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By Tom E. Curran
FOXBORO -- The five things to remember from Thursday night's 36-35 Patriots loss to the Rams:
1. Bill Belichick's explanation for never giving the football to Laurence Maroney this week? "We never had the ball." Seriously. So the 36 plays the Patriots ran - including the 11 times they handed off - who exactly had the ball then? Because, while I didn't hatch the plan that muzzled the K-Gun and grounded the Greatest Show on Turf, I'm pretty sure they did have the ball. Positive, actually. And I'm nearly as sure that, if they wanted to, they could have woken Maroney up, pointed him in the direction of the field and let nature take its course.
But they didn't. Because, well, "they didn't have the ball." I thought it looked bad when BenJarvus Green-Ellis got the start in the first preseason game and Maroney was mop-up, but I didn't want to read too much into it. And when Maroney never got the ball at all against Atlanta, I figured, "I get it . . . Week 3 is the important game, he'll get the ball then." But he hasn't. And now he'll run against the Giants scrubs next week in the "please don't hurt me" game. Seems an unconventional way to get a guy ready for the season.
2. "You can't be dancing around. You've got to hit the hole," said Brandon Tate when asked about his 97-yard game-opening kickoff return. The kickoff return to open the game was beautifully blocked, no question. Gerard Warren and Vince Wilfork could have three-legged-raced through it. But don't discount the explosion of Tate when he saw the crease and that there was absolutely no geometrical way for any Ram coverage guy to get an angle on Tate to rein him in. Tate also had a 43-yard return the second time he handled it. Throw in two catches for 17 yards and you had one guy about whom to be tepidly encouraged on a night when there wasn't a lot to get giddy about.
3. Rams went 11-for-17 on third down. Even if the Patriots weren't game-planning and throwing the whole defensive package at Rams rookie quarterback Sam Bradford, that's astoundingly bad.
At the end of their first drive of the second half, the Rams had gone 6-for-9 on third down. That against the Patriots first-line defenders.
"We just couldn't get off the field," lamented Patriots inside linebacker Jerod Mayo. "Penalties killed us. We have to fix it."
Safety James Sanders said the defense merely came out flat. Unfortunately for New England it was a back-to-front failure. Devin McCourty - after two very good games - looked fairly lost. The secondary communication didn't seem to be there as Darius Butler got caught by himself and turned inside out on a first-half touchdown pass. The only legit pressure generated by the first-team defense came on a sack by Ron Brace. Tight end Mike Hoomanawanui looked like a beast in exploiting the Patriots linebackers and safeties and the Rams were effective but not overwhelming on the ground.
4. Now the offense on third down.
Coming into the game, the Patriots were 17-for-30 on third down. In the first half Thursday night they went 0-for-4. For the game, they were 2-for-7. The effectiveness they showed came mostly with their No. 1 offense going against the Rams' scrubs. That helps explain why they scored 21 points in an eight-minute span bridging the third and fourth quarters.
"It's about making plays on third down," said Brady. "The first drive we didn't. The second drive we got sacked and I was holding the ball; I shouldn't have been holding the ball. The third drive we didn't do anything. The fourth drive we didn't do anything. It gets old pretty quick when you keep going to the bench after three or four plays. We just had to get a bit of a rhythm out there."
5. This is not an unmitigated disaster. While it's not positive to get cuffed around in your own stadium by a team that won once in 2009, it does help temper the bubbling enthusiasm generated by the first two games. With a team that's going to rely so heavily on very young players in key positions on both sides of the ball, this was the flip side of Atlanta and New Orleans.
It's a lot better to learn the lesson that you're not as good as you think when the games don't count. Bill Belichick, who tried to keep his word count under 100 in his postgame press conference, now has all the evidence he needs to shower his team with profanity and guidance heading into the Giants game and then the regular season.
If the Patriots were just biding time until the real games start, that little exercise came to an end Thursday night.
Tags: Tom Brady, New England Patriots, Bill Belichick, Laurence Maroney