Belichick pulled, among others, Tom Brady, Randy Moss, and Wes Welker. It wouldn’t be a surprise if New England fans stopped watching then, because it seemed that the Patriots had stopped playing, or at least playing to win.
Arguably, victory was no longer an option for New England. They were down by three touchdowns, and putting together three touchdown drives in the closing minutes of a game is almost impossible.
But if any team knows that it’s not completely impossible, it should be New England. After all, the other undefeated team this season, the Colts, did just that against the Pats in Week 10.
From the standpoint of someone who just wanted to see a good, close game, it was disappointing to see Belichick take out Brady and other starters.
If this NFL season has taught us anything, it is that wild finishes are possible. Kansas City came back in the second half and beat Pittsburgh—Kansas City! Matt Stafford turned a Hail Mary pass into a legendary touchdown with no time left on the clock.
In the waning minutes of the game, Tom Brady has been as good as any quarterback who has ever played the game. A touchdown drive can take as little as a minute to put together, and with a little over five minutes left, asking Brady and this usually potent Patriots offense to get back in the game doesn’t seem like an impossible task.
Obviously, Belichick thought otherwise. Maybe he was right; he does have three Super Bowl Rings and an undefeated regular season under his belt, so he does know something about football.
The only reason to take out Brady and his starting bunch for Belichick had to be that the game was over. It can’t be that he wanted to give his second string a shot or that he was worried about injury. After all, Belichick leaves his starters in the game when his team is winning by a large margin late.
Seeing a team defeated before the game is even over isn’t fun for a football fan, but it does happen.
But what should be more troubling for Patriots fans is not that their team was beaten with five to go in the fourth, but that their team looked beaten after Brady’s interception in the second quarter.
The interception, which led to a touchdown for the Saints, was the turning point in the game, and it happened in the second quarter. After that, it never seemed as though the Patriots were in the game.
To not recover from an interception in the first half is a problem for a team going into December. The Patriots have not been a good second half team this year, and it is allowing teams to come from behind and get a win. Or, in the Saints' case, it allowed them to pad their lead without much contention.
Still, this Patriots team needs to play better. Their defense is struggling to stop anybody, and the only road game they won was over Tampa Bay in London.
To make a successful playoff run, a team needs to be able to win on the road and play a full 60 minutes. When Belichick pulled his starters, it felt as though the Patriots were not a team that was going to grind out all four quarters.
One loss to a good team doesn’t make the Patriots a bad team. They will make the playoffs, and once that happens, all regular season bets are off.
Still, New England is going to have to show more grit if they want to make another run at the Super Bowl.