Do NOT Panic! Ok… Maybe Panic? Patriots Post Week 15

Five Reasons NOT to Panic… And Five Reasons TO Panic About the Patriots

Please do NOT panic New England Patriots fans… also… if you want… you have the right TO panic. For the second straight week, the Patriots blew a chance to put a stranglehold on the ever important bye week. Week 14 was a “once-in-a-lifetime, holy crap, I CANNOT believe that just happened!” final-play loss. Week 15 was more of the standard, “they had a chance to win or at least send the game into overtime, but for some reason, blew it” type loss. Both hurt. Both have made it fairly difficult for the Patriots to lock down the No. 2 seed and by extension, the bye week, in the playoffs. However, despite a looming date with the Wild-Card Weekend round of the playoffs for the first time since 2009, there is plenty of reason NOT to panic about these Patriots… there is also plenty of reason TO panic. 

Reason No. 1 NOT to Panic: The Rest of the NFL

The NFL kind of sucks this year. Quick. Who is the best team in the NFL? Is it the L.A. Rams? They just put up a skunk against the Eagles. You know. The team that let their star quarterback play with a broken back, and are once again praying their backup QB can pull out a miracle finish to the season.  What about the AFC? Is it the Kansas City Chiefs? You mean the team that has no defense and just lost to the Chargers? What about the Chargers? The “team of destiny” that needed back-to-back choke jobs by their latest two opponents (the Steelers and Chiefs) to eek out wins? There is no dominant team in the NFL this season, and when there is no dominant team, a merely really good team can win the Super Bowl.

Reason No. 1 TO Panic: Are the Pats A Really Good Team?

Are the Patriots even really good this year? The Patriots have now lost to the Steelers, Dolphins, Titans, Lions, and Jaguars. Those are NOT good teams. Their combined record is 32-37. Good for a .464 winning percentage. That is not in fact good. And in three of those five losses, the Patriots have been absolutely shellacked. However, the Patriots also have beaten the Chiefs (currently the No. 1 seed in the AFC), the Chicago Bears (who just clinched the NFC North), the Houston Texans (two games up on the AFC South), the Indianapolis Colts (tied for the final Wild Card spot in the AFC) and also suffocated the Minnesota Vikings (currently the final team IN the NFC playoffs). Out of the Patriots’ nine wins, more than half of them have come against teams currently in the playoffs. However, only one of those (the Bears) have come on the road.

Reason No. 2 NOT to Panic: The Patriots are Home Juggernauts

The Patriots are dominant at home this season, going 6-0 at Gillette Stadium. Also, they are going to have at least one home game during the playoffs. By dint of winning the AFC East (practically assured at this point), the worst the Patriots can do is host one playoff game. They are currently the three seed in the AFC playoff picture and need only one loss from the Texans to jump right back into the No. 2 seed. The Texans play a rejuvenated Eagles team next week, fresh off of a victory against the Rams. With a tiny bit of luck, the Patriots have a very good chance to play one playoff game… and skip the Wild Card Round.

Reason No. 2 TO Panic: Road Woes

The Patriots are a bad team on the road this season. They are 3-5 away from New England and as mentioned above, three of those five losses were not all that competitive. To make matters worse, if the Patriots plan on making the Super Bowl yet again this year, they will more than likely have to play an away game in order to do so. That is a recipe for disaster… at least with the way the Patriots have played on the road.

Things only get worse when you realize the current No. 1 seed belongs to the Chiefs, who play their games at the notoriously difficult Arrowhead stadium. There is a silver lining though; the Chiefs are in a dog fight for their division crown against the Chargers. If the Chiefs drop a game while the Chargers win out, the Chargers will leapfrog them for the No. 1 seed. the Chargers play their home games at a soccer stadium that is consistently filled with fans from opposing teams. If the Patriots somehow wind up playing the Chargers in L.A., it will be akin to a warm-weather home game for New England.

Reason No. 3 NOT to Panic: The Pass Defense Is Not That Bad

The usual problems of the Patriots defense (an ability to bother the quarterback, and suspect defensive back play) have been fairly absent this season. Bill Belichick defenses are all about stopping the other team from scoring points. They will let you gain oodles and oodles of yards, but the gameplan is to stop you from getting in the end zone.

