FOXBOROUGH — Excuses? Your New England Patriots, the franchise that proudly notes it doesn’t like to make excuses, have a few.
COVID-19 has legitimately messed them up.
There have been other issues, blike the health of offensive linemen and running backs, as well as flying to Kansas City on the morning of a game. But lost players and lost practice time due to the coronavirus is Enemy No. 1.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick, like a true coach, basically admitted that the hardest part about the last three weeks has been the severely-decreased practice time.
“We need more time together, practice together,” said Belichick, in his typical, postmortem monotone. “We need to execute better ... no question about that.”
Despite the legitimate excuses, the Patriots were handed Sunday’s game against Denver on a platter, similar to the one they won in Houston against the Atlanta Falcons over 3.5 years ago. You remember, 28-3?
Instead of running the clock out, forcing the Patriots to use their timeouts and throw the ball deep, a big no-no around here, the Broncos threw consecutive interceptions, the first with 5:25 remaining and then 3:23 remaining.
The Patriots, trailing 18-9, got a field goal after one pick, and then had the ball on the Broncos’ 24-yard line, first down, with 1:07 remaining in the game.
A touchdown and extra point and the Patriots win it, 19-18, steal another win in typical Belichick fashion, which often means other coaches see him on the other side of the field and they, well, choke.
Overall, coming off COVID-19, Pats quarterback Cam Newton made some big plays, primarily with his legs. One was on the touchdown drive while trailing 18-3 in the third quarter, running for 38 yards on one play and later scoring from the 1-yard line.
But his two interceptions, both tipped balls, turned into instantaneous field goals for the Broncos, which had six field goals for the game.
Overall, he was erratic while throwing the ball to wide receivers, completing only six passes.
Whether he was sloppy or holding onto the ball too long, Newton had a chance to make us forget Tom Brady is still playing football.
He had the ball in his hand with a chance to win the game at the end. It would’ve added to his lore as a Patriot.
The four win-or-lose plays went like this:
Incomplete (not even close to Julian Edelman).
Six-yard pass to James White.
Incomplete (to N’Keal Harry) against an all-out blitz by both safeties.
It marked the second time the Patriots, under Newton, failed to execute in the closing seconds, including the tough loss to Seattle when Newton was destroyed trying to run in from the 1-yard line.
Newton, to his credit, was not making excuses.
On his two interceptions, he said, “Protecting the football, that’s what it comes down to. They’re drive-killers and game-killers. I’m extremely frustrated in myself. I didn’t get job done today.”
On the lack of practice time, he said: “I don’t want this to be a pity party. We have to follow up with great practices this week and (I) look forward to it.”
On losing at the end, he said: “My job here is to find a way to win football games. It starts with protecting the football ... The defense gave us opportunities, holding them to field goals, that’s what we can ask for. And we didn’t do our part.”
The Patriots are 2-3. There are lots more opportunities to change the current narrative, about excuses and lack of execution when it matters most.
But how many more opportunities can Newton have to finish the job and not really finish it?
If he wants to be here long-term, not many more.