By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Gather round, folks. It’s time for a good old football cliche: Losses can often be a good thing.
If that’s not a cliche yet, it should be, because it’s true. While it’s antithetical for a competitive football team with championship aspirations to find positives in a loss, the truth is that losses can and do work wonders for a team that has flaws in need of fixing. They provide sobering reality checks to players and coaches that as of this very moment, they’re not good enough — not good enough to win the particular game, and not good enough reach the championship level toward which they’re all striving.
So for as much as the Patriots would have preferred to see LeGarrette Blount gain an extra three inches or so on that late fourth-quarter run at the goal line, they can make this loss turn into a positive experience.
First and foremost, their flaws are now fully exposed, out in the open. The defense, to borrow a line from Bart Scott, can’t stop a nose bleed. Their third-down defense remains dreadful, as Seattle went 6-for-12 on third down on Sunday night en route to gaining six yards per play and 420 total yards on the evening. Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, a man whose career will likely forever be defined by a bad decision against the New England defense in Super Bowl XLIX, was smart enough to recognize the soft spots on the field to lead to numerous big gains throughout the night, and quarterback Russell Wilson made a number of excellent throws to beat man coverage when his receivers had a step on the their defenders. The red-zone defense performed reasonably well, but 31 points is 31 points. Not good enough.
Beyond that, ball security is now suddenly an issue for the Patriots, a team that has thrived on winning the turnover battles throughout the years but now has just a plus-1 turnover differential through nine games. In 2014, they were tops in the AFC at plus-12. Such a mark seems unattainable at this point of the season.
The Patriots are also not the league’s most disciplined team. They were flagged seven times for 61 yards vs. Seattle, an issue that’s popped up more often in 2016 than it has in other Bill Belichick years.
Offensively, in general, it’s difficult to find too many faults since Tom Brady returned in Week 5. But getting stuffed at the goal line to lose a football game has a way of bringing even a unit as potent as that one back down to earth.
Take the picture as a whole, and the Patriots went to work on Monday knowing exactly where they need to improve. There’s no telling how, exactly, they’ll correct those issues, but if they can’t do it then, well, they were never going to be that great to begin with.
Look at their own history. The 2001 team lost at home on a mid-November Sunday night to the mighty St. Louis Rams. The Patriots didn’t lose another game, and we know how the St. Louis rematch went. The ’03 team got bodyslammed in Week 1 by the Bills; they’d go on to win 17 of the remainder of their 18 games. The ’04 team lost in Pittsburgh to the Steelers, who were the best team in the NFL. The Patriots went back to Pittsburgh in the playoffs and won in a blowout. And the 2014 team went to Green Bay in Week 13 to face a test against a Super Bowl contender. They lost. We know how that season ended, too.
While the 16-0 run of 2007 was a spectacle to watch, that team probably could have used a reminder of its fallibility somewhere along the line. At times during the AFC title game vs. San Diego and the Super Bowl vs. the Giants, the Patriots looked like a team that was fully convinced it could not lose. What reason did they have to think otherwise?
So, yes, losses can and should be a very good thing for teams that have Super Bowl aspirations. And as long as the Patriots can hold serve against the rest of their opponents (who own a combined record of 28-38), Sunday’s loss shouldn’t prove catastrophic in terms of getting home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Even with the loss, at 7-2 they’re still tied for the best record in the AFC, while the 7-2 Chiefs, 7-2 Raiders and 7-3 Broncos all have divisional games remaining against one another, so they can’t all go 14-2.
With that being established, let’s head right into some of the leftover thoughts from that rather exciting 31-24 Seahawks win over the Patriots at Gillette Stadium.
–When some coaches have nationally televised games on the schedule, they probably meticulously plan every detail about the game, including their wardrobe. Bruce Arians would no doubt enter his closet of 1,000 Kangols and pick out the spiffiest one. Bill Cowher famously used to chisel his chin to get it just right. Ben McAdoo meticulously trims every mustache hair and carefully picks out his 1995-era sunglasses. Jim Caldwell puts on a ball cap and practices staring blankly into the mirror for hours on end. It’s a common process around the league. But not for Bill Belichick, who showed up Sunday night looking like this for the opening kickoff:
I suppose, technically, that is one way to wear a hat. But I’m pretty sure a hat in such shape would get rejected by Goodwill.
