Clearly the big topic around Patriots Nation this week is New England's inability to finish the game against the Colts. When a 31-3 blowout turns into a need to handle an onside kick in a 31-24 game against an 0-12 team, that tends to scare people. The players and coaches have admitted as much. Such failings may work against Indy in December, but they probably won't against a playoff opponent come January.
The focus of the concern may be on the Patriots defense that allowed Dan Orlovsky to carve them up for three touchdowns in the final 15 minutes. For good reason. The Colts drove 90 yards on three separate drives. Orlovsky hit 12 of his 13 passes on the final two drives for 176 yards with a pair of touchdowns to Pierre Garcon. It wasn't pretty.
But the offense may be equally to blame for the near disaster. Tom Brady and Co. had three consecutive three-and-outs in the final quarter. The first two of those drives saw New England in a no-huddle, shotgun look. The Patriots ran the ball just once on those two drives, a 6-yard effort from Stevan Ridley. A trio of incompletions also aided the Colts by stopping the clock three times, including taking a total of just 37 seconds off the clock on the middle of the three drives.
Then, on the final drive with the 2:10 to play, New England went with a jumbo package with lineman Donald Thomas at fullback and tried to run the ball three times. The Ridley carries went for 4 yards, 2 yards and no-gain.
In the end the Patriots finally did try to run the clock out, literally. But it was too little and too late. The dogfight had already begun.
Earlier, with 10:15 to play and 7:11 to play in a 31-10 game the call from the sideline was to spread things out and throw the ball. No four-minute offense in this one. No grind-it-out 10-minute drive to close out the game as we saw when BenJarvus Green-Ellis closed the door on the 30-21 win over the Jets at Gillette Stadium in early October.
The question that we're left with, is why the Patriots didn't try to run the clock out against an undersized run defense that entered the game ranked 31st in the NFL in stopping the rush?
Was it the performance of the running backs earlier in the game when the committee effort yet again lacked production? Green-Ellis did have just 14 yards on six carries on the day, while Ridley had just four carries for 21 yards to that point in the fourth when he added another four for 12 yards.
No New England runner has done the job all that well over the last month. Green-Ellis has averaged less than 4 yards a carry in four of the last six games, held to single-digit carries in three of the six. Ridley's eight carries on Sunday were his most since his 10-carry, 97-yard effort in Week 4 in Oakland.
Even if Bill Belichick and Bill O'Brien wanted to run the four-minute offense to close out the game, wanted to hand the ball off, do they have a guy who is worthy of the job at this point?
Right now there seems to be an ever growing lack of production and lack of confidence in the Patriots running game. That led to incomplete passes that stopped the clock, stopped two of New England's final three drives and gave the Colts plenty of time to attempt the unlikely comeback.
So while there is plenty of reason to question the Patriots defense right now, both in terms of its fourth-quarter effort on Sunday and regarding how it will shape up in the postseason, there also needs to be a closer look at New England's high-scoring but one dimensional offense.
Brady and his top four targets likely can't win it all through the air themselves against top defenses and top competition. Down the stretch a year ago Green-Ellis had 18 or more carries in six of the final eight games of the season on his way to 1,000 yards. He averaged better than 4 yards a carry in each of the final eight games of the year, with at least 72 yards in every game when he got at least 18 carries.
This year Green-Ellis has had more than 18 carries just once, and single-digit attempts in three of his last six games.
It may be cliché to say you have to run the ball late in the year in the NFL, especially in the Northeast. But it may also be true.
The Patriots didn't want to or simply couldn't run the ball on Sunday in an effort to run the clock out on the theoretically overmatched Colts. No one is happy about it. But can anything be done about it at this point?
What would you do about it?
Give Green-Ellis more carries.
Give Ridley more carries.
Keep throwing as often as possible.
Leave us a comment now on what you would do.