After being near the bottom of the league in yards allowed during the last two years, it appeared that the New England Patriots had turned a corner through the first two weeks of the season, allowing an average of only 4.3 yards per play.
Through the first three drives on Sunday night against the Baltimore Ravens, it looked like that positive trend would continue. The Patriots defense forced two three-and-outs and a turnover, helping to build a 13-0 first quarter lead.
From there, the Patriots reverted to being the leaky defense we've grown accustomed to seeing—the Ravens next three drives went as follows: 13 plays, 82 yards, touchdown; 10 plays 92 yards, touchdown; 8 plays, 80 yards, touchdown.
When the Patriots punted twice late in the fourth quarter, there was no doubt in my mind that New England would be unable to stop the Ravens offense, just as they were unable to put together a stop in the Super Bowl against the New York Giants.
Leading 30-21 in the fourth quarter, the Patriots defense surrendered a 92-yard touchdown drive, then a 70-yard drive that led to the game-winning field goal—which may or may not have actually gone through the uprights.
Bill Belichick was furious with the replacement officials, going as far as to grab one of the officials after the game. As embarrassing as the replacement officials have been for the league this season, the performance of the Patriots defense was more to blame for the team's loss on Sunday.
After being stout against the run during the first two weeks, the Patriots allowed 4.7 yards per carry against the Ravens.
The pass rush was non-existent, as Joe Flacco was not touched one time by the Patriots, except on a sack that was nullified by a holding penalty. The Patriots finished with zero sacks and zero quarterback hits. There were only a few times where Flacco was even hurried.
The coverage wasn't much better than the tepid pass rush, as the Patriots' secondary yielded a whopping 9.8 yards per pass attempt, and that figure doesn't include several pass interference and holding penalties. Devin McCourty's pass interference penalty, which was clearly one of the few calls the officials got right, set up the game-winning chip-shot field goal.
In many ways, the loss to Baltimore was reminiscent of the Patriots' heartbreaking Sunday night loss to the Colts in 2009, also known as the 4th-and-2 game. Belichick's gutsy call to go for it in his own territory ultimately backfired when the Patriots failed to convert, and the Colts marched in for the winning score.
In that game, the Patriots offense had a chance to ice a two-score lead in the fourth quarter, but they failed to finish the Colts, leaving the game in the hands of the New England's vulnerable defense.
On Sunday night, the Brady Bunch moved the ball up and down the field on the Ravens, but they failed to execute in the red zone on a few drives and couldn't put the game away in the fourth quarter.
With the Patriots' revealing their true colors against the first good offense they've played this season, guys like Brady, Welker and Gronkowski may have to carry the team again. Perhaps the improved performance during the first two weeks had more to do with the inabilities of Jake Locker and Kevin Kolb then any new-found ability of the New England defense.
The Patriots defense, which yielded 31 points, 503 yards and 7.7 yards per play on Sunday, clearly took a step backwards just as the offense put together an improved performance. At 1-2 for the first time since 2001, things just aren't clicking for New England right now.