Sports

Gridiron Audibles: The Path to Super Bowl 50

GRIDIRON AUDIBLES by Christian A. Guarino
GRIDIRON AUDIBLES by Christian A. Guarino

It was appalling, at best baffling. 

Lacking any semblance of a winning football team, the Patriots fell to the Dolphins 20-10, and in doing so, dropped to the second seed for the AFC playoffs. The path to Super Bowl 50 may now require a road trip to Colorado.

Despite the obvious repercussions of the loss, how it all went down was by far the most troubling aspect.

One team wins, the other loses. It’s that simple. And like the other 31 teams in the NFL, the Patriots are allowed to lose (occasionally).

But inasmuch as all teams simply have that off game, a Bill Belichick coached team should never lack an identity or play a dull brand of football as they clearly exhibited in this contest and throughout the month of December.

“I don’t think we did anything well enough today, so that includes everything – coaching, playing, offense, defense, special teams, everything. That’s everything.”

What exactly were Coach Belichick and the Patriots trying (were they even?) to accomplish last Sunday at Sunlife Stadium in Miami?

“Same as always,”said a surly Belichick post-game. “Move the ball and score points.”

The Patriots ran the football on their first 16-of-18 plays. In fact those first 18 calls all went in the direction of running backs Steven Jackson and Brandon Bolden. On the face of it, the plan seemed conceivable considering the Dolphins entered the game with the 30th ranked run defense. Still, the duo of Jackson and Bolden is hardly a dominant running machine.

Jackson, in particular, has been out of football nearly a calendar year, having returned to the game just two weeks ago after signing with the Patriots. While two games are not enough to paint an illustrious picture of the kind of production Jackson may bring to New England, so far he looks like a shell of his old self.

With the focus on running, Tom Brady was relegated to hand-off duties in the first half, dropping back to pass only five times. Perhaps a potential injury weighed heavy on Belichick’s mind, making the main objective to avoid getting Brady hurt versus a Dolphins defensive front, which featured one of the dirtiest players in the game, Ndamukong Suh.

If so, this begs the question of why Brady wasn’t rested in favor of backup Jimmy Garoppolo?

But no, in the second half, the ground attack had been scrapped in favor of a pass heavy approach that put Brady directly in harms way. He was kept in even after sustaining a terrifying hit from Suh. On the play, Brady was crushed, his upper and lower body going in opposite directions. While he did suffer a high ankle sprain, the damage could have been much, much worse.

The fact that he was even in position to be knocked out is one that raises some serious questions, ones that the head coach rather not justify.

“We really try to look ahead. I know you (media) like to make a lot of comparisons about one thing to another thing. Honestly I don’t really care about that. We try to look ahead, see what we have in the future and do the best we can with that rather than sit back and try to make comparisons between other years, other teams, other games, some other situation – none of which really matter. It isn’t really important how one year relates to another year or some other game or some other season from way back when. What difference does it make?”

The difference may be a mile high should the Patriots need to travel to Denver for the AFC Championship game.

Sorry coach, in spite of the above quote, below is a look back at how the Patriots have fared as both the one and two seed under Bill Belichick:

#1

2003*, 2007#, 2010, 2011#, 2014*

#2

2001*, 2004*, 2012, 2013

* (Won Super Bowl)

# (Reached Super Bowl)

Christian A. Guarino, a Boston North End resident, writes about football and soccer for the Boston Post Gazette.