This loss can’t be an easy one to swallow for a New England Patriots fan. The Patriots held a 23-10 lead in the fourth quarter, but big plays allowed by the pass defense, paired with an inability to make plays on offense, allowed the game to slip away in the final minutes.
With just 1:18 left to play in the game, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson hit wide receiver Sidney Rice on a 46-yard pass to the end zone over the top of the defense, and their defense held strong for a 1-point victory, vaulting the Seahawks to a 4-2 record, but dropping the Patriots to a disappointing 3-3, and a four-way tie in the AFC East.
Where can blame be apportioned among the Patriots’ roster for their loss? Read through the following slides for my take.
Tom Brady: C
This game was far from being one of Tom Brady’s shining moments as an NFL quarterback. While Brady did throw for 395 yards, he did so on 58 throws, of which he only completed 36. Brady was off the mark too often with his throws in this game, and had two passes intercepted out of five total passes that were either intercepted or close to being intercepted.
Brady does deserve some credit. He did throw for nearly 400 yards against arguably the NFL’s best pass defense, and did a great job standing in against pressure, something he had not done often in previous weeks, while he certainly faced a lot of pressure in this game.
Overall, however, the positive of Brady’s day are overshadowed by the negatives: he was too mistake-prone, with two intentional grounding calls on top of his two interceptions, and he was unable to get anything going for the offense when they needed to mount a drive late in the game.
Stevan Ridley: D
Right when we thought the Patriots were emerging as a team that could run to set up the pass, and Stevan Ridley was emerging as a star running back, he was absolutely shut down by the Seahawks’ defense. Ridley had exactly two yards per touch in this game, with 34 yards gained on 16 carries and one reception.
With a long gain of just six yards, Ridley was unable to break through at any point in this game. While this is was certainly not all his fault, as the Seahawks’ defensive front overwhelmed the Patriots’ offensive line, it was a day that didn’t play well into Ridley’s power running game, and he did nothing to help the Patriots in this game.
Danny Woodhead: B
In a game where the Patriots had no power rushing offense, quicker back Danny Woodhead had the most success among the Patriots’ three running backs who played. Woodhead made some plays for the Patriots as both a runner and receiver, gaining a total of 71 yards of nine touches.
Four of Woodhead’s nine touches were good for first-down gains.
Brandon Bolden: B-
While Stevan Ridley had no success in the power running game, Brandon Bolden did have some success in the second quarter, and had a total of six carries for 28 yards. Unfortunately for Bolden, he suffered a knee injury in that second quarter, and did not return.
Wes Welker: A+
It was once feared that Wes Welker was being “phased out” of the Patriots’ offense, but instead, he has once again become the Patriots’ star at wide receiver. Welker had another tremendous game versus the Seahawks, catching 10 passes for 138 yards.
Welker’s big day in the passing offense included a terrific catch on his inside shoulder which he finished off with a dive to the pylon for a 46-yard touchdown. He also had a fantastic day filling in as the team’s punt returner, with four punt returns for a tremendous average of 17 yards per return.
Brandon Lloyd: B+
Brandon Lloyd also had a very strong day in the pass receiving game for the New England Patriots. Lloyd got it going early in the first quarter with one of his signature, toe-tapping sideline grabs for a 20-yard gain, and he was a consistent downfield receiving target throughout the game, catching six passes for 80 yards.
It may not have been all good news for the Patriots: Lloyd made a fantastic effort to lay out for a pass out of bounds on the team’s final drive, but landed hard on the play and may have suffered an injury, as he left the game. As of the time of publication, however, no further information on his injury had been reported.
Deion Branch: C-
In a game where the Patriots weren’t able to establish much in the running game, Deion Branch wasn’t very useful as a blocker, and he made a minimal impact in the passing game, catching just one pass for five yards. Branch was targeted four times, and was unable to make a play on an underthrown ball where Richard Sherman established inside position against him, and used his size advantage to intercept a Tom Brady pass.
Aaron Hernandez's touchdown catch
Aaron Hernandez: B+
After suffering a high-ankle sprain in the Patriots’ Week 2 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, it was expected that Aaron Hernandez would be out until at least the Patriots’ bye week in Week 9. Hernandez returned for Sunday’s game versus the Seahawks, and although he played in limited action, he was effective when he was on the field.
