JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — In cities that have NFL teams, they call it Overreaction Monday.
Either fans get too excited after a big win (Super Bowl, baby!) or bring the doom and gloom after a close victory or a loss (They’re not going anywhere!).
Expect more of the latter in New England Monday following the Patriots’ mediocre 23-16 victory over the Jaguars on Sunday.
And some of the criticism, especially when it concerns the offense, will be warranted.
It was one thing to fall behind the excellent 49ers, 31-3, at home, but it was quite another to trail the Jaguars, 13-3.
The Patriots trailed the past two weeks a combined 44-6 before rallying for a 7-point loss, and then a 7-point victory that went down to the final tick on the clock.
“We played pretty terrible out there,” said quarterback Tom Brady. “We’re lucky to win. Just a poor effort overall. Didn’t compete. Execution was terrible.”
Said guard Logan Mankins: “Some weeks you’re good, some weeks you look like crap like we did today.”
Still, a win’s a win, and this one at EverBank Field got the Patriots into the conversation once again to have a first-round bye in the playoffs.
The Texans were blown out, 23-6, at home by the Vikings. A Houston loss next Sunday at the Colts or Denver being upset at home by the Chiefs, coupled with a Patriots victory at home against the Dolphins, would give the Patriots a seat on the couch wild-card weekend.
On the offensive side of the Patriots’ locker room, a playoff update was met with the same excitement Bill Belichick shows when meeting with the media.
“We’ve got a lot of problems going on here right now that we need to correct, and not worry about what’s going on out there,” Mankins said. “If we would have beat them by 30, I’d say we were watching that, but we have enough to take care of in our own locker room than to worry about others.”
The Patriots’ offensive house is definitely messy and needs to be cleaned up.
Here are the chief areas of concern heading into the regular-season finale:
Hits on Brady — He’s taking way too many, and it needs to stop. Brady got dinged on his throwing hand by Jaguars end Jason Babin with 5:38 left in the first quarter. He awkwardly held the hand in his pocket during his postgame news conference, and was favoring it otherwise after the game. Hand Watch will commence this week.
Brady was sacked three times by the Jaguars and hit nine other times, a total of 12 knockdowns. That is the most times Brady has hit the turf since the start of the 2010 season. The only games close were the nine accumulated last week against the 49ers and two weeks prior against the Dolphins (Sunday’s opponent).
Against the Jaguars, the Patriots allowed three sacks, seven hurries, and nine hits. Entering the game, the Jaguars had averaged 1.1, 6.1, and 3.2 in those categories, according to ProFootballFocus.com.
But not only was the Patriots’ pass-blocking operation — and that includes Brady (knockdown after holding the ball too long) and running backs Brandon Bolden (knockdown), Shane Vereen (sack), and Danny Woodhead (knockdown) — unusually poor against the Jaguars, it continued a recent pattern.
Brady has been knocked to the turf 45 times in the last five games. In the first 10 games, he was knocked down 37 times.
“Any time Tom gets hit, it’s too much, and the fact is that he got hit, so there’s more that we need to do,” center Ryan Wendell said.
Unfortunately, the offensive line’s recent performance has detracted from what was shaping up to be a terrific season for the unit. Even now, it’s still very good. A line that had everyone worried because of the losses of left tackle Matt Light and right guard Brian Waters has comparable numbers to last year’s unit through 15 games: 26 sacks (28 in ’11), 92 hurries (84), and 56 knockdowns (46).
“You’re always concerned when you don’t play well, you want to play better,” Mankins said. “I think this week we’re going to try to get things straightened out. Hopefully, we can turn it around.”
Injuries to key players — The Patriots need a bye, if for no other reason than to get some key players healthy on offense, particularly tight end Aaron Hernandez.
We all know his high ankle sprain was not going to get appreciably better until the offseason, but Hernandez’s ability to perform since returning from a three-game layoff slowly has deteriorated to the point that the Patriots debated whether to even dress him against the Jaguars. And then he was put out there basically in a decoy role, where it sure looked like Brady was instructed to stay away from Hernandez until he really needed Hernandez, easing the wear and tear on him.
Yes, the Patriots are 5-1 this season when Hernandez is inactive, but in order to win the Super Bowl, they are going to need all their weapons healthy.
That includes Welker, who caught another 10 passes against the Jaguars. Welker gets a lot of criticism for untimely drops, but if anyone knew the pain he’s battling with foot and ankle injuries just to be out there, his 110-catch (and counting) season would be even more worthy of adulation.
Between plays, Welker looks like a 65-year-old man straining to get out of bed. But between the whistles, he’s still one of the best. But can he keep it up for another four weeks to reach the Super Bowl? Can Mankins, who despite looking much better after sitting out three games is still battling leg/hip injuries?
Precision — The return of Rob Gronkowski is going to help the offense a lot. The 49ers and the Jaguars both used double teams against Welker and Hernandez to throw Brady off. Teams can’t do that when Gronkowski is on the field. They have to pick their poison if Hernandez and Welker are healthy.
Until that time, Brady and Brandon Lloyd need to get on the same page. On the interception on the throw to Lloyd, Brady didn’t make a great pass, but Lloyd failed to get his body between the ball and the defender.
On the incomplete pass to Lloyd in the end zone on third down in the first quarter, Brady expected Lloyd to cut off the angle of the cornerback by working back to the front pylon. Lloyd ran to the back pylon, which allowed the cornerback to undercut the route.
Brady had his own error on his first interception, when he underthrew Stevan Ridley down the left sideline. Ridley had 5 yards on linebacker Russell Allen, but Brady’s poor throw allowed him to get back into the play and disrupt the pass. If Brady led Ridley, he may have scored.
Combine some failed blitz pickups by the running backs, including one on which Bolden took out both Mankins and left tackle Nate Solder to cause a sack, and you have an offense that has lost its stride.
The good news is these are minor problems that can be cleaned up.
The offensive line can get back to playing like it did the first 10 weeks.
The health of Hernandez, Welker, and Mankins can be managed.
Gronkowski can return and open the coverages for everyone.
And the entire offense can get its timing back and get off to better starts, starting with Sunday’s game against the Dolphins.
“I remember on the sideline, [offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia] said, ‘It’s one guy here, one guy there,’ ” Mankins said. “And we had way too much of that where one guy wasn’t doing good enough. We need all 11 guys to do good.”
It is Overreaction Monday, and the Patriots’ offense will get some deserved heat.
But it also deserves some space to get things clicking again. This is a great offense, with a solid line and abundant playmakers.
It won’t take much to be that again.