What’s really wild is that Belichick wasn’t wearing that hat during pregame — or, if he was, he had yet to go all Edward Scissorhands on it.
An interesting fellow, that Belichick is.
–Probably the biggest reason why this game was so fun to watch was because unlike many of the Patriots’ inferior opponents, the Seahawks are actually good. In today’s watered-down NFL, it sadly is that simple. Unlike, say, a Patriots-Bills or Patriots-Browns showdown, the Seahawks make mistakes and then … do better the next time. What a novel concept. I wish we could see more games like that in New England. Alas, the schedule shows 49ers, Jets and Rams coming up next. Yee-haw.
–After this tumultuous election season, and with half of the country still reeling, can we all agree that we all need to stop saying things like “a West Coast team going East is bad news” and “they’re on a short week so they’ll be tired”? It’s 2016. This is just lazy analysis. I’m no doubt guilty of it myself, but I vow to never let it slip into my notes ever again. The Seahawks just proved that all of that talk is just hooey. Get on the field, the competitive juices start flowing, and what you did last week or the length of your flight two days ago doesn’t really factor in very much.
–A great example of this can be seen in Earl Thomas. On the opening drive, Thomas went flying like a missile toward Rob Gronkowski, as Thomas tends to do. But Gronkowski is no ordinary ball carrier, and Thomas ended up bouncing off the big fella like a pinball.
To some players, that kind of play could be a real shot to the confidence. But Thomas put it in the memory bank and learned from it. Late in the second quarter, he adjusted his target area, saw an opportunity, and sent Gronkowski out of the game for several plays after knocking the wind out of him and making the All-World tight end a bit more tentative on his future trips over the middle of the field.
“That was a big hit for sure. probably one of the hardest I’ve got hit in my career,” Gronkowski said. “A good fast player who’s like a missile. It was a good, clean hit — nothing against it. … It was a good, clean hit. I have no problem with it. He hit me fair and square. It’s football. You’re going to get laid out eventually.”
What a sport.
(Gronkowski made just one catch after that hit. The Seahawks did, relatively, a good job on him. And I say that knowing that Chancellor got called for PI in the end zone in the first quarter and Cliff Avril got called for defensive holding in the end zone in the second quarter. Gronkowski is just that difficult to stop.)
–How is it possible for a starting safety on a 7-2 team to rank 71st in the league at his position?
Granted, completely losing track of Doug Baldwin for an easy touchdown before halftime doesn’t help. But 71st? Seems kind of harsh.
–LeGarrette Blount leads the league with 12 rushing touchdowns. Nobody else has more than nine. Tough year to be one of those “Blount stinks” guys.
–Julian Edelman is as feisty a football player as I’ve ever seen. Watching him now, it’s obvious how he got to where he’s gotten. He fights for the proverbial last inch, and he does so often at the expense of his own health and safety. It’s a strategy that worked out well for him when he drew a facemask penalty on Richard Sherman (a bad call by the officials, but an understandable one, considering it looked like Edelman nearly got decapitated). But it also has its negatives at times.
Wrapped up in the middle of the field by Kam Chancellor, with nowhere to go and with K.J. Wright coming in to join in on the tackling fun, Edelman fought to stay on his feet. It’s what he does. But this time, he also fumbled.
It really was as crucial a turnover as there could be. The Patriots trailed by one point at the time with 8:30 left to play, and they were already on the edge of field-goal range.
If you’re the Patriots, you certainly don’t ask Edelman to change the way he plays football. You might, though, ask him to be more aware of when physical, powerful tacklers like Chancellor are in on the play. Perhaps occasionally it’s best to hit the turf once in a while.
–It’s now Year 5 of me belaboring the point … BUT! To those misguided souls who still blame Tom Brady and not Wes Welker for the incompletion that cost the Patriots Super Bowl XLVI, I present Exhibit No. 147 on how the outside shoulder pass is a very catchable ball for NFL receivers. This one comes from Martellus Bennett, and it was even more impressive because the man was actually covered.
You can see Bennett running up the left sideline and looking in toward the middle of the field:
He then saw that the pass was heading toward his outside shoulder, and he adjusted his body, jumped, twisted and made the catch:
For good measure, he managed to break a tackle and tiptoe up the sideline for extra yards.
He caught the pass because he’s paid millions of dollars to catch passes in the NFL. What a novel concept.
Brady’s Super Bowl pass was fine, folks. No, I’ll never stop arguing this point. Please respect my privacy at this time.
