The secondary? Pathetic. Kyle Arrington was torched by Doug Baldwin — seven catches for the season heading into the game — for 74 yards on two catches (the second a TD) in a first-quarter drive and (finally) waS benched. Pat Chung is lost, and it is becoming increasingly obvious that Devin McCourty is a safety playing cornerback. And Tavon Wilson was flat-out beat by Sidney Rice for the game-winning touchdown. I’ve read and heard all the excuses, but let’s be fair: This secondary is awful. Doesn’t mean it won’t improve, I suppose, but these guys were just carved up by Russell Wilson — a rookie quarterback with no receivers who will ever be confused with Steve Largent — for 293 yards and three touchdowns (two in the final seven minutes).
The coaching? Head-scratching. How does no timeouts remaining with five minutes left ever happen? Brutal clock management at the end of the first half. All we heard about this week was the renewed running attack and we get a split of 58 passes (a career high) against 26 rushes. The reality is that Pete Carroll outcoached Bill Belichick.
But if I’m forced to blame just one guy for the loss, it has to be Tom Brady. And it’s not even close.
Sure, Brady threw for 395 yards and two touchdowns on Sunday, but those are hugely misleading numbers. Carroll used to coach a quarterback wearing a Patriots uniform who was fully capable of having a lousy game in which he put up serious numbers, and he saw it again on Sunday. Brady failed when it mattered most, and it was the way in which he failed that was shocking.
After a terrific start — his best throw of the game, a back-shoulder bullet to Brandon Lloyd (a great, great catch) was immediately followed with a 46-yard TD to Wes Welker — Brady was shaky. Yup, he connected with Aaron Hernandez on a 1-yard TD fade in the second quarter, but he was really fortunate that Earl Thomas didn’t intercept a forced ball into double coverage to Rob Gronkowski two plays prior to the score — it was in Thomas’ hands and would have been an easy touchdown.
But that was just the start. The Patriots were handed a gift when Seahawks punter Jon Ryan — who otherwise had a superb game — botched a snap and was tackled by Bobby Carpenter at the Seattle 24-yard line with 40 seconds left in the half. Then things got weird. Brady hit Welker over the middle for 15 yards, but the Patriots waited 16 seconds to call a timeout (they had two left) after Welker was tackled. Isn’t that on the quarterback, particularly this quarterback, as much as the coaches?
After Danny Woodhead (who had his best game of the season) caught a ball that put the Patriots at the Seattle 3-yard line with 12 seconds left, the final timeout was called. If you were watching this game — the Patriots up 17-10 at the time — you are thinking touchdown, but there is not a chance they do worse than three points, right? Not possible.
Well, the final two plays of the half were as poor as you’ll ever see back-to-back from Brady. On third down, Brady was pressured slightly, moved forward in the pocket and again tried to force the ball to Gronkowski, this time throwing behind him, and he was bailed out by another Thomas drop. Six seconds remained and the Patriots decided (which I had no problem with at all) to take one more shot at the end zone. Chris Clemons got pressure on Brady (beat Nate Solder) and Brady flat-out panicked and went Full Bledsoe, throwing off his back foot and into the back of the end zone with absolutely no Patriots player anywhere close to the play.
Intentional grounding, the right call. And with the required 10-second runoff, the first half was over. Forget zero points from the 3-yard line, not even a field goal attempt. The Red Sox managerial search of 2011 wasn’t as botched as the final two plays of that drive, Ian Eagle’s pronunciation of Secules not as egregious. This was the kind of putrid execution that we mock from Mark Sanchez, the kind of clock management that we expect from Norv Turner.
The Patriots scored six points in the second half, or 39 fewer than they put up in the second half in Buffalo two weeks ago. The Seahawks have an elite defense, no question (and Carroll, for all his many faults, can coach a defense) but there is no way a team with Brady, Stevan Ridley (remember him?) Welker, Lloyd and the tight ends should ever score six points in a half.
But they had their chances. They were in the middle of what looked an awful lot like a TD drive — back-to-back catches by Welker and Gronkowski for first downs — when Brady was intercepted by Richard Sherman after woefully underthrowing Deion Branch on a second-and-5 at the Seahawks‘ 43-yard line. It’s the kind of pick you never see from Brady, Branch had no chance to make a play (and he would have been walloped by Thomas if he had made the catch), it was five yards short of where it had to be.
And this with 4:45 left in the third quarter of a game the Patriots led 20-10. If Brady leads them into the end zone it’s just about over, this was a Seahawks team that was about to tap out. Feel free to blast the defense for this loss, but at that point in the game the Seahawks had produced a total of 46 yards and zero points on their last five drives.
But the defense steps up again on the next drive, forcing a three-and-out. And Brady moves the Patriots down to the Seattle 6-yard line with 13:43 left in the fourth quarter. Third-and-1, and there is no question — still at 20-10 — that this game is finito if they punch it in. But Brady, with all the time in the world, throws behind an open Welker on a crossing route at the 4-yard line, a pass that was deflected by Welker right into the arms of Thomas.
Two drives inside the Seahawks’ 6-yard line, zero points. Two crucial mistakes by Brady. There’s your game right there. All the rest — secondary issues, coaching, missed calls, — were just supporting characters on Sunday.
Still, the Patriots had another opportunity to end this, to escape with an Ugly But We’ll Take It kind of win. Second-and-10 at the New England 47 with 4:52 left in the fourth quarter. A 23-17 lead, which really meant that a couple of minutes off the clock and a field goal, just three more points, means a win.
But Brady couldn’t do it. Full disclosure, both Solder and Sebastian Vollmer were beat on the play — and Clemons had a hand on Brady — but Brady once again did something we’ve basically never seen from him, as he fired the ball right at the feet of Dan Connolly. Intentional grounding, Part II. Loss of down, third-and-20 and the drive is cooked.
(By the way, even after that, the defense put together another stop. Three-and-out for the fifth time this season, an oddly conservative drive that included two rushes from Ridley and an incomplete pass to Branch that would have been a couple of yards short if it had been caught. This might be an OK place to mention that Brady had five or six underthrown passes on Sunday, as many as I can remember from him in a single game.)
This loss ultimately is all on Brady. He’s an immortal, squarely on the middle of the Mount Rushmore of NFL quarterbacks. Kyle Arrington, Devin McCourty, Pat Chung are all what they are and that’s not going to change. There is no reason for any expectation. But Tom Brady — still one of the two or three best in the league at his position — has to close it out in the situation he was in on Sunday, has to find a way to win that game, has to bail out mediocre teammates. And it wasn’t as if he needed to score 45 points, or go 99 yards in a minute and a half. He just needed to find a way to get three points out of those two drives. And he couldn’t do it.
The secondary is a problem that isn’t going away, while Brady is still presumably the No. 1 reason the Patriots are going to eventually win the AFC East and go as far as they do in the postseason. There is an issue of Brady acting as if there is pressure when pressure isn’t there — which simply wasn’t a story that existed before his knee injury — but he’s going to throw for 4,500 yards and 35 TDs this year. His greatness is present, this isn’t a shell of what was.
But on Sunday he was outplayed by Russell Wilson. Tom Brady was lost, confused and rattled in Seattle. And now he heads home as the quarterback of a 3-3 team.