5 notes from the Patriots’ loss that raise questions against the Broncos

5 notes from the Patriots' loss that raise questions against the Broncos

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Five remarks from the Patriots’ faith-draining, question-provoking showers, and the cold showers of defeat against the Denver Broncos, who left Gillette Stadium with a win 18-12 Sunday afternoon …

A real setback

The Patriots’ performance on Sunday came with an internal excuse, considering the mess COVID-19 has wrought on the organization during the time they were supposed to spend preparing for the competition. Positive testing and reports of player discomfort dominated a 13-day period, until three more New England squads were relegated to the reserve list on Saturday afternoon. This may explain some of what happened in the loss to Denver.

But that shouldn’t be a consolation for Patriots fans seeking reassurance after this disappointing show – because there are no indications that the problems wrought by the pandemic will settle anytime soon. Bates will likely need to play again after little or no practice. Sunday doesn’t do much to indicate that they have enough talent to beat it.

And if the way they played was not a by-product of circumstances, the game may have revealed a more disturbing reality as it relates to the team’s talent level.

Either way, Sunday was quiet.

It was alarming for those who saw losses in Seattle and Kansas City as evidence that New England was encouraging defeats. It was alarming for those who believed that Cam Newton’s presence in the quarterback kept the Patriots in elite conversation. It was alarming for those who thought East Asia was still the Bates losing out.

It was as sober as the ranking this morning, which showed the Patriots at 2-3 – not just 0.500 below, but with the sharpest rally at a conference where six teams entered this week with a score of 4-1 or better. Even with the addition of a seventh team this season, don’t expect New England to have much margin of error in their quest to secure a prime spot at the end of the season.

Games against humble teams like the Broncos – who may not deserve that description – are the kind that Bates can’t afford to lose. They are the kind that haven’t lost much of the past 20 years.

But Sunday was the first candid smack of the season that reminded New England of the comforting reality that these are not well-equipped Patriot missiles capable of overpowering them in the past.

Too many shifts … again

At the start of play Sunday, only seven NFL teams achieved more transformations than the Patriots – and of those teams, the Bronco was the only club that had not played more matches than the Patriots. On Sunday at Gillette Stadium they added three more players to their roster, while they were fortunate to reclaim two of their failures as well, and in the process they also confirmed that New England and the new midfield are having trouble protecting football.

Newton was intercepted twice by Broncos. They both veered out of the way to the intended recipient, even though they raised his total to four for the season with his 106 throw. That’s a 3.77 percent opposition rate. Only Kirk Cousins, Carson Wentz, and Nick Mullens entered Week 6 with a higher number across NFL.

Ryan Isou’s confusion doubled Newton’s selections, and the Patriots reached 10 turnovers in their fifth game of the season. In Brady’s final season at Foxboro, the team’s tenth round came in Week 9. A year ago, it came in the sixth game of the season – even though the club had only offered eight trophies in its last 10 miles.

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The only time in Brady’s tenure that the Patriots had set double records in turnovers before the end of their fifth competition was in 2002. This was also the last time the Patriots had set a losing record in October or thereafter.

This is not a coincidence.

Is cam arm okay?

When he returned from the COVID-19 situation that cost him a chance to play against Kansas City, Newton’s general health was a focal point. At the start of the year, observers focused on his foot health after his release from his Lisfranc surgery last December. There have also been lingering questions about his shoulder being thrown, with the loss of movement requiring him to undergo surgery twice between 2017 and early 2019.

Sunday’s effort may amplify those shoulder concerns.

Newton looked good from a conditioning and running perspective, as evidenced by the way his legs enabled the Batts to approach them in the fourth quarter. But when New England went to the passing match, red flags were waving in the afternoon – even with the exception of his interceptions.

Newton completed 68 percent of his throws (17 of 25), but eight of his completions were for James White and one for his backmate Damian Harris. In the other players’ 15 throws, the midfielder frequently encountered problems.

In the best case scenario, he was uncomfortable. Sometimes he was indecisive, and other times he was caught staring at his target. The Bronco was effective at getting his hands up in the face and his bodies at his feet.

But the worry is that the predominant part of the reason for his uneasiness is that something doesn’t fit his arm. There is a variety of evidence to fuel such fears.

Bates, for example, seemed to be reluctant to push the ball into the air early, opening with eight runs on the first 11 assists, and all three of the throws were heading towards the white. Then, in the middle of the second quarter, in the first continuous campaign of attack, Newton forced Damier Baird back to ways to do a diving hunting, then poorly ousted Julian Edelman in the third quarter that ended the series.

