It seemed a bit curious following the Patriots’ 23-16 victory over the Jaguars last Sunday that Tom Brady decided to call out his offensive teammates both behind closed doors and during his postgame press conference.
After all, he threw two interceptions and completed just 58.5 percent of his passes. What kind of player chews out his teammates after appearing to have his own struggles?
One who played very well while getting knocked around the entire game, that’s what kind.
Brady, Wes Welker, Stevan Ridley, Danny Woodhead, and Deion Branch came to play against the Jaguars. Notice that those are four battled-tested veterans and a second-year back (Ridley) trying to prove himself after some recent fumbles.
Everyone else on offense — especially the line — submitted a performance that was just as bad as the defense’s in the 37-31 victory over the Bills Nov. 11.
“Execution was terrible,” Brady said Sunday.
That it was.
It’s not as though Brady was perfect, however.
The first interception was all on Brady, though Nate Solder gave up a little pressure to Jaguars end Jason Babin (a recurring theme), and as a result, Brady never got his feet set.
When Brady released the ball, the single high, deep safety, Chris Prosinski, was still between the hashmarks. Had Brady led Ridley with a little more heat, that’s a 67-yard touchdown pass on a wheel route.
Near the end of the next drive, Brady had to be kicking himself that he threw a corner route incomplete to Aaron Hernandez when Welker was open against man coverage for a touchdown.
From that point on, Brady was nearly flawless even as he was pressured on a season-high 47.8 percent of his 46 dropbacks. He was hit 13 times (the coaches’ film revealed one we missed Sunday), four more than the previous high set three times since the start of the 2010 season.
And to think the Jaguars blitzed on 11 percent of Brady’s throws.
One play typified the day. Trailing, 13-3, with 6:06 left in the first half and on third and 8 at the Jacksonville 25-yard line, Brady stood firm in the pocket as the Jaguars sent two additional rushers. Left guard Logan Mankins was easily beaten by tackle C.J. Mosley, and linebacker Russell Allen came free on his blitz. Brady hung in, delivered a perfect pass to Hernandez for 14 yards, then was plastered by the 300-pound Mosley, who had a full head of steam.
It was Brady’s best pass of the day. One problem: Hernandez had a false start. After the 5-yard penalty, another free blitzer forced Brady to scramble, and his arm was hit by end Jeremy Mincey as he delivered an incomplete pass.
The overall performance was not even close to good enough for late December.
Also alarming this late in the season was the lack of cohesion between Brady and receiver Brandon Lloyd in the first half.
On a third-and-goal pass from the 7, Brady and Lloyd obviously read it differently, and the quarterback was probably right. If Lloyd cuts off the cornerback and runs to the front pylon — as Brady saw it — the percentage is high that it’s a touchdown; the cornerback has no room to make a play. Throwing to the back pylon where Lloyd ran, the percentage is very low because the cornerback had undercut the route and the throw would have to be perfect over the top.
Similar play on the interception on the next series. It’s the usual shot play the Patriots run a variety of ways out of play-action on a stretch run. Not only was there a safety playing the post (who shades to Welker, who correctly crosses), but the cornerback is also playing over the top. That usually calls for the receiver to cross, not stay on the post as Lloyd did.
Lloyd made matters worse by not getting between the ball and the defender, though that’s a tough adjustment. Hernandez was wide open underneath, but if Lloyd makes the correct read, it should be an easy big play.
With 7:50 left in the second quarter, Brady threw late and behind Lloyd, which is Brady’s fault. The play was there; it was a good route. But you have to wonder if those earlier plays and not being on the same page contributed to Brady throwing late.
Those are the type of plays the Patriots can’t afford in the postseason. Lloyd and Brady should be beyond that.
The good news is that after the first half, in which Lloyd caught just one of the five passes Brady threw at him, the pair was 5 for 7 (and one incompletion came when Lloyd had the ball knocked away as he went to the ground).
Brady targeted Lloyd on his first four throws of the second half. It was almost as if Brady said to Lloyd at halftime, “I’m force feeding you to start the second half because we need to get this fixed now, or it’s never going to happen in the postseason.”
It worked, which bodes well. Brady took that message to the rest of the offense after the game. Let’s see if they can get it fixed.
Here are the positional ratings against the Jaguars:
Quarterback (rating: 4 out of 5)
Why did offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels feel the need to drop back Brady that many times against the league’s worst run defense (148.1 yards per game)? Ridley (18 carries, 84 yards) was running well; what happened to the balance the Patriots were striving for to use late in the season?
When the Patriots got the ball, leading, 23-16, with 8:42 left, they passed three times from the shotgun and used 1:05 of the clock. It’s possible they were using this game to work on some specific things. That’s the only explanation for not running much against a defense that allowed 232, 166, and 180 yards in its last three games.
Running backs (3 out of 5)
Ridley ran strong, even though the holes were hard to find behind a lackluster offensive line. Woodhead had a deft 12-yard broken tackle on his 24-yard screen pass, not to mention his touchdown reception. But this group had problems dealing with the pass rush, including Woodhead (knockdown on a good initial block). Shane Vereen gave up a sack, and Brandon Bolden took out two of his linemen to get Brady knocked down. Don’t expect either of those young guys to get much time in the postseason because of blocking.
