Week 6: October 16, 2005
Patriots (3-3), 20
Broncos (5-1), 28
Did a typical Roman denizen know the moment when her civilization was falling? She didn’t have Edward Gibbon there to tell her the exact date of decline. Gibbon retroactively reckoned that date was September 4, 474, the day Flavius Romulus Augustus was deposed. Other historians claim that the empire was never as exalted as we imagined it to be and carried within its own seeds of decay, so there was no rarerified air from which to descend. Still others posit that no one reason, let alone moment or event, can be isolated to describe the descent of an idealized state. Even today the debate on the whys and hows of the fall of the Roman Empire rage.
Worry not, Patriot fans, because you do not have to live in such a state of nescience. For you, I can mark the very day of the 2005 team’s downfall. Just think back to September 27, 2005: the Red Sox were on the way to splitting a double header with the Blue Jays and the Patriots were flush with a close but rousing victory against the Steelers on their home field. In that game, strong safety Rodney Harrison was buffeted by wide receiver Cedrick Wilson, who rolled into Harrison’s knee. The collision rived three ligaments: the anterior cruciate, medial collateral, and posterior cruciate, which is every ligament save the lateral collateral.
Call it Gloomy Tuesday, for that was the day we learned Harrison would not suit up for the rest of the season. There have been other injuries and retirements, but none more vital than this missing piece. In the three games since Harrison’s injury, the New England has lost 2 games, been outscored 97 to 68, and have had no interceptions from any part of the defense.
Much blame can be laid at the laggard feet of cornerback Duane Starks, who was covering, or supposed to have been covering, a stable full of Broncos on several key plays. He was responsible for Rod Smith on his 72-yard reception to open the 2nd quarter, Ashley Lelie (formerly of UH) on his 55-yard catch on the second drive of the same quarter, and Tatum Bell on his 68-yard run up the middle to close out that calamitous 15 minutes. All three plays led to touchdowns. Ultimately, however, the loss of Harrison’s skills and leadership can be labelled the turning point of the season.
Tom Brady led yet another comeback attempt in the second half and scored 17 unanswered points. New England’s hopes were dashed when the normally sure-handed Deion Branch missed a pass on a 3rd and 20 play with 3:53 left on the clock. A reception would have granted the Patriots another set of downs and a shot at touchdown and 2-point conversion for a tie, but the gap was too wide.
The numbers tell part of the story:
- New England’s second half comeback attempt is readily seen in its yardage split: 175 for the first half and 213 for the second. In contrast, except for one 74-yard drive that resulted in a touchdown, the Broncos were feeble in the second half. Their production decreased by 48% between the halves as they plummeted from 275 to 142 yards. The home team’s early scoring binge proved insurmountable, however. Advantage: Denver.
- The two fumbles in the game were recovered by their respective fumblers (Daniel Graham and Tatum Bell), so there were no changes of possession to grant either team an edge. Advantage: Push.
- Denver was a stunning 4 for 4 in red zone conversions while New England was an acceptable 2 out of 3 for 67%. Advantage: Denver.
- The Patriots had 8 infractions for 55 yards, the lowest since the first game of the season. However, rookie left guard Logan Mankins was ejected on Adam Vinatieri’s missed 53-yard field goal attempt to end the second half. Mankins was caught punching Ebenezer Ekuban after the whistle was blown. Even though it is his first year, the incident is troubling not only because it left Tom Brady’s blind side vulnerable but because it may bespeak a lack of understanding on the part of young players on the Patriot doctrine of discipline. The Broncos had 11 penalties for 82 yards. As in the game against the Chargers, the discrepancy seems to be the result of the time of possession battle that the visiting team lost, 27:43 to 32:17. Advantage: Denver.
- The Broncos’ third down version rate seems paltry at 27% (3 out of 11), but this is due to the second half malaise as well their opposition’s tendency to surrender immense swaths of yardage, which negated the need for conversions. The Patriots were 6 for 16 (38%) to tie their second-highest third down conversion percentage this season, but in this case the numbers aren’t telling the full story. Advantage: New England.
So, the Patriots limp into their bye week with a .500 record and a sheaf of questions to be answered. Tedy Bruschi has been medically cleared by his doctor as well as the team’s and the medical consensus seems to be that the Pro Bowl linebacker is not at risk for recurrence of stroke. With Bruschi’s return, will the Super Bowl champions find a new defensive field general to follow into a reinvigorated campaign into another golden era? Or has the team grown surfeit and complacent, lacking the appetite for a four-course feast?
Tom Brady: 24/46, 299 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT
Jake Plummer: 17/24, 262 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Patrick Pass: 10 carries, 64 yards, 1 TD, 17 yard longest gain
Tatum Bell: 13 carries, 114 yards, 1 TD, 68 yard longest gain
Patrick Pass: 6 receptions, 89 yards, 0 TD, 39 yard longest gain
Rod Smith: 6 receptions, 123 yards, 1 TD, 72 yard longest gain
Mike Vrabel: 8 tackles, 5 assists
Willie McGinest: 3 tackles, 2 assists, 0.5 sack
Dan Klecko: 1 tackle, 2 assists, 0.5 sack
Domonique Foxworth: 8 tackles, 1 assist