Last year, the New England Patriots gave up over 400 yards per game, and most of that damage came through the air. Players like Tyler Palko were able to throw for 230 yards against a secondary that had more holes than a kindergarten sand box.
After drafting Patrick Chung, Devin McCourty and Ras-I Dowling in three straight drafts starting in 2009, one could easily assume that by 2012, the Patriots would have one fearsome secondary. Throw in guys like Sterling Moore and Kyle Arrington as auxiliary players, and the foundation is definitely there.
However, McCourty has been in a constant state of regression since his Pro Bowl rookie year, Chung has dealt with injury issues and Dowling has struggled to get on the field at all. Moore and Arrington have been called upon to be key players on this defense, and that is just no good for anybody.
On Sunday night, Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens passed for 382 yards and three touchdowns on 39 passing attempts. Flacco picked on—and apart—the secondary all night, forcing them into situations that led to big pass interference penalties. McCourty's penalty on the final drive let the Ravens set up a 27-yard field goal to win the game.
Flacco is now 50-of-75 (75 percent) for 688 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions in his last two games against the Patriots. He has taken advantage of this secondary and dominated them to the point that New England fans should be legitimately concerned with the possibility of having to go back to M&T Bank Stadium come January.
This is bigger than Flacco, though, bigger than the Ravens. This Patriots' defense looked like they are incapable of stopping any offense with a semi-legitimate quarterback and with a few left on the 2012 slate, they will need to figure something out and do so fast.
Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Buffalo Bills are next on the schedule and Fitzy's numbers against the Patriots don't look favorable for the defending AFC champions, either. In two games last year, Fitzpatrick lit the defense up on 56-of-86 (65 percent) passing for 676 yards, four touchdowns and six interceptions.
The Patriots patented "bend but don't break" defense broke on Sunday, and if they aren't careful, they could be broken again. And again. And again.