No Heartbeat in Foxborough: What's Wrong with the Patriots?

Henry HAnalyst IOctober 15, 2008

You watched the Sunday Night Football telecast on NBC. You heard Al Michaels and John Madden talk about nothing in particular, and you saw the New England Patriots get embarrassed on the road in Qualcomm Stadium at the hands of the San Diego Chargers.

Why? The Patriots, even without Tom Brady, still have Randy Moss and all the offensive weapons. They still have Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels calling the plays from the same playbook, and they still have Richard Seymour and Vince Wilfork anchoring the 3-4 defense with Jerod Mayo, a good-looking rookie outside linebacker in place of the released Rosevelt Colvin.

Did I mention they still have everything...everything except Tom Brady? When Kansas City Chiefs safety Bernard Pollard grabbed the ankle of No. 12 in week one, the New England Patriots organization fell down awkwardly and screamed right along with him.

Matt Cassel, the lifetime backup who hadn't started a game of football since high school, stepped onto the field and the slightly shell shocked Patriots played mediocre football and came away beating the hapless Chiefs 17-10.

Cassel stepped up week two, and the Patriots looked as if they might be alright, if not among the top five offenses in the league. But as you saw, they are not alright; they are clearly in trouble.

I think the problem is not Brady's injury, per se, but a total loss of confidence and heart from every single player in that locker room. Clearly, losing last season's MVP, the man who set the single-season touchdown pass record hurts your aerial attack, but intangibly it hurts even more.

Randy Moss is clearly starting to "tank it," not fighting for passes or putting on the extra burst to get to an off-target pass. The offensive line is being manhandled, and letting the pocket collapse quickly. The defensive line is not getting a forceful push at the opposing quarterback and the secondary gave up several big plays and looked simply over-matched.

The Patriot defense has gotten old, and they have great difficulty recognizing plays and stopping strong offenses. The Dolphins ran their now infamous "Wildcat" formation several times on the Patriot defense and Ronnie Brown had a record-setting day, ripping them up for five total touchdowns.

Philip Rivers, Vincent Jackson, and the Chargers took no pity on the unit either, running it up on them, just as the Patriots became known for a season ago. And the Patriot players—offense and defense—all look discouraged, lost, and upset on the sidelines.

I am a strong believer that anything can happen in the NFL, and you should never be surprised by the ending in a game of football. A team that plays with strong emotion can beat a team that is clearly better, just as the Chiefs did to my Denver Broncos two weeks ago.

The Patriots can turn this thing around and be a nine or 10 win team, but the first step is regaining their confidence and playing with emotion.