"It was a comprehensive system wide collapse. It was embarrassing and humiliating for everyone involved." - Tony Massarotti on the Patriots first round playoff exit
The Felger and Massarotti Collin-tary with Kevin Collins
The Patriots season came to an abrupt end Sunday at the hands of the Baltimore Ravens. The 33-14 embarrassment is the second home playoff defeat in franchise history, the last coming in 1978. Sunday also marked the first home playoff loss at Gillette Stadium, and the first of its kind since Robert Kraft purchased the team in 1994. The Patriots had been 11-0 in playoff games played in Foxboro the past 16 years. It was a rare occasion in which the finger of blame could justly be pointed at the Patriots quarterback. Tom Brady was unbeaten in his last 23 home games prior to Sunday's debacle. Michael and Tony dissect what went wrong and discuss what the Patriots need to do moving forward this off-season.
Felger: "Let's begin with some adjectives to describe what we saw this Sunday in Foxboro. This was a horrific, embarrassing, agonizing beat down. This loss was absolutely brutal. It looked like men against boys out there on that field at Gillette Stadium. I'm stunned that they got run on and that they were so ill prepared to play this game that they got embarrassed the way they did. The tone and messages in this Patriots locker room were unbelievable. This was by far Bill Belichick's worst locker room. This team had the worst work ethic and they had an excuse for everything! Not to mention talent wise this was probably Belichick's worst team. Something stunk from the start Tony with this team. They traded one of their best defensive players in Mike Vrabel for nothing! Not even a bag of balls. He was the leader of the defense and part of the heart and soul of this team and you get nothing for him?! Not to mention he was a Players Union representative and this was a contract year for the player’s collective bargaining agreement (CBA). Then you deal another stalwart of your defense in Richard Seymour who is probably your second best defensive player for nothing. I mean, what they got in return for Seymour wasn't going to help this year. It isn't going to help them next year. What kind of message is that to your team right before the start of a season? It says ok guys your on your own. Not only are we failing to bring in talent because we don’t want to pay, but we're going to going to deal our best players for things that aren't going to help us win in the short term. So why would these guys in this Patriots locker room buy in this season under Belichick with that kind of message. This was rotten from the beginning starting at the top with ownership and the coaching staff. Something stunk right from day one of the season."
Mazz: "Starting in the first quarter this game was a runaway train. There was however one critical point where the Patriots had a shot to get back into it. Early in the second quarter with the botched punt that should have been challenged by the Ravens gave the Patriots some momentum. I still have no idea why they didn't challenge that play because it most definitely would have been overturned. The Patriots got an easy touchdown off of that turnover and seized momentum but lost it at the end of the half when the Ravens converted three straight third and short yardage situations to bleed the clock. The Ravens had third and two on two different occasions and then a third and one and converted all three very easily by running right through the Patriots. The ironic thing is your right Mike. They miss Richard Seymour because the Ravens ran to their left, the Patriots defensive right every time they needed to pick up a third down. They ran right at the spot Richard Seymour used to occupy. So coming out of the half what did the Patriots do? They put Mike Wright in the game at nose tackle and moved their best defensive lineman, Vince Wilfork to right end to help try to stem the tide. When your coach is calling the plays, making the decisions, and also is responsible for the personnel decisions of the team it's hard to not begin the blame game with him. Where else would you start? They brought this on themselves. It has to begin with Belichick. But listen, you can't blame the coach for everything that happened Sunday because ultimately the players have to play with some sort of pride. They got completely run over and had their faces pushed in the ground. It was a comprehensive system wide collapse and it was embarrassing and humiliating for everyone involved."
The Collin-tary: If before Sunday's game I told you that Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco would finish the game 4-10 for 34 yards with one interception and no touchdowns how would you feel about their chances? Undoubtedly you would think the Patriots would win in a laugher. How is it possible to have a road team beat you with a quarterback who finishes a playoff game with a rating of 10.0? Lucky for us, the Patriots were able to answer this question.
