Of all the personnel moves the Patriots made after the lockout, the two that garnered the most attention were the trades for defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth and receiver Chad Ochocinco.
Despite a few promising moments, the Patriots yesterday waived Haynesworth, because they had to: His deplorable effort in the loss to the Giants left coach Bill Belichick with no other choice.
Many think it’s just a matter of time before Ochocinco is given the boot, too. He has had even less of an impact, with just nine catches for 136 yards and no touchdowns.
And having zero catches in five targets Sunday seemed to push many to the point of Ocho-fatigue.
But Ochocinco isn’t going anywhere, according to two league sources.
Nor should he be.
What many saw to be the height of frustration in the Ocho experiment in the 24-20 loss to the Giants actually represented the greatest hope for him to contribute.
Ochocinco might not have any monster days ahead, but he and Tom Brady are very close to getting on the same page. Ochocinco played much faster against the Giants. He is clearly getting the playbook down, finally.
But the initial routes are only half the battle when it comes to being a receiver in this offense. Making in-play adjustments according to where the defenders are is just as important.
And now it’s on Ochocinco, Brady, offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien, and receivers coach Chad O’Shea - one of the few assistants with NFL coaching experience outside the Belichick tree - to get him there.
But there is hope when you look at Ochocinco’s play against the Giants. Not only was he open a handful of times when Brady didn’t throw him the ball, Ochocinco was close on the five passes thrown his way.
On the first, with 8:39 left in the third quarter, Ochocinco caught the ball out of bounds because Brady threw it late after he was hurried.
Two plays later, Ochocinco ran a terrific post route but Brady threw much too late, which allowed cornerback Corey Webster to deflect a would-be touchdown.
On the final play of that drive, Ochocinco made a great move to get past the press coverage of cornerback Michael Coe, but Coe simply made a terrific play to deflect the ball away.
The final two plays showed where Ochocinco has to grow to be a part of this offense.
With 9:13 left in the fourth quarter, he was able to get free from Coe on an out pattern, but Brady already had thrown the ball. Ochocinco has to get out of his break (the move at the top of the route) much quicker. Instead of bodying up Coe, Ochocinco needs to be able to get into and out of the defender without much contact, which slows him down. He can do that by being more precise with his cuts.
On third and 7 with 7:18 remaining, Ochocinco flattened his route to the sideline instead of continuing on the “7’’ route (a corner) toward the pylon. That’s where Brady threw it because he saw the Giants had a corner under Ochocinco, and a safety over. Brady threw it to the void. Ochocinco ran the route as if the corner had left to cover a man underneath.
That’s where Ochocinco has to grow in this offense. But at least, now, he’s halfway there.
The Patriots need Ochocinco more than ever. Outside of Wes Welker, he’s the only player who can beat man coverage because of his quickness.
It is now clear that Deion Branch is a threat only on underneath patterns on the route tree (there are 10 total, from the slant to the fly). Ochocinco can give the Patriots the 8 (post), 7 (corner), and the 5 and 6 (curl in and out). That’s currently missing in this offense.
The Patriots want to run their “12’’ personnel - one running back, two tight ends, and two receivers - more effectively, and they need Ochocinco to take more of Branch’s snaps to do it.
It’s close to happening. The Patriots need it to happen in time for the postseason, but it sure would help if Ochocinco and Brady clicked now.
There is hope for Ochocinco because he works hard and likes football. The same can’t be said for Haynesworth, which is why he is gone.
Players were starting to grumble about Haynesworth, according to team sources, but Belichick and the coaches already knew what needed to be done because it was clear Haynesworth gave less than a full effort against the Giants.
You can get away with a lot of things if you’re talented, but not disrespecting the coaches, your teammates, and the uniform.
It was part of the reason Randy Moss was let go and never will return: He quit on his teammates in the loss to the Jets last season. On a team like the Patriots, where personal glory is sacrificed for the good of the team, you can’t turn your back on the 52 other players and expect that to be tolerated.
After Haynesworth drew a holding call with 14:10 left in the second quarter against the Giants, he put together three of the worst plays you will see out of an NFL defensive tackle.
With 14:01 left, Haynesworth was easily thrown to the ground by Giants guard Chris Snee with one arm.
On the next play, Snee easily pancaked Haynesworth when he stopped moving his feet - a cardinal sin for a defensive lineman.
And on third down, Haynesworth again was thrown to the ground, this time by left guard David Diehl, whom other Patriots routinely beat.
“On the ground three straight times, and didn’t seem at all to mind,’’ said an AFC executive who was asked to look at those three plays before Haynesworth’s release. “Just stopped moving his feet on each play.’’
In the third quarter, the Patriots finally let Haynesworth back on the field. And he promptly - and without much of a fight - let himself be carried out of the gap by Diehl, which allowed Brandon Jacobs to romp 10 yards for a touchdown.
That was Haynesworth’s last play in a Patriots uniform.
Good. He didn’t deserve to wear it anymore.
Here are the positional ratings against the Giants:
QUARTERBACK Rating: 1.5 out of 5
Well, something is going on with Brady. He obviously has an issue with his throwing elbow going back to the Dallas game, and he is wearing the kind of band that goes with tennis elbow. Brady hasn’t lost strength but accuracy is an issue. He had 13 throws against the Giants that were poor, either in decision or accuracy, and six against the Steelers. Brady had 10 in the first six games combined. Brady wasn’t under nearly as much of a rush (12 pressures) as Eli Manning (21).
