The 2009 Sunday game against the Indianapolis Colts saw Peyton Manning moving down a short field almost effortlessly to score with seconds remaining on the clock and steal a victory from the Patriots, in a game during which they had led almost the entire time. The Patriots had failed to convert on fourth-and-two deep in their own territory, leaving a short field for Manning to score.
On Sunday night, after the Patriots failed to produce any points to seal the game, their final two drives against Baltimore showed the writing was already on the wall: The way the defense had been playing in the second half didn’t leave any doubt that the Ravens were at least going to get into a field goal position.
A few big plays and a couple of calls later, the game was over. The Patriots walked away from a second consecutive loss in the final moments, after the offense had failed to convert on opportunities.
The Week 3 loss left New England fans thinking, “Did that just happen again?”
This seems to be the Patriots' M.O. in close games of late. While it’s tough to pinpoint the exact reason for the tightness on the field, much of the blame must be put squarely upon the team's own shoulders.
The Patriots strive for perfection every year, and, with a team so loaded with talent, huge expectations are put on New England. In big games, however, the entire body language and feeling of the game change when things are on the line.
The same relaxed urgency that the team plays with in the first three quarters seems to disappear by the fourth quarter, and we see the same types of mistakes that have plagued New England for the last five years.
Back-to-back losses to good teams shouldn’t signal a time to panic, however. This veteran team has seen a variety of challenges in its time together.
What should cause panic is the way New England lost the games: the same method that seems to doom the Patriots year in and year out. Even their recent Super Bowl losses to the New York Giants saw the Patriots’ offense failing to convert on key drives to ice the games.
So, will Week 3 be a wake-up call for the Patriots?
All signs point to yes. This team needs to turn things around quickly. The players are savvy and understand the magnitude of this game.
The team’s schedule still looks to be one of the easiest in the league for the remainder of the season, but a repeat of their 2011 14-2 season seems like a long shot.
Head coach Bill Belichick’s stay-the-course game play has proven to be successful, but only when his offense is putting up big numbers and forcing the opposing offense into making mistakes when they are playing catch-up.
Tom Brady and his New England offense need to find that killer instinct to put teams away in the fourth quarter when they have the opportunity. The wake-up call ultimately needs to come on offense. Brady is too good, and the offense too talented, not to start producing at crunch time.
Brady will right the ship in the Week 4 matchup against the Buffalo Bills, who haven’t been able to stop anyone, and whose thought-to-be-improved defensive line has not produced like they thought it would. Hopefully the Patriots offense will wake up and score a lot of points.
The true value of the Patriots defense will be tested as the season wears on, but Week 4's game is a good time to get things turned around by starting to create turnovers and stopping teams on critical drives.
Who should the Patriots look to in Week 4?
Gronk has yet to have a big game. His counterpart being hurt has played into that, but in order to get the offense rolling, Gronk has to be a bigger part of the game plan. I see him playing a bigger role this week.
Jones had a great Week 1 game but has failed to make much noise in the last two. He is a freak athlete with good technique, and with the Bills having trouble protecting Ryan Fitzpatrick this season, expect Jones to cause some trouble and force the Bills into making some errors.
Brady is primed to start connecting with all of his receivers. The feeling from the first three games of the season was that he was getting a feel for what game speed looks for the team. Brandon Lloyd is a far cry from Randy Moss, but if Brady can start connecting with him on plays longer than 15 yards, expect the offense to be good.