By Danny Picard
FOXBORO -- It's hard to believe.
Those were the words out of Matt Light's mouth following Sunday's 28-21 season-ending playoff loss to the New York Jets. What's hard to believe is that New England's offense didn't execute like it has all season long.
That offense starts with Tom Brady.
The Patriots' quarterback finished the game 29-of-45 for 299 yards while throwing two touchdowns and one interception. In the process, he moved into a tie with Terry Bradshaw for fifth on the NFL's all-time playoff touchdown pass list, with 30.
But on this day, two touchdowns just wasn't enough.
"It's like you're on the treadmill, running at 10 miles an hour, and then someone just hits the stop button," said Brady of the season's abrupt ending. "So I think we certainly expected to play better today. I think we're a pretty good football team, but not when we played like we did today."
From the start of training camp, questions about a young and inexperienced defense led to the popular belief that Brady's offense would have to carry the load this season.
As the weeks went by, it became more and more evident that the "bend-but-don't-break" defense, while competent enough, needed help from its offense.
So often this season, the Patriots were able to sustain their defense "bending" because they averaged 32.4 points per game, more than any other team in football. And they scored those points early and often.
Brady led that regular-season offensive outburst with 36 touchdown passes and only four interceptions.
So to see him with only one touchdown through three quarters, as well as an interception in the team's first possession, was, as Light said, hard to believe.
"We just didn't make the plays," said Light. "When we had a little rhythm, we stopped short. When we needed to convert, we didn't do it. We didn't help out our defense. I just think, overall, we didn't execute the way we have in the past. It's kind of hard to believe."
For the second straight playoff game, Brady turned the ball over in his team's first possession of the game. Last year, Terrell Suggs forced a Brady fumble on the offense's third play from the line of scrimmage. This year, Jets linebacker David Harris picked off an overthrown Brady screen pass, intended for BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
"Fortunately, Brady overthrew his back, and I was in the right place at the right time," said Harris. "I was just trying to get as much out of it as possible, but I ran out of gas. It's a long way to the end zone."
Harris ran from his own 30-yard line to the Patriots' 12 after the interception. The Jets then missed a field goal, so the mistake wasn't costly. But after the Pats took a 3-0 lead in their second possession, they punted two straight times, and failed to convert on a fake punt attempt, going into the half trailing 14-3.
"We talked all week about fast starts, and getting ahead of these guys, and playing from ahead," said Brady. "We had some opportunities there in the first quarter, and we really let those slip away. We made it a dog fight, and ultimately, couldn't really dig ourselves out of the holes we made."
Brady was sacked five times in the loss, but even during plays in which he had all the time in the world, his execution wasn't what it was throughout the regular season.
His first touchdown pass of the game came with 13 seconds left in the third quarter, on a two-yard pass over the middle to Alge Crumpler. The two-point conversion cut New York's lead to 14-11.
Brady's second touchdown pass came in the final minute of the fourth, when he found a wide-open Deion Branch in the back of the end zone to cut the Jets' lead to 28-21. But by then, the Patriots would have needed a miracle to send it to overtime.
It was too little, too late for a Brady-led offense that looked out of rhythm from the opening possession for the second straight postseason game at home, including last year's loss to the Baltimore Ravens at Gillette Stadium.
That even included a fourth-quarter drive, while still trailing by two scores, in which there seemed to be zero sense of urgency. They chewed up eight minutes on the clock before giving up the ball on downs with a little more than five minutes remaining, sealing their fate.
"We thought that if we could get it in the end zone, it's a three-point game," said Brady.
"I thought we had an opportunity there, but . . . we just couldn't get the ball in the end zone when we needed to."
It was something they were able to do all season long. And in return, it took a ton of pressure off their defense.
And as hard as it is to believe, the Brady-led offense didn't show up on Sunday, in the biggest game of the year.
"We've seen Brady play poorly before," said Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis. "We saw it in the first game when we played him. In the second game, he seemed more focused. This game, he was a little confused out there."
"Just a lack of execution," said Brady. "In order to score points, you have to consistently be able to put together plays, and we could never really do that or find a rhythm. They made a lot of plays. They didn't make many mistakes. We made too many mistakes. There were too many plays that weren't the way we drew them up."
Danny Picard is on Twitter at http:twitter.comDannyPicard. You can listen to Danny on his streaming radio show I'm Just Sayin' Monday-Friday from 9-10 a.m. on CSNNE.com.