Monday, October 13, 2008

A giant step backwards

So this is where all that momentum went?

One week after an inspiring, well-played effort over the San Francisco 49ers, the Patriots traveled to San Diego full of confidence and swagger, ready to show the world that the injured knee of Tom Brady was a temporary setback, rather than a dibilitating loss.

With that new found enthusiasm, New England proceeded to get smoked by the Chargers, 30-10, failing to throw the ball, run the ball, defend the pass or really do something, anything right.

Remember that feeling in the pit of your stomach, that sinking feeling, after New England got roughed up against Miami? That's what you're feeling now. That feeling that despite the presence of Randy Moss, Wes Welker, an All-Pro offensive line, a defense of veteran playmakers and Bill Belichick on the sidelines...this just is not a good football team right now.

Where to start? You can look at the aimless play of Matt Cassel, who seemed to be figuring things out after a 260-yard effort against the 49ers. Instead, Cassel reverted back to the quarterback we saw against Miami, and while he looked poised, the results indicated otherwise. He relied too much on short dump-offs to running back Sammy Morris and Wes Welker, and again failed to connect with Randy Moss while choosing too often to make plays with his feet. If there is a positive to be found in Cassel's effort, it's that he at least tried to hit Moss, rather than forget about him like he did versus the Dolphins. But there's no question that, for this offense to work, Moss has to be involved early and often.

While Cassel looked lost at times, it was the Patriot defense that was sounding alarms. From the first play, a 47-yard pass to Vincent Jackson over an embarassingly-burnt Deltha O'Neal, on, the Chargers consistently pounded New England with deep passes, out routes and throws over the middle. The run defense, which held all-world running back LaDainian Tomlinson to only 74 yards and no touchdowns, was stout. The secondary, notably cornerbacks Ellis Hobbs and O'Neal, was not, and Charger quarterback Philip Rivers converted on nearly every opportunity to exploit them.

Experts declared New England's season D.O.A. after Brady's injury, and while Cassel has not starred as the franchise player's replacement, Sunday's primetime debacle reminded us that Cassel isn't all that's wrong. The defense is in critical condition, and unless something is fixed, so is the Patriots' season.

Where to start?

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