In a league where passing has taken over as the best means to move the ball down the field, the Patriots’ defensive secondary has been, for the most part, solid to very good. They held the Vikings spectacular duo of Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen to all of 10 points. They managed to give up a measly 17 points to the Steelers combo of JuJu Smith-Schuster and Antonio Brown (with seven of those points a direct result of an egregiously bad Pass Interference penalty). When it comes to the pass defense predicated on stopping a high-powered passing offense, the Patriots have gotten the job done this year. 

Reason No. 3 TO Panic: The Run Defense is Historically Bad

The Patriots run defense lately is some of the worst in the history of football. Danny Shelton was supposed to come in from the Cleveland Browns and be the newest iteration of Vince Wilfork. Well. Things have not gone as planned for the Patriots in that regard. Shelton has been a healthy scratch for each of the past three games. How have the Patriots done in that span? NOT GOOD BOB! The Patriots have given up 95, 189, and 158 yards on the ground in the last three games. But do not worry, the numbers are even worse than you think. That breaks down to a 7.64 yards per carry.

That is the WORST three-game span in franchise history and the fourth worst mark since the MERGER. Plus, to add some hot sauce on this awful defensive ice cream sundae; remember teams generally have a harder time throwing in the playoffs and tend to run the ball a bit more. So if you are thinking the Patriots defensive woes might get fixed come playoff time… you might have to adjust your thinking.

Reason No. 4 NOT to Panic: The Penalties of Late

The Patriots were the least penalized team in the NFL heading into their Week 15 matchup. However, penalties killed the Patriots as the Steelers accepted 14 penalties for 106 yards. So is this the new normal or an aberration? More than likely the latter. This was NOT a good game from the officiating crew to say the least.

Three of those penalties were devastating and borderline egregious: the pass interference penalty to Jonathan Jones was by far the worst call of the game and directly led to a Steelers touchdown, and the holding calls against both Marcus Cannon and Shaq Mason completely stalled Patriot drives and were dubious calls at best (at worst, they were calls that went entirely unmade throughout the game and the officiating crew decided to change the whole complexion of the game by switching their style up at the most pivotal moments of the game).

The playoffs tend to be a time where officials are more hesitant to throw flags. So these big-gainer plays that keep getting called back by Trent Brown holds and these ticky-tack (or no tack) pass interference calls are less likely to be called against the Patriots come playoff time.

*Quick note on Trent Brown holds, which seemingly occur whenever Sony Michel has a rush gain of 20+ yards*

In a league of giants, Trent Brown is the biggest of them all. He gets the Rob Gronkowski treatment when it comes to tackle play. It is not to say that Trent Brown is blameless. He definitely does hold from time-to-time. However, because he is so much bigger than his competition, whenever he does something borderline it immediately gets called. It is like Rob Gronkowski and offensive pass interference. Gronkowski definitely does push off from time-to-time. But EVERY wide receiver and tight end pushes off. Only Gronk gets called for it. Despite defensive backs and linebackers constantly holding, interfering, and downright molesting Gronkowski on every route, you rarely see the defense get called when covering Gronkwoski.

The same can be said when it comes to Trenth Brown and his blocking. He does the same stuff that other tackles get away with. However, because Brown is so large and outsized, it looks worse and he gets called for it. There were numerous examples where the Steelers linemen did MUCH worse on their run plays and nothing got called. But Trent Brown, because he is a sentient bulldozer, gets called for the same stuff. You just hope in the playoffs things get consistent from the officiating crews.

*Rant over, back to list*

Reason No. 4 TO Panic: These are Self-Inflicted Penalties

Many of those penalties from the Steelers game were entirely self-inflicted: there were five false start penalties, one defensive offsides, one ineligible man downfield (on a punt), and one illegal formation penalty. One of the false start penalties was on the punter Ryan Allen during a field goal attempt when the Patriots were trying to draw the Steelers offsides (in-game I thought it worked and the officials made the wrong call–it would have been a first down for the Patriots).

