New England Patriots: Similarities Between Super Bowl Loss and Loss to Cardinals

Mark Reynolds@@markreynolds33Correspondent IISeptember 17, 2012

Brady's inability to connect down field is an issue.
Brady's inability to connect down field is an issue.Jim Rogash/Getty Images

The last time the Patriots lost a game was seven months ago, when they were defeated 21-17 in the Super Bowl by the New York Giants.

On Sunday, the Patriots lost 20-18 to the Arizona Cardinals in a game that was eerily similar to the loss to the Giants—though a loss in Week 2 obviously doesn't have the same connotations as losing in the Super Bowl.

In both losses, the Patriots offense was unable to adequately protect Tom Brady against a conservative pass-rushing scheme, throw the ball down the field or adjust to an injury to one of their outstanding tight ends. 

In the loss against the Giants, the Patriots allowed two sacks and eight hits on Brady even though the Giants rarely blitzed. On Sunday, the Patriots' patchwork offensive line allowed four sacks and six hits despite Arizona's equally conservative pass rush.

With Matt Light retiring, Brian Waters missing in action, Dan Koppen getting released and Logan Mankins and Sebastian Vollmer returning to form after offseason surgeries, the Patriots offensive line remains a work in progress. Losing new starting right guard Dan Connolly in Week 1 didn't help matters, as backup right guard Donald Thomas was exposed on Sunday.

Tom Brady remains one of the best quarterbacks in the league, but the deep ball has never been the strength of his game. On Sunday, he missed at least two chances at the home-run ball when he overthrew Brandon Lloyd and Rob Gronkowksi when both players had gotten behind the defense.

Brady overthrew receivers on the deep ball more than any other quarterback in the league last year while completing just 50.5 percent of throws of more than 15 yards. So far this season, Brady is just 6-of-19 on throws of 15 yards or more.

In the loss against the Giants, the Patriots were forced to rely on more three-receiver sets due to the limitations of injured tight end Rob Gronkowksi.

In the loss on Sunday against the Cardinals, the Patriots, who used multiple tight ends on every single play last week against Tennessee, were forced back into their less-effective three-receiver sets on 60 of 82 plays when Aaron Hernandez left the game with an injury during the first quarter.

The strength of the Patriots offense is the versatility and matchup issues created by their young tight ends. Hernandez is not the elite blocker that Gronkowski is, but his combination of size, quickness and vision makes him an impossible matchup for opposing defenses.

If the opposition treats Hernandez as a tight end by staying in their base defense, the Patriots can win the battle with their speed and quickness. If the opposition treats him as a wide receiver by putting an extra defensive back on the field, the Patriots can overwhelm the defense with their power and size.

When Wes Welker or Julian Edelman replaced Hernandez on Sunday, it made the Patriots more predictable and easier to match up with on offense.

On the bright side of things, through two weeks, the Patriots defense appears to be much improved—though playing against limited quarterbacks in Kevin Kolb and Jake Locker certainly has helped matters.

After finishing 29th with 6.0 yards allowed per play last season, the Patriots defense is allowing only 4.3 yards per play so far this season—fifth best in the league

If the defensive improvement is real, the Patriots should be able to eke out some close wins while the offensive line rounds into shape, Hernandez recovers from injury and Brady tries to figure out how to complete a forward pass of more than 15 yards.

If Gronkowski hadn't been called for holding on what would have been a game-winning touchdown, or if Stephen Gostkowski had hit a 42-yard field goal as time expired, the Patriots would have eked a win out on Sunday. Alas, if ifs and buts were candy and nuts, every day would be Christmas and the Patriots would never lose.