In the midst of all the bad, don't forget the good

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In the midst of all the bad, don't forget the good

By Michael Felger

Some pearls of wisdom for Patriots fans as they lick their wounds this morning.

Are you folks going to acknowledge the opponent here -- or just fixate on the Patriots? I raise the point because I think fans around here have woefully underestimated the strides made by the Jets the last few years. They've narrowed the gap in the AFC East, whether you want to acknowledge it or not.

Here are the unfortunate facts: The Jets have beaten the Pats in two of the three meetings under Rex Ryan. They've won three of five meetings since 2008. They finished 2009 (that includes the playoffs, people) as the better team and now have a leg up in the 2010 race. They have a much better defense, a more dependable running game and a quarterback who, for all his struggles, has had some of his best moments in big games.

I know you hate the Jets. I don't blame you. But the scoreboard is getting more and more unpleasant to look at.

Former Patriot Troy Brown was adamant on TV on Sunday night about how Bill Belichick and his staff lost the adjustment battle to Rex Ryan in the second half.

That analysis wouldn't be so concerning if it hadn't become such a recurring theme.

Did you know that five the Pats' six losses last year came after they had led or were tied at the half? Hard to believe, isn't it? But it's true. With the exception of the New Orleans blowout, the Pats were in control coming out of the tunnel for the second half of every other one of their losses. It seemed so aberrational that we all assumed it would correct itself in 2010.

But it didn't on Sunday. In fact, it turned into a carbon copy of a typical Pats' collapse from 2009.

What happened to the days when the Pats routinely got better as the game progressed? What happened to Belichick coming up with answers in the locker room and putting his players in the best position to succeed when the game was on the line? It's remarkable how such a strong facet of the Pats' repertoire has vanished.

Normally, this is the place where we would get on the coordinators for their bad play-calling. But there's only one problem: the Patriots don't have any.

I don't know. Could that be part of the problem?

Another thing you'd never see back in the Super Bowl-winning days: a delay-of-game penalty on a field-goal attempt because the coaches couldn't make up their minds or get the kicking unit on the field quickly enough. Yet that's what happened on Sunday on the Pats' first drive, as a 32-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski was wiped off the board because they couldn't get the snap off in time.

Gostkowski deserves blame for not bearing down and nailing the ensuing 37-yarder, but the penalty was purely a function of sideline operation. Again, this is on the staff (such as it is).

We all spent a lot of time last week talking about how much younger and faster the Pats defense looks to be this year. Unfortunately, lost in all that conversation was a more pertinent question: Is it any better?

Not yet. Giving up 18-second half points is one thing. But giving up that total to an offense that many thought to be one of the league's worst is another. Do you remember the things you were saying about Mark Sanchez and the Jets' passing game last week? Actually, you're better off not remembering.

This is all I know: When Sanchez said last week that the Jets offense was poised to breakout and that a 300-yard passing day was just around the corner, there was laughter across New England. We wanted a hit off of what Sanchez was smoking.

It's not so funny now. Sanchez didn't come close to 300 yards, but when you consider he didn't complete a pass in the first quarter while the Jets offense managed only three snaps that stanza, his 220 passing yards look scary. And his QB rating (124.3) and TD-interception ratio (3-0) are downright terrifying.

Darius Butler is obviously a major problem for the Pats. But that's not the worst part. The worst part is that they apparently have no one better.

In an effort to make sure Randy Moss remains happy and that he feels appreciated, I'm only going to mention his one-handed touchdown catch at the end of the first half.

Great catch, Randy.

I won't mention how he alligator-armed two catchable balls over the middle in the first half. I won't mention how he could only come up with two receptions on the day despite being thrown to 10 times. I won't mention how he was shut down not by Darrelle Revis, but by Antonio Cromartie. I won't mention how Tom Brady's two interceptions were the result of forcing balls in his direction. I won't mention that when the going got tough, he didn't exactly get going.

I won't get into any of that.

The report card comes your way Tuesday. Email Felger HERE and read the mailbag on Thursday. Listen to him on the radio weekdays, 2-6 p.m., on 98.5 The Sports Hub.

First impressions: Mitchell sees season-high in targets with Gronkowski out

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First impressions: Mitchell sees season-high in targets with Gronkowski out

FOXBORO -- Here are some quick-hit impressions from Sunday's matchup between the Patriots and Rams . . . 

* How will the Patriots offense look without Rob Gronkowski? With a week to prepare for life post-Gronk, the Patriots leaned heavily on their three-receiver sets. That meant plenty of work for rookie receiver Malcolm Mitchell, who saw a season-high in targets with 10. Tom Brady seemed more than happy to throw to Mitchell at the line of scrimmage with the Rams playing off-coverage, leading to relatively short-but-productive gains. 

* Brady seemed to take exception with something he saw from Mitchell during a drive mid-way through the fourth quarter. On the sideline, Brady looked heated while looking over pictures of the drive with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. Brady was later caught on the Fox broadcast speaking to Mitchell on the bench. As well as Brady's young lockermate has performed, it was a moment that indicated he isn't doing everything perfectly just yet. 

* McDaniels got creative early with Gronkowski gone. He used the two-back pony set to start the game and handed off to Dion Lewis for four yards. He also found success with LeGarrette Blount and the Patriots running game, using four running plays on the first five snaps of the game. McDaniels then had his offense go five-wide and he sent Julian Edelman in motion. On the subsequent drive, McDaniels turned to the screen game to try to catch Los Angeles' aggressive front off-guard. 

* The Patriots offense stalled at points thanks in part to the Rams' front: Aaron Donald blew up a run play in the second quarter and on the same drive Brady was pressured on back-to-back snaps, leading to a punt. It wasn't an immaculate day from the Patriots offense, but against a talented defensive line, and without their most dynamic offensive player, they'll take it. 

* The Patriots locked things down defensively in what was an all-around dominant performance. Malcolm Butler bounced back after a difficult game versus the Jets, allowing just two catches for 12 yards on five targets until allowing a 66-yarder to Kenny Britt. He broke up two passes and picked off a gift when tight end Lance Kendricks let a pass bounce off of his hands and into the air. Devin McCourty was sound in coverage, breaking up two passes to Britt, a fellow Rutgers product. Britt later got him back for a one-yard garbage-time touchdown. Eric Rowe appeared to play well until suffering a hamstring injury that knocked him from the game. 

* Up front, Alan Branch played with abandon fresh off of finding out that he will not be suspended four games this weekend. He had three hurries, a quarterback hit and a stuffed run to continue his strong season. Rob Ninkovich (two hurries, a hit and a sack), Trey Flowers (four hurries and a hit) and Chris Long (one hurry, three hits and a sack) were pains for rookie quarterback Jared Goff. 

* Stephen Gostkowski was a perfect four-for-four on his field goals, knocking down a 48-yarder and a 45-yarder from the right hash mark and a 45-yarder from the left hash on consecutive drives. He also made both of his extra-point attempts. 

* Some special teams notes . . . Cyrus Jones muffed a punt from "weapon," as Bill Belichick called him this week, Johnny Hekker. The punt-return job was Danny Amendola's until Amendola suffered an ankle injury that knocked him from the game. That could be a critical injury to the Patriots in the kicking game. Amendola has also been a key part of the offense on third downs and in red-zone situations. Jonathan Jones was flagged twice on special teams.