Plain and simple: The Patriots didn’t deserve to win this game.
Despite being handed a free shot at vindicating themselves for a day marked by turnovers, poor special teams play and a potentially catastrophic injury, the normally flawless Patriots failed to execute in the most important of times.
Sunday’s 20-18 loss to the Arizona Cardinals proved the Patriots are more than mortal—they’re in disarray.
The offensive line has taken a substantial step back without Matt Light and Brian Waters, Tom Brady and Brandon Lloyd still aren’t operating at full potential and Wes Welker has apparently fallen behind Julian Edelman—the kid who ended up playing corner last season.
Combined with the loss of Aaron Hernandez to what looks to be a serious high ankle sprain, the Patriots vaunted offense looked downright pathetic for most of the day. Luckily, the defense put on a clinic, shutting down All-Pro receiver Larry Fitzgerald.
However, with Hernandez reportedly sidelined for the next six weeks, and the Welker situation looming, there isn’t a lot of confidence surrounding next week’s matchup with the dangerous Baltimore Ravens.
There wasn’t a whole lot to cheer about on Sunday, but let’s take a look at this week’s risers and fallers.
1. Devin McCourty: In perhaps his toughest matchup of the year, Devin McCourty came out on top. New England’s 2010 first-round pick has rebounded nicely from a poor 2011 season, and Sunday’s performance may have been one of the best of his young career. The 5’10” McCourty, along with the rest of the Patriots secondary, held perennial All-Pro Larry Fitzgerald to a single reception for four yards. After struggling with bigger receivers last year, McCourty showed impressive technique to prevent Fitzgerald from reeling in a goal-line touchdown on a fade route. If he continues to play this way, the secondary may not be such a hindrance anymore.
2. Brandon Spikes: Another member of the 2010 draft class, Spikes made the play of the game when he dislodged the ball from Ryan Williams with the crown of his helmet on what should have been the clinching play for Arizona. The 6’2”, 255-pound man-beast logged seven tackles, including one for loss, and two quarterback hits. Spikes’ strong play in the middle has been one of the reasons why New England is limiting opponents to just 2.6 yards per carry.
3. Chandler Jones: New England’s top pick didn’t register a sack, but he became D’Anthony Baptiste’s worst nightmare. The long-armed, cat-quick right end consistently beat Baptiste around the edge, forcing Kevin Kolb to get rid of the ball early. Jones also set the edge well in the run game, recording a big tackle for loss. Once dubbed a project, Jones is clearly NFL-ready.
1. Coaching staff: It pains me to say this, but Bill Belichick and his staff were thoroughly out-coached on Sunday. No one seems to know what’s going on with Wes Welker’s playing time, but I don’t see how this team is better with him on the bench. Belichick also blew a timeout on an unsuccessful challenge and didn’t seem to make any significant second-half adjustments. Josh McDaniels’ play calling was baffling at times, especially on the Patriots’ final possession. To make matters worse, the special teams might have cost the team the game by allowing a blocked punt and missing the game-winning field goal.
2. Offensive line: Losing Aaron Hernandez certainly factored in the offense’s poor showing, but the offensive line continues to be a weak spot. The right side of the line, especially right guard Donald Thomas, has struggled to give Tom Brady time in the pocket. When Calais Campbell (a 3-4 defensive end) records 10 tackles, two sacks and three quarterback hits, your line just isn’t getting the job done. Maybe it’s time to give Brian Waters a call, Bill.
3. Brandon Lloyd: Despite leading the team with eight receptions, Lloyd failed to make a big impact in this game. For a guy dubbed as a premier outside threat, registering a 7.5 yards per catch average is abysmal. Lloyd didn’t make any plays after the catch and failed to reel in a deep bomb. With Hernandez out for the foreseeable future, Lloyd needs to become the big-play receiver we brought him in to be.