Hindsight is usually reserved for super fans and sports talk radio, with the Patriots especially adept at focusing mostly on what’s down the road, not in the rearview mirror.
But in some cases — say, less than 24 hours after a stinging defeat in the Coffee Capital of the World — a fresh pot of flashback is brewed and ready to be served. It can be cathartic at times, combustible at others. On Monday, Patriots coaches were hoping that by reflecting on what happened late in Sunday’s 24-23 loss to the Seahawks at CenturyLink Field, the same mistakes aren’t made again. The goal? Make it be a learning experience, painful as it was.
The loss, in a game in which the Patriots built a 23-10 fourth-quarter lead, dropped New England to 3-3 and into a tie for first — and last — in the AFC East, with the Jets coming to town this Sunday. The Jets, Bills, and Dolphins are also 3-3.
“We just collectively didn’t do enough in any area,” coach Bill Belichick said in the weekly teleconference, pushed up a day because the players were given Monday off, instead of the traditional Tuesday. “When we really needed it, we weren’t able to make the plays we needed to make.
“We’re all disappointed. We all share in the defeat: coaches, players, offense, defense, special teams, line and skill players, everybody. We’ve come up short in three games, not by very much but it’s been enough. We have to find a way to perform better, both throughout the game and certainly in the critical game-changing situations at the end.”
Tom Brady and the offense assume part of the blame for not taking advantage of the scoring opportunities they had against the Seahawks. They were 1 for 6 in the red zone, threw an interception in the end zone, and wasted a chance to score at the end of the first half with an intentional grounding penalty.
But the defense might bear the bigger brunt of the criticism coming the Patriots’ way. Specifically the secondary, and its inability to avoid big plays by opposing pass offenses.
No better example than on Seattle’s game-winning touchdown drive, when rookie quarterback Russell Wilson found a streaking Sidney Rice for a 46-yard scoring pass. Counting penalties, it was the seventh and final play that went for at least 20 yards.
Were the Patriots in the right defensive scheme? Rice made a move on rookie safety Tavon Wilson, and caught the ball before another rookie safety, reserve Nate Ebner, could come over and make a play. Knowing that the Seahawks needed a touchdown, why were the Patriots playing a base defense, with just four defensive backs?
“Could the pass rush have been better? It always can,” Belichick said. “Could the coverage have been better? Definitely. Could we have been in something other than that when that play was called? Of course, that’s part of it, too. We don’t have any defenses designed to give up 50-yard touchdowns.
“Could we have called something else or designed something else? We could have, but we’d have to execute that, too.”
Asked specifically if there should have been at least one more defensive back in the game when the likelihood of Seattle passing was high, Belichick said, “I don’t know. I think we had enough people back there on paper. Look, I’m not trying to put the blame on the players or anything like that, that’s not what this is about. Was there a different call we could have made? There always is.”
The coach who likely made that call, defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, was also asked on Monday about the personnel grouping on the field for Seattle’s winning score.
“I can’t really say that an extra defender or an extra player here or there would have helped us,” Patricia said. “But we’ve got to obviously do a better job overall, from coaching and playing to just handling the situation and the play better.”
Last year and now this year, the Patriots have been susceptible defensively. They ranked next-to-last in yards allowed last season, and are No. 22 through six games this season. Only four teams are allowing more passing yards per game than the Patriots (288.8).
Some of it is a pass rush that has produced just 11 sacks, some of it might be because the Patriots can build leads and force opponents to catch up by throwing. But much of the focus has been on the secondary, its struggles at defending the pass, and its vulnerability against big gains.
Are the mistakes technique, or mental?
“I think you’re probably going to look at both when you go back and take a look at it,” Patricia said. “What could we have done from an awareness standpoint that was better? What could we have done from a technique standpoint that was better? You need to improve on both, because it just wasn’t good enough.”
That seems to be a recurring theme so far this year. No hindsight necessary.