Here are 24 thoughts on the Patriots’ 31-24 loss to the Seahawks Sunday night:
1. Let’s begin with the ending, since the last play of the Seahawks’ 31-24 win over the Patriots last night is the first thing everyone will remember in the morning. Trailing by a touchdown and facing fourth down with less than a minute remaining, Brady threw a fade to Rob Gronkowski in the left corner of the end zone. Gronk didn’t catch it, in part because he couldn’t shake free from Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor after contact. If there were 68,756 fans at Gillette Stadium Sunday night, 68,750, conservatively, hollered that a pass interference flag should have been thrown.
2. I have to tell you, watching the play, then watching it again a couple more times … I think the officials got it right. I’m not sure they did, but I think they did. Gronkowski initiated the contact; Chancellor tugged him down to the turf when both were off-balance, leaving the ball just out of Gronk’s reach. It seemed like a situation where it could have been called on either player, which to me indicated it shouldn’t be called it all. It’s a bummer, because Gronk has been hosed on late-game pass-interference non-calls before, as Luke Kuechly knows. But this wasn’t one of those times.
3. In truth, the Patriots were fortunate to have a chance at the end; once again, that they did was a tribute to the greatness of Brady. It was a wildly entertaining game between two outstanding and proud teams. There were seven lead changes. But if not for about a half-dozen incredible throws from Brady in the second half in particular, it might not have been close.
4. Russell Wilson picked apart the Patriots cornerbacks not named Malcolm Butler, throwing for 378 yards and three touchdowns, all to Doug Baldwin. Rookie running back C.J. Prosise tormented any post-Jamie Collins era linebacker designated to cover him, catching seven passes for 87 yards. Wilson seemed to be able to hit a big play down the middle of the field whenever the Seahawks needed one.
5. And the Seahawks were held to four field goals on other prolonged and effective drives – there might have been less suspense at the end had they not been held to 3 points so often when 7 seemed attainable. They were the better team Sunday night. Hopefully there will be a rematch, but it’s clearer than ever that the Patriots have to fix some things, especially on defense.
6. The three plays before the ill-fated fade – a Brady sneak, a LeGarrette Blount leap that came up short, and a fumble on another Brady sneak – were hardly inspired. I was hoping the Patriots would run a slant pattern from the one, just to show Pete Carroll and Darrell Bevell how to do it properly.
7. I’ll admit it. I found myself wishing they still had Jamie Collins, especially when Elandon Roberts was isolated in coverage. Perhaps he was becoming a pain in the neck – that seems to be the implication from the Mike Lombardis of the world, and I believe them – but the addition-by-subtraction approach seems a curious one in hindsight, especially since this defense apparently still requires a few real additions of its own, especially at cornerback.
8. Trey Flowers was in the Seattle backfield often, picking up a pair of sacks. But his success leaves you asking another question: Where the heck has Jabaal Sheard been this season? He was good last year, right? I didn’t imagine that? He’s playing like he wants to go back to the Browns.
9. Cornerback Justin Coleman was targeted often and had a mess of a game, including two big penalties. He was also fortunate that Wilson airmailed a fourth-quarter throw in the red zone that might have gone for a touchdown with a better pass. He was on the Seahawks’ practice squad briefly last year before the Patriots brought him back. I suspect Wilson and Bevell had first-hand knowledge that he should be wearing a bull’s-eye.
10. I still think of Logan Ryan as the No. 2 cornerback. He’s had his moments. But right now, the Patriots are searching for solutions opposite Butler, their only steady cornerback and probably the most dependable tackler on their defense. Cyrus Jones doesn’t appear to be in the mix, Eric Rowe was inactive, and Ryan – who usually is a dependable tackler – whiffed on a big gain by Jermaine Kearse on the Seahawks’ go-ahead drive in the second quarter. Wilson is good. The Patriots made him look better than he is, at least as a pure passer.
