Will Patriots respond to adversity?
Observations from the Patriots' 22-21 loss to the Dolphins at Land Shark Stadium:
1. Leadership and responding to adversity. The Patriots have had a lot of success for so long, you ask yourself the question "What type of experiences can the young players go back to that brings them back to a time they dug out of a streak like this?" Right now, a lot of the young players on the team don't know what it's like to deal with a losing streak or losing three out of four. How do you get yourself out of that? What attitude do you have to have? In the Patriots' case, some of the young players might shake off a loss, thinking it's going to turn around because that's what has happened in the past. That's where the leaders on this team have to find ways to get their message across to players who might be from a different generation. If an older player sees a younger player who needs guidance, sometimes you can go up to that player and talk to him as a professional and say "This is a problem. This is what we need to work on. This is why we're not succeeding." But sometimes that can go in one ear and out another. So as a leader, you look for different ways to get the message across and one of those is going through the media. I think that's what Tom Brady was attempting to do after the game when he essentially said 'Sometimes we fight back, sometimes we don't.' He was trying to send a message to his team. Tom does talk to the team in the locker room and says what needs to be said. But he might have been thinking that some of the words aren't getting through to the team and that's why he said something publicly. That's a strong message to send from a strong leader.
2. Playoffs are not a given. The Patriots are now in a situation where they are in a dogfight to win the division. They are not even playing the best football in the division, so they can't be considered a leading candidate in the AFC East. They've lost three out of four and haven't won on the road, except for the trip to London. If you want to be considered a playoff team, you have to be surging in December and prove you can win on the road. That's not who the Patriots are right now.
3. Different year, different team. Given the way the Patriots are playing, games must be managed with coaches and players anticipating that it will be close. Points will be at a premium. So if you have a situation where you can get three points, you take the three points instead of going for it on fourth down. When you're in the red zone, you can't be throwing interceptions. You have to make better decisions than that. If the Patriots were blowing people out, like they were in 2007, then these missed opportunities get overlooked. Not having Brady last year and going undefeated the year before that, many thought that this year would be a continuation of 2007 in assuming Brady and this offense would blow everyone out. But with a developing young defense, and being two years removed from 2007, this is an entirely different team. Right now, the 2008 team is better than the 2009 team at this time of the season. The '08 team surged in December and finished on a four-game winning streak. That could possibly be an experience that the young players can draw upon, how they went to battle last year and were 11-5 without Brady. Players need to stop looking for Brady and the offense to score endless touchdowns with Randy Moss and Wes Welker. Throughout the entire roster, players should be taking more responsibility in their jobs -- from Monday all the way to Sunday -- in thinking that their position and their assignment is most important to the team. That's where it starts.
4. Defensive growing pains -- cornerbacks targeted. Over the past two weeks, you've played two different quarterbacks -- one is among the best in the league, the other is closer to average. But both looked the same when going up against the Patriots defense. What's the difference between Drew Brees and Chad Henne? Opposing quarterbacks are now targeting cornerbacks like Jonathan Wilhite and Darius Butler. When that trend starts, it doesn't stop until those young players prove they shouldn't be picked on by breaking up more passes and not having blown coverages. It's a copycat league, so teams are going to look at it and say 'The Saints picked on them, the Dolphins picked on them, maybe we should.' What do you think the Panthers are thinking now? It could be a case where they say 'When Steve Smith is on Wilhite or Butler, go to him no matter what.' That is probably what is going to happen until the Patriots fix it.
5. Short-yardage issues crop up again. The Patriots struggled in short-yardage situations at the beginning of the year, and the problem has resurfaced. It's the ability to stop an opposing offense when 1 yard is needed, or the ability to get 1 yard when your offense needs it. You have to be able to pick it up, and stop a team from picking it up. It's that simple.
Tedy Bruschi played 13 seasons for the New England Patriots and is a member of the franchise's 50th anniversary team. ESPNBoston.com Patriots reporter Mike Reiss contributed to this report.
DOLPHINS 22, PATRIOTS 21
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