Hernandez caught a pass on the game’s first play from scrimmage, and he ended up with six catches for 30 yards, including a leaping touchdown grab in the second quarter.
Rob Gronkowski: B
Rob Gronkowski didn’t stand out in this game, but he was as reliable as ever, catching six passes for 61 yards. At one point in the game, he had receptions on three consecutive plays. He did not do anything special as a blocker in this game nor any major plays as a receiver, but he didn’t let the Patriots down either.
Daniel Fells: B+
With just one catch through the first five games of the Patriots’ season, Daniel Fells seemed destined for non-factor status this season with the team. Fells broke out of that shell on Sunday, making one of the game’s biggest plays with a beautiful diving 35-yard catch.
The catch was Fells’ only notable moment of the game, but for a third-string tight end not expected to make a big impact, this play gets him a good grade.
Nate Solder and Tom Brady
Nate Solder: C
Left tackle Nate Solder has made huge strides in the early part of this season, but he looked overmatched on Sunday. Working against one of the best pass-rushes in the league in Seahawks defensive end Chris Clemons, he had significant trouble keeping pressure off of Tom Brady’s blindside.
Clemons was credited with three quarterback hits in the game, and forced the fourth-quarter intentional grounding that helped thwart the last significant offensive drive in the game for the Patriots.
Additionally, Solder was dominated in the run game, as he was unable to pave the big holes on the left side of the field that he had in two previous games.
Sebastian Vollmer: C
Like Nate Solder, right tackle Sebastian Vollmer, who has battled back problems all season, also looked overmatched in this game. Vollmer gave up heavy pressure while working against both Red Bryant and Bruce Irvin, and was consistently driven back in run blocking situations.
Vollmer was also called for a false start in the first quarter.
Logan Mankins: B
Left guard Logan Mankins had the most steady of any of the Patriots’ offensive linemen. Mankins did not do much to rectify the Patriots’ lack of a power running game, but he did a good job in not allowing pass-rush pressure at his spot. Overall, he more than held his own against Seahawks defensive tackle Brandon Mebane.
Ryan Wendell: C-
The Patriots were unable to establish any ground game up the middle, and a big reason for that was Ryan Wendell being overpowered by the Seahawks’ interior defensive front.
Wendell also made a near-costly mistake when he sent a shotgun snap back too high to Tom Brady, which nearly caused a fumble or sack, but was lucky Brady was able to throw the ball away out of bounds.
The Patriots’ center has had better days.
Dan Connolly: C+
Right guard Dan Connolly may have been the Patriots’ best run blocker in the game, but he had a lot of trouble going up against Seahawks defensive tackle Jason Jones in pass protection. Jones overwhelmed him to bring inside pressure against Brady, including a big sack on the Patriots’ final drive which helped shut down the Patriots’ offense to four-downs-and-out.
Chandler Jones taking on a double-team
Chandler Jones: A
The Patriots did not have a great day bringing pressure against the quarterback, but the one player in the Patriots’ defensive front who did often was defensive end Chandler Jones. The potential Defensive Rookie of the Year continued to fill up the stat sheet on Sunday, leading the Patriots with nine tackles, and having the first two-sack game of his young career.
Jones forced a fumble on one of those sacks, which led to a Patriots field goal, and he consistently made plays both as a pass-rusher and as a run-stopper. The Patriots’ defense has some serious problems, but at least they have an emerging star at defensive end.
Vince Wilfork: B+
Vince Wilfork led a strong run defense effort in this game for the Patriots, and he also made his impact as a pass-rusher. Late in the fourth quarter, Wilfork made a big pass-rush and hit on the quarterback to force an incompletion on 3rd and 3, which thwarted what appeared to be a very important Seahawks drive at the time.
The most memorable play of Wilfork’s game, however, was actually a negative one. On Wilfork’s first play of the game, he was literally in the Seahawks’ backfield before the ball was snapped; that was an impressive display of his athleticism, but also an offsides penalty.
Kyle Love: B
Kyle Love had a solid game inside for the Patriots’ defense. He brought a strong push in the interior run defense, which helped to hold the Seahawks to just 85 rushing yards. He was in on three tackles for the game.
Jermaine Cunningham: C-
With Rob Ninkovich spending a large part of the game playing at strongside linebacker, Cunningham got the start for the Patriots in his place across from Chandler Jones at defensive end. Cunningham made very little impact in the game.
