New England Patriots' Super Bowl Hopes Dashed: What Went Wrong Against the Jets?

C Douglas BakerSenior Analyst IJanuary 18, 2011

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 16:  Darrelle Revis #24 of the New York Jets breaks up a pass intended for Deion Branch #84 of the New England Patriots during their 2011 AFC divisional playoff game at Gillette Stadium on January 16, 2011 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Al Bello/Getty Images

The New England Patriots' 28-21 loss to their hated rival New York Jets in the 2010 divisional playoff round is a bitter, bitter pill to swallow for Patriots fans.  But the bottom line is the Patriots got out-played and out-coached and the New York Jets deserve their victory.

That leaves one wondering, what went wrong?  Well, a lot went wrong.  Here is my take on the game with the keys to the Jets victory.

Defensive Game Plan

I would not call the Jets defensive game plan brilliant because it was copied from the San Diego Chargers, and ironically, the Cleveland Browns (who Rex Ryan’s brother Rob Ryan was the defensive coordinator of at the time). 

Once the Patriots jettisoned Randy Moss earlier this year, they really lost their only deep threat on offense.  Brandon Tate was the most likely candidate to fulfill this role, but at this stage in his early career, he just hasn’t come through.  Thus, New England eventually thrived on a short passing game and the run.

Shortly after New England booted Moss to the curb, the San Diego Chargers played a perfect defensive game against them.  What did they do?  They didn’t blitz Brady leaving openings in the short passing game that he has so thoroughly exploited against most teams after that. 

They simply threw a lot of defensive backs into the game and blanketed the smallish wide receiving crew.  As a result Brady had nowhere to go with the ball and was harassed all day in the pocket, not because of a great pass rush, but because the coverage was so good.  The only reason the Patriots won that game is gaffes and turnovers by the Chargers.

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The Cleveland Browns did the same thing to the offense, while gashing the very young defense in the running game for a blowout victory. 

The Jets replicated that and with two of the best cornerbacks in the league.  They covered the receivers and got what I consider coverage sacks on Tom Brady.  And later in the game when the Patriots seemed to be making a comeback, they ran the ball effectively, but ate up so much of the clock they left little time to complete the comeback.

In their second meeting the Jets blitzed, Brady exploited it and the Patriots got a lead.  Sorry, while all this praise is heaped on Sanchez after this game, but put the ball in his hands for a comeback bid and that is usually going to spell disaster.  Tonight the Jets defense didn’t leave it in Sanchez’s hands.

And one final point, this game showed clearly what the lack of a Randy Moss meant to this offense and team.  A receiver to stretch the field is sorely needed.

Coaching Decisions

Bill Belichick is clearly one of the greatest head coaches in NFL history.  You don’t have a team, especially in the era of free agency and parity, which competes year in and year out for a Super Bowl title unless you have a great coach.  But why is it in big games that Belichick seems to outsmart himself?

Everyone remembers the infamous 4th-and-short call against the Indianapolis Colts two years ago.  With a small lead and the ball backed up within the Colts 20-yard line, near the end of the game, Belichick decides to go for it on 4th-and-1 instead of punting the ball and making Peyton Manning drive most of the field for a winning touchdown.  The Patriots didn’t make it and paid for it with a loss.

Less remembered will be Belichick’s decision to eschew a 51-yard field goal in Super Bowl 42 and instead went for it on 4th-and-long, resulting in great field position for the Giants.  Given the indoor stadium and kicker Stephen Gostkowski, it was a makeable field goal, even if he was a rookie.

So the Patriots are only down 7-3 in the second quarter near midfield and Belichick calls for a fake punt.  Patrick Chung botches the snap, and it’s the same as a turnover.  The Jets have the ball on a short field and it’s suddenly 14-3.  (I know Chung claims it was his call but I find that hard to believe).

Playing behind against the Jets defense is not where you want to be.

And what was with the challenge so early in the game on a first down play that was clearly a catch by Santonio Holmes?