Sunday's 33-14 beat down at the hands of the Ravens was an embarrassment not only for the players and coaches, but for the patrons as well. As I sat in Gillette Stadium with my father prior to kickoff Sunday, he pointed out the obvious. "This doesn't have the look and feel of a playoff game," he said to me as we watched Stephen Gostkowski place the ball on the tee. We discussed how quiet the crowd was during the pre-game introductions and how most of the fans were still outside trying to battle the security lines." The place is half empty," he continued. "Heck there is nobody in our entire row, and the game is about to start!"
I then overheard a group of fans who had made the 8 hour drive from Baltimore discussing how quiet the stadium was. "At this time during our home games you can hear the roars from 10 blocks away," a Ravens fan said to me. "When our guys come out of that helmet we are all behind them in our seats ready to rock." The group of 15 or so fans had left their homes in Baltimore at midnight, arrived in Foxboro at 8:30am Sunday morning, eaten breakfast, tailgated, and arrived in their seats an hour prior to game time.
As Ray Rice finished his 83-yard touchdown run on the game's first play from scrimmage I really couldn't help but notice the stadium being half empty. The events that ensued beginning with the strip sack of Tom Brady and culminating with Ray Rice's 1-yard TD run, putting the Ravens up 21-0, were viewed by no more than half the patrons at Gillette Stadium.
I would refer to them as fans, but real fans with vested interest in their team would arrive early. I'm not saying an hour early, but at least before the team came tearing out of that glorious inflatable Pats helmet. What good does it do a team to come running out of your locker room with pyrotechnics shimmering, fireworks shooting into the sky, and Ozzy's "Crazy Train" blaring over the PA if there's nobody in the stands? How are players supposed to feed off the crowd in that situation?
The people who feel there is no such thing as home field advantage don't know sports. The players will tell you themselves. Players interact with the crowd to fire them up. They want noise. They want hostility. They want support. The interaction between the crowd and the players can often times give a team the boost it needs to overcome adversity. The energy transferred from the crowd to the field can lead to massive momentum swings and often times be the difference between a win and a loss.
There was a time when the Patriots fed off their fans. It was as if the players were addicted to the noise and energy people brought with them to the game. Like an addict receiving a quick fix, the intensity of the crowd sent players and coaches alike into a frenzy. It was a graphic, a song, or just knowledgeable football fans knowing when to make noise that helped build the most successful football franchise of the decade.
Sure, the Patriots front office has a lot of work ahead of them this off-season. There are many difficult personnel decisions to be made and hopefully a few welcome additions to the roster. However, the first step in bringing back the Patriots begins in the stands. The people of the town of Foxboro, the city of Boston, the state of Massachusetts, and the whole New England region mustn’t forget how we got here.
This blue collar franchise was built before our eyes. The men wearing the Patriots colors weren’t always the best players, but they were football players. Guys like Lawyer Milloy, Tedy Bruschi, Rodney Harrison, and Mike Vrabel brought it every singe day. When I think back to these names, or think of current names like Vince Wilfork and Wes Welker, I think football player. All these men were smart, talented, selfless, and possessed tireless work ethics. These are blue collar, cornerstone players that championship teams are built upon. It's time the people of this area remember how the three banners hanging in Gillette Stadium were earned. Sure it was mostly the players doing, but if you ask any of them they will tell you they couldn’t have done it alone.
We all need to remember that just because the playoffs are a regular occurrence it doesn't give us an excuse to take the opportunity for granted. The Brady and Belichick days are quickly coming to an end, and Patriots supporters would be wise to not waste what little window of opportunity there is left. New England fans have been in desperate need of a wake up call for some time now. It's truely unfortunate that a home playoff embarassment must serve as an alarm clock. The Patriots organization stresses accountability from its players, coaches and front office. It’s time the fans around here be held accountable too.
Has the lack of crowd noise at Gillette Stadium finally caught up with the Patriots? What are the biggest needs for the Patriots this off-season? Who are some possible draft choices for the team in April?