FOXBOROUGH – Well, at least they were consistent.
Matt Casseland the offense struggled to find a rhythm (again), the defense gave up too many long drives (again), and the special teams were anything but special (surprisingly).
In dropping a 27-17 decision to the Philadelphia Eagles Friday night in their third preseason contest, the Patriots looked lethargic, failing to impress in what is universally considered the most telling test of the summer.
Cassel deserves credit for at least giving it his best effort. The Pats' backup QB made some nice throws and scrambled out of trouble at times, but on too many occasions, he couldn't connect with Randy Moss on critical third downs. That forced a couple of decent drives to stall just when the offense looked like it was making something positive happen. Other times, his throws just weren't on target and he didn't appear to be on the same page with his receivers.
Things got worse near the end of the first quarter when go-to slot receiver Wes Welkerwas injured while fielding a punt. The report from the sideline was that he'd suffered a rib injury on the tackle. Welker never returned to the field.
It also didn't help that for the second straight week, the Pats only managed to convert one out of every four third-down opportunities. The players committed several mental mistakes as well, from false starts to holding penalties to offensive pass interference infractions.
From the opening kickoff, this game looked like a mirror image of last week's loss in Tampa. The Eagles took the opening kickoff and proceeded to march 76 yards in 14 plays down to the Patriots six-yard line. The D only surrendered a field goal this time, but New England's soft pass coverage allowed Philly to move at will across the field.
In general, there appeared to be a lack of enthusiasm or sense of urgency on the defense's part. New England seemed content to sit back and react to the Eagles' offense rather than attack it. Even when the Eagles put their reserve offense in after the half, New England still had many of its starters in on defense. But even that didn't seem to help.
Clearly the most disappointing aspect of the game took place in the final two minutes of the first half.
Right after the Patriots got on the scoreboard with a Stephen Gostkowskifield goal, Philly took his ensuing kickoff 101 yards for a score, thanks in part to some good Eagles blocking and an atrocious tackling effort by the kicker. Gostkowski had a clean, open field shot at return man Quentin Demps, but merely threw his shoulder into his opponent. Had Gostkowski simply wrapped his arms around Demps, he would have at least slowed the man down enough for another Patriot to come in and make the finishing tackle.
The Patriots went three-and-out on their next possession, forcing punter Chris Hansoninto the game. He tried angling a kick toward the Eagles' sideline, but the ball stayed in bounds. Philly returner DeSean Jacksonmade some nice moves, found a seam across the middle of the field, and raced to the end zone untouched. Head coach Bill Belichickand special teams coach Brad Seelylet Hanson hear about it when he got back to the sideline.
Those back-to-back scores could have taken all the wind out of New England's sails, but the team fought back when Matt Gutierreztook over for Cassel in the third quarter. Two of his three drives resulted in touchdowns, including a spectacular, back-corner-of-the-end-zone leaping grab by wide receiver Chad Jackson.
]()Flanker C.J. Jonesalso had some impressive grabs deep downfield, while versatile Ray Ventronelooked good catches passes in the slot.
"I told them, 'Good catch,'" Gutierrez said in the locker room afterwards. "Those guys are great athletes and good players and those are the kinds of plays they can make. I have to trust them and give them the opportunity to make those plays."
On defense, rookie linebacker Jerod Mayotallied seven total tackles (5 solo), good enough for second on the team for the night. And as a kick returner, fellow rookie Matthew Slatercontinues to show a burst. Again this week, he was inches away from breaking some long runs. He's decisive and not afraid to hit the hole hard when he finds an opening.
Gutierrez, however, summed up the evening perfectly when he observed, "We strung some good plays together but still came up short, so, it wasn't good enough."