Patriots get the horns
Poor execution in loss to Rams shows there’s much work to be done
FOXBOROUGH — The Patriots’ performance against the Rams last night is why the results of preseason games must be taken with a grain of salt.
After their win last week in Atlanta, observers near and far were toasting the Patriots. After their loss last night, it isn’t time to bury them, it is just another example of how the preseason can sometimes be misleading.
New England’s starters played into the third quarter and Tom Brady was opposing rookie quarterback Sam Bradford, but the Rams left Gillette Stadium with a 36-35 victory.
They also left Bill Belichick at a loss for words.
“We didn’t run any plays. We never had the ball. In a game of no defense, we had less,’’ was Belichick’s succinct summation.
St. Louis accumulated 462 total yards to 288 for New England, held the ball for nearly three-quarters of the game (43:46), and converted 11 of 17 third-down chances to just 2 of 7 for the Patriots.
The Patriots’ offense struggled in the first half, with three possessions that ended without gaining a first down.
“The first half, we didn’t play our best,’’ Brady said. “We just couldn’t stay on the field offensively, and defensively they just couldn’t get off the field. We weren’t complementing each other very well.’’
Running back Sammy Morris agreed.
“Terrible execution across the board,’’ he said. “That’s the worst of it, really.’’
Conversely, St. Louis strung together scoring drives of 10, 8, 7, 9, and 15 plays — the final one with third-string quarterback Thaddeus Lewis under center and with most of New England’s first-team defense still on the field.
“They came out and executed, but as for us we were flat, we didn’t execute and we just didn’t play well,’’ safety James Sanders said. “From the start of the game — besides the opening kickoff — from then on, at least defensively, we weren’t playing up to the standards that we hold.’’
Things got off to a promising enough start for the Patriots as Brandon Tate took the opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown. It was the first time since last preseason, when rookie Julian Edelman took a punt back against the Eagles, that New England had scored a return touchdown.
But St. Louis, with Bradford making the start in place of injured A.J. Feeley, wasn’t down for long. Known for his accuracy at Oklahoma, Bradford worked with precision on his first drive, completing all four of his passes to three different receivers for 48 yards during a 72-yard touchdown drive.
New England then had its first three-and-out. Of note during that possession, and the rest of the game: Laurence Maroney did not take the field. Morris started and got the bulk of the first-team carries.
Maroney has yet to take a snap this preseason with Brady at quarterback. Morris was told yesterday that he would be starting, and all of the backs understood that there would be a rotation. But still there is no clear explanation as to why Maroney, who has not missed a practice, has languished on the bench for two straight games.
The Patriots’ defense did have a goal-line stand to start the second quarter, when Ron Brace sacked Bradford for a 7-yard loss on second down from the 8. A third-down pass netted 9 yards, but the Rams settled for a 25-yard Josh Brown field goal.
But after another three-and-out by the Patriots, the Rams went on another touchdown drive, this one just 38 yards after a long punt return from Danny Amendola.
As the Patriots struggled, Bradford enjoyed every minute.
“It was a blast out there. Tonight was really the first time I had fun,’’ he said. “It felt like I was doing what I am used to doing, which is moving the offense up and down the field and scoring points. Any time you can do that, it’s a blast.’’
In a recurring theme, the Patriots struggled to get pressure on Bradford, and as a result the secondary was asked to cover for longer. With Leigh Bodden coming off an extended absence because of a knee injury, New England started rookie Devin McCourty and second-year player Darius Butler at cornerback. McCourty, who played well last week, struggled last night.
New England’s offense didn’t begin to look like the unit that’s been on display throughout the preseason until its final drive of the second quarter. Brady completed a pass to Wes Welker for 39 yards, and a sideline pass to Alge Crumpler, which was originally called an incompletion, but was overturned and put the Patriots in the red zone.
Two plays later, rookie tight end Rob Gronkowski took Rams linebacker James Laurinaitis for a ride, dragging him several yards before diving for the goal line and his first touchdown of the night. That play went to review as well, and it was ruled that Gronkowski was not down before the ball crossed the plane.
But again St. Louis responded, and went into halftime with a 20-14 lead after a 45-yard Brown field goal. Bradford, who played the entire first half, finished 15 of 22 for 189 yards and two touchdowns.
Lewis took over at the start of the third quarter and was just as effective as Bradford. Lewis, undrafted out of Duke, faced most of New England’s top defense, yet still converted four third downs (one on a penalty) before completing a pass to Brandon Gibson. Gibson juked Butler and ran into the end zone for a 20-yard touchdown.
The Patriots’ offense did convert a couple of big plays, though they came against the Rams’ reserves. The first was a bomb to Randy Moss for a 65-yards TD.
New England scored again at the start of the fourth, the key play on the drive being a pretty ball to Gronkowski over the middle.
The Patriots had four straight touchdown drives, but Brown’s 37-yard field as time expired gave the Rams the win.
“It’s the third preseason game, so what that means is there is a lot more to evaluate tomorrow and it’s another game in the books and everyone competes,’’ Brady said. “In the end, it comes down to losing the game, and no one ever feels good about that around here.’’
Shalise Manza Young can be reached at email@example.com.