Then with a 21-14 deficit with 1:32 seconds to go in the game, Belichick decides to go for an onside kick.  Granted the Jets just torched the Patriots defense for a big play earlier to turn a 14-11 lead to a 21-11 lead prior to the long drive and field goal.  But otherwise the New England defense had played pretty well in the in second half, forcing a few three and outs. 

Now I am not going to really fault Belichick for the onside kick call too much because head they kicked the ball and the Jets gotten a few first downs the game would have been over.  But give the Jets the ball at midfield on a play that rarely works?  Game over.  I would have kicked the ball off and forced the Jets to make the first down.

Bad Plays

Despite the great play of the Jets the New England Patriots could have still won the game, but the players simply made the worst mistakes and the worst times.

New England’s opening drive was a promising one, moving the ball well and looking to be on their way to a score.  But Brady threw an interception which stopped the Patriots’ momentum in its tracks.  While the Jets ultimately missed a field goal on their subsequent drive, this was a lost scoring opportunity.

Then on the next drive, Algae Crumpler crumpled and dropped a touchdown pass right in his hands on third down, so the Patriots had to settle for three instead of seven. 

Then Patrick Chung, with the Patriots down 7-3, fumbled the ball on a fake punt attempt.  Replays showed he very likely would have made the first down to keep the drive alive.  Instead the Jets get the ball past midfield and convert it into a touchdown and a 14-3 lead.

In the second half when the Patriots cut the Jets’ lead to 14-11 after a nice scoring drive and two-point conversion, the defense gives up a huge play to Jerricho Cotchery, which eventually led to the Jets extending the lead to 21-11.  A sad and unforgivable let-down by the defensive that had played well in the second half up to that point.

Then the onside kick attempts at the end of the game were simply pitiful.  Shayne Graham did a nice job on the first kick but all the Patriots players were blocking but nobody was going after the ball. 

They should have had at least one player aggressively going after the ball, but they were all standing around trying to block.  And even worse, they let Antonio Cromartie get the ball and run into scoring position.

And the second onside kick was just as bad.  A good kick by Graham, but nobody aggressively trying to get go after the ball, which the Jets recovered.

That was pretty sad for Patriots fans who were teased with a possible comeback.

And finally the kickoffs by Shayne Graham were just pitiful.  Line drives to the 10-yard line with Antonio Cromartie consistently putting the Jets in good field position were not helpful.

How Depressed Should Patriots Fans Be?

Any time you lose a playoff game against a team you know you can beat it is depressing.  And since there is so much parity in the league this year, the Patriots had a great chance to win another Super Bowl.  So it is very depressing.

But if you had asked me in the middle of the season, with one of the youngest and seemingly weakest defenses in the league, with two rookie corners, no real pass rushing threat and a team relying on a cast of small receivers with no deep threat, to me it is amazing the Patriots made it as far as they did.  The defense is clearly in rebuilding mode, so going 14-2 is pretty good.

On paper, in my opinion, the Baltimore Ravens have the best team in the league, and they blew it too after second-half turnovers against Pittsburgh.

Atlanta, the No. 1 seed in the NFC got smacked in the mouth by the Green Bay Packers.

Peyton Manning and the Colts suffered a lot of injuries on offense and lost to the Jets last week.

While the New Orleans Saints, last year’s Super Bowl champions, lost to a 7-9 Seattle Seahawks team.

So the Patriots loss, especially considering the personnel they have on the field, is nothing to be ashamed about. 

The Patriots were overrated going into the playoffs in my opinion.  Their defense has been vulnerable all year and is one of the youngest in the league and, other than Brady and a solid offensive line, they really have no big playmakers on offense. 

I’ve heard commentators say the Patriots have done it with smoke and mirrors.  The smoke and mirrors have been Brady’s superlative play all year.  Other than the interception early in the game, he actually played quite well, his receivers simply could not get open.

So at the end of the day, it will take me a long time to get over this loss, but based on the personnel we had on the field all year, we got further than I thought we would.

But it sill stings because we could have—and should have—taken it all again.

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