Felger: These Pats are defenseless

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Felger: These Pats are defenseless

By Michael Felger

The instinct is to say that the Patriots' defense is a "work in progress." Or that it's simply a developing unit going through some growing pains. Or some such cliche.

But let's be real.

The unit stinks right now.

The Pats weren't just inconsistent on defense in their 38-30 win over Buffalo on Sunday at Gillette Stadium. They were wretched. Do you understand how bad the Bills' offense wasis? The Bills scored seven points a week ago in Green Bay. They opened the season with 10 points at home versus Miami. They averaged just over 15 points a game in 2009 (23rd in the league).

And on Sunday they were the greatest show on turf.

The Pats the last few years have made a habit of allowing career days to mediocre quarterbacks, so this story is really nothing new.

But, somehow, this felt worse than usual.

The Pats couldn't stop the run (the Bills averaged 5.6-yards per carry), couldn't stop the pass (Ryan Fitzpatrick completed 71 percent of his throws) and couldn't stay clean on kickoffs (C.J. Spiller's 95-yard kickoff return kept the Bills in the lead in the second quarter). They missed tackles (did you see Roscoe Parrish bounce off Brandon Meriweather, Jonathan Wilhite and Gary Guyton to covert a third-and-18 in the first quarter?), they blew contain (did you see Jermaine Cunningham and Darius Butler get sucked inside on Spiller's 19-yard run in the second quarter?), and they allowed Bills' receivers huge amounts of real estate (take your pick).

Time and again, Tom Brady and the offense put the defense in position to put the game out of reach -- and they failed nearly every time.

The Pats' two fourth-quarter interceptions?

Please. They were gifts.

The first came when Fitzpatrick overshot his intended target at the goal line and the ball lofted perfectly into the hands of Pat Chung. Can of corn. The degree of difficultly was only slightly higher two series later when Fitzpatrick again threw high, this time into the waiting arms of the massively overrated Meriweather.

You can say the Pats "made plays" on those snaps, but I would beg to differ. They were more like fair catches.

Other than that, the Pats forced just one punt on the day. One. From the Bills.

Please note: I believe the Pats' defense is going to get better. I mean, how can it get any worse? The Pats currently rank in the bottom five in the league in points allowed (82 in three games), and Bill Belichick is just too good for the unit to be this bad for this long . . . Right? It's simple logic. At some point, the defense is going to evolve from being atrocious to simply mediocre. Mark it down.

The real questions are: How long is that process going to take; and can the unit ever be more than that?

We'll find out.

For now, it's scary how many players on defense have either flat-lined in their development, or gone in reverse.

Butler has gotten worse. He was removed from the startling lineup on Sunday in favor of Kyle Arrington, who was brutal in his own right.

Meriweather has gotten worse. He was benched last week, only to return to the starting lineup on Sunday and author perhaps the worse defensive play of the day, allowing Spiller to walk into the end zone in the second quarter on a simple bubble screen.

Jerod Mayo finally woke up in this game (nine tackles, one sack and one tackle for a loss), but is he the impact guy you thought he'd be as a rookie? Not yet.

We could go on. Has Jonathan Wilhite improved? No. Terrance Wheatley? Nope. Guyton? Questionable. Ron Brace? I guess, but only because he was at rock bottom to begin with. Chung? Sure. There's one. Name another. It's too early to talk about the rookies, although we have all be encouraged by Devin McCourty. Then again, McCourty gave up another touchdown on Sunday (a 37-yarder to Steve Johnson) and we all felt pretty good about Butler early on, too.

The ultimate success or failure of the Pats' rebuilding project on defense will be determined over the course of the next few years, so we have a ways to go with this story. But if you're concerned about the here and now, if you're still interested in contending for a championship this season, then these questions have more urgency.

When handicaping the division, we always look to the quarterback position and say the Pats have a huge advantage with Brady. And that makes sense. We'd all take him over Fitzpatrick, or Mark Sanchez, or Chad Henne. Hands down.

But here's the bad news.