RUNNING BACKS Rating: 2.5 out of 5
BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Stevan Ridley each picked one wrong hole to contribute to the offensive miscues, but for the most part, they got what was blocked (which wasn’t great). Ridley did a nice job making something out of nothing with 5:51 left in the second quarter. The play was designed to be outside zone to the right, but Sebastian Vollmer got knocked back by Jason Pierre-Paul, so Ridley cut it back for 6 yards. Danny Woodhead played well with two blitz pickups and two nice runs late.
RECEIVERS Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Wes Welker was flawless with four plus catches, but the others were up and down. Rob Gronkowski (two plus run blocks, three tough catches) played well but also had a drop, a quarterback knockdown, and a poor run block. Aaron Hernandez, who did a great job breaking Corey Webster’s tackle on the touchdown early in the fourth quarter, whiffed on two run blocks, and third tight end Nate Solder had one, as the tackle-eligible plays continue to look puzzling.
OFFENSIVE LINE Rating: 1 out of 5
The Patriots must have worked on pass blocking all week because while that was surprisingly solid, the run blocking bordered on atrocious. We counted 11 poor plays. Obviously the Giants’ active front seven had something to do with it. With the team wanting to give Ryan Wendell 13 snaps, Dan Connolly picked a bad time to have his worst game: two hurries, half knockdown, 2.5 stuffed runs, and a snap over Brady’s head. But Wendell plays too light to take Connolly’s job. Everyone had their issues in this unit, including Brian Waters. Matt Light and Logan Mankins need to communicate better on stunts. They were victimized three times.
DEFENSIVE LINE Rating: 4 out of 5
Outside of Haynesworth, this unit played very well even if it lacks a true explosive pass rusher, which really hurts. The Giants are trailing, 13-10, with seven minutes left and Brandon Deaderick is an outside pass rusher? Andre Carter (3.5 hurries, 4.5 knockdowns) was the standout but he needs a rush mate. Vince Wilfork (hurry, two knockdowns, 1.5 run stuffs, alert screen play) also was a force. The Patriots blitzed only six times on 45 dropbacks (13.3 percent) yet generated their most total quarterback pressures (21) since the season opener at Miami (22). Ron Brace didn’t show much in his return.
LINEBACKERS Rating: 2 out of 5
The Patriots made the switch from a 4-3 “under’’ defense to an “over’’ defense, which got Rob Ninkovich off the line over the tight end and back to the normal 5-yard depth. That was likely done to help the linebackers be better dropping into pass coverage. The Patriots also took Ninkovich off the field - from more than 90 percent of snaps to 70.3 in this game - and rotated him in the pass rush package with end Mark Anderson. Ninkovich had fresher legs, which helped him have as many pressures (two) as he had in the previous four games combined. Having Gary Guyton replace Brandon Spikes (knee sprain) will hurt the run defense. But Spikes was back to being inconsistent against the Giants (three missed tackles). Jerod Mayo needs to do more.
SECONDARY Rating: 2 out of 5
A little bit better, but still inconsistent. New nickel back Phillip Adams missed three tackles, had trouble getting jams, and seemed to stumble on his six blitzes. The Patriots would prefer to blitz Kyle Arrington, but he’s their best cover guy by far. Arrington’s interception in the end zone was a terrible throw by Eli Manning, and it bailed out Devin McCourty, who was set to get burned if Arrington didn’t peel off his man.
SPECIAL TEAMS Rating: 1.5 out of 5
Zoltan Mesko held his own in a punting clinic against the Giants’ Steve Weatherford. Mesko averaged 4.56 seconds of hang time on his five punts, and had four fair catches punting out of his own end. That’s a terrific game. Stephen Gostkowski missed a 27-yard field goal attempt, which is inexcusable. While the coverage units continue to stand out, the return units have hit rock bottom.
PLAY OF THE GAME
Situation: The Patriots trailed the Giants, 17-13, with 1:40 to play when they faced fourth and 9 from the New York 14-yard line.
What happened: Tom Brady (12) saw that the Giants had wide splits with their safeties as the Patriots spread the field with their ‘‘12’’ personnel (one running back, two tight ends, two receivers) in the empty formation (no players in the backfield). Brady knew Aaron Hernandez (81) would take cornerback Aaron Ross (31) down and out of the play, leaving safety Kenny Phillips (21) to help against Rob Gronkowski (87) or Wes Welker (83).
Phillips doubled Welker, perhaps on design but perhaps because Welker made a great move off the line past safety Antrel Rolle (26). That left Gronkowski one-on-one with linebacker Michael Boley (59). Gronkowski will win that matchup every time, and he did so here by working to the inside, and then outside for the touchdown.
ON HIS GAME
Andre Carter, defensive end
A tough choice with Welker because each unit relies so much on them, but Carter gets the nod because you really wonder where the defense would be without him. He had 3.5 quarterback hurries and 4.5 knockdowns for eight total pressures — by far his best game of the season. Carter had nine pressures in the previous three games combined.
OFF HIS GAME
Albert Haynesworth, defensive tackle
He played nine snaps and after tallying one hurry when he drew a holding penalty, Haynesworth blew two gap assignments (one for a touchdown) and was thrown to the ground three times. That didn’t grade out well. A forgettable final performance in a Patriots uniform.
Greg A. Bedard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.