EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - The Patriots are suffering from a hangover.
On several levels.
First, there's the obvious. They put up a lot of points at home last week in the opener and got a lot of fans excited in the process. Then, they came to the New Meadowlands Stadium to take on AFC East rival New York and suffered their first defeat of the season.
The team partied hard in Week 1, and paid the price in Week 2. Again, New England jumped out to an early lead, thanks to quarterback Tom Bradyand wide receiver Wes Welker, only to see it evaporate as the Jets soared in the 3rd and 4th quarters, eventually winning 28-14.
But the pounding in their heads goes deeper than that. A potentially disturbing trend is beginning to form. For the second consecutive game, New England has looked sharp in the first half, only to be blunted in the second stanza.
Worse still, this is not about numbers, stats, or scheme, apparently. It's something intangible that the players can't seem to identify. To a man, the Patriots who spoke with reporters in the post-game locker room and at the podium in the press conference room resorted to the always applicable "We've got to go back and watch the film" reply. Even more disconcerting is the Patriots' insistence that they put in a diligent week of preparation ... and still, this outcome.
Some, though, tried to put their fingers on what's ailing their team.
"They didn't do too much different in the second half," Welker commented. "Just executing, going out there and making plays."
"Just got to make plays ... didn't play well today," lamented rookie corner Devin McCourty, who was victimized on two second-half touchdown passes from Jets QB Mark Sanchez.
"I'm young right now, just got to get better. I'll look at these plays, see what I've got to do to finish them."
"They made more plays than we did. That's the bottom line," added McCourty's fellow cornerback, Darius Butler. He was flagged for a pair of pass interference penalties on a fourth-quarter drive that ended in a Jets touchdown.
"I don't know," he continued, searching for answers, "Obviously, we didn't execute. We've got to fix that, and soon."
"They tried to establish the run," LB Tully Banta-Cainoffered, "got some good runs from LaDainian [Tomlinson],some big chunk plays from the tight ends.
"Today, we let [Sanchez] look down the field and make plays to his big-play receivers - [Jerricho] Cotchery, [Braylon] Edwards, [Dustin] Keller. It's something we prepared for, but we've got to execute. Penalties, turnovers ... they thrive on that, they're a capitalizing team. We gave them everything they needed today."
"We've got to take it as a learning experience," said linebacker and co-captain Jero Mayo. "We worked hard this week. It's disappointing to come out and perform like this."
The offense had its share of woes as well. Brady had a strong effort, but was far from perfect, throwing a pair of interceptions to match his two TD tosses. Wide receiver Randy Mossdropped several seemingly catchable passes, which, in the loss, overshadowed his jaw-dropping, one-handed touchdown in the first half.
Moss, though, may have gotten his hands on the route of the Patriots' problem with second-half performance.
"Just, really, determination," he suggested. "[The Jets] did the same thing, scheme-wise [from the first half to the second]. They blitzed us, they zoned us ... it just shows they wanted it more. I'm not making excuses. They wanted it more. They made the plays in the second half. We didn't."
A stark assessment, and yet, the problem goes deeper still.
Yes, every year is different, every team different, every game and situation different. But this troublesome inability to finish games - particularly on the road - seems to have carried over from last year. With the way last year ended, that's a worrisome extrapolation for 2010.
The Patriots are indeed hung over. Luckily for them, there's plenty of time left in the season to recover.