Patriots 20, Panthers 10. Well, this was a good victory. Every victory is good, but after losing two in a row, it was especially important to win this game. Not only to move the team in the right direction as we approach the playoffs, but also to keep Miami and New York in second place, both teams having won this afternoon. I’m glad for the win, but there’s still some serious questions about this team that this game did not help to address.
First the good: Wes Welker. He caught 10 balls today for 105 total yards. He now has over 100 catches with the New England Patriots, and that’s commendable. He has been, far and away, the most consistent and best offensive weapon this season. He is simply uncoverable. He always gets open, always makes the catch, and always holds on despite some serious hits that he takes each game. Frankly, I think he’s playing better than Tom Brady, who threw for just 192 yards and recorded a passer rating of a mere 74.0. Mentally, Welker is the most focused player on this team. As the league’s leading receiver, he’s pretty much guaranteed a starting spot on the Pro Bowl roster, and he deserves it mightily.
But there are far more negatives with this team than there are positives. It starts with Tom Brady. Today he had a terrible game. His passes were errant, and they didn’t have the usual crisp spiral to them that we’re all used to seeing. But more serious than his mechanical problems are his mental ones. Quite simply, the guy looks like he doesn’t care. Brady has never been emotional, but it seems like he’s mentally checked out on this season. Granted this team pales in comparison to the 2007 team, the last team he played more than a game for. But that doesn’t excuse the leader of this team playing like he has no interest in the outcome of the game. And players are sensing this and it’s hurting their performances as well. In the first half alone there were five dropped passes. These drops were a result of a lack of concentration by both Brady and his receivers. All of the dropped passes were balls that were a little off, either slightly too high, slightly too low, or slightly wide of the receiver. That’s Brady’s fault. But they were still catchable balls, and therefore the fault also lies with the receivers. I think they’re seeing Brady’s lack of effort and enthusiasm and its affecting they’re concentration in the game. Our QB isn’t in this game, so why should we be? Tom Brady needs to get his head in the game if he wants to keep his players in it.
This disinterest has had the most direct effect on Randy Moss. We’re all seeing that he has almost completely checked out on this season. Team’s are always double-covering him, and that’s causing him to get far fewer passes per game than he’s used to. But when he’s not getting thrown to, he doesn’t try. He doesn’t put effort into his routs. He doesn’t block on screens and reverses. And he doesn’t concentrate when the ball comes his way. He had a few drops today, not to mention fumbling his one reception. For as much as Moss has grown up playing for the Patriots, he still needs to be getting the ball on a regular basis or he loses interest in the game. He’s not getting the ball this season, and he’s not interested in being an effective player without them.
I’ll end this with a quick shout-out to Stephen Gostkowski. He went over 100 career field goals today, just the fourth kicker in franchise history to do it. He’s been a valuable member of our special teams unit and has done a decent job of replacing Adam Vinatieri. Congratulations to him.