Epic Fail: New England Defense Torched By Rookie Russell Wilson

Cold, Hard Football Facts

By Kerry J. Byrne, coldhardfootballfacts.com

Bill Belichick defenses were once spoken about in reverent terms. What kind of magic would this mad genius in the wizard’s hood conjure up to embarrass elite quarterbacks, especially in the biggest games of the year?

From Jim Kelly and the K-Gun offense to Kurt Warner and the Greatest Show on Turf Rams to future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning, one premier passer after another fell under the spell of Belichick’s defensive hocus-pocus.

But that was a long time ago, in a gridiron galaxy far away.

These days, Belichick’s defenses have a habit of failing badly in key situations, and allowing even below-average quarterbacks to manufacture career performances.

That habit continued again Sunday, in New England’s 24-23 loss at Seattle.  

The Cold, Hard Football Facts break down another major epic failure by a Belichick defense in a key moment of a big game.  

Epic Fail: the once-proud Patriots defense

New England’s 24-23 loss at Seattle Sunday was just the latest example of a Patriots team that made an ordinary quarterback look extraordinary, especially in key situations.

Seahawks rookie Russell Wilson had a career game, averaging 10.9 yards per attempt with 3 TD, 0 INT and a 133.7 passer rating against the habitually porous Patriots pass defense.

He entered the game with a 75.2 passer rating, while averaging 6.5 YPA with 5 TD and 6 INT.

Most impressively, Wilson threw a pair of touchdown passes in the final 7:21 of the fourth quarter to lead his team back from a 23-10 deficit.

Wilson’s game-winning throw was a perfect 46-yard strike to streaking Sidney Rice right through the heart of the Patriots defense with 1:20 to play.

New England looked like Army against Notre Dame back in 1913, oblivious to the concept of the forward pass as an offensive weapon.

Rice raced right past Patriots rookie safety Tavon Wilson, who trailed helplessly behind the receiver along with fellow rookie safety Nate Ebner.

Oh, sure, the New England offense went into a fourth-quarter funk, too: punt, punt, turnover on downs in its final three drives, after punting just once in the previous 3-plus quarters. Tom Brady & Co. also mismanaged the clock at the end of the first half, blowing a chance to enter intermission with at least another 3 points on the board.

But the reality is that the Patriots sported a 23-17 lead with 2 minutes remaining and, once again, couldn’t make a stop. Seattle’s 57-yard game-winning drive took all of 4 plays and 80 seconds.

The Cold, Hard Football Facts measure each pass defense with what we call Defensive Passer Rating – the formula for quarterbacks applied to pass defense. It has an incredibly high correlation to success throughout all of NFL history.

Teams with a very good Defensive Passer Rating win a lot of games. Teams with a very bad Defensive Passer Rating lose a lot of games. Right now, the Patriots have a very bad Defensive Passer Rating (100.9). In fact, the 2012 Patriots are on pace to field the worst pass defense in franchise history, and by a wide margin.

Here are the worst Defensive Passer Ratings in Patriots history, with the team’s record in parenthesis:

  • 2012 Patriots (3-3) – 100.9
  • 1972 Patriots (3-11)– 92.2
  • 1989 Patriots (5-11) – 91.6
  • 1995 Patriots (6-10) – 91.4
  • 1990 Patriots (1-15) – 89.9

Back in the early days of the New England dynasty – those years that ended with three Super Bowl victories – the Patriots defense could be reasonably counted on to make big stops in big games.

More specifically, Bill Belichick’s defense made life miserable on opposing quarterbacks: a game-changing pick-six against Kurt Warner and the Greatest Show on Turf Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI; four picks of Peyton Manning in the 2003 AFC title game; another three interceptions, this time against Donovan McNabb in Super Bowl XXXIX.

In more recent years – those years that have ended in crushing playoff defeats – the Patriots defense can be counted on to melt down in the white-hot spotlight of big games or big moments.

The worst part for the Patriots is that they appeared to acknowledge the problem and address it aggressively in the off-season.

New England devoted its first six draft picks to defenders back in April, including two first rounders: pass-rushing specialist Chandler Jones and linebacker Dont’a Hightower, the leader of Alabama’s dominant defense the last several seasons.

Jones earned the NFL's Rookie Defensive Player of the Month honors for September, and had two sacks and a forced fumble Sunday against the Seahawks.

But those efforts to prop up the pass defense have failed so far in 2012, including the Epic Failure in Seattle on Sunday.

The magic of the Belichick defense can no longer cast a spell even on a struggling rookie