Monday, May 20, 2013
When someone has a question about the New England Patriots' defensive line, Vince Wilfork steps forward to speak. Jerod Mayo does the same for the linebackers, often answering hard questions about execution and motivation.
Pats cornerback Devin McCourty gets beat for a 51-yard pass to Seattle’s Golden Tate late in Sunday’s game.
The Associated Press
Who speaks for the secondary?
And therein perhaps lies the biggest problem facing the Patriots' defense as they try to regroup after yet another discouraging last-second loss.
The secondary has no leader, hasn't since Rodney Harrison retired in 2009 following three seasons of near-constant injuries.
Harrison was the guy who would send messages to his teammates, either directly or through the press, that they better start making plays.
He intimidated opposing players, who didn't want to cross him for fear of getting whacked across the middle, and perhaps even his teammates, who didn't want to face his wrath.
He broke his arm in the final minutes of the Pats' Super Bowl win over Carolina in February 2004 , but was still on the sideline cheering his teammates on as Adam Vinatieri kicked a last-second field goal.
The next year he missed nearly a quarter of the game with an injury, but his interception in the final seconds preserved New England's Super Bowl win over the Eagles.
He never gave anything less than his best effort in every game, and expected the same of his teammates.
Coach Bill Belichick has yet to find anyone to match that pride and intensity since Harrison retired.
Yes, there are other problems with this team: curious play-calling by Josh McDaniels, a pass rush that still disappears at critical moments, an over-reliance on the arm of Tom Brady at times.
But the secondary has been Problem No.1 for at least two years.
After allowing 293.3 passing yards per game a year ago -- to rank 31st in the 32-team NFL -- the Patriots are allowing 288.8 passing yards per game to rank 28th.
Too often the defensive backs aren't in position to make a play, or are called for pass interference when they try to make a play. Opposing receivers seem to run freely through the secondary, without fear of a big hit.
The Patriots don't have a lockdown cornerback -- as much as they'd like Devin McCourty to be that guy he's just too inconsistent -- and their safeties are seemingly a second late on every big play.
Sunday against the Seahawks, an offense that no one will ever mistake for the 2007 Patriots, New England gave up pass plays of 51, 50, 46, 29, 24 and 22 yards.
Asked Monday if that's the result of mental lapses or bad techniques, Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said it was probably some of both: "So you need to improve on both because it just wasn't good enough."
It didn't help Sunday that the starting safeties were out with injuries. Steve Gregory, acquired as a free agent from San Diego, didn't dress because of an injury. Patrick Chung was out with a shoulder injury.
So the Patriots were left with rookies Nate Ebner and Tavon Wilson. They were mere spectators as rookie Russell Wilson spliced the secondary down the middle for a 46-yard touchdown pass to Sidney Rice with 1:18 remaining for the winning touchdown.
The good news – the Patriots (3-3) are in a four-way tie for first in the AFC Least, eh, East.
Their three losses are by a total of four points – two to Arizona (20-18) when Stephen Gostkowski missed a 42-yard field goal with 1 second left; one to Baltimore (31-30) when the Ravens drove the field in the final 1:51, aided by a pass interference call on McCourty, and won on a last-play 27-yard field goal by Justin Tucker; one to Seattle (24-23) on Sunday.
After those three losses, someone's got to step up and become a leader in the secondary. Without one, this could turn into a very cold fall and winter.
Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at: email@example.com