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Four Ups, Four Downs From Patriots' Home Loss To Seahawks

By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

FOXBORO (CBS) -- Strictly from an entertainment standpoint, it would be hard to beat the theatrics of Sunday night's battle between the Patriots and Seahawks at Gillette Stadium. It featured eight lead changes, two goal-line stands, a bold coaching decision, impressive quarterback play, and, really, everything anyone could ever want out of a football game.

Unless you're the Patriots. Then, you'd probably like to have a victory, too.

Alas, the Seahawks were just a touch better on Sunday evening, as evidenced by that scoreboard. It rarely lies.

With that, here's what stood out on both the positive and negative side of things in the Seahawks' 31-24 win in New England. It was a loss, so we're starting with the downs.


Matt Patricia

Not good enough.

That's the new slogan of the Patriots' defense, which now can officially say it has some issues that could very well stand in the way of this team winning a championship. Having had two weeks to prepare for an offense that entered the weekend ranked 26th in yards per game (322.1) and 23rd in points per game (20.3), the Patriots gave Russell Wilson soft zones to slice through all night long. Doug Baldwin was completely unaccounted for on a touchdown late in the first half. C.J. Prosise entered the game with 30 rushing yards and 116 receiving yards on the entire season; he ran for 66 yards and picked up 87 more yards through the air in this game.

The Seahawks scored 11 more points and gained 98 more yards compared to their season averages.

From afar, the Patriots' defense appears to be sitting back in the hopes that the opposing offense makes a mistake by throwing an ill-advised interception or coughing up the football. It's a strategy that's not working, and one that's going to need to be tweaked by Matt Patricia and Bill Belichick if this team is to get as far as it believes it should go.

Cyrus Jones

After a four-game hiatus as a healthy scratch after getting ejected from a game, rookie cornerback/return man Cyrus Jones was active for the first time since Week 5 in Cleveland. He returned one kick. He fumbled the football.

Fortunately for the Patriots, Nate Ebner was in the right place to recover the football near midfield. It helped the Patriots for the time being, but likely won't help Jones in earning the head coach's trust going forward.

Julian Edelman

Likewise, Edelman fumbled a football, though this one proved to hurt more than Jones' drop. Edelman's came, coincidentally, just two plays after Ebner's recovery, following a catch over the middle on a second-and-10 play. Throughout the game, Edelman had stayed on his feet as long as possible in order to fight for extra yardage. It paid off earlier when he drew a facemask penalty on Richard Sherman for 15 yards. But this time, he was held up and stripped by Kam Chancellor, losing the ball just before his knee hit the turf.

Sherman recovered the fumble, and the Seahawks went on to drive 48 yards to turn a one-point lead into a seven-point lead.

Games are always full of "what ifs," but a fumble near midfield while trailing by one point with 8:30 left in the fourth quarter doesn't require much imagination. It was a big one.

(Edelman had an otherwise spectacular game, finishing with seven receptions for 99 yards, including a huge 33-yard reception on a third-and-25 to help set up a late go-ahead score.)

Bill Belichick/Josh McDaniels/Tom Brady ... In Retrospect

To come right out and be as up front as possible, this one is admittedly spotlighted only in retrospect. It has to do with the Patriots' decision to not score from the 2-yard line with 43 seconds left in a seven-point game. On first-and-goal, Brady fell forward through the line, but appeared to be careful to not push into the goal line, so as not to leave Seattle with any more time. Brady and Belichick admitted as much after the game.

"It was just some situational football. We were trying to get it very close but not in," Brady said.

"We were definitely trying to score, but I'd say managing the clock was part of it," Belichick said.

Whether the call came from Belichick or McDaniels or even Brady himself, it doesn't matter. It was a sound strategy. If the Patriots ended up scoring a touchdown, Seattle wouldn't have had enough time to mount a potential game-winning drive, and the game would have headed to overtime.

But here's the thing about assuming you can score on a later play: You have to actually score to make the plan work. The Patriots did not.

Blount got stuffed on second down. Brady fumbled -- and recovered -- on a QB sneak attempt on third down. And Brady's pass fell incomplete on fourth down as Rob Gronkowski and Kam Chancellor tumbled to the turf. The game was lost.

Of course, one can't know whether or not Brady would have been able to score on that first down play. But the inability to score thereafter makes the decision to drain clock subject to being second-guessed following the loss.


LeGarrette Blount

He may have been stopped a few inches shy of the goal line on second-and-goal on the final Patriots possession, but given how well he had performed to that point, he had certainly made the case that he deserved another carry or two to try to pick up the game-winning score.

Blount ran for a pair of 1-yard touchdowns in the first half and then broke off a 13-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, finishing the night with 69 yards on the ground. All three scores gave the Patriots the lead -- the first a 7-0 lead, the second a 14-12 lead, and the final one a 21-19 lead.

Blount tied a regular-season career high with the three touchdowns in a game, though he does have a three-TD game and a four-TD game on his postseason resume. Now with 12 rushing touchdowns on the season, Blount leads the NFL in that category. He's also two shy of tying the Patriots' franchise mark for most rushing touchdowns in a season.

Trey Flowers

It was not a banner day for the defense, but Trey Flowers made his mark in a positive way. He chased down running back C.J. Prosise from behind to help force Seattle to settle for a field goal on its opening possession. He sacked Russell Wilson later in the first quarter while fighting through being held by lineman George Fant. He picked up another sack in the third quarter and also did just enough to stop a would-be Wilson scramble in the open field.

Martellus Bennett

The tight end proved to be a critical part of Tom Brady's offense, as the quarterback threw Bennett's way seven times. Bennett caught all seven.

He finished the game with 102 yards, three of which went for first downs and one of which went for 36 yards. Beyond the stats, Bennett was a physical presence, deflecting defenders and utilizing a stiff-arm to stay on his feet and gain extra yards.

The Patriots ultimately lost the game, but they learned that in Bennett, they have a player they should be able to rely on in games as big as this one.

Defensive Line

For a moment, it appeared as though Bill Belichick's team would prove to be able to win on coaching. That's perhaps a bit simplistic, but consider that for the second time in as many years, with a visiting opponent on the goal line and poised to score a touchdown, Belichick's defensive line executed a perfectly timed late shift, one that forced the opponent to jump early and move back to the 5-yard line.

The Patriots did it last year to the Steelers, who admitted they had seen it on film but nevertheless fell prey to the trick. And they did it again to the Seahawks, who must have been aware of a move that was used just 14 months ago.

This time, it came on a third down with 9:03 left to play in the fourth quarter. The Patriots led by two points, and on third down from the 1-inch line, they all shifted toward the middle of the line, prompting Jimmy Graham to jump early.

Seattle was forced back to the 5-yard line, and Russell Wilson threw incomplete. The Seahawks settled for a field goal.

Had the Patriots won, the crafty move would have been one of the biggest reasons why.

You can email Michael Hurley or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.

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