For the most part, Cunningham was dominated in run defense by Seahawks right tackle Breno Giacomini — who is not one of the NFL’s better right tackles — and he made little impact as a pass-rusher.
Brandon Spikes: A-
When Brandon Spikes is on top of his game, he can be a star at middle linebacker, and Sunday was one of those days.
Spikes made two tremendous run blitz where he flew through a gap and met Marshawn Lynch immediately, both times as tackles for loss. Spikes also contributed as a blitzing pass-rusher in this game, showing more skill than usual in that area.
Spikes’ game wasn’t without its errors. A dumb late hit against Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson added 15 extra yards onto a 51-yard completion to Golden Tate.
He was also beaten on a 22-yard pass to Zach Miller, but he really can’t be faulted for that: Wilson threw the ball high and away from Spikes, and Miller made a great catch to fight through Spikes’ coverage to jump above him and make the catch.
Overall, Spikes was on point in this game, and deserves one of the defense’s high marks.
Jerod Mayo: B+
Outside linebacker Jerod Mayo was in on many plays in this game, coming up with eight total tackles. Mayo also made one of the final big defensive plays of the game, when he ripped the football away from Zach Miller following a catch to force a fumble, then retrieved the football himself from the pile for a takeaway.
Rob Ninkovich: B+
With injuries to both Dont’a Hightower and Tracy White at outside linebacker, the Patriots had no one in line to start at strongside linebacker in their 4-3 base defense, and turned to Rob Ninkovich, whose natural position is at defensive end, to convert back to linebacker and fill that void.
Ninkovich did an admirable job filling in that capacity. He made an immediate impact, making a tackle in space at the line of scrimmage for no gain in the first quarter, and getting in on another tackle for loss later in the game. Ninkovich was also the player in position to recover the fumble forced by Chandler Jones’ strip sack.
Ninkovich is not a natural fit to play linebacker in a 4-3, but he stepped up to the plate where he was needed and was not a liability.
Tavon Wilson burned by Sidney Rice
Devin McCourty: B-
Every defensive back who played a significant role for the Patriots in this game gave up a big play, including their top cornerback Devin McCourty. McCourty got burned on a 51-yard deep post route by Golden Tate, by allowing Tate to get inside position deep downfield, and making no play to break up a deep ball heaved into the middle by Russell Wilson.
Of any of the Patriots’ defensive backs in the game, however, McCourty was the best. Aside from being beat on that one play, McCourty did a solid job over the course of the day, making multiple plays to break up passes intended for the Seahawks’ top wideout, Sidney Rice.
McCourty was also effective as a run defender, coming up with a tackle for loss, as well as a big hit on a screen pass to Tate just three plays after giving up the big play, to at least partially redeem himself for giving up the big play.
Kyle Arrington: C
On the Seahawks’ second drive of the game, wide receiver Doug Baldwin absolutely owned Patriots cornerback Kyle Arrington. First, Baldwin beat Arrington on a deep post into the middle of the field, gaining separation from Arrington for a 50-yard catch. Four plays later, Baldwin boxed out Arrington like a basketball player to make a 24-yard catch in the end zone.
Arrington was better from that point on in the game, but his grade is hurt for being at fault for nearly an entire Seahawks touchdown drive.
Patrick Chung: D
Patrick Chung may be a big hitter for the Patriots at strong safety, but he’s proving to be a liability in pass coverage, and that was certainly on display on Sunday.
Chung was first beaten on the first drive of the game, when he pushed off of Sidney Rice, drawing a flag for illegal contact, then allowed Rice to separate from him for a 29-yard reception. Later, Chung was burned even worse when the Patriots were fooled on a double pass from Sidney Rice to Golden Tate, and Chung was forced to tackle Tate for a 40-yard pass interference penalty to avoid giving up a big play.
Chung left the game early in the fourth quarter with a shoulder injury, and his absence came before even more big pass plays in the middle of the field, but the damage was already done.
Tavon Wilson: C
Rookie free safety Tavon Wilson has been a pleasant surprise early this season, and for much of the game, he had a solid game, including an impressive play in deep centerfield where he came in from behind against a receiver to swat down a pass like a volleyball spike.