11. On his 183rd pass of the season, Brady threw his first interception. Heck, it was the Patriots’ first interception of the season, and as you may have heard, they’ve started three quarterbacks in nine games. It was a bad one, too, an under-pressure underthrow of Malcolm Mitchell that sailed right to DeShawn Shead. Brady has thrown the deep ball well this year, but that one was a mallard.
12. The Seahawks are supposed to be the team with offensive line woes, but the Patriots looked like the weaker unit in this matchup. Some of that is due to the Patriots’ reluctance to rush Wilson and let him escape the pocket. But he got away mostly unscathed on the night, while Brady took a beating that would have made Steve Grogan throw off his neck brace in frustration.
13. Brady got up limping once, after being hit in the legs and causing him to contort at an abnormal angle while releasing a pass in the third quarter. There were a couple of those hold-your-breath moments where you could see Brady was going to take a big hit just as the NBC camera followed the ball out of the frame. That’s the kind of suspense no one around here needs. Curious if he shows up on the injury report this week.
14. Gronk was pretty quiet after taking a hit to the head/midsection in the first half – that is until the final minute, when his 26-yard grab down the left sideline put the Patriots in position for their ultimately failed quest to tie the game. Julian Edelman made seven catches but had a fourth-quarter fumble that the Seahawks capitalized on to build their lead to the final score of 31-24.
15. Martellus Bennett picked up the relative slack, catching all seven of his targets for 102 yards. I thought the Patriots should have gone to him more.
16. It’s tempting to suggest Brady’s third-and-25, perfect-touch completion to Edelman on the final play of the third quarter was his best throw since a similar (and more important) pass to Brandon LaFell for a touchdown in the AFC Divisional Round against the Ravens in the 2014 postseason. But I’m not ready go back that far – heck, I’m still marveling at his touchdown bomb to Chris Hogan against the Bills two weeks ago.
Listen: Tom Brady’s postgame comments
17. I’ve heard a few times now that Pete Carroll is the oldest coach in the league (he’s 65), so it’s no longer a surprise. But it is hard to believe, probably because Carroll seemed 10 years younger than he was when he took over the Patriots in 1997 at age 46. He’s always been older than we assumed – and much older than he acted. No one pulls off the gum-chomping, hunched-over, strutting power-clap like ol’ Pete.
18. Imagine I’m not the only viewer across New England last night who had to explain that, yes, that really is that Seattle player’s name, and no, it’s not really Michael Christine, and oh, by the way, it’s actually pronounced “Kristin.”
19. Cyrus Jones received the game’s opening kickoff. He did not fumble. He did not run it out of end zone to a destination considerably short of the 25-yard-line. He caught it. And he took a knee. That’s considerably less exciting than his billing as a return man out of Alabama suggested he would be. But it’s progress over the last time we saw him.
20. We’ve waited a year to see Dion Lewis play again. I suppose we can wait another week. James White was involved early but not so much later in the game. Wonder if – or when -- Lewis starts getting his snaps.
21. NBC dedicated quite a bit of time during Sunday night’s broadcast to flashing back to Super Bowl XLIX. Almost makes up for how much time they spent dwelling on Deflategate, especially during the Patriots’ go-ahead fourth-quarter drive in Super Bowl XLIX.
22. I almost overlooked this, what with the drama of the ending, but LeGarrette Blount had three rushing touchdowns, giving him 12 on the season. That’s the most among Patriots backs since … actually, since Stevan Ridley had 12 just four years ago. But it does put Blount within just two of the franchise single-season record, set by Curtis Martin, who had 14 in both 1996 and ’97.
23. Blount passed three former Patriots on the all-time rushing list – Mosi Tatupu, Leonard Russell, and Lawrence Maroney. In a related note, the Patriots sure have had an eclectic collection of running backs through the years.
24. Have to figure the only reason Roger Goodell hasn’t punished Blount for his recurring touchdown celebration with the End Zone Militia is because he thinks they’re really armed.
Video: Ben Volin’s postgame analysis
Follow Chad Finn on Twitter at @GlobeChadFinn