Pats defense fails at the end in 24-20 loss to Giants


Pats defense fails at the end in 24-20 loss to Giants

FOXBORO -- The parallel is impossible to ignore, and you can be sure few will be ignoring it.

Summary and statistics WATCH: Best & Worst from the game

Patriots move ahead in the final minutes. Patriots merely need to stop the Giants from driving the length of the field to win the game. Patriots instead can't make third-down stops when they need to, commit critical mistakes at crucial times, and allow a touchdown with only seconds remaining, giving Tom Brady and the offense -- which had just authored a late fourth-quarter drive that had seemingly won the game -- no time to pull off a miracle finish.

But this isn't Glendale, Arizona, in February 2008. This is Foxboro, Massachusetts, in November 2011. The Patriots' 24-20 loss to the Giants on Sunday at Gillette Stadium may not echo down the corridors of time, as their 2008 defeat will, but it starkly demonstrates the dilemma facing coach Bill Belichick and his staff as the season heads into the second half.

For -- just as they did in February 2008 (told you it was impossible to ignore) -- the Pats blew not one, but two fourth-quarter leads on Sunday. Even though the Giants were playing without their top running back in Ahmad Bradshaw, and one of their top wide receivers in Hakeem Nicks, the Pats still allowed them to put together back-to-back scoring drives of 85 and 80 yards in the final nine minutes, erasing deficits of 13-10 and 20-17.

The problem is clear: When it counted the most, they were the same big-play-surrendering, key-penalty-committing, can't-get-off-the-field-on-third-down crew that's had Patriots Nation in a panic since last Sunday's gashing at the hands of the Steelers.

The standard New England explanation -- "They made more plays than we did" -- is true enough, but it also glosses over critical errors by the defense, the types of errors they've been making all season:

Kyle Arrington -- who, to be fair, had made some crucial plays earlier, including an end-zone interception that prevented New York from building a 17-3 lead -- committed a pass-interference penalty against Mario Manningham during the first of the fourth-quarter drives that enabled the Giants to move from their 25 to the Pats' 40. Then, on a third-and-five from the 10, Manningham burned Arrington for the touchdown that put New York in front, 17-13.

After Brady had driven the Pats 64 yards for the go-ahead score with 1:46 left, Giants tight end Jake Ballard got behind linebacker Tracy White -- playing because Gary Guyton and Brandon Spikes left the game with injuries -- and caught a 28-yard pass on third-and-10 that put New York on the New England 39.

Two plays later, Sergio Brown committed his own pass-interference penalty -- this one against Victor Cruz at the goal line -- that put the Giants on the Patriots 1. Brown said he was surprised by the flag ("I was playing the ball . . . I didn't think they were going to call it"), but he appeared to run into Cruz as the pass was arriving.

Then, on third-and-goal, Eli Manning threaded the needle to Ballard in the end zone for the game-winning touchdown with 19 seconds left.

"At the end of the day, we take it on our shoulders," said linebacker Jerod Mayo. "We have to close the game, and we didn't execute when we needed to."

"It's frustrating," said linebacker Rob Ninkovich, "to let things slip away after a strong first half."

And it was a strong first half for the defense; in fact, it was a strong three-plus quarters. They held the Giants scoreless in the first half, and only allowed one touchdown in the first 45 minutes even though New York got into the red zone three times. When New England went ahead, 13-10, on a 45-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski with 7:13 to play, there was even a feeling the Pats would be able to protect that lead. After all, they'd held the Giants to 229 yards total offense through the first three quarters, limited Manning to 12 completions in 26 attempts for only 157 yards and had even made a big play: The Arrington end-zone interception with 2:15 left in the third quarter after the Giants, leading 10-3, had moved to the New England 5.

But when the game was on the line, the defense folded . . . as it has all too often this season, and in recent seasons past (or have you forgotten the 2006 AFC championship game, in addition to the Super Bowl against the Giants)?

Coach Bill Belichick cryptically complained about the two interference calls -- "The last two calls were tough . . . That's a lot of yards on those two plays." -- but neither seemed to be a particularly egregious mistake by the officiating crew. Nor can they totally be blamed for the 165 yards the defense surrendered while trying to hold a fourth-quarter lead.

The breakdowns denied Brady his 33rd career fourth-quarter comeback victory. He and the offense were held in check throughout the first half, but they found their rhythm in the final quarter-plus.

Trailing 10-3, Brady completed passes of 27 and 28 yards to Wes Welker, then hit Aaron Hernandez with an 11-yard toss that moved the ball to the Giants 5. On the next play, he found Hernandez for the early fourth-quarter touchdown that tied the game at 10-10.

Later in the quarter, New England took its first lead in three weeks as Brady moved the Pats from their 21 to the Giants 26, setting up the Gostkowski field goal.

And then, after the Giants re-took the lead, Brady drove the Pats 64 yards with just under three minutes to play, hitting tight end Rob Gronkowski with a 14-yard touchdown pass on a fourth-and-nine play with 1:36 left that put New England in front, 20-17.

But it was Manning, not Brady, who'd be credited with the fourth-quarter comeback on this day . . . which led to a little bragging by Giants running back Brandon Jacobs.

"To me, Manning's better than 12 Brady," said Jacobs. "12 couldn't get it done today. 10 got it done."

Except, unlike 10, 12 didn't get to play against the Patriots defense.

Patriots reportedly deal Derby to Broncos for fifth-round pick


Patriots reportedly deal Derby to Broncos for fifth-round pick

The Patriots pulled off a rare deal with a rival on Tuesday. 

According to ESPN, they've sent tight end A.J. Derby to the Broncos in exchange for a fifth-round pick. 

Derby played in 33 offensive snaps over four games this season for the Patriots. A sixth-round draft choice in 2015 out of Arkansas, Derby spent most of his rookie season on injured reserve. 

One of the stars of the preseason for the Patriots, Derby caught 15 passes for 189 yards in four exhibition games. A former college quarterback for Iowa and Arkansas, Derby was named a practice player of the week by the Patriots when they were hurting for healthy signal-callers early in the season during Tom Brady's suspension.

The deal leaves the Patriots somewhat thin at the tight end position. They now have now true tight ends behind Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett. They do, however, have fullback James Develin, who meets with tight ends on a daily basis. On the practice squad, the Patriots have another fullback in Glenn Gronkowski. 

In Denver, Derby will compete with tight ends Virgil Green, Jeff Heuerman and John Phillips for time.

Patriots acquire linebacker Kyle Van Noy from Lions


Patriots acquire linebacker Kyle Van Noy from Lions

The Patriots acquired Kyle Van Noy, who was the Lions’ 2014 second-round pick and starting linebacker this season, on Tuesday. 

Why former Pats executive Bob Quinn would send a starter East for what is reportedly just a conditional draft pick is something we’ll try to ferret out.

The Patriots were no doubt interested because they lost Jonathan Freeny to IR with an injury, rookie Elandon Roberts is an undersized thumper (Van Noy is 6-3, 252) and Shea McClellin is well, just… there so far.

Van Noy has two years remaining on his rookie deal so -- provided he shows something -- he could be around awhile. The move -- one week before the trade deadline -- is a familiar one from the Patriots who added players like Jonathan Casillas and Akeem Ayers in 2014 prior to their Super Bowl run.

This story from last season indicates that Van Noy’s lack of production in his first two seasons with the Lions was merely a matter of circumstance. 

Perhaps. We’ll find out soon enough. Meanwhile, the name Van Noy made me perk up because I remembered him as having a central role in the excellent book The System by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian.

Read the excerpt on Van Noy here. It will give you a better understanding of the road he’s traveled.