The New England Patriots and head coach Bill Belichick made all-world receiver Wes Welker skip an offensive series in a playoff game for making a few jokes, so you might think there’d be a standard of discipline established in Foxboro.
You’d be wrong.
Julian Edelman, just six days removed from indecent assault and battery charges for allegedly groping a woman, was back to receive the first punt of the day. And the second. And the third. And the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh. He even got a pass thrown his way in the waning seconds of the 24-20 loss.
In the process, the 25-year-old receiver and special teamer might have just played himself off the Patriots’ roster.
We’ll get to that, plus plenty more leftover thoughts from Sunday’s loss to the Giants.
–OK, let’s start with the obvious. Eli Manning threw not one but two fourth-quarter touchdowns in the left side of the end zone to beat the Patriots. If you had nausea-inducing flashbacks to The Super Bowl That Never Happened, you were not alone.
–The second touchdown, though, never would have happened without a pass interference call on Sergio Brown that set the Giants up on the 1-yard line. To that I say: Whatever happened to the word “uncatchable”? You always used to see officials throw flags for pass interference, only to have the referee turn his microphone on and say that there is no foul because the pass was uncatchable. Now, you never, ever see it.
If you don’t believe me, tell me how this pass, which landed seven yards deep in the end zone, was ever catchable for Victor Cruz.
–That said, it’s on Brown for mauling a wide receiver. The official pretty much had no choice. I’m just curious when “uncatchable” left the officials’ lexicon.
–As the world’s biggest referee critic, I also didn’t understand how they missed a false start on the Giants and called a phantom false start on Logan Mankins. Pretty cut and dried in both instances.
–Eli was impressive, and I believed what I wrote in this story, but his two best plays of the game were bad passes that resulted in huge pass interference penalties. The first was a deep pass to Mario Manningham that Manning underthrew severely. Kyle Arrington never turned his head to find the ball and he collided at full speed with the receiver. Whoops. Thirty-five free yards later, the Giants were set up for the go-ahead score (which was technically to Manningham, but I swear it was to Plaxico Burress).
Manning’s interception in the end zone was also so boneheaded that I still can’t believe it, but you know what? Tom Brady was bad all day, so Manning was given an opportunity and seized it.
–When coaches (and in particular Belichick) talk about special teams being one-third of the game of football, it’s not just lip service. You saw that on full display on Sunday. Stephen Gostkowski missed a chip shot of a field goal just before halftime, which killed the Patriots. Edelman unwisely caught five punts inside the 11-yard line, including fair catches on the 6 and 9. A fair catch on the 6 is easily one of the dumbest things a punt returner can do, and the Patriots got killed in the battle for field position all night.
–That field position battle, as much as anything, was the biggest detriment to the Patriots’ offense. In the first half, they started drives at their own 5, own 6, own 17, own 20, own 11, own 9. Not surprisingly, they scored zero points. On the day, their average drive started at the 17-yard line. That’s asking a lot of your offense.
–Much of that falls on Edelman’s shoulders. Maybe the Patriots’ strategy Sunday somehow strayed from the fundamentals of football, but coaches always tell you to never catch a punt inside your own 10-yard line. Chances are, it’s going to bounce into the end zone. Edelman hurt his standing even more by fumbling a punt return in the third quarter with the Patriots trailing 10-3. The defense bailed him out with an interception in the end zone, but the ensuing drive for the Patriots started on their own 20, as opposed to their own 44.
–It was those misplays, plus the impending legal battle facing Edelman, that make me wonder if he’s played his final game as a Patriot. He’s become such an afterthought on offense that he might as well wear an Ochocinco jersey to the game, and he’s proven to be an average punt returner (8.7 average). It’s incredible that the guy with just three catches for 27 yards and no touchdowns this year had six catches for 44 yards and two touchdowns in a single playoff game two years ago.
Robert Kraft is a man very much concerned with the public image of his football team, but that alone wouldn’t be enough for the Patriots to sever ties with Edelman. His play on the field, though, may suffice.
–At the very least, Edelman will be inactive more than he is active the rest of the year, so long as Taylor Price recovers from his hamstring injury.
–Brandon Spikes‘ big first-quarter hit was 100 percent clean, but I’m still surprised he didn’t get flagged. The meaning of the word “defenseless” is so vague nowadays, I just figure any time any receiver gets hit, it’s going to bring a 15-yard penalty.
–I saw at least five Tiki Barber jerseys in Gillette Stadium on Sunday. Five! Tiki Barber! Get a new jersey, folks. That is all.
–There was one point, after the two-minute warning in the second quarter I believe, when the Patriots’ cheerleaders were doing their dance in the end zone. Problem was, Brady and the offense kind of had a job to do. The Patriots ran a play around midfield with the cheerleaders still doing their dance in their own little world in the end zone. Had the Giants picked off Brady and brought it back to the house, it would’ve been Cal-Stanford all over again, only with much, much prettier people involved. Sorry, band geeks.
