It's been 13 years since the Patriots lost back-to-back games after Thanksgiving but that's exactly what's happened after New England was stunned at home against Philadelphia. Special teams were the main culprit in the 35-28 loss, which wasn't as close as that score indicates.
Here are some random thoughts from the Patriots second straight loss.
CURIOUS BILL -It isn't often when Bill Belichick's decisions come into question but that was certainly the case in the Philadelphia game. The made several curious calls, and those wound up helping the Eagles get back in the game. Leading 14-0 midway through the second quarter, Belichick opted to call a trick play on special teams. Instead of having Stephen Gostkowski kick off traditionally, he had the kicker flip the ball to Nate Ebner, who then tried an onside dropkick. Seyi Ajirotutu recovered at the Eagles 41 and Philadelphia took advantage of the short field and got on the board moments later. After forcing a Patriots punt the Eagles faced a third-and-13 in Patriots territory coming out of the two-minute warning. New England forced a short completion to set up fourth-and-nine but Belichick opted not to use a timeout until the clock was down to 1:39. The lost time, coupled with bad field position, led the Patriots offense to go conservative and soon disaster struck when the Eagles blocked Ryan Allen's punt and returned it for a touchdown. The gaffes completely changed the complexion of the game and eventually led the Eagles to victory.
NOT SO SPECIAL -The Patriots have been dominant on special teams all season but not so on Sunday. In addition to the botched dropkick, New England surrendered a block punt for a touchdown and a punt return touchdown. The blocked put was a complete breakdown as Geneo Grissom and the rest of the interior line couldn't handle Philly's rush and Chris Maragos sprinted untouched to block Allen's kick. Najee Goode scooped it up and returned it 24 yards for a touchdown. In the third quarter Darren Sproles grabbed an Allen punt and took it 83 yards to the house. Sproles is a dynamic returner to be sure but he made several Patriots miss early before sprinting away from Allen and a few other potential tacklers past midfield. Overall it was a total system breakdown for Joe Judge's troops who have been so solid all season long.
FIXING THE LEAKS -Last week in Denver the Patriots run defense took a huge step back after several weeks of strong play. Both Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson ran well against New England, particularly after Dont'a Hightower left late in the first half with a knee injury. When Hightower was forced to miss the Eagles game the run defense was once again in focus and Philadelphia took advantage. In the first half the Eagles piled up 70 yards on 15 carries, averaging 4.7 yards a pop. Most of that damage was done by Darren Sproles and Kenjon Barner, who accounted for 10 carries and all but 1 of those yards. That pair consistently gashed the Patriots front and kept Philadelphia in manageable down-and-distance situations throughout the first half, and that came despite the fact that Jamie Collins returned to the lineup after missing four games with an undisclosed illness. Things didn't improve much in the second half as Philadelphia finished with128 yards on 33 carries, and that included several runs late in the game when the Eagles were simply running out the clock. Aside from a huge strip by Collins that gave the Patriots one final chance, the run defense was quite pedestrian yet again.
View a collection of the best images from the Patriots regular season game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, December 6, 2015.
THERE'S THE RUB -Keshawn Martin was active early on as a significant part of the offense. He caught a 19-yard pass in the first quarter and later drew a 42-yard pass interference penalty despite being double covered on the play. Martin really showed up a couple of times running effective rub routes, however. Unlike some earlier games when the Patriots seemed to draw flags for illegal blocks, Martin seemed to display good timing when sitting in his routes in areas where he affected the coverage on Danny Amendola, Amendola was able to shake free as result, and Martin avoided the flag each time. Martin struggled a bit in the second half, however. Martin had three catches for 45 yards but was targeted eight times. At least three of those incompletions were drops, including the final play down the seam. Martin is a complementary part of the offense but given the injuries he was forced into a bigger role.
OUT OF LINE -The Patriots continue to have problems along the offensive line and as a result the offense had trouble moving the ball. Tom Brady was forced to move all around the pocket throughout the game with several of the more successful plays coming after Brady was hit and knocked off his spot. He was sacked four times and hit 13 times. The pressure consistently derailed the offense and kept the Patriots from getting into favorable down-and-distance situations. The line also failed to open up consistent holes in the running game as LeGarrette Blount was forced to make many of his 54 yards on his own, some coming on plays designed to go one way only to see Blount reverse course and make hay in the opposite direction. Making matters worse Josh Kline injured his right shoulder and couldn't finish the game. Until things improve up front the offense will have a difficult time getting going.
HIDDEN WEAPON -For whatever reason the Patriots seem to be reluctant to incorporate James White into the offense. Despite being productive in his limited chances, White got just nine touches combined in the last two games. Perhaps out of desperation against Philly that changed and White finished with career highs of 10 catches for 115 yards and a touchdown. White consistently catches the ball and almost always makes the first tackler miss, yet Brady and Josh McDaniels seem to shy away from him for long stretches. Once the Eagles were in command Brady went to White often, and each time he came through. White had a huge 25-yard catch to convert a fourth-and-12 on the Patriots final scoring drive that allowed them to get within a touchdown. Again, White produces whenever he's given a chance to be part of the offense.
EXTRA POINTS -Brady's first of three touchdown passes moved him ahead of Dan Marino for third place on the all-time list, trailing only Peyton Manning and Brett Favre. He finished with three touchdowns on the day and now has 423 in his career. Brady also reached 30 touchdown passes for the season, marking the sixth time in his career he's had at least that many in a season, which is the fourth most all time. ... Nate Ebner served as the dime back in subpackages. ... The Patriots surrendered 35 straight points in a game for the first time since 1993. ... New England lost for the first time in 95 games at home when holding a lead of 8 points or more at any time in the game. ... Rashaad Melvin recovered an onside kick in the fourth quarter, one of three the Patriots attempted in the game. ... Brady had a 36-yard reception from Danny Amendola in the second half, which was just his second reception of his career. It was also Amendola's first-career pass. ... Damaris Johnson made his Patriots debut and recorded a 6-yard rush. He also returned two punts for 3 yards.