The ineligible man downfield can be ignored because it came on a semi-trick play with different personnel on the field. So that leaves four unaccounted for false starts, a defensive offsides, and one illegal formation. Those are six undisciplined penalties for 30 yards. That might not seem like much, but many of those penalties are putting the Patriots in long down and distances and making it much tougher for Josh McDaniels and the offensive line to do their job. The irony is they only have themselves to blame. The question is; can they fix those issues before the playoffs roll around? This is a Bill Belichick team. What do you think?

Reason No. 5 NOT to Panic: Team Health

EVERYONE IS HEALTHY! The Patriots were the only team in the league during Week 15 to have everyone practice. That is a miracle. Until the addition of Elandon Roberts at the end of the week, the injury report was a thing of beauty. Of course, injuries happen in football so Julian Edelman was added to the injury report following the game against the Steelers (to add literal injury to insult, it looked like he got injured trying to knock down the Joe Haden interception). But if everyone is, for the most part, healthy, it means the Patriots have all the tools they need to right the ship. Maybe they can rip off two straight wins and look like a juggernaut heading into the playoffs while also sneaking in as the two seed. Maybe.

Reason No. 5 TO Panic: They are HEALTHY And STILL Playing Like This?

So wait, you mean to say everyone has been healthy the last two weeks and this is how the Patriots are playing? That is not reassuring at all. Yup. Not at all. Plus, if you take a deeper look at the injury report, it is not the quantity that should scare you, but the quality.

Devin McCourty is also now on the injury report and listed as Questionable thanks to an undisclosed injury, which is about as scary as it gets. There are reports he went and got either an MRI or X-Ray after the Steelers game to try and find what is ailing him. While Devin McCourty has not played the best football of his career this season, it will be absolutely terrifying to see what the Patriots try to do if they need to replace the most reliable free safety in the league. People do not appreciate just how much Devin McCourty means to this defense. From directing the traffic and coverage on the backend, to working as a hybrid safety/cornerback depending on the coverage, Devin McCourty is the glue that holds the defensive backfield together for the Patriots. If they miss him for any amount of time in the playoffs, it could be a short-lived experience for New England.

So DO You Panic… or Do you NOT Panic?

The Patriots will make the playoffs. The Patriots will have at least one home game. Either during Wild Card Weekend or the Divisional Round. But they will have a home playoff game. If you are a Patriots fan of any type, that means you should NOT panic until at least the first road playoff game. If you are an NFL fan of any kind, you know this season has proven one thing above all else; there is no dominant team in the NFL. Anybody can get hot come playoff time and walk away with the Lombardi Trophy.

If you are a Patriots fan, you probably have no feel for this team. That alone is enough to make you panic. Are they the team making stupid end-of-the-half mistakes and dumb penalties while getting absolutely gashed on the ground? Or are they the team that shut down the Vikings, held Aaron Rodgers to 17 points, and should have beaten the surprisingly terrifying Chicago Bears by roughly 30 all while handing the Kansas City Chiefs their first loss of the season?

The answer probably lies somewhere in the middle. The Steelers and Titans are the only above average teams to beat the Patriots this season. When they play good teams, the Patriots usually win. Especially at home. The odd constant over the last couple of losses is the triumvirate of Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, and Josh McDaniels looking somewhat mortal. Is it possible all three are slipping at the same time? Or is this just a funky couple of weeks and they will all get their collective groove back by the time the playoffs roll around. In other words, do you want to bet against a Belichick-Brady-McDaniels led team, or do you want to put your money on the most consistent thing in the history of football? 

By |2018-12-18T13:57:43+00:00December 18th, 2018|News, NFL|Comments Off on Do NOT Panic! Ok… Maybe Panic? Patriots Post Week 15

About the Author:

Sports broadcaster, specializing in play by play. Have called every sport under the sun with the exception of cricket, rugby, and kabaddi, but I wouldn't mind giving all three of those a try. The only promise I give you is if you tune in to one of my broadcast, for however long you do so, you'll enjoy life during that period of time. These blogs are my way of sharing with the world my passionate (and hopefully articulate) responses to the sports world and the world in general. I do not mean to offend anybody with these blogs, but if you're offended, hey, contact me and I'm always up for a discussion or debate.