EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - The Spanish philosopher George Santayana did not have the Patriots in mind when he wrote “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
But in losing, 28-14, to the Jets yesterday, the Patriots repeated two familiar themes from last year: an inability to win on the road and the inability to make plays on either side of the ball in the second half.
It is a pattern that began in this very spot - or more accurately, the since-imploded spot close by - one year ago almost to the day. In their first road game of the season, against the Jets, the Patriots were shut out in the second half, allowing their rival to score 13 unanswered points in a 16-9 defeat.
It was the first of six losses New England would suffer on the road, the majority following that pattern: the Patriots lead early, and let it slip away in the second half.
And so it was again yesterday in the New Meadowlands.
“We couldn’t do anything in the second half,” said quarterback Tom Brady. “We didn’t do anything on third down and couldn’t gain anything on first or second down. We couldn’t run it, we couldn’t throw it - we just sucked.”
“In the second half, they started making plays, and we didn’t do anything to stop it,” Tully Banta-Cain said of the defense.
Things were a bit different in the first half, particularly in the first quarter. New York won the coin toss but elected to defer, giving the Patriots the ball out of the gate. Playing no-huddle and with Brady under center more often than not, New England moved the ball well enough, until a third-and-long just outside the red zone.
Wes Welker (6 catches for 38 yards, touchdown) picked up 8 yards when the Patriots needed 9. Stephen Gostkowski was left with a relatively easy 32-yard field goal attempt that he converted - only New England was flagged for delay of game, moving the kick back 5 yards. This time, Gostkowski pushed the ball left; the Pro Bowler has started the season 1 for 4 on field goal tries.
But the defense did its part, holding the Jets without a first down on their first drive. Patrick Chung appeared to have a diving interception on Mark Sanchez’s first pass attempt, but the call was overturned on review because the ball hit the turf before Chung gained possession.
The Patriots got on the board with a 15-play drive that ended in the second quarter - New York had the ball for just 62 first-quarter seconds - converting three third downs along the way, plus getting another first down on a penalty.
Brady zipped a 6-yard pass to Welker at the right sideline with Antonio Cromartie in coverage, and Welker got the ball over the goal line just inside the pylon for his third touchdown of the season. He had four all of last year.
New England got another touchdown just before halftime. For the second week, tight end Aaron Hernandez set up a score with a long catch-and-run, this time keeping his feet for 46 yards. On the next snap, Randy Moss unleashed himself from Darrelle Revis’s Island, getting a step on the cornerback and making a high-degree-of-difficulty one-handed touchdown catch from 34 yards look easy.
Revis left the field after the play with a hamstring problem, leaving coverage of Moss to Cromartie. Surprisingly, Cromartie, coming off a penalty-riddled performance against Baltimore, shut Moss down - the all-world wideout had two first-half grabs and none in the second.
“Revis is a good player. Cromartie is a good player,” Moss said. “They’re well-coached. A little cocky and arrogant at times, but you’ve really got to commend a team if they come in and talk the talk and walk the walk and then go out here and prove it on Sunday.”
But Moss wasn’t the only one who experienced a dramatic change in production in the final 30 minutes.
The Patriots’ offense, which rolled up 211 yards in the first half, had just 80 in the second. The defense, which allowed 140 first-half yards, gave up just under 200 in the second. Time of possession shifted dramatically as well, with New England holding the ball for just nine minutes, half the time it had in the first half.
The hot reads and quick passes the Patriots used effectively in the first half were gone; defensively, the stops just didn’t come. New York scored 18 points in the second half, New England none.
Through two games this year, the Patriots already have been outscored, 39-14, in the second half, with 7 of their points coming on Brandon Tate’s kickoff return against the Bengals.
“When it comes down to these second-half games and our level of toughness, we’ve got to go out there and play tougher,” Brady said. “There were times where I think we had opportunities to do a better job and we didn’t. That’s all of us, starting with me. I have to do a better job of leading this team and execute better when it’s crunch time.”
Brady had two interceptions and was strip-sacked in the second half; to be fair, the second pick wasn’t entirely his fault. On yet another attempt to Moss, the receiver tipped it in the air, and safety Brodney Pool pulled in the carom, able to get all 10 toes down before falling out of bounds.
The Jets got just 3 points from the three turnovers, but cutting Patriots possessions short took the ball out of Brady’s hands and allowed New York to bleed time off the clock.
“We just have to make plays when we’re presented with the chance to make plays,” safety Brandon Meriweather said. “We’re not making plays.”
Darius Butler in particular had a rough game, flagged for pass interference twice during the Jets’ last scoring drive. He was the man in coverage for Braylon Edwards’s touchdown catch and 2-point conversion.
Though he clearly wasn’t alone in making mistakes, Butler placed blame squarely on his young shoulders.
“That’s what we get paid to do: find a way to stop guys,” Butler said. “I didn’t do a good job of that today. We have to do a better job of finishing. The last two weeks, we didn’t finish as we’d like to.”
So many of Butler’s words, and the quotes his teammates gave in the quiet of the postgame locker room, sounded familiar. Just Friday, Matt Light and Meriweather spoke about the undisciplined play that led to Patriots losses last year, from penalties to lack of execution to not playing as a team.
All things that plagued the team yesterday.
Belichick wants his players to take every year, every week, as its own entity, but if the Patriots don’t look back and find a way to correct their mistakes, they will be condemned to repeat them, especially on the road.