New England Patriots Gameday: A fist full of nails…


The only tools that a football coach should need in his metaphoric tool box are a dagger, a hammer with a fist full of nails and a spade – the folding kind that soldiers use to dig trenches and foxholes.

On Sunday evening after another nail-biting New England Patriot victory, quarterback Tom Brady wondered aloud if any of the Patriots’ coaches had any of those tools, or even a tool box…or even a junk drawer…

…because when Brady says that the defense bailed out the offense in Sundays 37-31 win over the Buffalo Bills, he doesn’t say so tongue-in-cheek.  And he’s right.  Not just because Deion Branch echoed his sentiments nor because that’s what great leaders say.  It’s because he knows that if he and the offense don’t finish drives, they put the entire team at a disadvantage.

“The defense really saved the day,” Brady said. “We certainly had more opportunities out there to score more points and we didn’t. The defense made a couple great plays there at the end.”

It doesn’t take a cryptologist to read between these lines, which means that Head Coach Bill Belichick should get Brady’s message loud and clear.  Belichick can explain it to Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels if he’s not hip to Brady’s verbiage.

Translation: when you have the ball – and the balls – you drive down and score.   It’s that simple.

And you score touchdowns, not settle for field goals – you break out the tool box: the dagger for when you have your foot on the oppostion’s throat and are ready to finish them off, the hammer and the nails to nail their coffin shut, and the spade to bury them.

Nov 11, 2012; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) talks with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels on the sideline during the second quarter against the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots defeated the Bills 37-31. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-US PRESSWIRE

Some will look at this and say, “Well, what do you want?  They scored 37 points.  That should be enough to win a football game.”, and those people would be right – it should be enough to win a football game, but sometimes it’s not.  And that’s not the point anyway.

Many players in Brady’s position would have expressed frustration toward the defense, saying that they aren’t doing their part, echoing the sentiment that if we score 37 points, that should be enough to win the game – we’ve done our part…but that’s not Brady’s way, and it shouldn’t be the Patriot Way either.

And that’s the point that Brady was trying to get across.

Brady’s job – and Belichick’s and McDaniel’s jobs too – is to win football games.  If that means scoring 50 points per game, then that’s what their job is.

You never know how many points you’re going to need, so you just go out and score as many as you can – but they have to be smart about it, and in Brady’s mind, on their final drive of the game, the offense put the defense on the spot by leaving points on the field – as well as too much time on the clock, something touched upon by receiver Wes Welker after the game:

“We got down to the 1-yard line, then we got stuffed, then we had a penalty.” stated Welker, who’s 23 yard catch and run combined with running back Stevan Ridley’s powerful running got the Patriots in position to score, “We just made it a lot tougher situation than it needed to be.”

The Patriots’ final drive had eaten up almost 5 minutes of game clock when run Ridley got loose for a 10 yard gain to the Buffalo one yard line.  It was just what you want, a healthy run-heavy mix that had chewed up 67 yards – the kind of drive that a championship team puts together to hammer those nails into the coffin – and you were certain that the Patriots would punch the ball through and end the game…

…but instead it went sideways and backwards – the result of what can only be described as a sudden breakdown in play calling and clock management along with a breach in discipline and execution…and it’s not the first time these things have crept up on the Patriots.  Instead of huddling up and running the clock down as much as possible, the Patriots lined up without a huddle, hoping to catch the Bills off guard.  Instead, Ridley got stuffed for a two yard loss – then got tabbed for a false start penalty.

And then, instead of running the ball and forcing the Bills to use their two remaining time outs, McDaniels opted for throws into the end zone, both falling incomplete.  So in that one sequence of plays on 1st and goal from the one yard line and a 37-31 lead with 2:54 left, the Patriots lost 7 yards on a two yard loss on a hurry up run and a false start penalty on consecutive plays…then two incomplete passes and ultimately settling for a field goal.

Aggressive?  Yes, undoubtedly.

Smart?  No.

Buffalo gets the ball back with 2:06 left in the game, two time outs and another clock stoppage at the 2 minute warning, a scenario that had everyone on the New England sideline sweating bullets…

…not because the defense had been getting pushed around all afternoon – it really doesn’t matter how the defense had been playing up to that point – but because a desperate football team with over two minutes of clock and essentially three timeouts to work with was the worst case scenario for any defense.

Had the Patriots been aggressive and smart they’d have huddled before the 1st and goal play then run the ball – and had they not made it into the end zone, huddle up and run the ball again taking the clock down to 2 minutes.  After the 2 minute warning, run the ball once more and force Buffalo to take a time out.  At the very worst, you have the 6 point lead and Buffalo gets the ball back at around 1:50 to go with no time outs left.

You only gain 16 seconds or so, but making them use their time outs would have been the key.

As it turns out, safety Devin McCourty intercepted that errant Fitzgerald pass in the end zone to end the game, something that Brady praised the day following the game.

“I practice against those guys in practice daily, and they’ve come up with a lot of big plays at the end.” Brady beamed, “They did it against the Jets this year, they did it this game, they did it plenty of other times this season — twice in the Jets game, at the end of the fourth quarter and overtime. I have a lot of confidence that they’re going to be able to shut the other team down when they need to.”

But he’s not going to take any chances –  he’s going to make sure that the fist full of nails and hammer are right where he can reach them…