By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — We know what the Patriots are. We’ve known it for a while.READ MORE: 'Just Do The Right Thing': MBTA Bus Driver Finds Purse In Road, Returns It To Owner
Still — still! — we expected a better showing than that on Thursday night, just four days after New England trounced the Chargers in the same stadium.
Yet the 24-3 thumping suffered at the hands of the Rams provided just the latest reminder that momentum only lasts as long as your next play in the NFL. And coming out flat against a fired-up team that’s out for blood? It can kill you.
So let’s hit the Four Ups and Four Downs from a disappointing performance from New England. The Ups may be hard to come by.
The undrafted rookie cornerback has been making some serious strides this year, and he provided the first big play of the night for New England. When Goff underthrew Robert Woods on a third-and-4 late in the first quarter, Bryant made a dive for the ball. After Woods got his hands on the pass, Bryant essentially stole the football from him, popping up to his feet and running 35 yards for a touchdown.
Introducing Myles Bryant.
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) December 11, 2020
The TD came off the board after review showed Bryant was down by contact, but still, that was a desperately needed play for the Patriots.
It remains kind of sad that one of the Patriots’ best player is their punter. Nevertheless. That’s where things are in 2020.
Bailey punted six times, averaging 51.7 yards, including a 71-yard boomer. Four of his punts came down inside the 20. Only one of his punts — a 40-yarder from the New England 30-yard line — was bad.
Another All-Pro showing from the punter.
N’Keal Harry? Damien Harris?
In a game where the offense scored just three points and gained just 220 yards, it’s slim pickings in the highlight categories.
N’Keal Harry deserves a nod for actually being thrown to down the field and making a contested catch.
N’Keal Harry snatched that 🤭
— B/R Gridiron (@brgridiron) December 11, 2020
Harry might have had a 42-yard touchdown later in the drive if he hadn’t been held after running another double-move.
Damien Harris was also productive. He had 50 yards on 11 carries, which leaves him at a clean 5.0 yards per carry on the season. He left with what looked like a lower back injury, though, so even the positives are negatives in this one.
The veteran safety is probably one of the more underappreciated players on the Patriots, as he’s been willing to do everything asked of him on the defensive side of the ball. That showed on the stat sheet Thursday, when he led the team with 10 total tackles and eight solo tackles, all while shaking off a hand injury suffered in the first half.
Probably not worth throwing a party for that, though.
The Patriots were only four days removed from a 45-0 butt-whooping of the Chargers in SoFi Stadium. Many folks expected them to ride that momentum into this game.
Instead, the Patriots came out flatter than week-old Pepsi.
Jared Goff hit Tyler Higbee for a 25-yard gain on the first play, with the tight end easily shedding Stephon Gilmore’s tackle attempt to gain extra yardage. After a neutral zone infraction by John Simon, Cam Akers burst off the left end for 35 yards to get the Rams to the Patriots’ 10-yard line. Goff scored on a QB keeper from inside the 1-yard line to give L.A. an early lead.
Cam Newton and Co. then went three-and-out, with Damiere Byrd dropping a pass on third down that wouldn’t have moved the sticks even if it had been caught.
Then the Rams got to carving again. Akers ran for 29 yards on three carries, before Goff connected with a wide open Robert Woods for 14 yards on a third-and-12. An intentional grounding set the Rams back a little, but they still managed to get into comfortable field goal range to stretch their lead to 10-0.
The Patriots got the ball back … and promptly went three-and-out.READ MORE: Air Quality Alert Issued As Massachusetts Fire Departments Field Smoke Reports From Western Wildfires
It was about as close to the worst imaginable start as possible for the Patriots.
TO THE HOUSE. Pick-6 for Kenny Young #RamsHouse
— NFL (@NFL) December 11, 2020
Nope. Can’t have it.
Newton threw just 16 passes in a game that the Patriots trailed from wire to wire. How that’s possible in the NFL in 2020 is anyone’s guess, and Newton’s not the only person worthy of blame for the situation. Regardless, the Cam/Josh McDaniels pairing is not quite as exciting as many people anticipated it being.
Speaking of whom …
Down 17-0, the Patriots put together an encouraging drive. They got to the Rams’ 6-yard line for a first-and-goal. From there, things went nowhere.
Damien Harris ran for a yard on first down. Sony Michel ran for two yards on second down. Newton kept the ball on a QB draw on third down; it fooled nobody, and the QB gained just a yard. On fourth-and-goal from the 2-yard line, McDaniels dialed up an option run to the left side. Newton couldn’t pitch it, because the Rams knew it was coming. So he held on to the ball and took the loss of two yards and the turnover on downs. It was a mess.
A first-and-goal from the 6-yard line generally involves the offense at least throwing one pass into the end zone. That was an absolute dagger of a drive-ender from the Patriots’ play-caller.
Overall, McDaniels is now in charge of the NFL’s 25th-ranked offense in terms of yards and 24th-ranked offense in terms of points. A year after the team finished 15th in yards, they’re obviously heading in the wrong direction in Year One of the post-Tom Brady era.
The Rams lined up to go for it on a fourth-and-1 near the Patriots’ goal line late in the third quarter. After trying and failing to get the Patriots to jump offside, they called timeout.
Coming out of that timeout, Goff tried again to get the Patriots to jump. It worked. Akeem Spence got over-eager and jumped into the neutral zone, leading to movement on the O-line, leading to a penalty on the Patriots and a free first down for L.A.
The Rams scored a touchdown on the next play to make it 24-3.
To be fair, the Rams almost certainly would have picked up the yard had Spence not jumped. They were 2-for-2 on fourth-and-short attempts to that point.
Still, that kind of mental mistake is something the Patriots usually exploit in opponents, not commit themselves.
Sacks, sacks, sacks and more sacks. That was the story of the night for the Rams’ defense all night.
A part of that had to do with receivers not getting open, sure. But most of it had to do with protection issues. Most notably, coming out of halftime, both Damien Harris and Jermaine Eluemunor laid out the red carpet for Michael Brockers to sack Newton on the first offensive play of the second half.
— @The_Coach_A (@The_Coach_A) December 11, 2020
Newton was sacked four times, and Jarrett Stidham was sacked twice after he entered the game in the fourth quarter, too.
Fourth Down Defense
We’re overloading the Downs here. Sue me.
The Patriots built their dynasty on routinely outperforming opponents in the most crucial moments. The 2020 Patriots clearly don’t have that it factor, as evidenced by their defensive showing on three fourth down moments for the Rams’ offense.
The first came on the opening drive, when Jared Goff easily scored on a QB keeper from inside the 1-yard line to give L.A. an early lead.
Another came in the third quarter, when Sean McVay decided to go for it on another fourth-and-1 at the Patriots’ 25-yard line. He called a sneak for Goff right up the middle; he easily fell forward for two yards.
Later on that same drive, McVay called timeout after Goff tried unsuccessfully to draw the Patriots offside on a fourth-and-1 at the Patriots’ 4-yard line. The Rams came out of that timeout, Goff barked a call, and as mentioned previously, Spence popped right into the neutral zone, giving the Rams a free first down near the goal line. They scored a play later, and the game was over.
The Patriots had a good night in terms of third-down defense, coming up with stops on 11 of 14 third-down plays. But that effectiveness is severely diminished when the opponent goes 2-for-2 on fourth down, with another first down picked up via penalty.MORE NEWS: Indoor Mask Mandate Begins In Provincetown Due To COVID Cluster