Curran: Patriots offense gags in crunch time again


Curran: Patriots offense gags in crunch time again

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.

Not a lot of talk about Cannon this season, and that's a good thing for Patriots


Not a lot of talk about Cannon this season, and that's a good thing for Patriots

Marcus Cannon has had his run as a piñata. The Patriots offensive lineman is a frequent target when things go wrong up front and, usually, he’s deserved it.

A bit of anecdotal evidence? 

Sunday, I tweeted that every time I watched Cannon, he was making another good play.

On cue, about 10 tweets came back at me with variations of “Keep watching him!”

I asked Bill Belichick if he agreed with the layman’s assessment that Cannon’s playing well.

“I think Marcus [Cannon] has done a good job for us for quite a while,” Belichick began. “I mean he’s stepped in for Sebastian [Vollmer] and then last year when Nate [Solder] was out [and he substituted] for Nate. He has played a lot of good football for us.

“We extended our agreement with him off of his rookie contract which I think speaks to the fact that we want him on the team and we like what he’s doing and so forth and he’s continued to I’d say show with his performance [that he has] validated the confidence that we have in him.”

Cannon’s ending to 2015 – a poor performance (along with the rest of the line) against the Broncos in the AFC Championship Game was followed by a performance against the Cardinals that was marred by late-game holding calls.

But with Sebastian Vollmer injured (and still injured) it was sink or swim with Cannon which had plenty of people rolling their eyes.

But – as I said – every time I see Cannon, he’s either holding off a defensive end in pass protection, steamrolling downfield in the running game or making really athletic second-level or cut blocks in the screen game.

“Like every player, as they gain more experience they do get better,” said Belichick. “I think our offensive line’s certainly improved over the course of the year and playing with more consistency than we did last year. But there’s always room for improvement and the continuity that we’ve had there since (right guard) Shaq [Mason] has gotten in the last few weeks – we had Shaq over on the right side a little bit at the end of the season last year and then this year most all of the year except when Shaq was out for a few weeks there at the end of training camp and the start of the season – but our overall consistency and communication on the offensive line has been better because we’ve had more continuity there so that helps everybody.”

It can’t hurt that the lineman whisperer, Dante Scranecchia, has returned to coach the group. Cannon’s conditioning and physique looks better. He just appears more athletic and explosive. And he’s seemed more relaxed in the limited time the media’s in the locker room.

All off that added up equals nobody really talking about Marcus Cannon.
“Like any lineman, the less you call his name probably the better he’s doing,” said Belichick. “It’s probably a good thing when you guys don’t talk about him. Then that probably means they’re not doing something too noticeably wrong, right?”