FOXBORO, Mass. — The mystique has melted away.

The veil has been lifted here in New England, exposing a once-impervious foundation now wrought with cracks.

The stronghold the Patriots have long held over the AFC East slowly has begun to fade, and in its place are images of uncontrollable frustration. The sight of quarterback Tom Brady pelting a water bottle on the sidelines and his overly dramatic fit after throwing two interceptions to the Giants on Sunday spoke volumes.

The Patriots are not who we thought they were.

For so many years, Bill Belichick’s football genius couldn’t be matched. He was the mastermind behind the magic, while Brady was the man charged with executing his plan. Their tried and true methods garnered enviable success, including eight division titles over the past decade and three Super Bowls since Belichick took the reins in 2000.

But now something appears to be wrong.

Back-to-back losses (for the first time since 2009) to the Steelers and Giants have dropped the Patriots (5-3) into a three-way tie with the Bills and Jets for the top spot in the division just in time for their showdown with Rex Ryan’s chatty bunch tonight at MetLife Stadium. But perhaps more importantly, Sunday’s 24-20 loss to the Giants — which snapped the Patriots’ streak of 20 consecutive regular-season home wins — raised questions about the durability of New England’s dynasty.

On Monday, Jets safety Jim Leonhard summed up the ultimate issue facing the Patriots rather simply.

“They’re not invincible,” he said.

And here’s why:
Brady’s not at his best

Without question, Brady remains one of the elite quarterbacks in the NFL. But his recent performances have led many to question his decision-making.

He has struggled against good defenses, and particularly those with good pass rushers and a penchant for takeaways (i.e., Buffalo, Dallas, Pittsburgh and the Giants). Despite throwing for 342 yards and two touchdowns in Sunday’s loss to the Giants, Brady completed just 57.1 percent (28-of-49) of his passes and threw two interceptions. He also fumbled deep in Patriots territory in the third quarter, resulting in a Giants touchdown.

Brady — who threw four interceptions in a Week 3 loss to the Bills — has four interceptions over their past three games, two of which were losses. When he’s not giving a Brady-type performance, the Patriots suffer.

Through the first eight games last season, Brady was 166 of 261 (63.6 percent) for 1,826 yards, 14 touchdowns and four interceptions.

Though he has thrown for more yards (2,703), has a slightly better completion rate (66 percent) and has more touchdowns (20) this season, Brady has thrown a whopping 10 interceptions — tied for third-most in the league with Tampa Bay QB Josh Freeman.

The Chad Ochocinco experiment in New England has gone awry.

The Patriots had hoped the veteran wide receiver would catch on quickly in Brady’s pass-happy program. But that hasn’t been the case. Ochocino has been slow to learn the playbook, relegating him to sideline spectator.

Ochocinco, a former Pro Bowler with the Bengals, has just nine receptions for 136 yards through eight games — the same reception and yardage totals slot receiver Wes Welker had against the Giants.

And the lack of chemistry between Ochocinco and Brady was blatantly obvious Sunday. With no true deep-threat receivers (like a Randy Moss), opposing teams have figured out the Patriots’ simplistic formula: get the ball to Welker or second-year tight end Rob Gronkowski.

Their defense, an amalgamation of inexperienced backups forced to be starters, is porous at best.

The Patriots have the worst pass defense in the league, allowing 314 yards per game while surrendering 416.2 total yards per contest. Though they shut down the Giants in the first half Sunday, the Patriots allowed Eli Manning & Co. to march 80 yards downfield for the winning score. Free-agent signees Kyle Arrington (a rookie cornerback) and Sergio Brown (a second-year safety) were each flagged for costly pass interference calls on the Giants’ last two drives of the game.

The Patriots parted ways Tuesday with their underperforming defensive tackle, Albert Haynesworth.

The veteran lineman, who was traded from Washington this summer for a fifth-round 2013 draft pick, was waived after recording just three tackles in six games.

Asked on the radio Monday if the “fear/intimidation” factor no longer exists in New England, Brady said he isn’t sure. “I really don’t know how other teams view us,” he said.

The Patriots already have surpassed their loss total from a year ago, when they finished the regular season 14-2. They have lost back-to-back games for only the third time since the beginning of the 2003 season behind two un-Brady-like performances. The Patriots also had scored 30 points or more in 16 of their previous 21 regular-season games prior to scoring 25 or less in their last three contests.

Facing New England, especially at home, once was considered a daunting task, a job few teams could handle. But the Patriots, once considered unbeatable, have been exposed.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.