FOXBORO, Mass. — When Tom Brady connected with Rob Gronkowski on fourth down for the go-ahead score in the final minutes of Sunday's game against the Giants, all was forgiven. The ineffective three quarters of offense that preceded it instantly became a distant memory, as a trademark comeback drive from Brady appeared to have wiped it all away.
Several minutes later, though, when Eli Manning hit Jake Ballard for the real game-winning score, Gillette Stadium was in shock.
With a huge penalty on Sergio Brown setting up the Giants with first-and-goal from the 1-yard line, the defense was the initial target for blame for the Patriots' 24-20 loss. A closer look at the offense, though, shows that's just not fair.
As a unit, the Patriots' offense had issues sustaning any momentum through the first three quarters. Brady had thrown for 228 yards through three quarters, but he had two interceptions and a fumble. They were just 4-for-12 on third down and had called upon punter Zoltan Mesko five times. They were 0-for-2 in the red zone.
A part of that had to do with their average drive starting at their own 19, but just as much had to do with an offense that was out of sync.
"We're not playing the way we're capable of playing, so [we need to] try to figure out the reasons why," Brady said after the loss.
It wasn't all bad, of course. Wes Welker hauled in nine catches for 136 yards, and Gronkowski topped 100 yards as well. Much of the good, though, was undone by turnovers.
Brady threw multiple interceptions for the third time this season; the Patriots lost two of those games. Despite a season-high 49 pass attempts, Brady registered his lowest quarterback rating of the season (75.4). At initial glance, his stat line (28-for-49, 342 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT) doesn't look too bad, but the difference between Brady's wins and losses this year is often subtle.
In five wins, Brady's completed 67.7 percent of his passes for 12 touchdowns and just four interceptions, averaging 355.2 yards per game. In his three losses, he's completed 63.6 percent of his passes for eight touchdowns and six picks, averaging 309 yards. That extra 46 or so yards would have made the difference on Sunday.
The timing of the interceptions hurt, too. After driving the Patriots 54 yards in seven plays to end the first quarter, the opening play of the second quarter was an interception. The opening drive of the third quarter yielded the same results, with Brady hesitating before trying to squeeze a pass into a tight window, leading to the second interception. The Giants opened a 3-0 lead on the ensuing drive.
The Patriots then got the ball on their own 16-yard line. Three plays into the drive, Brady was sacked and stripped of the ball, setting up the Giants with a short field. It took them about 5 seconds to capitalize, as Brandon Jacobs waltzed into the end zone to give the Giants a 10-0 lead.
When Gillette Stadium erupted after that touchdown pass to Gronkowski, Brady and the offense appeared to have won the game. Appearances certainly can be deceiving though, as it was the offense's ineffectiveness for much of the afternoon that ultimately did in the Patriots.