Patriots struggle on offense, but all is not lost
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — When you have Tom Brady as your quarterback and Rob Gronkowski as your tight end, you usually want to put the game in their hands to win it.
But Bill Belichick said everything you need to know about his confidence in the Patriots' offense with his decision to kick off at the start of overtime.
"Looking at field position," Belichick said in a terse news conference following the 26-20 loss to the Jets on Sunday.
Belichick looked at his options, and he envisioned disaster had the Patriots taken the ball to start overtime. A three-and-out would have given the Jets good-to-great field position, needing only a field goal to win it.
"Obviously, the Jets are a good defensive team, and we didn't really do much offensively," Belichick said. "We had 200 yards probably halfway through the fourth quarter."
Actually, 219 yards with just 6:26 left in the fourth. For the game, the Patriots tied or set season lows with 20 points and 284 total yards. They only had eight true offensive possessions (excluding running out the clock at the end of each half), and only scored one touchdown. Only two others ended in field goals.
Belichick had more faith in his defense coming up with a stop and giving the Patriots good field position in overtime than he did in his offense marching downfield and winning the game.
That's how it is for the Patriots these days, with Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola battling injuries, Nate Solder, Dion Lewis, and LeGarrette Blount out for the season, and Sebastian Vollmer going down on Sunday.
The offense has become a grind, and everyone inside the Patriots' locker room knows it.
"We definitely left a lot of plays out there," said receiver Brandon LaFell, who had one catch for 19 yards. "We couldn't finish in the red zone like we preached all week like we should. We came out with 3 points too many times."
Belichick said even more about his faith in the Patriots' offense at the end of the first half. The Patriots took over on their 16-yard line with 1:53 remaining and two timeouts.
The Patriots with Edelman and Amendola and Solder and Gronkowski at 100 percent would have pushed the tempo and tried to get at least a field goal in that situation. But the current Patriots played it safe, because Belichick doesn't have a lot of faith in the squad he is running out there right now.
They ran three plays, ran out the clock, and hit the locker room.
"We didn't have very good field position," Belichick said.
This was a strange loss for the Patriots, and no one on that team likes losing to the Jets. On top of it, the traveling hospital ward that is the New England Patriots may have gotten another patient in Vollmer, who was carted off the field with an ankle injury. If it's broken, he's done for the season, but if it's only a sprain, perhaps he can return in the playoffs.
But this wasn't that devastating a loss for the Patriots. They still control their playoff fate — a win at Miami next Sunday gives them the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs. And the offense showed impressive moxie in the fourth quarter, driving 66 yards and converting two fourth downs to score the tying touchdown with 1:55 left.
Gronkowski had a couple of huge catches — both fourth-down conversions, in fact, including a 26-yarder on fourth and 9.
But the backups also came up big, guys such as Brandon Bolden, Keshawn Martin, James White, and Steven Jackson, who watched the first 14 games of the season as a civilian.
"I think we have some mental toughness," Brady said. "A lot of guys have been in and out of the lineup, a lot of guys coming in off the street trying to play and help us win.
"We just had some bad luck, truthfully. I don't think we've ever used those excuses, and we had opportunities to win this game. Hopefully we can get healthy and we've just got to win one game next week."
Obviously, the Patriots' offense doesn't have much right now. Desperate to find a spark, the Patriots ran a flea-flicker, then a wide receiver reverse, then a Wildcat play with Brady lined up at wide receiver on consecutive plays in the second quarter.
Martin, who was dumped by the Texans in a preseason trade with the Patriots, led New England with 11 targets on Sunday, and finished with a career-high seven catches and 68 yards.
Gronkowski is still a force, but the Jets double teamed him all day, and Brady threw only six passes his way, completing four for 86 yards. Their most active skill player was someone who was only supposed to play special teams this year — Bolden, who had 14 touches for 60 yards.
The offensive line is a mess, with backup tackle LaAdrian Waddle also leaving the game early with a shoulder injury. Brady was sacked just twice on 33 pass attempts, yet was consistently flustered in the pocket and forced to throw the ball away.
And yet they fought and clawed their way back into the game and almost beat a top-10 Jets defense that looks like it is bound for the playoffs. And Edelman and Amendola should hopefully return for the postseason.
So even though Belichick doesn't have faith in the offense now, it's not doom-and-gloom time, either.
"If we just get our guys, everyone out there and practice together and see what we're made of, I think that'll be a great thing," Brady said.