On Sunday, the Patriots lost their first game since December 16, 2018 on the same day that the Miami Dolphins won their first game since last December’s Miami Miracle vs New England.
And no matter if you are playing the Baltimore Ravens or those previously winless Miami Dolphins, you just cannot spot an opponent a 17-point lead. I can’t help but wonder if this game would have been different if two plays went different on the Ravens’ first drive of the game. If on the game’s third play Lamar Jackson hadn’t riggled out of a sack to find a diving Hollywood Brown for a first down, could the tides have been preemptively stemmed? Or if the Patriots hadn’t jumped on a Justin Tucker field goal attempt, when allowing only 3-points would have felt like a victory, might this have all turned out much better?
Hard as it is to believe, the Patriots took control of the game from the middle of the second quarter until Edelman’s fumble to start the third. Legendary former GM Mike Lombardi talks about winning the “middle 8” meaning the last four minutes of the first half and the first 4 minutes of the second half. Getting the ball coming out of halftime, even with the Patriots settling for back to back field goals to end the first half, the Patriots had grabbed momentum. The Edelman fumble and Marlon Humphrey’s subsequent scoop and score, ripped control of the game to Baltimore’s favor. The Patriots had exhausted Baltimore’s defense, but the Boogeymen just couldn’t get off the field down the stretch when they needed to. A 4th and 4 conversion, on a drive that ultimately resulted in a touchdown put the Patriots away. Baltimore made big plays.
Penalties, especially 4 early in the first half were uncharacteristic of a Bill Belichick team and it felt even more glowing after watching a soundly undisciplined team last week (Cleveland) shoot themselves in the foot over and over again. To win big games on the road, you have to be able to get off the field on third down and you can’t prolong drives with stupid penalties. Jackson’s scrambling had the Patriots defense on edge in the first quarter and for most of the second half. The over aggressive Pats’ defense played right in the scrambling quarterback’s hands as Jackson dazzled with a gimmicky, option based offensive that looks like something Barry Switzer ran in the 70’s. (I’m salty, the Patriots just got beat by an option, T, single wing type of offense. The irony is I spent this past week reading Steve Belichick’s book Football Scouting Methods and I’m pretty sure that the secret to stopping the Ravens offense was in there somewhere. (Probably between talk of split ends, flankers and repeated warnings to watch out for the “quick kick”.
A tremendously underrated pick up by New England has been the addition of special team’s ace, Justin Bethel. Bethel was cut by Baltimore just a few weeks ago, Belichick hauled him in for a work out and signed him on the spot. When asked about signing Bethel, the generally tight lipped coach remarked that he was pretty surprised to see that he was available. Against his former team, Bethel covered the first two kicks well, downed a punt inside the 5 and was the first person in coverage to recover Cyrus Jones muffed punt. There is something poetic about Cyrus Jones, former Patriots second round pick, muffing a punt for Baltimore and a former Raven recovering it. (if you recall the Patriots/Ravens Monday Nighter from 2016 when Jones looked so uncomfortable touching the football that Matthew Slater had to handle kickoffs, quite a turn of events to see Jones snake biting another team’s special teams.)
If there is a sign that the Patriots will be alright (they’re 8-1, heading into the bye and have a game lead on the conference) it is that this game felt very much like 5 of the team’s road games last season, but instead of ostensibly folding like they did in Jacksonville, Detroit and Tennessee a year ago, the Patriots bounced back and had a shot to sneak one out. This team needs to take a lot away from this loss and if Dont’a Hightower’s rant on the sidelines is any indication, they most certainly will.
For two entire weeks.