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Flagging the Patriots for five

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff  September 20, 2010 10:11 AM

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So the AFC East is not going to be a runaway, as it turns out, and took only two weeks to prove it. The Patriots beat the Bengals, who beat the Ravens, who beat the Jets, who beat the Patriots. Round and round it goes. What a vicious cycle.

Disappointed by the Patriots loss at the New Meadowlands yesterday? That’s understandable. But surprised? Don’t be. The AFC East figured to be a dogfight this season – and it will be – and the Jets will travel to unbeaten Miami (2-0) next week while the Patriots host the Buffalo Bills. The ebb and flow in this division this season could be unlike any in recent memory.

In the last three years of the AFC East, the Pats have finished one season undefeated (2007), the Dolphins have won a division title (2008) and the Jets have reached the AFC Championship Game (2009).

Nonetheless, with regard to the Patriots, there are some questions worth considering today, beginning with:

1. Really, what did you expect?

If you unexpectedly got your hopes up following the Week 1 victory over Cincinnati, shame on you. The league just doesn’t work that way. The Jets have the best defense in the NFL and, despite their ineptitude, lost by one point last Monday against Baltimore. New York was the far more desperate team entering Week 2 and the Jets played like it.

Seriously, did you think this game was going to be a cakewalk? Some prognosticators were picking the Pats to win this game by double digits, which was downright delusional. The Patriots still have a great deal of youth on their team and, save for Mark Sanchez, the Jets have a lot of veterans, especially on defense.

Stat of the day: New York held the ball for 31:30 of the final three quarters compared to just 13:30 for the Patriots.

2. Where was Wes?

Before yesterday, in the last meeting between the Patrtiots and Jets, Wes Welker had 15 catches for 192 yards. Jets coach Rex Ryan raved about Welker leading up to this game, calling Welker a matchup "nightmare." The Jets still came out and put Darrelle Revis on Randy Moss, allowing Welker to catch four passes for 33 yards and a touchdown in the first half.

For whatever reason, the Patriots got away from targeting Welker, who had two catches in the second half: one for seven yards, one for minus-2. Tom Brady did not throw a pass intended for Welker in the final 25 minutes of the game. And if anyone suggests that Welker was loopy from an illegal, first-half hit by Eric Smith, remember that Welker scored on a six-yard touchdown after the penalty.

This sounds more like a coaching blunder than anything else.

3. Are the Patriots actually going to miss Laurence Maroney?

The numbers against the Jets are what they were – 20 rushes, 52 yards, a measly 2.6 average – but the Jets had one of the best run defense in league last year, even without nose tackle Kris Jenkins, holding opponents to 3.8 yards per carry. The Patriots weren’t going to be able to run much this game. They knew it. And they didn’t.

Pats coach Bill Belichick clearly felt the need to cut bait with Maroney, who had slid down the depth chart. The problem now is that Fred Taylor (five rushes for 11 yards yesterday) was on the injury report for much of last week and that Kevin Faulk left yesterday’s game with a knee issue. The Pats already are starting to look thin at the position, which leads to the question: Do they need another back for the Buffalo game?

4. Is Mark Sanchez better that everyone thought – or is the Patriots’ defense just worse?

The answer, of course, is probably a little of both. Sanchez’s quarterback rating of 124.3 was the highest of his regular season career; one of the other three also came against the Patriots. The Jets picked on Darius Butler and further exploited the Patriots’ inability to cover tight ends, Dustin Keller hauling in seven passes for 115 yards and a touchdown.

Obviously, the season is still very young, so statistics can be skewed at this stage. Nonetheless, they are all we have to go on. Thus far, the Patriots have allowed an average of 270.5 passing yards per game – fifth worst in the league – while permitting opposing quarterbacks to post a 104.4 rating, also fifth worst. Opponents have five touchdown passes and just one interception while completing 68.8 percent of their passes, the last of which is sixth worst.

Entering this week, the Bills appear to have no real passing game.

But then, we said the same thing about the Jets.

5. What is wrong with Stephen Gostkowski?

The obvious focus here concerns field goals because the Pats overall play on special teams has otherwise been quite good. Of Gostkowski’s 10 kickoffs this year, four have resulted in touchbacks. On the other six, opponents have averaged a mere 16.7 yards in returns, sixth-best in the league thus far. This was a problem last year and it appears to have been addressed.

But the field goals? Gostkowski is 1 for 4 so far this year, though one of those misses was a 56-yard attempt at the end of the half against Cincinnati – and it had plenty of leg. Still, Gostkowski also has missed from 47 yards (against Cincy) and 37 (against the Jets), the latter coming yesterday after a 5-yards penalty erased a 32-yarder he had successfully converted. The penalty obviously hurt, but a 37-yarder still should be automatic.

This year, when the schedule gets tougher, the Pats cannot afford to have missed opportunities of the like.

Yesterday was proof.

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Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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