–I don’t know what NBC did to Tom Brady that has led to him refusing to take new Sunday Night Football photos for five years, but I’d love to know.
–I also don’t know much about Jarran Reed. But I know he eats his Wheaties. He sent Shaq Mason flying backards en route to a third-quarter sack of Brady.
–The Patriots’ secondary vs. Seattle, summed up in one image:
–There’s this new trend of NFL players putting “Sr.” on their jersey nameplates. Steve Smith has done it and may have been the one to start the movement. Terrell Pryor has done it, as has Jamie Collins upon his move to Cleveland. On Sunday night, Christine Michael’s “Sr.” was on display for the world to see.
Aside from this being, in and of itself, a patently absurd concept (nobody is confusing you with your toddler son, sir, but thank you for the distinction), it’s also an instance of guys just trying too hard. Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer the traditional methods of letting folks know that you’re an adult male.
Like, for example, breaking through tackling attempts by two linebackers:
And then finishing the play like this:
Now everybody knows that Martellus Bennett is a grown man, and no seamstresses had to get involved. How refreshing.
–I accidentally launched a mid-game debate last night into what the best pass of Tom Brady’s career has been. So instead of making a grand proclamation, I will just say that Brady’s deep-ish pass to Edelman to convert on a third-and-25 was among the very best passes thrown in the career of one of the very best quarterbacks to ever play the game.
It was reminiscent of the game-winning touchdown thrown to Brandon LaFell in the divisional playoffs of 2014 against Baltimore, and it was thrown to nearly the exact same spot on the field.
It was a thing of beauty.
–Pete Carroll is lucky, man. Going for two late in the fourth quarter wasn’t aggressive; it was dumb.
Sure, you can win the game if you get the two-point conversion. But guess what? It’s difficult to get a two-point conversion. It’s about a 50-50 proposition. And, lo and behold, the Seahawks couldn’t get their own.
Forcing New England to not only drive the entire field but then make the two-point conversion just to tie the game is absolutely, 100 percent the play. Leading by eight points late in the game worked out for Denver last January, if I recall correctly. Instead, Pete gave the Patriots a life raft. He’s lucky the late-game decision didn’t sink him yet again.
–I put this in the Ups/Downs story, but you also have to question the Patriots’ decision to play to drain the clock in the final minute rather than be certain to score the game-tying touchdown. In the moment, I felt it was intelligent to try to drain clock, so as not give the Seahawks a chance to lead a short drive to make the game-winning field goal before regulation expired. But, then, I did not find it to be too intelligent to run a bad QB sneak and an end-zone fade to Gronkowski.
While yes, the QB sneak is anecdotally 99.99 percent effective under Brady, the Seahawks did know it was coming. And then an end zone fade to Gronkowski seemed to be a call made as much for its chances for success as it was for its chances of drawing a flag. And that’s not a reliable way to win.
Belichick tried to play coy regarding the decision for Brady to fall forward without crossing the goal line on first-and-goal from the 2-yard line with 43 seconds left in the game.
“We were definitely trying to score but I’d say managing the clock was part of it,” Belichick said.
But a few minutes earlier, Brady had kind of spilled the beans while at the podium.
“We were trying to get it very close but not in,” Brady said.
Again, much like fourth-and-2 and any number of decisions that don’t lead to the intended result, it’s a move that looks bad in retrospect. The reasoning may have been sound, but it just didn’t work out.
–Speaking of “didn’t work out,” that Jamie Collins trade … OK, we won’t go there yet. But if the Patriots end up losing a playoff game like this, you can bet the discussion will begin and end with The Man Formerly Known As No. 91, Now Known As Jamie Collins SENIOR.
(That nickname should catch on, I think.)
–I hope you enjoyed that game, really, because there are some doozies on the horizon. Up next are the 49ers and their 29th-ranked offense and their 1-8 record. Then it’s the 3-7 Jets, who score the fifth-fewest points in the league and don’t employ an NFL quarterback. After that, the NFL’s most boring team — the Los Angeles Rams — make a trip to Foxboro. The Ravens on Monday night in Week 14 followed by an always-difficult trip to Denver in Week 15 is at least a step in the right direction, but dates with the Jets and Dolphins to close out the season do a lot to dampen excitement for some compelling drama over the final month of the season.
–We’re going to end it right here, folks:
We’re going to end it right there.