–Brady is not Michael Vick, and he says as much as often as he can, but his five-yard run late in the first quarter was just smart, and he shouldn’t hesitate to do it more often. There’s nothing wrong with moving the chains with your legs once in a while.
–Brady actually looked pretty good when he served as Wes Welker‘s lead blocker on a reverse. Until, you know, he actually had to block someone. Then he (understandably) went into survival mode.
–I couldn’t help but stare several times at the 16-0 banner hanging inside Gillette. I wonder if Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck smiled in front of it and sent a photo message to Michael Strahan and Jay Alford. What a joke that thing is.
–You’d be hard-pressed to find someone less impressed by Albert Haynesworth‘s season than me, but he had a good first half on Sunday. He drew a holding penalty on David Diehl on a play where Devin McCourty, another candidate for 2011 Underperformer of the Year, made a great play on the football to break up a pass. Both were encouraging.
–When you’re saying a former Defensive Player of the Year “had a good first half,” you’re clearly grasping at straws. Especially because he was once again invisible in the second half.
–There was also a mini-shouting match on the sideline at one point, with Haynesworth, Jerod Mayo and Pepper Johnson involved. Belichick came over at one point to talk to Johnson, and I couldn’t tell what he said, but it was probably, “Maybe you should all shut up.” They did.
–Overall, the defensive line was great for much of the game. They didn’t get any sacks, but they consistently brought pressure and collapsed the pocket around Eli, thereby making the secondary resemble an NFL secondary. They went with Andre Carter, Haynesworth, Vince Wilfork and Rob Ninkovich on some long third downs, and each did a good job of pushing their blockers backward and forcing Eli to make a quick decision. Basically, you saw a lot of this:
–I fully understand the arguments that say Welker is not the best wide receiver in the NFL. He’s not 6-foot-5, and he can’t make leaping grabs in the end zone, and he can’t burn every corner down the sideline. I get it. At the same time, tell me he’s not the most useful receiver in football. He does just about everything else, and his catch around Corey Webster just before halftime was his weekly reminder that he’s not human like you or me. Yeah, he can’t catch those jump balls, but find me five guys in the world who can make this catch:
–When No. 83 went down, the entire Patriots’ season was on pause for a moment. When the replay was shown, it looked like it literally could have been every injury ever. Concussion, separated shoulder, broken wrist, cracked rib, bubonic plague, cholera …. nope! Just got the wind knocked out of him. Didn’t even miss a play.
He finished the day with nine catches and 136 yards. Ho-hum for Wesley.
Again — he’s not human like you or me. Not at all.
–Brady, quite obviously, was not his usual self. On his second interception, he looked to his right the whole time, knowing he’d go back to Rob Gronkowski on his left. Deon Grant never vacated his spot, though, and was in perfect position when Brady added insult to injury by throwing behind Gronkowski. It was ugly.
–Perhaps one of the biggest mistakes for the Patriots came when Patrick Chung went up to make an interception on Jake Ballard‘s 28-yard catch on the Giants’ final drive. Had Chung laid a big hit on the big tight end, maybe he’d have jarred it loose. Instead, Chung went for the ball and had no idea there was a tight end in front of him. As it was, Ballard came down with the football, and the Giants won the game a few plays later.
–The Patriots also missed Brandon Meriweather on Ballard’s big third-quarter catch. Chung came in and laid a nice, clean hit on Ballard, whereas Meriweather definitely would have launched helmet-first into the tight end. That way, it would have only been a 15-yard gain for the Giants, instead of a 30-yard gain.
–If Sunday’s game proved anything beyond a reasonable doubt, it’s that historical stats and streaks are meaningless. The Patriots hadn’t lost at home since the Reagan administration, or something like that, but it didn’t help them much when Manning was connecting with Manningham, or when Edelman was fumbling punt returns, and so on and so forth. The “home winning streak” is also bogus when you and I saw the Patriots lose to the Ravens in January 2010 and the Jets in January 2011.
The bottom line is that a long winning streak in some building against some opponents doesn’t really play much of a factor in determining the outcome of football games.
–I recognize there is a bit of negativity finding its way through this story, so I’ll end with some sunshine and rainbows from Mr. Brady, who was asked if he’s concerned about his team’s mentality going forward.
“Not with the character of the guys that are out there,” he said. “That’s why they’re on this team. There are a lot of guys who battled back and fought through adversity. Wes takes some huge hits and gets back up and runs back on the field. Look, everyone hates losing. Man, it sucks. You put a lot into it each week and it sucks when you lose. But look, no one feels sorry for you. We’re going to come back and we’re going to fight just as hard next week and hopefully the outcome is a little bit better.”