“In life, as in a football game, the principle to follow is: Hit the line hard.”
How long has it been since Teddy Roosevelt spewed that little gem? At least a century, maybe more?
How long does it take a football coach to forget this little gem? Less than a week, apparently.
Sitting at 3-3 in this young football season is not where the New England Patriots expected to be – yet here they are. But one needn’t have to think too deeply to understand why.
Many will tell you that it’s New England’s secondary that is to blame. Still others will try to assuage your grief and befuddlement by saying that quarterback Tom Brady has lost it – is no longer an elite, clutch signal caller. and still others will try to persuade you that the team doesn’t have the will to finish off an opponent. New York Jets’ fans will tell you that the Patriots just suck.
But while any of these may or may not contribute to New England’s roller coaster season thus far, Patriots fans need to remember one thing: This team is 4 points shy of being undefeated – four points - and had there been more a semblance of balance to the offense in any of the losses, the outcomes of each would have been vastly different.
No? Well, considering that the Patriots lost to the Cardinals when Danny Woodhead’s touchdown run in the final minute was negated by a phantom holding call on tight end Rob Gronkowski, and a subsequent potential game winning chip-shot field goal attempt by kicker Stephen Gostkowski was yanked wide…
…that the Ravens beat New England on a last second chip-shot field goal that seemed to pass outside of the uprights and should have been ruled no good, and that Seattle’s Sidney Rice split two rookie safeties in coverage for a last minute Seahawk touchdown and a 1 point win last Sunday- yes, it’s entirely possible that New England could be sitting pretty at 6-0 going into this Sunday’s chapter of the rivalry with AFC East co-leader, the New York Jets.
And while these game losing plays are what gets shown on highlight reels, it is poor play calling and bad decision-making throughout these games that put the Patriots in the position to take these losses. These games each featured different heartbreaking finishes, but there is one constant in each that was the impetus for failure: They abandoned the run.
Four points. It’s not solely on the secondary, though their collective mediocrity at times has contributed. It’s not because Brady has lost it, because he’s now a more complete quarterback than in the championship years. It’s not even a matter of the players failing to execute the game plan. It is simply a matter of the staff not sticking to the run, putting our talented players in a position much more given to failure than success.
Usually, statistics don’t tell the complete story as to why a team is struggling, but there is one that is particularly compelling. In the Patriots three wins, they average an astounding 220 yards per game rushing. In their 3 losses, a middling 84 yards per game.
Not hard to figure out, is it?
Yet, it seems, these numbers appear lost on the staff in their weekly game-planning. The Patriots can run the ball. Their offensive line is a collection of athletic and beastly road grinders and the tight ends are just as rugged . Stevan Ridley has shown tremendous burst and intestinal fortitude in hitting the line hard, and Danny Woodhead has shown time and again that he may be the best clutch back in the NFL, at least the most electrifying.
The New England Patriots possess every intangible that there is to physically dominate their counterparts, yet here they sit at .500.
By 4 lousy points.
The good news is, there are 10 games left in the 2012 season. Plenty of time to right the ship by achieving balance. The bad news? They can’t afford another loss if they have designs on the road to the Super Bowl being detoured through Foxborough. It’s entirely possible for New England to go on an undefeated run, despite the issues in the secondary and in spite of “sucking” – and it all starts this Sunday against the hated New York Jets.
This rivalry is one of the true donnybrooks in professional sports, with bad blood being conjured in as many different ways as there have been games between the two. There’s nothing else to say. No preview of the two teams is necessary. There are no other trends to study, no secret to winning this game – no obscure stats to fall back on.
Just run the ball, please, and everything else will take care of itself.