Sloppy Play Leads to a Reality Check for New England Patriots

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The New England Patriots were handed a nice reality check on Sunday night.  The Baltimore Ravens were easily the best team the Patriots have faced all year, and many wondered how the Patriots would look against better competition.  Well, those people get to dance on the Patriots grave for the next two weeks.

Photo courtesy of the Associated Press
I think many Patriots fans understood that this was going to be a tough environment to play in, and that they weren’t going to be able to replicate the types of performances they had put on for the first eight games of the season.  While the ultimate outcome of a loss wasn’t overly surprising, losing by 17 points was.

There’s plenty to unpack.  A lot went wrong, and there’s a lot the Patriots will need to address before their next game.  However, the eternal optimist that I am, I thought there were also some bright spots of that game – mainly on the offensive side of the ball.

This wasn’t how the Patriots wanted to enter their bye week, but it could prove beneficial.  While we’ll have to suffer through two weeks of mind-numbing, “look what happens when they play a real team” chatter, New England will have extra time to reset, and clean things up before traveling to Philadelphia.

The Patriots were uncharacteristically, undisciplined on Sunday night.  They committed some bad penalties, at some bad times.  The neutral zone infraction on the first drive was inexcusable.  That set the tone for an ugly first quarter.  Being down 3-0 after that opening drive would have had a much different feel than 7-0.

We say it all the time for teams that come into Gillette, hoping to beat the Patriots.  You have to play mistake-free football.  You cannot come to Foxboro and expect to beat New England if you turn the ball over and commit silly penalties.  The Pats did both on Sunday night and ultimately paid the price for it.  Against a good team, in a difficult environment, most times you cannot overcome those mistakes.

Another issue was New England's inability to get off of the field.  Baltimore converted on 50% of its third downs.  They had the ball just twice in the second half, and held the ball for just under 18 minutes.  When the Patriots were in desperate need of a stop, they allowed the Ravens to go on 14-play touchdown drives, twice; each lasting over eight minutes.

Through the first eight games of the season, the defense bailed out the offense on numerous occasions.  That was not the case on Sunday night.

Speaking of the offense, though it took some time for them to get going, once they did, they looked pretty good.  There were some encouraging things to take away.  We hadn't really had a chance to see them in an up-tempo, no huddle offense; and early on it showed.  It took some time for them to find their groove, but eventually they did.  During the middle stages of the game, they were moving the ball pretty easily. 

Then the next crucial mistake came, in the form of Julian Edelman's fumble.  New England had closed the first half with an 8-play, 81 yard scoring drive.  That momentum carried over into the second half, as the Patriots were marching downfield and, at the very least, would have had the opportunity to kick a field goal and pull within one.

Instead, Edelman lost the ball, and the Ravens took it 70 yards for a touchdown, and the whole complexion of the game changed.  Who knows what would have happened had he not fumbled.  However, the same could be said about Cyrus Jones' fumble with the Ravens up 17-0 early on.

If he doesn't fumble and hand the Patriots great field position for their first touchdown, maybe they never get back into the game.  Alas, they both fumbled the ball, and with it, their team's momentum at the time.

Another positive was the production from Mohamed Sanu.  He's only been here for a couple of weeks, but based on that performance, it feels like he might be one of the few receivers who are able to catch on to this offense quickly.  Yes, the 10 catches were great, but the thing I liked most was that it didn't feel like Brady was forcing the ball to him.

In the one game that Antonio Brown appeared in, it felt like Brady was making a concerted effort to get Brown the ball, and locking in on him.  It didn't feel that way on Sunday night with Sanu.  It seemed that each throw came within the flow of the offense, and progression of the play.  The interception was bad, but it wasn't like Brady threw it into double or triple coverage.

He just tossed it up, hoping Sanu would go and make a play.  It looked as if Sanu may have stopped running, and had he continued, might have been able to change the outcome of the play.  He may not have caught it, but he could have prevented the interception.  Overall though, it was a very encouraging performance.

The bottom line is this game was lost in the first quarter.  Baltimore was ready to go for this one, and the Patriots didn't match their intensity.  The Ravens fed off the crowd, were aided by some bad penalties by New England, and raced out to a 17-0 lead the Patriots couldn't recover from.

New England controlled the middle stages of this one, but they needed to play flawlessly for the final three quarters after the hole they dug themselves.  Unfortunately, that wasn't the case.  At the moment, it's just one loss.  A bad game against a good opponent.  These types of games can happen over the course of an NFL season.

The Patriots will have plenty of opportunities to put this one behind them moving forward.  Games like this can tell you a lot about the team.  Over the next couple of weeks we'll learn more about this team when we see how they respond.


Follow Derek on Twitter @mcvay34

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Boston Sports Syndicate: Sloppy Play Leads to a Reality Check for New England Patriots
Sloppy Play Leads to a Reality Check for New England Patriots
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