Passing along some thoughts as we close the book on the Patriots’ 24-23 loss to the Seahawks:
1. The AFC is wide open. The loss was a bitter pill to swallow for coaches and players because a win was in their grasp multiple times, but if there is a silver lining in the big picture, take a look around the rest of the AFC. The Ravens just lost two of their most important defensive players to season-ending injuries, the Texans were just blown out at home by the Packers, and no one is running away with things. The Ravens (5-1) are in the driver’s seat, and have a potential tie-breaker edge over the Patriots, but there is a lot of football to be played. The NFC looks like the much stronger conference.
2. Running game in focus. The Patriots had 26 rushes in the game, with Tom Brady throwing 58 times. The imbalance leads to the natural question: Why not run it more? Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels explained that the short passing game was used as an extension of the running game, a tactical decision based on the Seahawks’ scheme, which often brought an eighth defender into the box. Of the Patriots’ 26 rushes, 11 went for 2 yards or less. Not good, and a few negative runs at the start of the second half really hurt them. Still, there were a few times when a little more persistence with the run might have helped the Patriots from a game management perspective, specifically with 4:56 remaining and the ball at their own 47. The Patriots attempted three straight passes (incomplete, intentional grounding, 9-yard gain) in a curious sequence that seemed to run counter to good situational football at that point in the game, with clock considerations in mind.
3. Revisiting the end of the first half. Bill Belichick said on sports radio WEEI that the decision to try one more play at the end of the first half (which backfired) was essentially the same situation the team had in Baltimore when Julian Edelman caught a 7-yard touchdown pass on a play with two seconds left in the second quarter. That play took five seconds. In Seattle, there were six seconds left on the clock and the ball was at the 3-yard line when Tom Brady was penalized for intentional grounding, which cost the team a chance of at least 3 points because of a 10-second runoff that ended the half. So Belichick was consistent in rolling the dice in both games -- one time it worked, one time it didn’t. From this view, the reason the call in Seattle could be viewed as more questionable was that the Patriots would have made it a two-possession game with the conservative decision of kicking a short field goal. Against a solid defensive team, that would have given them greater margin for error earlier in the game while also putting them one step closer to taking the disruptive crowd out of the game. That reward outweighed the risk from this view. In Baltimore, they trailed 14-13 at the time, so whatever happened on the play, it was still going to be a one-possession game. However one sees it, it makes for a good debate.
4. Brady after absorbing a big hit. Quarterback Tom Brady didn’t have his best game, and some have theorized that maybe it went downhill after Seahawks defensive lineman Jason Jones was penalized for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Brady at the end of the third quarter. Brady’s fourth-quarter stats (5 of 13, 81 yards, INT, sack) would support that theory, but I thought Brady made some good throws in the final quarter, in particular on a 23-yard hookup with Brandon Lloyd down the right sideline, which showed he still had his wits to him. More than anything from this viewpoint, it was just uncharacteristic breakdowns in various areas across the offense.
5. Quick-hit thoughts. Tom Brady dropped back to pass 59 times and the Patriots only surrendered one sack, but I didn’t think that reflected the pressure Brady felt from the Seahawks’ four-man rush for long stretches of the action. … Didn’t realize the Seahawks have as hard-hitting of a defense as they do. … Watching receiver Brandon Lloyd work the sideline is a treat. … Zoltan Mesko's final punt, which set up the Seahawks' go-ahead touchdown, is one that is probably going to sit with him for a while. Too low and too returnable. Another example of the Patriots not acing the situational football test in critical situations. ... Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard might have turned the wrong way on Braylon Edwards’ fourth-quarter touchdown catch that drew a defensive pass interference penalty, but as former NFL vice president of officiating Mike Pereira said on Twitter on Sunday night, that was more offensive pass interference on Edwards.