Three Reasons to Not Freak Out About the Patriots

For the last decade or so, the Patriots haven’t done much besides win. Which is why it was strange that Sunday’s game always felt like they were going to lose—even when they were up 13 points in the fourth quarter. There were many ominous signs: the defensive secondary was giving up big plays (seriously, I don’t understand why the Seahawks didn’t huck it deep pretty much every time they had the ball), Tom Brady had suddenly gone noodle-armed (he was bouncing passes, threw two interceptions, and easily could have had two more), and the Patriots coaches seemed to forget how to coach (clock management and timeout use was a major issue).

At the end of the first half, the Seahawks all but gift-wrapped points for the Pats when punter Jon Ryan couldn’t catch a snap and turned the ball over at his own 24-yard line. But a combination of letting too much time run-off before calling their timeout and then a bone-headed intentional grounding by Brady kept the Pats off the board. It’s bad mojo when the punter screws up like that and you can’t ensure that there are at least 10 shots of him standing by himself on the sidelines the rest of the game. If you cannot complete the social ostracization of the punter, you cannot win.

The Patriots, at 3-3, have lost three games by a combined four points. And true, at this point, that feels more like an indictment than an excuse. But let’s all take a deep breath. As John McCain might say, the fundamentals of this team are strong. Here are three reasons that the Pats will be just fine:

1. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady did not suddenly become idiots. They both had bad games. But I’d argue that if Tom Brady and Bill Belichick were two of the biggest problems, things will be okay long-term. First, to deal with Belichick, there’s no doubt that the team looked disorganized at points and, as discussed, there were clock issues. In today’s Globe, Dan Shaughnessy attributes this to a core moral failure. I’d argue that Belichick’s morality remained more or less consistent with what it is when the Patriots win. He just happened to make some poor tactical decisions. On the debacle at the end of the first half, Shaughnessy writes:

It was classic New England arrogance. It was the Patriots telling everyone, “We are good enough to go for 6, and run a play that’ll only take five seconds. If by chance we miss the touchdown, we’ll kick the field goal with one second left.’’

This time, it backfired….Justice, 1, Hubris 0.

What Shaughnessy describes as “classic New England arrogance” actually sounds like a pretty good plan to me. It’s just that it was poorly executed. If Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniel call a better play or if Brady throws it away to the sideline like he should have, we’re not having this conversation (Justice 1, Hubris 0, Overwrought moralizing 10,000). And yeah, Brady had a bad game. I suppose he gets one every few years, right?

2. The secondary is awful. But hey, the secondary is always awful. This is a little bit of backwards reasoning, but bear with me: So far this year, the Patriots are giving up 288.8 passing yards per game, good for 28th in the league. But last year they gave up 293.9 passing yards per game, which put them 31st in the league. And they still got to the Super Bowl! Last year, they gave up 21.4 points per game. So far this year, it’s 22.67. Not that much of a difference. (Although, amazingly, that point per game is actually pretty much the difference between 5-1 and 3-3. But we’re going for uplifting here. If you do feel like worrying about all the big plays the D gave up, though, this smart Greg Bedard story is a good place to start.)

3. Everybody stinks. Here’s the biggest reason not to panic. At 3-3, the Patriots are deadlocked with the Bills, Jets, and Dolphins in both first and last place in the AFC East. What a cluster#$&%! Look across the league, and nobody else seems that dominant. We thought the Texans and 49ers were tops, but then they both got whooped yesterday. Even the Ravens, also thought to be one of the best teams in the league, keep surviving by the skin of their teeth. Gone are the days when the Patriots, Steelers, and Colts could run up 14-2 records and stand head and shoulders above the rest of the league. Right now, nobody’s that good, and nobody’s that bad. Let’s just hope the Patriots get better.