What was the narrative with the Patriots heading into the 2021 season?
Run the football, take care of the football and rely on the defense to win games. After all, that is the side of the ball with the most talent and experience compared to an offense led by rookie quarterback Mac Jones.
But when the Patriots dropped four of their last five games, including getting blown out in the Wild Card round at Buffalo Saturday night, many pointed the finger at Jones.
This could not be any more wrong.
These people are ignoring what’s right in front of them: the Patriots defense let the team down over the last month-plus of the season and can be considered frauds.
New England’s defense finished the regular season fourth overall, second in points allowed and second in defending the pass.
But the last five games of the season showed the unit really wasn’t that good and instead padded its stats against poor competition and also against some contenders that were missing a great deal of talent when facing the Patriots.
Over the first 13 games of the season, the defense allowed a total of 194 points (14.9 per game) compared to the last five games when it allowed 150 points (30 per game). And in the biggest game of the season Saturday night, the defense allowed the most points ever (47) by a Bill Belichick-coached team and allowed a team to go an entire game without punting, kicking a field goal, or turning the ball over. That was the first time that’s happened in the history of the NFL.
That’s not even mentioning the Bills have gone 20 straight drives without punting against the Patriots dating back to the Monday night game in early December, and they have reached the red zone in 14 straight meaningful drives, excluding end of half/game kneel downs.
And that No. 2 ranked passing defense?
In Josh Allen’s last two games against the Patriots (Week 16 and on Wild Card weekend), he's gone 51-for-72 (70.8%) passing with 622 yards, eight touchdowns and no interceptions for a QB rating of 134.14.
Specific to Saturday night, Matthew Judon and J.C. Jackson are the unit’s best players and they were no-shows.
According to Pro Football Focus, Jackson allowed four catches on five targets for 89 yards, while Judon only had one pressure in just 22 snaps. He will finish the year with one QB hit in his last five games after totaling 25 in the first 13.
And that No. 4 ranked rushing defense?
Two of its three worst performances in terms of yards allowed on the ground came in the final two games. New England allowed 174 yards Saturday night, which came following allowing 195 in the regular-season finale against Miami to Duke Johnson and Phillip Lindsay.
Finally as a whole, several veterans started to have their ages and declining athleticism exposed down the stretch, including Dont’a Hightower and Devin McCourty. The linebackers looked slow and it’s clear the Patriots need to get faster and more athletic this offseason, especially given how Buffalo is built.
A defense that had the only two players on the team with cap hits over $10 million and seven of the top 12 biggest hits on the team should be leading the team to wins, not be the reason they will be watching the rest of the postseason from their couches.
The stats are nice, but wins and strong performances against good teams are even nicer — and what people actually remember.
Some tough decisions will need to be made this offseason when it comes to this side of the ball, which would have been a little easier had the unit not completely fallen off the rails down the stretch.