Every starting quarterback in the division has now had a career day against the Pats. Fitzpatrick completed over 70 percent of his passes for the first time on Sunday. Mark Sanchez threw for three touchdowns for the first time last week and won. Chad Henne went over 300 yards for the first time last December and won.

In other words, what would you rather have: Brady versus the Jets defense, or Sanchez versus the Pats defense? Based on the scoreboard (the Jets have won two of the last three), it's hard to take Brady -- as crazy as that sounds.

Of course, the more pertinent question comes a week from today: Brady versus the Dolphins' defense, or Henne versus the Pats defense?

Again, we'll find out.

Read Felger's report card on Tuesday. Email him HERE and read the mailbag on Thursday. Listen to him on the radio weekdays, 2-6 p.m. on 98.5 the Sports Hub.

Steelers descending into disarray?

Steelers descending into disarray?

Less than 48 hours removed from openly wondering if the AFC Championship Game stage was “too big” for some of his young teammates, Ben Roethlisberger has decided to play the latter-day Hamlet/Brett Favre game.

Speaking on Pittsburgh’s 93.7 The Fan on Tuesday, Roethlisberger hinted at retirement.

“I’m going to take this offseason to evaluate, to consider all options,” Roethlisberger said. “To consider health, and family and things like that and just kind of take some time away to evaluate next season, if there’s going to be a next season. All those things. I think at this point in my career, at my age, that’s the prudent and smart thing to do every year.”

The soon-to-be-35-year-old Roethlisberger is a likely Hall of Famer who’s still arguably one of the top five quarterbacks in the NFL. But for whatever reason, he’s got an insatiable need for people to register concern about his status. Whether it be limping around the field, lamenting injuries or this, few quarterbacks in the league go through the same histrionics Roethlisberger does in order to get those, “Attaboy, Ben!” backslaps.

I remember being at Steelers training camp in 2009 in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, and having veteran Steelers writers roll their eyes as Roethlisberger started hopping around like he was on hot coals after a throw. The quarterback having an owie act was a daily tradition.

Roethlisberger’s also got a passive aggressive side in which he’ll deftly twist the knife on coaches and teammates but leave himself enough room for plausible deniability.

In addition to openly wondering if his young teammates took the AFC Championship Game seriously enough, Roethlisberger gave the “just running the plays as I’m told” answer when asked about the Steelers resistance to running a quarterback sneak when they were at the Patriots goal line before halftime. Roethlisberger could have taken offensive coordinator Todd Haley off the hook there – he’s lobbied for Haley to get a head coaching shot after the two had a bad relationship when Haley arrived. But he opted not to.

Similarly, earlier this year, Roethlisberger’s critiques of the way head coach Mike Tomlin was running the team were aired. 

So, this could be part of a Roethlisberger power play aimed at the Steelers bowing to his wishes.

That wasn’t the only tidbit from Pittsburgh that looked bad for the AFC finalists. Linebacker Bud Dupree said the Steelers were surprised by the Patriots using an up-tempo offense earlier in the game. 

Do they not have electricity or internet access in the Steelers facility? Up-tempo is a staple part of the Patriots offensive diet. You can see it on the television or the internet through your smart phone.

While there’s no doubt that defensive coordinator Keith Butler – and defensive minded head coach Tomlin – were aware and talked about the Patriots going no-huddle, the fact Dupree (and his teammates) were unable to recall the preparation or adequately fall into an emergency plan to address it does fall on the coaches.

Need more? It’s also being leaked out of the building that Antonio Brown cares too much about his statistics. He made clear last week how much he cares about advancing his personal brand at the expense of Tomlin and the team with his Facebook Live video. 

If there’s an upside for anyone in all this, it would have to be Joey Porter. Nobody’s even talking about his off-field fracas anymore.

As this season ably demonstrated, the Patriots have plum run out of authentic rivals in the AFC. That the team they just pulverized is steamrolling into an offseason of dysfunction and uncertainty isn't good if you like parity. But it's terrific if you couldn't care less.