When Patrick Chung left the game, however, Wilson moved over to fill his spot, and he ended up getting burned worse than any other defensive back in the game. On the Seahawks’ game-winning drive, Wilson was beat badly by Sidney Rice on a deep post route, which allowed Rice to get wide open in the end zone in the middle of the field for a 46-yard touchdown.
Wilson has had some great moments in his young career, but he was certainly humbled as the victim of the last play that cost the Patriots the game.
Alfonzo Dennard: C+
Another rookie who was humbled in getting beat badly on a big play was cornerback Alfonzo Dennard. Not many passes were completed against Dennard in this game, and he even had a huge 6-yard tackle for loss by reading a screen pass before it was even thrown, but like Wilson, he was responsible for giving up a touchdown pass.
On a crucial 4th and 3, Dennard was completely out of position to cover Braylon Edwards on the left side of the end zone. Dennard was caught face-guarding Edwards, looked completely lost as he turned around, and he pushed Edwards to draw a pass interference call, but still gave up the 10-yard catch.
Dennard’s progress has been promising in his two games played this season, but his rookie mistake hurts his grade.
Nate Ebner: C
With both starting safeties out of the game, Nate Ebner was called upon to enter the lineup alongside Tavon Wilson once Patrick Chung left with injury. Ebner did not have much chance to make an impact, but on the one opportunity he did, he failed.
While it was Wilson who was beat for the big, game-winning Rice touchdown catch, Ebner should have been in position to make some sort of play as the play came into the middle of the field. Instead, Ebner was a good five yards behind the play, and was able to make no impact on the outcome of the play.
Trevor Scott tracking down Jon Ryan on botched Seahawks punt
Stephen Gostkowski: A
There is nothing to fault Stephen Gostkowski on in this game. Gostkowski made all three of his field goal attempts, and put four of his six kickoffs through the end zone for touchbacks, so his performance earns him an A.
Zoltan Mesko: B
Zoltan Mesko had a solid overall game, with an average of 44.3 yards per punt on three punts, including two punts inside the 20-yard line. However, his final 39-yard punt was ineffective, and led to a 25-yard punt return.
Mesko did not get enough hangtime on his punt, which left his punt coverage team too far back when Leon Washington caught the punt, and allowed Washington to catch the coverage out of position for a 25-yard return.
Danny Aiken: B+
In a game where rain caused an issue for snapping, including a completely-botched punt play for the Seahawks, long snapper Danny Aiken earns a special mention for having no issues snapping the ball in the game.
Bobby Carpenter: B+
The New England Patriots haven’t been using Bobby Carpenter at all on defense, but among special teams players in this game, Carpenter stood out. Carpenter led a four-man tackling effort on the Seahawks’ botched punt play at the 24-yard line, and also led a great tackle on a Leon Washington kickoff return at the 15-yard line.
Coaching Staff: D+
The coaching staff had to burn all three of their timeouts before they ideally would have used them in the second half, and that came back to bite the Patriots in the end. The coaching staff could only watch as their team collapsed right in front of them in the fourth quarter, and they now have some serious work to do to teach their team how to finish out close games, which has been a serious problem for them this season.
Josh McDaniels/Offensive Coaches: C
The Patriots’ fourth-quarter offensive gameplan has run stale much too often this season, and that was once again the case in Seattle. With crowd noise keeping the Patriots from being able to get in a rhythm with no-huddle offense, the Patriots’ gameplan became much too predictable.
On their second-to-last offensive series, the Patriots were too conservative, trying to go back to a power running game that hadn’t worked all day, and unsurprisingly, it didn’t work then either. On the next series, the Patriots were unable to come up with any plays that would catch the Seahawks’ defense off-guard (which to the Seahawks’ credit, is hard to do), and did not even gain a single first down.
Lack of offensive preparedness also led to burning two of the timeouts before the final five minutes of the game.
Matt Patricia/Defensive Coaches: D
The Patriots’ pass defense could not find a way to slow down one of the league’s worst passing offenses. The Seahawks came into the game with just 147 passing yards per game, but the Patriots allowed them to throw for 283, even without any consistent intermediate passing game.
Defensive coordinator Matt Patricia and his position coaches have some serious work to do to get their defense bringing more pressure and playing better in pass coverage, so that the big plays allowed on Sunday do not continue to happen each week.
Dan Hope is the New England Patriots game day correspondent and an NFL draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. For more coverage of the Patriots, follow him on Twitter @Dan_Hope.