Patriots’ special teams play was especially bad
FOXBOROUGH — Bill Belichick wasn't in a particularly revealing mood Sunday night after his team's uncharacteristic 35-28 home loss to the Eagles.
What was the thinking on the onside kick when up, 14-0?
"I think everything we did, we're trying to do what we think is best."
Why did Nate Ebner kick two onside kicks?
"Because we thought that was the best thing to do."
Who calls the surprise onside kick?
"We make all the decisions."
Was the drop-kick supposed to bounce in the air or stay close to the ground?
"We don't have time for all that."
Belichick never says much after a loss, but the Patriots coach does have a little explaining to do after Sunday's sloppy defeat. It's one thing for the Patriots to simply get out-executed by the opponent. And the offense is obviously struggling without Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, and Dion Lewis.
But we never see the Patriots get out-executed on special teams. It has now happened in consecutive weeks. Chris Harper's muffed punt created an avalanche of negativity in the loss to the Broncos, and the Patriots allowed a blocked punt touchdown and an 83-yard punt return touchdown against the Eagles.
Eagles special teams coordinator Dave Fipp got the better of Belichick on Sunday. That's not a sentence you type too often.
"Needless to say, we're very disappointed," special teams captain Matthew Slater said. "We feel like we hurt our team tonight."
The players deserve plenty of blame for Sunday's loss, but so do the coaches, who went conservative when they should have gambled, and gambled when they should have gone conservative.
A few lingering questions following the loss:
■ Why did the Patriots attempt that surprise onside kick with Ebner in the second quarter?
"There wasn't a tremendous downside to the play," Belichick said.
Except, there was. In their previous four drives, the Eagles had gained a total of 50 yards and punted four times. Their offense was stuck in neutral, and a normal kickoff would have pinned the Eagles around their 20 and forced them to drive the length of the field to get on the board. Instead, the Patriots handed the Eagles great field position on the 41, and eight plays later the Eagles cut the score to 14-7.
"Give all the credit to the Eagles," Ebner said. "They were prepared for everything we threw at them."
Patriots coach Bill Belichick discusses loss to Eagles
Patriots coach Bill Belichick discusses the team’s loss to the Eagles 35-28.
■ What was up with the clock management at the end of the first half?
Leading, 14-7, with 1:32 left in the second quarter, the Patriots took control of the ball at their 13 and holding two timeouts. The Patriots of old would have pushed the tempo and tried to kick a field goal before the end of the half. But for the second straight week, the Patriots were content to run the ball into halftime and waste their timeouts.
That is, until they reached their 38-yard line with 19 seconds left, and suddenly decided to get aggressive. The Eagles were more than happy to let the Patriots run out the clock, but Brady threw incomplete to Scott Chandler, stopping the clock with 15 seconds left, forcing the Patriots to punt. Chris Maragos blocked the punt, Najee Goode returned it for a touchdown, and suddenly the game was tied entering halftime and the Eagles had all the momentum.
Neither Belichick nor Brady was asked about this sequence in their postgame news conferences.
■ What happened on the punt block?
Maragos lined up directly behind linebacker Bryan Braman. Braman crashed the middle of the line and was blocked by long snapper Joe Cardona and guard Geneo Grissom. Darius Fleming, playing tackle, slid outside to block Goode. Ebner, the personal protector, slid to his right to block Kenjon Barner. But no one picked up Maragos, who bolted through the "B" gap and blocked the punt right off Ryan Allen's foot.
"We blew it, just didn't block it properly," Belichick said.
Was it something the Eagles hadn't shown before?
"Yeah, it was something we saw," Grissom admitted.
The standards are high around here, but we rarely see the Patriots mess up a play they should have been prepared for, especially on special teams.
■ And on Darren Sproles’s 83-yard punt return touchdown?
Sproles is an electric returner with nine career return touchdowns, but the Patriots were in position to make the tackle.
"I did not see it . . . but I'm pretty sure we just didn't handle the leak well, and the guy came free and made a great play," Ebner said.
"We feel confident that if we execute our base stuff that that's going to be good enough most of the time, but we got outplayed tonight," Slater added.
Brady made some uncharacteristically bad decisions, as well. Why did he force the ball to Danny Amendola in double coverage, resulting in a 99-yard interception touchdown? Why did he chuck up a duck to Brandon LaFell that got intercepted in the end zone, when it was only first down and there was no need to panic?
The answer to all of these questions is obvious — the Patriots are flustered. They don't have Gronk or Edelman, and they're losing their composure trying to make up for it, starting at the top with Belichick and Brady.
"Their record at home is like 100-7," Goode said, "so [winning] is a hell of a feeling, man."
Belichick and Brady are usually so cool under pressure. But the Patriots' grasp on the No. 1 AFC playoff seed has slipped away, and they badly need their two leaders to regain their composure.
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