Patriots fans need a hug this week.
"Show me a good loser, and I’ll show you a loser."
Vince Lombardi is known for a lot of of great quotes, but that one has always stuck with me. That also might be why guys give me dirty looks when I have the audacity to hustle in pickup basketball games.
The New England Patriots certainly haven't taken their 24-20 loss to the Carolina Panthers lightly. Tom Brady and Ryan Mallett were visibly—and audibly—upset after the game, while Bill Belichick was his normal surly self following a loss.
I won't try and sell you lame platitudes, there is no such thing as a good loss in the National Football League. A three-game lead in the AFC East would have sounded awfully nice to those inhabiting the offices in Gillette Stadium.
Should Luke Kuechly have been flagged for pass interference on Rob Gronkowski?
However, this is a loss in which the Patriots ostensibly played pretty well. They moved the ball with ease against a top defense. They were able to stop a powerful Carolina running attack. There are plenty of sloppy plays that the coaching staff will be sure to point out, but this loss should give Patriots fans a lot of hope going forward.
Here is what you need to know going into Week 12.
Story To Watch
Shane Vereen played an enormous role—he caught eight balls on 11 targets—as the third-down back in his first game since returning from a wrist injury. With Stevan Ridley's ball-security issues, could Vereen be used as more of a workhorse going forward? Field Yates from ESPN.com takes a look at Ridley's future role.
Fellow running back Stevan Ridley found the end zone for the seventh time this season, but that wasn't enough to overshadow his second fumble in as many games. Ridley hasn't hid from his turnovers and took responsibility after the game, but one has to wonder if the team will as readily turn to him again next week.
While Ridley's might be reduced, he is still the best between-the-tackles running back that the Patriots have. LeGarrette Blount has his role to play as well, and I think he will see an increase in carries.
Vereen only toted the ball one time against Carolina. I'd expect to see that number greatly increase this week.
What Needs to Improve
1. Defensive Backfield Health
Dennard is not expected to play Sunday against the Broncos, and it might be even longer than that, according to a source. The timing of the injury is difficult, as the Broncos rank first in points, total yards, passing yards and passing touchdowns.
Add Aqib Talib's hip, Kyle Arrington's thigh and Steve Gregory's wrist to the mix, and you have a truly toxic brew. With Peyton Manning ready to land at Logan Airport later this week, it might be a tough drink to swallow for Patriots fans.
If Gregory is able to return sooner than expected, you might see Devin McCourty play some cornerback. With the emergence of Duron Harmon—who has lived up to his draft status—the Patriots have a little more flexibility. McCourty has proven to be much more comfortable at safety, but he could certainly fill in if needed.
Julian Edelman is also a possibility in dime packages. He has played on the defensive side of the ball before and at the very least has the tackling prowess to minimize damage.
2. Offensive Consistency
The Patriots moved the ball with relative ease against Carolina, considering they were labeled by many as the top defense in the league coming into the game. Each drive that Tom Brady led lasted at least eight plays and crossed midfield.
Unfortunately for the Patriots, inconsistency in play-calling, penalties and missed blocking assignments prevented touchdowns from being scored on five of the seven drives on the night.
Belichick mentioned a few of these plays during his press conference following the game.
I thought we were balanced. We got sacked out of field goal range and we fumbled, then we got a personal foul penalty and that killed our three [first-half] drives.
When the Patriots try to make their way down the field in five-yard chunks, they can't afford to make any mistakes. They'll need to be nearly perfect against the Broncos this Sunday night as well.
3. Quarterback Containment
Michael Buchanan started the year on a tear, notching a sack and looking like he would be a nice addition as a situational pass-rusher. Unfortunately, his containment issues—allowing the quarterback to escape the pocket—proved too costly.
Andre Carter was brought in to fix that issue—he played 19 snaps to Buchanan's zero against Carolina—but he hasn't fared much better. Cam Newton was able to break containment and pick his way down the field far too often on third down.
While Peyton Manning next week isn't a big threat to run, potential playoff games against Alex Smith, Geno Smith, Andrew Luck and a multitude of NFC quarterbacks loom large.
AFC East Results
Despite hellacious winds, EJ Manuel was able to lead the Bills to victory on the strength of his throwing arm. Manuel connected on 20 of 28 passes, racking up 245 yards and a pair of long touchdowns—34 and 43 yards—despite playing without his top two receivers.
Rex Ryan's defensive backfield looked lost, but they weren't the worst thing in green on Sunday. Geno Smith's play was abysmal, throwing three interceptions and fumbling twice. Smith connected on only eight of 23 passes for 103 yards.
Will the AFC East have two playoff teams at the end of the season?
The Jets (5-5) will look to get well against the Baltimore Ravens next week. The Bills (4-7) are on their bye.
Miami was able to shake off all the distractions surrounding their team and play well enough to win, earning a 20-16 victory over San Diego.
Ryan Tannehill led the offense—throwing for 286 yards—while Cameron Wake and the defense stopped Phillip Rivers when it counted. Rivers and Ryan Matthews were able to move the ball, but failing to convert inside the 10-yard line and settling for field goals proved to be the deciding factor for the Chargers.
The Dolphins (5-5) face the Carolina Panthers next Sunday.
The Patriots hold a precarious two-game lead over the Jets and Dolphins with six games remaining on the schedule. With winnable games against the Houston Texans and Cleveland Browns following next week's game against Denver, the Patriots could be able to extend their lead over their AFC East rivals.
|Steve Gregory||Wrist||One-Two Weeks|
|Alfonzo Dennard||Knee||One Week or More|
h/t Boston Herald
With the top three corners dinged up, former Patriots like Hank Poteat, Tyrone Poole and Earthwind Moreland might be patiently waiting by the phone. I might be kidding, but the situation in the defensive backfield is pretty dire at this point.
Logan Ryan has acquitted himself pretty well this year, but he is a rookie who will be hard-pressed to play at a high level for 60 minutes. Marquice Cole is a special teams ace that should only be used in the slot when needed.
Any way you look at it, the Patriots couldn't have a worse opponent this week, with the high-flying aerial attack of the Broncos headed to town.
All stats courtesy of NFL.com and the Patriots' official media site.