SEATTLE -- Close to three weeks ago, after the Patriots failed to close out the Baltimore Ravens, I took a deep look at the team's recent failures to lock things down at the end. Specifically, the Patriots vaunted offense. Three games later andthey've failed twice more in closeout situations. And it's getting to the point where the Patriots are either going to blow teams out or tighten up at the end. Seize. Gag. Choke. The defense is what it is. Flawed in the secondary, susceptible to stupidity. The offense? It's the league's best with the league's best quarterback. It should be able to play keepaway in the final minutes. It has the horses. Too many of them, maybe. And so it was on Sunday, with two chances to shut down Seattle and win a game in which they outplayed the Seahawks, the Patriots spit the bit. First, they took over with 7:21 remaining and -- after picking up two first downs and burning 3:14 -- they punted. They got a quick three-and-out from Seattle. At that point, if you were a Seahawks fan, you had to be beside yourself. Not only did your offense manage nothing -- throwing out-of-bounds downfield on third-and-3 -- you were giving the ball back to the league's No. 1 offense. And the Patriots -- who hadn't gone three plays and out this season prior to Sunday -- went three-and-out. Seattle got the ball back with 2:38 left. The rest is ugly history. Last week, it was a Stevan Ridley fumble that ended the Patriots' first closeout drive. This week, it was a little of everybody.This wasn't the Seahawks making otherworldly plays. There was no Manning to Manningham here.There was nosingularly great defender bending the game to his will. This was the Patriots. Screwing up. "They didn't do nothing," said Deion Branch. "Everything, all the mistakes made on the field were by us. They were self-inflicted mistakes. As the game went on, they really didn't do anything to stop us. The flags, the interceptions, the dropped balls, things of that nature. That's stuff that we control."Some of the decisions made byTom Brady were mystifying. His throw to Branch when the wideout was running down the seam in the third quarter never should have been thrown. Not only does Branchstruggle to outrun defenders, he's small and doesn't elevate well. And Brady underthrew Branch -- a cardinal sin the quarterback rarely commits because he knows that's where trouble lives. After the pick,Brady'sdisgusted reaction seemed to indicate he felt the same way. Prior to that play, the Patriots had gains of 12, 15 and 5 yards. "We never really took 'em out and we had the opportunities," said Branch. "We had turnovers, defensive things. It was like we never finished them when we had the opportunity and it was there." Asked about the apparent pass interference on him that went uncalled on the Patriots final drive while leading, Branch said, "That's how it goes. I'm one of the last guys that'll complain. There were a couple in the end zone that were flagrant. But I spoke to the guys and that's football. It's hard for them to see everything on the field."Brady didn't bristle at the suggestion the Pats lack a killer instinct. But he did try to defend the offense a bit, saying, "We did last week against Denver. I thought we made some plays at the end to do it. We just didn't do it this week."They really didn't. And this isn't a mixed bag, either. Whether it's a Stephen Gostkowski miss against the Cardinals or Ridley's fumbles or Brady's poor second half or Wes Welker failing to make a great catch in the Super Bowl when a great catch was needed, there are breakdowns on the regular. "There's 11 guys out there," said Logan Mankins. "We gotta do it as a unit. Everyone's gotta be on the same page and doing things the right way and sometimes not all 11 are doing it."We had chances in the red zone right before half we don't score," Mankins pointed out. "We were down there again and turned it over. We had our chances and we didn't score enough points. We shoulda been in the 30s and we didn't get it done. Faltered on four-minute again at the end of the game. When it was time to make plays we didn't make 'em." The Patriots could be 6-0 very easily. The margin of loss is very nearly as small as it can be. Yet this is a Patriots team that -- in close games -- finds a way to lose. These titans of situational football, a true post-free agency dynasty in the same way the 49ers were in the '80s and '90s, is time and again failing in the clutch. What else do you call that other than choking? They are being outperformed at the end by lesser teams who -- given their victory celebrations -- know they are lesser teams. Branch said, "Regardless of what you see on paper, we gotta win the games, we gotta be able to finish the game and that starts with mistake-free football."For a franchise that so often found a way to win over the past decade, the current Patriots excel at finding a way to lose.
Devin McCourty says that if the Patriot win the Super Bowl years from now people will remember the win, not the fact Roger Goodell did not attend AFC Championship.
NFL Siberia can’t be all that bad. The Cleveland Browns have signed Jamie Collins to an extension that keeps him off the free agent market.
The former Patriot, stunningly shipped out of town on Halloween, has agreed to a reported four-year, $50 million deal with $26M in guaranteed money.
As eyebrow-raising as the move was at the time, this is an all’s well that ends well story.
Collins, a reluctant Patriot once it came clear the team wouldn’t to aim a confetti cannon of money at him, gets the desired big-dough deal. He didn’t drape himself in glory with his level of play this year in New England, but his agitation over making $900K this year was understandable.
The Patriots -- who made the deal not knowing exactly how it would work out with Collins’ fleet of replacements (primarily rookie Elandon Roberts and, October acquisition Kyle Van Noy) -- have played better defense since Collins has been gone and are headed to the Super Bowl.
Would they have been better if Collins stayed? The answer to that is a question: Which version of Collins, the irked one or the motivated one?
Collins did nothing to veil his desire for a huge contract, saying at the end of the season he’d stay with the hapless Browns if the money was right. Now that he’s decided the money was right, what kind of Collins will the Browns get? With $26M guaranteed, the Browns have tethered themselves to the 27-year-old Collins for a chunk of his prime. The shorter term is ideal for Collins because -- if he performs to his capability -- he’ll be able to see another lucrative deal before he’s too aged.
The deal will certainly be noticed by Collins’ former teammates, primarily Donta Hightower who will be a free agent at the end of the season.
The Patriots could franchise Hightower (last year’s tag number was more than $14M) but that’s not going to be ideal for either side. Hightower will want to get the windfall of guaranteed money that comes with a long-term deal and the Patriots may be reluctant to pay that much to a player that’s got an injury history and plays one of the game’s most violent positions.
A lot’s going to happen between now and the time the Patriots have to make their decision. A good deal of it will happen in the next 12 days. If Hightower stealthily saves the Super Bowl as he did in 2014 with his first-down tackle on Marshawn Lynch … how do you put a price on that?