NEPD Staff Writer: Matthew Jones
The New England Patriots sit at .500 once again after falling to the Seattle Seahawks 24-23; Seahawks rookie quarterback Russell Wilson had an outstanding game, and New England failed to execute in the red zone on numerous occasions. Read on for more details regarding the Patriots’ latest loss.
1. Russell Wilson throws for 293 yards and three touchdowns against a porous secondary
New England’s pass defense surrendered two deep completions early: a 29-yard pass to Sidney Rice with Patrick Chung in coverage and a 22-yard catch by tight end Zach Miller with Brandon Spikes in coverage; Spikes later compensated for the completion by stuffing Marshawn Lynch on third down and one from the nine-yard line. Kyle Arrington was also burned for by Doug Baldwin for a 50 yard gain on the following drive after Russell Wilson broke New England’s containment. Wilson’s scrambling ability surfaced again on third-and-four, as he escaped the rush, spun out of a Jerod Mayo tackle attempt, and converted a first-down into the red zone. That drive concluded with Arrington being burned by Baldwin on a seam route for a touchdown.
Patrick Chung struggled to cover Sidney Rice and later interfered with a trick play in which Rice threw a deep pass for Golden Tate; the penalty allowed Seattle to move into New England’s territory. Chung injured his shoulder shortly afterwards and did not return. Golden Tate caught another deep pass of 51 yards during the fourth quarter with Devin McCourty in coverage. Braylon Edwards reeled in a touchdown on a fade route against Alfonzo Dennard. Sidney Rice slipped past rookie safeties Tavon Wilson and Nate Ebner for a 46-yard touchdown with 1:18 remaining to give Seattle a 24-23 victory.
2. New England’s offense consistently fails to execute in key situations
The Patriots stayed away from the no-huddle offense for the majority of the game; instead, they focused their efforts on establishing the passing game as a means of moving the ball downfield by mixing in throws of varying lengths. Tom Brady threw 58 passes for 395 yards but was intercepted twice, once in the end zone. A number of Brady’s passes bounced off of their intended targets and fluttered into the air. New England’s running game was ineffective in comparison to their previous two performances; the Patriots’ offensive line was unable to clear holes against Seattle’s aggressive, physical defensive front. Brandon Bolden left the game with a knee injury and did not return, while Stevan Ridley provided just 34 yards on 16 carries. Danny Woodhead was easily New England’s most effective running back, converting a number of key first downs. The Patriots were forced to kick three field goals in the red zone (25, 35, and 35 yards), and an intentional grounding call forced a ten-second run-off which ended the first half and prevented the Patriots from scoring points. As mentioned above, Earl Thomas also intercepted an overthrown pass from Brady in the end zone during the third quarter.
3. Encouraging play from New England’s defensive front seven
The Patriots started Jermaine Cunningham at defensive end, replacing Rob Ninkovich, who shifted to outside linebacker as a substitute for the injured Dont’a Hightower. New England’s front was able to get consistent pressure on Russell Wilson during the contest; the Patriots rushed Brandon Spikes, Jerod Mayo, Rob Ninkovich, and Jermaine Cunningham out of two-point stances at times. Chandler Jones stripped Russell Wilson from behind in the second quarter, forcing a turnover; Jones recorded a second sack on Wilson later in the game, with Rob Ninkovich providing the initial pressure on a delayed blitz from the strong-side linebacker spot. Brandon Spikes made a number of tackles in the backfield, playing downhill for most of the game. The Seahawks lost both of their offensive fumbles. Running back Marshawn Lynch was also limited to 41 yards on 15 carries; the Seahawks combined to rush for 85 yards on 26 attempts.
4. New England’s various receiving options stand out on the stat sheet
Aaron Hernandez made an impact in his return, separating from strongside linebacker K.J. Wright to convert a critical third down. Later, he split out wide near the goal line and caught a diving fade to score his second touchdown of the year; his six receptions went for a total of 30 yards. Brandon Lloyd dropped one sideline pass, but made an excellent spinning catch down the sideline with Brandon Browner in coverage on the next throw; Lloyd nearly landed inbounds on what would have been amazing deep throw during the fourth quarter. He finished the game with six catches for 80 yards. Tom Brady connected with Wes Welker on a deep throw into zone coverage for a 46-yard touchdown pass; Welker slipped past Earl Thomas, who was playing shallow. Welker caught 10 passes for 138 yards and a touchdown on the game. Rob Gronkowski added three straight catches for 36 yards on one drive and ended up with six grabs for 61 yards. Even Daniel Fells got involved, making an incredible diving catch for a 35-yard gain.
5. Patriots damaged by numerous injuries on offense, defense, and special teams
Although Aaron Hernandez’s return performance was encouraging, four key Patriots players were injured during the game. Rookie running back Brandon Bolden exited with a knee injury and did not return. Wide receiver Brandon Lloyd injured his shoulder attempting to reel in a deep throw late in the fourth quarter, and fellow receiver Matthew Slater was shaken up after making a special teams tackle. Patrick Chung also exited the game with a shoulder injury; his replacement, Nate Ebner, was in coverage on Seattle’s game-winning touchdown throw. Of course, New England was also without starting strongside linebacker Dont’a Hightower and reserve linebacker Tracy White. Special teams standouts such as Slater, Chung, and White may have helped prevent Leon Washington’s compromising 25-yard punt return which preceded the Seahawks’ final drive.