Heading into Sunday night's game, there were a plethora of storylines surrounding the New England Patriots. Staunch Trump supporters, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, were the focus of the media following Election Day. The Patriots traded arguably their best defensive player for pennies on the dollar in Jamie Collins. and Dion Lewis was questionably left inactive after being put on to the 53-man roster.
It is stupid to think none of these contributing factors played a role in the Patriots' defeat, and I am saying that as a staunch Patriots supporter. Missing Jamie Collins was a huge factor, even if it was just in the minds of the players on defense. Elandon Roberts is a stout player in the defensive run game, but he is not great in coverage, as we saw multiple times against the Seahawks. Jamie Collins had not been playing well for the first half of the 2016 season, but he has one of the highest upsides in the entire NFL.
Something needs to change on the defense. The Patriots cannot give up 31 points to a team that ranks in the bottom of the league in points per game. The Seahawks were able to do whatever they wanted offensively, as Russell Wilson picked apart this weak secondary. The Patriots were forced to play zone coverage, which does not bold well for players like Dont'a Hightower and the aforementioned Elandon Roberts. Additionally, the Patriots' cornerbacks have continued to struggle. Logan Ryan was benched for multiple weeks while Eric Rowe filled in, but was given a chance to redeem himself against the Seahawks. Unfortunately, it looked as if Wilson was targeting Ryan on ever play, as no-named Seahawk wide receivers hauled in receptions down the field with ease.
Malcolm Butler has struggled during various parts of this season, and he once again had an up-and-down game on Sunday. It particularly bugs me that Butler struggled so much because, simply put, the Seahawks offense is not that good. They do not have a Julio Jones or Antonio Brown-type of player that will burn you on the outside. These are the types of games that Butler should dominate if he wants to get a massive contract.
Offensively, the Patriots went through long lulls where they had difficulty moving the ball. Tom Brady threw a horrendous interception down the field where it looked as if he simply did not have enough juice behind the ball to get to the open receiver. Aside from the interception, Brady was once again sharp, all while having to deal with an injured quad after being targeted by safety Kam Chancellor, which resulted in a roughing the passer penalty.
To make matters even worse, Rob Gronkowski was rocked by Earl Thomas on a completely legal hit that clearly knocked the wind right out of Gronk. He came off the field for four plays, went through the concussion protocol, and was cleared to play. However, late last night, it was revealed to us that Gronk suffered a punctured lung.
Adam Schefter has since refuted this report, claiming that Gronk simply has a chest injury. Whatever the injury may be, it is clear that Gronk should be held out of game action next week against the San Francisco 49ers, and maybe even the week after that. A healthy Gronkowski is vital to a sustained run by the Patriots in the playoffs.
There is no doubt about it, this was not a good game for the Patriots. They struggled on both sides of the football and were bullied out of Gillette Stadium. The Seahawks punched the Patriots directly in the mouth and they could not respond. While this was clearly a demoralizing loss, the Patriots had the opportunity to win the game but were unable to punch the ball into the end zone after four tries inside the 10-yard line.
Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia both deserve some blame for this loss. I thought McDaniels' play calling was questionable throughout the entire game, as the Patriots were not executing their typical dink-and-dunk passes, but instead took shots down the field and ran the ball far too often.
Patricia's situation is a lot more head-scratching and difficult to figure out. Why did the Patriots play so much zone-coverage? Why did the Patriots only rush three guys on almost every single play? It is very well-known that Wilson likes to keep the ball in his hands to extend plays and can sometimes make mistakes because of it. Why play to his strengths?
Why would the Patriots not send everyone they have at the quarterback and play man coverage?
I truly believe the Patriots do not have confidence in their defense, which is puzzling because of the recent trade of Jamie Collins.
We will not see the Patriots tested, or at least I hope not, for the next few weeks. The Patriots are scheduled to play the 49ers, Jets, and Rams in the next three weeks, but they do have a matchup December 12 against the Baltimore Ravens, who have been playing pretty good football over the past few weeks.
It is not time to panic, but the defense is an obvious concern that needs to be addressed.