The New England Patriots accomplished the seemingly impossible last night. They lost while putting up 613 total yards. They lost without punting and only committing one turnover. They lost by putting the ball in Tom Brady’s hands and watching him throw for 505 yards.
In the foggy and unsatisfying haze of morning, people from Stockbridge to Boston are waking up with one question on their minds.
The answer is complicated, as many things had to fall in place for such an offensive explosion to be wasted. But what stands out — with the benefit of some reflection — is just how many points New England left on the field early on and how things would have been completely different with better execution and more aggressive coaching.
On their first three drives, the Patriots amassed 159 yards, reached the Eagles’ 8-yard line twice, and walked away with a grand total of three points.
The first time Brady took the field he led a 9-play, 67-yard drive for a game-tying field goal. His third-down pass to Rob Gronkowski was way behind the tight end and nearly intercepted. It was a sign of things to come: brilliance hitting an sudden wall.
He then responded to an Eagles touchdown by marching the Patriots 74 yards on the second drive before a botched snap led to a missed field goal. It’s worth wondering if the special teams unit should have ever been on the field, though. On 3rd-and-2 from the Philadelphia 8, Brandin Cooks took an end around, went skyward, and came down a yard short of the line to gain. Instead of being aggressive, Belichick played it safe — or so he thought.
On the Patriots’ third possession the theme hit home hard with its “close but no cigar” symbolism. On 3rd-and-5 from the Eagles’ 35, Brady was unable to secure a sneaky pass from Danny Amendola. The ball was inches out of his reach with no defender in sight. Belichick then opted to go for it on fourth down, and Brady’s pass to Gronkowski was again unsuccessful.
The Patriots were ever so close to putting up 17 or even 21 points on their first three drives. Instead they netted three, thanks to uncharacteristically poor execution and a risk-adverse Belichick. They had a chance to bury Philadelphia early, before Foles really began to cook. They had a chance to seize control of the game. They repeatedly failed.
It was unlike Brady and unlike Belichick. The early shakiness helped clear the path for Philadelphia, who capitalized emotionally. So often we focus on the final 15 or 20 minutes of a game when doing a postmortem. But the pesky fact is the first 15 or 20 are just as meaningful, even if the full scale of what’s happening isn’t as easy to appreciate.