This one wasn't on Tom Brady's left knee or his unfamiliarity with new receivers. This was on his lack of solidarity with the offensive line, which was working off different scripts throughout New England's 38-17 loss to New Orleans on Monday night.
Brady was running for his life all game. Sometimes, it was the fault of the offensive line. Other times, the blame fell on his shoulders.
"It wasn't nearly as competitive as we all were expecting," Brady told the media during his postgame news conference, "but that's what happens when you don't play very well against a pretty good team on the road."
Surely, the Superdome played a significant role in the miscommunication between Brady and the linemen, who might have been more effective sending telegrams to one another. The dome will likely be the loudest venue the Patriots play in all season, which led to a lot of silent counts and communication issues. It's nothing the Patriots haven't prepared to execute, but it's still more difficult to pull off in front of 70,000 people who just spent half the day drinking Hand Grenades than it is at the Dana-Farber Field House behind Gillette Stadium.
The chore became harder due to the constant rotation along the offensive line. Sebastian Vollmer had started the last five games at left tackle before suffering a head injury last week against the New York Jets, and Matt Light started in his place against the Saints.
The Patriots also rotated Mark LeVoir in at Light's spot during the game, and LeVoir was on the field during the play in which Brady threw his first interception. Right guard Stephen Neal also missed some time early in the game due to an injury and was replaced by Dan Connolly. All told, the Patriots used seven offensive linemen, and one of them hadn't seen the field in nearly two months.
Before the snap, it is Brady's responsibility to identify the location of New Orleans' pressure, and center Dan Koppen follows by directing blocking assignments — either vocally or by silent measures — before the rest of the linemen fall into place by acknowledging what they've seen and heard.
When they do their jobs, which has happened so frequently this season, Brady has all the time he needs to step up in the pocket and deliver an accurate throw. When Brady or the offensive line miss a pre-snap call, a defender will break through the line and create instant pressure, and that was often the case on Monday night.
Because Brady was scrambling to remain upright, he had his worst statistical game of the season. He completed 21 of 36 passes for 237 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. He was also sacked once. Plus, Randy Moss was held to three receptions for 67 yards. Wes Welker tied a season low with six catches, and his 32 receiving yards were the fifth fewest he's recorded in a game started by Brady.
When Moss was asked if the offense ever found a rhythm against the Saints, he responded, "No, to be honest with you. No, it didn't feel like we had any rhythm. We had little spurts where we tried to gain that rhythm, but we just couldn't put things together. There's really nothing to say. They played good football."
Head coach Bill Belichick said it wasn't anything the Patriots hadn't seen before.
"They had won 10 games," Belichick said after the game. "There was no
reason to change a lot of things, and they didn't. They played a lot
better defense than we did, so give their coaches and their players
credit. We've got to find a way to do a better job and be more
competitive than this."
It certainly wasn't all the fault of Brady or the pre-snap communication. There were also plenty of times when the Saints' talented defensive line just stormed into the backfield and forced Brady to find a safe haven outside of the pocket. Quite frankly, the offensive line had one of its worst games of the season.