The New England Patriots have no one to blame but themselves

Jake Bailey #7 of the New England Patriots (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)
Jake Bailey #7 of the New England Patriots (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images) /

The New England Patriots suffered a tough loss to the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday night, with the final score clocking in at 27-17. The loss pushes the Patriots out of the top seed in the AFC, and they now currently sit in third place behind the Kansas City Chiefs and Tennessee Titans (although they could move up a spot if the Titans lose to the Pittsburgh Steelers this afternoon).

It’s clear this was an extremely important game for both sides, although it’s safe to say it probably meant more for the Colts, who are fighting to stay alive in the wild card race, than it did for the Patriots. Despite that, a win here would have been huge for New England, not just because they would hold onto the top seed in the AFC, but because they would have virtually locked up the AFC East in the process.

But now, New England’s once envious position has fallen right out from underneath them. The AFC East seemed locked up, but now Buffalo (assuming they beat the Carolina Panthers this afternoon) could retake the top seed in the East if they are able to beat the Patriots in their upcoming Week 16 bout. Maybe Cam Newton is still a Patriot at heart and will help his former squad out by beating the Bills, but that seems quite unlikely.

The Patriots had put themselves in a fantastic position to have one of the top seeds, if not the top seed in the AFC, but now it is all at risk of falling apart right in front of them, and they have nobody to blame but themselves. Indianapolis had a good gameplan and implemented it well, but they didn’t win last night’s game; New England simply beat themselves.

The New England Patriots beat themselves, and they may end up paying the price

In just about every facet of the game, the New England Patriots managed to find a way to shoot themselves in the foot, giving the Colts an advantage in the process. If New England had played the calm, cool, and collected style of football they had played during their recent seven game win streak, there’s no doubt in my mind they would have come out of this game with a win.

We will start with a look at the coaching, because the decisions made by the coaching staff played a huge impact in this game. The Patriots weren’t exactly outcoached by the Colts, but they made the Colts coaching staff look like the best in the league with their performance in this one.

The playcalling by offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was downright awful for the first three quarters. The defensive staff failed to recognize that the Colts were going to hand the ball off to their star running back Jonathan Taylor most of the time, and that Carson Wentz had no idea what he was doing when he was asked to throw the ball. And the special teams units looked completely unprepared whenever they were called upon.

Maybe this all falls on head coach Bill Belichick, as his team looked shockingly unprepared for most of the night. They committed untimely penalties all night long, picked fights with the Colts, and generally made poor decisions throughout. After coming up with a genius gameplan to beat the Bills in Week 13, this certainly wasn’t Belichick’s finest moment.

For most of the night, the New England Patriots looked like they were trying to recreate the offensive gameplan they used against the Bills for no reason whatsoever. They were missing their top running back in Damien Harris, and the Colts literally said to the media that their defensive gameplan was centered around stopping the run. Yes you want to incorporate the ground game into your offense, but that kind of has to change when you fall behind 14-0 in the first quarter.

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That is my main issue with this game; McDaniels never adapted to the game, and he essentially wasted three quarters of the game trying to get the run game going. Mac Jones admittedly threw a pair of poor interceptions, but it wasn’t as if he was playing with fire and trying to get picked off as Wentz was doing for most of the night. This article probably looks a lot different if Jakobi Meyers didn’t drop a beautiful throw from Jones right before the Colts scored off a blocked punt.

But lo and behold, once the training wheels got lifted off, Jones and the New England Patriots offense couldn’t be stopped. They scored on three of their final four possessions, and they probably could have put points on the board on their final drive if the refs decided to not ignore a blatant helmet-to-helmet hit on N’Keal Harry. Jones shook the nerves off after being down 20-0, and carved up a suspect Colts secondary. That should have been the gameplan from the start.

Defensively, the Patriots actually played pretty well for the most part. Wentz only threw 12 passes, and had he thrown any more the Colts would have been in serious trouble. He only threw one interception, but he probably deserved to throw three or four considering how many other passes New England’s defenders just outright dropped.

The problem was Taylor. Taylor torched the Patriots on the ground for 170 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries. While a large chunk of Taylor’s yardage came on his 67 yard touchdown with two minutes left in the game, New England had no answer for the league’s leading rusher.

Too often the New England Patriots refused to load the box to combat Taylor and the Colts ground game. It seemed blatantly obvious they were handing off to Taylor on most plays, yet the Pats would still dial up plays where there were only had three down linemen. You are just asking to get run all over if you do that. When they filled the box with five or six players, Taylor was often limited to minimal yardage.

Surprisingly enough, the Colts decided to go away from the Taylor for large stretches of the second half for whatever reason, inadvertently opening the door for New England to get back into the game. But just when it seemed like the Colts were about to throw the game away, Taylor broke off his biggest run of the night, and sealed the game in the process.

Prior to that run, Taylor was only averaging 3.7 yards per carry, so they generally did a good job of containing him. The Patriots defense played pretty well for the most part, but they just didn’t get enough support from the other units for it to truly matter. They also truly only gave up 17 of the Colts 27 points. Who gave up the other 10? That would be the special teams unit.

For a coach that values special teams play as much as Belichick does, this was a paltry showing from the New England Patriots special teams unit. Jake Bailey had his third punt of the season blocked, and this one was turned into seven free points for Indy. While Bailey can’t really punt the ball if the protection doesn’t hold up, he appeared to be taking his sweet old time getting rid of the ball for some reason.

While that was a particularly awful play, the special teams unit made an even bigger mistake to start the third quarter. After the offense turned the ball over on downs on the opening drive of the second half, the defense stood strong and forced the Colts to settle for three points, which kept it at a three possession game. Michael Badgley came on and missed the initial 46 yard kick, seemingly giving New England some new life.

Instead, Brandon King somehow managed to jump offsides, giving Badgley a second chance to make the field goal, which he ended up doing. The importance of this mistake cannot be understated. If King doesn’t jump offsides, then the game would have been tied at 17 late in the fourth quarter. Instead, the Patriots were down by three, and Taylor proceeded to scurry home for a 67 yard touchdown.

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There were numerous other examples of undisciplined play that really killed the Patriots throughout. King’s was obviously the worst, but Jonnu Smith and Michael Onwenu killed two drives with a pair of false starts in the red zone, which ended up turning 14 potential points into an interception and a confusing decision to kick a field goal.

I’ll give credit where credit is due to the Colts for winning this one, but a lot had to go right for them to win here. And even then, the Patriots very nearly found a way to comeback in this game despite deciding not to play for the first three quarters.

The New England Patriots should have won, but they are left second guessing their mistakes, and have no one to blame but themselves. They need to get over this loss quickly and begin preparing for their upcoming game against Buffalo, otherwise things could go south quickly.