Receivers (2 out of 5)
Everyone in this group had issues with blocking; Rob Gronkowski can’t return soon enough. Welker, who was terrific overall despite continuing to gut it out, missed a block on cornerback Mike Harris during Ridley’s 7-yard run with 4:42 left in the first quarter that cost the Patriots a possible 25-yard touchdown, and Welker knew it. He got his guy on the next play.
You couldn’t have blocked a running play worse than Michael Hoomanawanui and Hernandez (who played his worst game and is fading fast) did with Bolden’s 2-yard loss as the Patriots were finally driving with 6:48 left in the first half. Obviously a huge, terrific play by Hoomanawanui on third and 4 with 2:51 left, breaking two tackles.
Offensive line (1 out of 5)
The worst performance this season. In order: Ryan Wendell (two hurries), Dan Connolly (sack, hurry), Mankins (two knockdowns, hurry, 1.5 stuffed runs), Solder (three hurries, 2.5 knockdowns), and Sebastian Vollmer (sack, hurry, 2.5 knockdowns, half-stuff). And that doesn’t even account for the hurry and three stuffed runs I couldn’t assign blame to.
The reason for the lack of execution constantly changed, from losing one-on-one battles to whiffing on chop blocks (Vollmer twice) and failing to pick up stunting linemen. The latter was probably the most alarming. A postseason opponent will watch that film and plan to exploit a line that continues to be subpar at stunts, mostly because Mankins, Vollmer, and (to a lesser extent) Connolly are very gimpy.
Defensive line (4 out of 5)
Rob Ninkovich (five hurries, two knockdowns, stuff) had his best wire-to-wire game of the season. Of course, he won’t face right tackle Guy Whimper every week. Nice work by Brandon Deaderick to stand strong against a double-team on second and 4 at the Patriots 25 with 9:25 to play to set up Dont’a Hightower’s tackle. Great rush by Chandler Jones, who saw a fair share of double-teams, against impressive left tackle Eugene Monroe on the first interception. He finally showed some of his old burst.
Linebackers (2.5 out of 5)
Just a middling effort from everyone, especially Hightower, who is earning a reputation for playing down to opponents. On the opening third-down pass to Cecil Shorts, Hightower either showed questionable effort closing on the cross route or is playing on a bad wheel. On the next play, Hightower didn’t help things by jumping outside left guard Austin Pasztor as Montell Owens ran inside for 14 yards. He did the same thing on the next series on an 11-yard run. Hightower was on the bench the next series for Tracy White. Could have been for performance or injury maintenance. White completely outperformed Hightower in the run game. That’s inexcusable without an injury.
Secondary (4 out of 5)
Patrick Chung (two) and Marquice Cole coming down with gift interceptions have to be accounted for, and take a bow for just two passes over 20 yards. Another looming question from this game was, who cleared cornerback Aqib Talib (left hip) to play, and then to return to the game?
Talib was holding his left hip the entire time on the 53-yard deception pass to Owens (real nice play call since the Patriots were in man coverage). He went out, came back, and then continued to grab his hip. Was anyone watching?
On the 36-yard pass to Jordan Shipley on the Jaguars’ third drive, Cole lined up with inside leverage but still allowed Shipley an easy release to the inside. It also didn’t help that Chung, playing the robber role, didn’t show great awareness and saw Shipley too late to break up the pass.
Chung’s instincts were right when he ran hard at the 5 out to Lewis with 13:50 left in the second quarter, but then he eased up. Chung was just a step late with 7:39 remaining as well. Justin Blackmon had a 17-yard gain with 7:10 left where it looked like everyone was playing Cover 2 except Kyle Arrington.
Special teams (3 out of 5)
This unit isn’t exactly trending upward heading into the postseason, especially punter Zoltan Mesko, who was outkicked (4.1 hang time, 40.6 net) for the second straight game, this time by terrific rookie Bryan Anger (4.6 hang, 45.8 net). Matthew Slater and Nate Ebner continue to be coverage standouts. Mike Rivera made an important tackle on a poor final punt (3.8 hang, 35 net).
PLAY OF THE GAME
Situation: Patriots led, 23-16, with 4:06 left to play when the Jaguars had third and goal from the 5-yard line.
What happened: Linebacker Dont’a Hightower (54) got most of the credit for his sack, which came on a blitz and a very good one-on-one effort against fullback Greg Jones (33), but it was a coverage sack, the result of very well-executed team defense. Safety Steve Gregory (28) started close to the line near the right tackle as the Patriots bluffed an all-out blitz. At the snap, Gregory dropped as the lone safety and read quarterback Chad Henne (7) and the routes. Safety Patrick Chung (25) played solid outside leverage on tight end Marcedes Lewis (89), who thought he had the makings of an easy touchdown. But Gregory jumped Lewis, which Henne saw. That caused him to pull the ball down just as Hightower arrived in 3.15 seconds.
ON HIS GAME
WR Wes Welker and LB Rob Ninkovich
With the Patriots pass-happy, Aaron Hernandez ineffective, and Brandon Lloyd out of it until the second half, Welker drove the offense with Tom Brady. And Ninkovich (five hurries, two knockdowns) had a career day.
OFF HIS GAME
TE Aaron Hernandez
Had one catch in five targets, his fourth drop in two games, four poor run blocks, and a costly penalty. The Patriots chose poorly when they decided to activate Hernandez, who is really hurting with his ankle.Greg A. Bedard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @gregabedard.