One of the many storylines to come out of Sunday’s playoff loss to the Jets was the seeming lack of urgency on the part of the offense during the 4th quarter. The main drive that really angers fans in the drive where the Pats used almost 8 minutes of clock, with 10-point deficit, and the team didn’t come away with any points. They also sprinkled in several running plays and did not utilize the hurry-up offense. Bill Belichick was asked about this and noted that the Jets were playing lots of coverage and they thought that they could catch them off guard with the running plays. Tom Brady had a similar answer when asked about this during his weekly radio appearance on WEEI’s “Dennis and Callahan Show” when talking about the drive that the Patriots kicked a field goal to get to within 7.
“It wasn’t a two touchdown game and I think we had the drive there, in the fourth quarter where we had an opportunity to score a touchdown, so we kicked a field goal, but had we scored a touchdown it would have been a three-point game with four minutes left,” he said. “So I thought they had a lot of dime groupings out there, meaning they had six defensive backs, so it’s hard to think that we’re going to go out there and throw the ball all day on that grouping, so I thought we said ‘all right, we’re going to take advantage of this mismatch and still try to get the ball down the field, which we did, we just, when we got down to the 15-yard line, we just sputtered.”
“We tried to kick the onside kick,” he continued, “and they scored again to make it a 14-point game, so it was just, if we were down 15 points it would be different story, but being down 10 points, I thought we thought we could score a touchdown, and then with two timeouts with four minutes left we had plenty of time to get down the field and hope we kick the field goal to send it to overtime.”
I have no issues with the team sprinkling in running plays to catch the Jets off-guard. However, you can still call running plays from a hurry-up offense as long as there’s a ball carrier on the field. The offense stopped, huddled, and took their time getting to the line and running the play. I understand that it was 10 points, but that’s two scores against a defense that hadn’t given you much all game, and a defense that was tiring and not likely to get you the ball back in a hurry.
Here’s NFL analyst Pat Kirwan on the lengthy drive that yielded nothing:
New England was trailing 21-11 and started a drive at the 12:55 mark. The Patriots huddled up after every play, even though Brady is a master of the no-huddle, up-tempo attack. The Patriots ran the ball seven times in the 14-play drive for 28 yards, and those seven run plays used up close to five minutes of precious fourth-quarter time. There were seven pass plays with just three completions for 25 yards — with the longest completion being 9 yards — and a sack. The Patriots came away with no points in that drive and left themselves short on time as the game wound down.
Basically, it’s the 4th quarter and you’re down in quite possibly (and it was) the last game of your season. Tom Brady is a master of the no-huddle offense and any change of tempo at that point in the game would have been something, if for any reason that nothing else was working. When the Pats finally did go no-huddle, it yielded the best results of the game. Here’s more from Kirwan:
Later on with time running down, Brady went to his no-huddle offense and moved the ball right down the field for a touchdown. In fact, after that strange time-consuming drive that led to nothing on the scoreboard, Brady employed eight no-huddle pass plays that wound up in 11 points as Brady went 6-for-8 for 66 yards.
Why not do this sooner? “We were only down 10,” isn’t really a good enough answer. Of course, we’ll never get an answer or perhaps any second thoughts or regrets from Belichick or the staff. We’ll just have to go throughout the season and say, “what if?” Luckily, barring a lockout, it should be a big offseason with plenty to talk about, from free agency to the Pats’ bounty of early picks in the draft. For now, however, we’re left to stew about this one.