No, the Patriots aren't dead.
And, yes, you can certainly envision a scenario where the Patriots wind up with a bye, the Chiefs choke away another playoff game and suddenly the New England Patriots Invitational (aka, the AFC championship game) is at Gillette for the third-straight year and sixth time in eight years (holy mackerel). And, suddenly, we're on to the Super Bowl.
But do that, you would have to go on faith with visions of the overachieving 2011 squad dancing in your head.
And you would also have to ignore what we've seen, largely, for the last 14 games.
Put aside talent, health and all that other stuff you can't quantify: These Patriots have struggled for a large portion of this season because their execution has been nowhere near their normal levels. Basically, this team makes a ton of mistakes. We're used to that in the first month of the season on an annual basis. But to have it continually be a problem ... well into December, during important games? Unheard of. That's why you hear a lot of comparisons to the 2009 team.
Sunday's 17-10 loss to the Steelers was just the latest — and maybe the worst — example of these maddening (they have to be for the coaching staff) deficiencies. Before we get into the positional ratings and three ups/three downs, let's go through the lowlights (and this isn't all of them — just the bigger ones) so you can see exactly what has to be cleaned up for another '11 redux to become a reality and discuss the fallout (why and what needs to be done).
3RD & 1 AT NE 32 (07:24): On what would have been a failed pickup if the Steelers weren't caught to two many men, Rob Gronkowski and Marcus Cannon fail to execute the double team.
3RD & 8 AT PIT 46 (01:35): After Cannon gives up pressure to T.J. Watt (this will be a running theme), Brady throws late and poorly to James White to end the drive.
2ND & 7 AT NE 44 (10:33): On the fourth-straight run to open the drive, Sony Michel pops off a 25-yard run, but Trent Brown blatantly holds Cam Heyward when Brown stops moving his feet. A 35-yard penalty makes it 2nd and 17 and kills the drive. Cannon gives up another pressure a third-down pass to White that comes up four yards short.
1ST & 10 AT NE 24 (06:01): Because of pressure allowed by David Andrews, Brady throws late to Gronkowski across the middle and doesn't see Josh Gordon one-on-one deep on a post.
3RD & 5 AT NE 29 (05:25): Another third-down pressure by Cannon.
2ND & 8 AT NE 21 (02:27): Josh McDaniels