Listless Patriots Get What They Deserve After Fading Down The Stretch

Courtesy of the New England Patriots/Keith Nordstrom

Courtesy of the New England Patriots/Keith Nordstrom

The Patriots deserved their fate, and it looked like they knew it.

With yesterday’s lifeless loss to the lowly Miami Dolphins, the Patriots completed their six week quest to throw away home field advantage in the playoffs. For a team that started 10-0 and was generating buzz at a run at an undefeated season, they looked like anything but that juggernaut over the last six weeks of the year.

They didn’t look like the Patriots at all yesterday. There was a disturbing lack of fire, heart, and guts. They played like they were content with their place as the conference’s second seed. By the end of the game they were resigned to the fact that they let home field advantage slip away. Bill Belichick even took his headset off before the two-minute warning. Checkmate.

I get it, they’re hurt. Guess what? Every team in the NFL is too. Deal with it.

This team played scared down the stretch, and boy did they ever coach scared. They attempted just 5 passes in the first half yesterday. Five. The Patriots made a conscious effort to have Tom Brady, the greatest quarterback of all-time, drop back 5 times.

How is that even possible?

I could accept this end of the year slide had the Patriots run something close to their normal offense and lost because they didn’t have the playmakers to win games. But they didn’t lose that way, not even close. Belichick and Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels somehow got it in their heads that they couldn’t win without trickery and deception. The rugby kick against the Eagles, the wildcat and flea flicker against the Jets, shovel passes on third and eight and nothing but handoffs against the Dolphins. That’s not the Patriots game. You know it, I know it, and worst of all, they know it, but seemed to forget it over the last 6 weeks.

Did the injuries truly get to them in the end? No, they let themselves believe the injuries caught up to them. Maybe they wouldn’t have been good enough to win had they kept their normal offensive philosophy in place, but I would’ve like to see them try.

This will be a much different looking Patriots team in two weeks when they host their first playoff game. Julian Edelman should be ready to go, and it can’t be understated how important he is to Brady and the offense. The Patriots were converting third downs at a 50 percent rate when before Edelman got hurt. Since he’s been out, the Pats have converted at a 32 percent rate. Along with Edelman, a healthier Danny Amendola should give Tom Brady the 1-2 punch he had at receiver earlier this year. Defensively, Dont’a Hightower and Chandler Jones should be back on the field, giving the Patriots a healthy front 7 that has been elite when the full unit has been on the field.

But none of those players can protect Brady. The offensive line is a massive problem at this point, and Sebastian Vollmer’s return from an ankle sprain can only stabilize things so much. This is a unit that hasn’t been able to run block all year, and has spent the past two months getting the quarterback killed. Sure, health is a major factor for the Patriots, but the performance of the five guys tasked with protecting Tom Terrific will be the true determining factor as to whether they go to the Super Bowl or not. They don’t need to get healthy, they just need to get better.

Playoff seeding is a funny thing. Because the Patriots are now the two seed, they are almost certain to get an easier divisional round opponent than they would’ve gotten as the top seed. The sixth seeded Pittsburgh Steelers are easily one of the best teams in the conference, and should stand a good chance to beat the A.J. McCarron led Cincinnati Bengals. If that happens, the Patriots would play the winner of the Houston-Kansas City game. Neither of those teams should strike fear in the hearts of Patriots fans.

That silver lining notwithstanding, let’s not forget the Pats now face the possibility of going to Denver for the AFC Championship Game. If the Broncos find a way to win their divisional matchup, Tom Brady and company will have to go to their house of horrors a mile high to face the league’s most fearsome pass rush. Nobody wants to make that business trip.

And the worst part about it is they punched that ticket themselves.

Matt McCarthy is the sports anchor for the Cape Cod Morning News on Classical 107.5 WFCC, and serves as a news anchor for 99.9 The Q, Cape Country 104, and Ocean 104.7. He can also be heard on 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston.

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