WHEN an official interjects himself by calling a questionable penalty on an obscure rule in the middle of overtime, and that judgment gives a team a second – and 15 yards easier – attempt at a game-winning field goal, fans of the offending team are going to focus on that call as they come to grips with that defeat.
This morning, the fans feeling wronged are those who root for the Patriots. All tied with the Jets, it looked as though New England was about to take over near midfield when Nick Folk yanked a 56-yard field goal attempt in the extra period, but instead rookie Chris Jones was flagged for pushing his teammate as they tried to block that kick, and the personal foul allowed New York the fresh set of downs they used to boot the 42-yarder that clinched a 30-27 victory.
Meant to protect offensive linemen, the rule is new this season, and it’s natural that Patriots fans were frustrated about its enforcement, considering that former NFL head of officiating Mike Pereira said on Twitter that it’s the first time it has been called. And that no matter how loose its enforcement has been league-wide, Bill Belichick didn’t see any violation of Rule 9-1-3, at least as he understands it and as the officials explained their reasoning to him.
“You can’t push on the second level,” said the coach, “and I don’t think we did that.”
Replays aired during the live television broadcast were inconclusive, so Patriots fans were left to find alternative video sources to see why the call was made — or perhaps why it was wrong. But if they’re going to that footage to look at why their Pats lost a division game, and a chance to move to 6-1, they shouldn’t waste their time on that play.
Instead, look at the third down opportunities for the Patriot offense. New England had a dozen of them, but converted only one, which was a major factor in the Jets’ 46:13-23:40 advantage in time of possession, and in eight of 13 Patriot drives lasting five players or fewer.
“One of 12,” quarterback Tom Brady said, “you’re not going to win many football games 1 of 12.”
Look at the Jets’ efficiency on third down by comparison. Led by rookie quarterback Geno Smith, New York was 11-for-21 overall, moving the chains when in situations that required them to gain 10, 14 and 21 yards, and scoring a touchdown on third and seven.
Look at the brutal offensive sequence for New England to start the second half. Going to intermission with a 21-10 lead, they received the opening kickoff with what Brady called, “a great opportunity to take control of the game.” Instead, the quarterback threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown on the first series, then the next three all ended with three plays and a punt, and Brady’s attack totaled negative-5 yards between those four possessions.
Look at the Patriots scoring only six points over the final 45 minutes of play, and not even getting to the red zone after the second quarter.
Look at the New England offensive line allowing four sacks, which brings their total to 13 in the past three games, and puts Brady on a pace to be dropped 46 times this season. Not since 2001 has he been sacked more than 32 times in a whole year.
Look at the inability of the Patriots secondary to cover for the absence of cornerback Aqib Talib. Rookie Logan Ryan returned an interception for a touchdown, but the bigger problem was putting more responsibility on Kyle Arrington, whose coverage seemed to be a favorite target of Smith.
Look at the missed opportunities, particularly for Rob Gronkowski. The big tight end got back in the lineup for the first time this season — and Brady subsequently threw to him 17 times, more than any two other receivers combined. He caught eight of them for 114 yards, though he didn’t grab two probable touchdowns — one of which he lost in the sun, and another on which he couldn’t haul in a one-handed grab up the seam.
“He probably makes that 99 of 100,” Brady lamented.
Look at Brady, too, though. Hurt again by a few drops, he hit on just 22 of 46 throws, and thus completed less than half his passes for the third time in seven games this season. He also failed to throw a touchdown pass for the second time in three weeks after tossing at least one in every game for more than three seasons.
“We’re close, and we’re close a lot,” he said. “We just have to start making them. From all of us — balls have to be better thrown, everyone has to look at themselves and do a better job, because what we’re doing right now isn’t good enough.”
Look at 100 yards worth of penalties. Look at the shoddy tackling partially to blame for the Jets’ Chris Ivory gaining 104 yards on 34 carries. Look at how badly the Pats lost the field position battle throughout the second half. Look at the lack of offensive balance between the run (20 attempts) and the pass (46) for New England. Look at the injury report, showing Talib, Tommy Kelly and Danny Amendola all inactive, and the likes of Jerod Mayo and Vince Wilfork finished for the season.
Looking at that, one could, theoretically, take a positive from the fact the depleted Patriots were even in the game and had a chance to win on the road. But even with New England’s injuries, the Jets aren’t a team the Patriots should lose to. Particularly after holding an 11-point second-half lead, and getting the ball to start overtime. This was a game they should have — and could have — won.
So don’t look at the refs when trying to pin blame why they didn’t.
“There are no excuses,” Brady said. “We didn’t play well.”
Dave D’Onofrio covers the Patriots for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.