Those throws and others lack a zip code. Sometimes, it might have been because he didn’t get a chance to get into his throw, but in Bates’ last possession in the fourth quarter, he had a chance to step in one as Bird advanced his defender’s step up to the left sideline. The receiver disconnected, but Newton’s shot was too short, and she never had a chance. N’Keal Harry didn’t have a chance, either, in the fourth throw down that Newton hit well with Bates’ last playing.

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This guy looked like a midfielder who knew he needed to put some heat on him, but he tried to summon more than one arm in it, sacrificing accuracy as a result.

It may also be evident that upon final acquisition, the Patriots twice entrusted passing responsibilities to Edelman. There is no shame in playing the trick. Batts fans appreciate their strength like everyone else. But with the game at stake, and the need to put the ball up in the air, the team needs to be able to trust to turn the middle with duty.

With matches needing to be pulled together on Sunday afternoon, attacking coordinator Josh McDaniels seemed to trust the old quarterback in Kent as much as he trusted himself. If this is an indicator of strength in Newton’s shoulder, the Patriot missiles are in serious trouble.

No crime is built to overcome

Not all needing to be tricked is Newton’s fault. Even if his shoulder is intact, the range around him is limited – and it appears increasingly unable to cope with problems.

Sunday issues started in advance. Three rookies along the offensive line were inactive, and by the second series were joined by a third on the sideline. At various points, all five points on the streak were topped by players playing out of positions or playing their first meaningful, extended NFL shots. This is fatal for a team predicting its attack on the running game.

Deficiencies and lack of long yards are also fatal. The Patriots only mobilized a field goal in the first half of Sunday, their only relegation in the first quarter of the season thanks to Devin McCurty’s interception back in Seattle. They never lead against the Broncos, just like they never lead against Presidents. They put a lot of pressure on themselves with this recipe, and the talent and style that sets them apart don’t provide the ingredients needed to cook Al Oudh.

They can’t even come back from fouls in early relegation, let alone score deficits early in matches. Penalty kick, bag, passive run – these are pushing destroyers for this team, considering how poor they can convert on a third fall when they need six yards or more. They were 0-4 on Sunday, becoming 7-31 in the season in such situations. That’s 22.6%. When they could hold it five yards or less, they survived third with 60 percent (18 of 30) their attempts.

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Newton bears some of the blame, and so do his weapons. Edelman grabbed a number of balls as he threw Sunday (two). Harry had no catch. Bird is fine, and Isaiah Zuber is quick, but the tight ends remain ineffective and there’s no one but Newton’s legs that is arousing fear in the opponent’s defense right now.

Do not give the defense a pass

On the face of it, it’s hard to be too critical of a defense that was not allowed to land. In the NFL today, that is a remarkable achievement.

But don’t let the Patriots’ defense escape a predicament over their guilt in Sunday’s disaster.

Statistically, they held the Broncos to 3.6 yards per lunge, and midfielder Drew Locke finished with a 34.9-pass rating and a 41.7 completion percentage – although the numbers don’t tell the story. Bates was also not forced into a penalty kick or a spin until the fourth quarter, and Denver had two 48-yard leads and two 83-yard leads en route to score field goals on its first six possessions.

The biggest blow to Locke was his inability to throw so deeply (not surprising to those who saw the late shots that Batts had kept in), yet he was not afraid to attack New England High School. He made long strokes to set points in the first quarter, then called 35 yards in third and 21 after the break.

This came at a point in the match where the Patriots needed their defense to turn the tide. They needed to undermine the drive and give their attack a chance to find a foothold. After two defeats, they had Denver where they wanted them. Instead, Bronco moved the chains. Extend leadership. Stop there, and New England gets the ball back after five games and about three minutes – instead of what became 15 games, 83 yards, nine minutes, and seven seconds.

Bates got away with only allowing a field goal, thanks in part because the Denver receiver dropped a potential landing in his hands for a second of three times in the day. But swallowing so much time as they increased their lead to 12 was a huge win for visitors. It may also be a factor in coach Bill Belischik’s feeling of loneliness.

In the following series, Belichick rejected a penalty that would have forced Broncos to try again to switch to third. With this decision, Belichick decided that allowing Broncos to try a field goal from 54 yards would be preferable to leaving his defense to try to stop third and 14 from 46.

Letting coach Brandon McManus on the pitch at that location says all about the value of the stats published by the Patriots defense on Sunday.

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