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Positives and Negatives: Patriots Struggle Against San Francisco

Matthew J. Lee / Globe Staff (http://www.boston.com/sports/football/patriots/extra_points/2012/12/5_takeaways_fro_14.html)

Now that New England fans have had a few days to mull over the current circumstances of the team in the aftermath of their loss to the 49ers, we can take a look at some of the Positives and Negatives from Sunday night’s action.

Positives

  • Tom Brady continued to stake his claim as one of the best quarterbacks of all time. There are not many men, past or present, who can take a team from down 28 points to the San Francisco 49ers and their lauded defense all the way back in less than a quarter’s worth of game clock. He did have two interceptions, one of which was not really his fault, but, given the hand he was dealt, I would say he is close to the top of the list when it comes to performers in this game. Seeing him run for a few more first downs in this game can really give fans an idea of just how motivated this guy is right now; he even made a big tackle after his first interception to Carlos Rodgers. This loss could be just a little more fuel for the fire, and if Brady can play any better than in that second half, opposing defenses are in for some trouble.
  • With Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen in the doghouse due to horrible fumbles, Danny Woodhead stepped up and had arguably one of his best games as a Patriot. He was shifty in the backfield, but he never danced too much, as he made one cut to hit the hole numerous times, gashing the San Fran defense for some big runs. He also added two touchdowns on the ground. Woodhead remains New England’s best third down back, receiving back, and blocking back. If his ability to move the chains continues to surface, don’t be surprised to see him get some extra carries in the coming weeks.
  • Brandon Lloyd has officially had his coming out party: 10 catches for 190 yards, and he was far and away the best receiver on the Patriots Sunday night. Although he did not score (a penalty called back his touchdown reception), he was an integral part of the comeback, making athletic catches all over the field, including hauling in a 53-yard strike up the right sideline. He finally showcased his ability to be the vertical threat that he was brought in to be, and if he continues to play well and earn Brady’s trust, he will have a big role in the playoffs. If anything, this new depth to the Patriots’ offense will cause teams to have to respect the deep ball, opening up lanes for some of the underneath receivers on the team.
  • The defense showed two sides in this game, and during the comeback stretch, they played with the intensity and discipline of a top tier defense. Vince Wilfork has continued to play at the highest level of his career, and Rob Ninkovich added a key sack to his growing stat line on the season. Devin McCourty made a nice, athletic play to intercept the ball in the endzone and the defense made a few red zone stops that kept the game close early on, bailing out the team after numerous mistakes by the offense.

Negatives

  • What has happened to Stevan Ridley? Key fumbles two weeks in a row have him in Belichick’s doghouse (he dropped the football three times, but one was recovered by NE and another was turned over by replay). The biggest one stunted a lot of his team’s momentum, as they were driving to get back in the game, and he fumbled around the SF 35-yard line, yielding a 60+ yard fumble return to Dashon Goldson that eventually resulted in a touchdown. With the Patriots playing less-than-challenging opponents in the coming weeks, we’ll see if he sees some time on the bench for his transgressions. (of note: Shane Vereen had a costly fumble as well, leading to his departure from the game)
  • Drops, drops, drops, and more drops. Hernandez and Welker continue to drop passes from Tom Brady, with one leading directly to a turnover. These issues absolutely have to be figured out if this team wants a deep playoff run.
  • The other half of the defense was abhorrent. Granted, the large deficit early on was not all their fault, any time you give up 41 points is a huge problem. All four of the San Francisco touchdown passes went for more than 24 yards, and almost all of those were wide open, blown assignments. Kyle Arrington getting beat on the touchdown that sealed the deal is one of the worst plays a corner can make, and put the Patriots miraculous comeback officially in the rearview. Alfonso Dennard getting hurt doesn’t help either; this secondary needs all hands on deck for the playoffs.
  • This special teams unit hasn’t had a worse game yet this season. Numerous penalties on receiving teams stymied some of the offensive progress and a 60+ yard return allowed to LaMichael James right after the Patriots finally tied the game is completely inexcusable. Some of the onus has to be on Stephen Gostkowski to keep the ball in the middle of the field and James away from the sideline.

Maybe the Patriots needed a good punch in the mouth to get some perspective and understand that the road to the Super Bowl requires that you show up to every single game. With a realistic chance at a first round bye pretty much off the table thanks to Peyton Manning and the Broncos, this team will have to win out to maintain its hold on the three seed and a home game in Wild Card Weekend. Luckily, the Patriots face Jacksonville and Miami in the next few weeks, and neither one of those contests seems particularly terrifying, provided the team plays well in all phases for 60 minutes.

Stats courtesy of NFL.com

About DMac - @dmac4226

I grew up on Boston Sports during the championship era. Nothing has supported my love for Boston sports more than seeing three Lombardi Trophies, two World Series Championships, a Stanley Cup, and an NBA Championship all before turning 21. That will never stop me complaining when one of my teams falls on its face, and there will always be game film to go over, which is why I will always have something to write about.

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