & out, and handed momentum and field position back to New England. Instead the Giants are able to get to midfield before stalling and the impressive Weatherford pins the Pats down, giving them a long field that they couldn’t quite traverse thanks to the following…

4th Quarter; Patriots ball; 2nd & 12 @ NY 44; 17-15 NE

Wes Welker, in the left slot, runs that rarest of routes for him, a go. He heads straight up the field while Antrel Rolle stands and watches him go past, expecting him to cut. Brady fires a ball that is a little behind Welker, but as ever the little #83 gets himself in position to reel it in around the 20 yard line. But he drops it.
The guy who, since joining New England for the 2007 season, has caught a staggering 554 regular season passes, who was a perfect 7 for 7 in the game and had 11 catches in Super Bowl XLII couldn’t hang on to a difficult, but still catchable ball.

If Wes makes that catch then the game is practically over. New England can run the clock to at least the 2 minute warning and kick a field goal. As it was? That play was followed up by a Deion Branch drop, New England punted and the rest is very annoying history.

Game Winning Drive

Mario Manningham, take a bow. His catch down the sidelines, while not as “miraculous” as David Tyree’s 4 years ago was a million times better. Having seen Patrick Chung lay out his teammate Hakeem Nicks on a similar play earlier, and having had a chance down the other sideline previously in the game that he’d gone out of bounds on he made a beautiful over the shoulder catch, got both his feet down and then held on after taking a lick from Chung.
With 2:04 to go (roughly) Hakeem Nicks caught the ball at about the Pats 27 and was almost gone, but for a saving tackle from Anquan Molden. If it were Madden I would have had Molden miss that tackle and allow Nicks to score. The Giants were in field goal range and would run the clock, you let him score there and the Pats would get the ball back with about 1:55 left and 2 timeouts. It would have made all the difference. Now obviously that’s not a thought process going through a players head in the dying moments but it was something clearly going through Belichick’s as he ordered the parting of the seas to let Bradshaw score a minute later.
In the end, this loss hurts more than Super Bowl XLII because, in that one, the Patriots were outplayed pretty much all over the field and deserved to lose (even if Rodney Harrison should have knocked the ball out, or even Asante Samuel holding onto that pick the play before). Last night New England were, for the most part, the better team. The pats offensive line kept Brady clean for the most part, Welker and Hernandez were causing all kinds of problems, the injury to Gronkowski did prevent their usual dynamism on offense but not too much. The defense did a great job of stopping the big play, holding up in the red zone and ripping at that ball. They just beat themselves in the end. And that’s not to take anything away from the Giants, who played a good game too. But the Patriots failed to take their chance to wrap the game up, and New York made them pay.
This was supposed to be cathartic, but really it’s just depressed me more…
-          Toby Durant (@TDonSport)
-          The Pulling Linemen