Week 13 Epic Fail: New England's defense

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Are you still a defensive "genius" if your defense collapses in big game year after year and is now on pace to give up more yards through the air than anyone in football history?

That's one question coming out of New England after Bill Belichick's defense was humiliated by Dan Orlovsky(notes) and the 0-12 Colts.

Sure, the Patriots won the Week 13 battle, with a 31-24 victory.

But the 9-3 Patriots have zero chance of winning the Super Bowl war in February – not with a Mickey Mouse pass defense and a fourth-rate secondary that Belichick has cobbled together from free agents, bad draft picks, former college quarterbacks, current wide receivers and pixie dust.

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Backup wide receiver and part-time return man Matthew Slater(notes), for example, started at cornerback against the Colts. Julian Edelman(notes), a receiver and return specialist who was the starting QB at Kent State during his college days, has also seen time in the defensive backfield for the Patriots. Starting safety James Ihedigbo(notes) was undrafted out of football power UMass. He did not start a single game in three years with the Jets. He's started eight with the Patriots this season.

[ Related: Peyton Manning has fun encounter with Pats fans ]

No matter who ends up on the field, you can count on the fact that New England's once-proud pass defense will get torched week after week. It's so inept that it's on pace to surrender 5,192 yards through the air this season. It would be the most passing yards that any team has allowed in NFL history. Those 5,192 yards would shatter the current record for ineptitude set by the 1995 Falcons (4,751 yards).

The Patriots surrender so many yards through the air that they make every quarterback more productive than Dan Marino in 1984, the incredible season in which the Hall of Famer changed pro football and threw for a Ruthian 5,084 yards and 48 TDs.

That unit tops our Week 13 list of Epic Failures – our weekly look at the worst performance in the NFL.

Epic Fail: the New England Patriots pass defense

Sure, the Patriots beat the Colts. In the NFL, the W is all that matters.But the game was defined by a defensive collapse in the fourth quarter. Coupled with the quality (or lack thereof) of Indy's offense and third-string QB Dan Orlovsky, the performance set off warning sirens all across New England.

The Colts entered this game 0-11 and had perhaps the worst offense in football. They had scored just 150 points entering the game (13.6 PPG) and were held to 19 or less in nine of their first 11 games. The Indy passing game has been pathetic. In fact, here's how they stacked up entering the New England game in the Quality Stats we use to rank teams at Cold, Hard Football Facts:

No. 29 in Real Passing YPA
No. 31 in Real Quarterback Rating
No. 31 in Offensive Passer Rating
No. 32 in Passer Rating Differential

In other words, the Colts couldn't pass the football.

It gets worse: Indy sent Orlovsky as the sacrificial lamb to lead the wayward herd of Colts to slaughter against the mighty Patriots (9-3).

The situation could not have been worse for Indy. Orlovsky has kicked around the NFL since 2005 and has never won a game as an NFL starter. Let us repeat: Orlovsky has NEVER won an NFL game. In fact, he's best remembered for his seven starts for the 2008 Lions – the quarterback who took more snaps than any other for the only team in history to go 0-16.

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And now he may go down as the guy who started the last five games for the second team in history to go 0-16. It's quite a résumé.

This was a huge chance for the struggling New England pass defense to make a statement and get its groove on heading into the final quarter of the season.

Instead, the Patriots made arguably the worst and least accomplished quarterback in the NFL look like a combination of Johnny Unitas and Aaron Rodgers(notes).

Orlovsky came out swinging, completing his first seven passes. And he was almost perfect in the second half, connecting on all but two passes as he led a furious comeback effort.

Orlovsky ended the day with career bests in completions (30), completion percentage (81.1 percent), passing yards (353) and passer rating (113.2). He matched his career best with two touchdown passes, a feat he had accomplished in only two other games.

The 24 points were the most any team has scored with Orlovsky as a starter.

Sure, the Patriots boasted a big 31-3 lead entering the fourth quarter. So almost all those points came in "garbage time." But Super Bowl-caliber defenses do not allow the worst quarterbacks and worst offenses in football to torch them for 21 points in the fourth quarter and threaten to storm back from a 28-point deficit.

But the winless Colts, behind a command performance from Orlovsky, made the mighty Patriots sweat it out. New England may yet pull off a statistical miracle and manage to reach the Super Bowl behind the brilliant offensive fireworks of Tom Brady(notes) and Co.

[ Related: Aaron Rodgers masks Packers' flaws ]

But it's almost certain that a colossal Epic Failure will ensue if Bill Belichick's historically porous pass defense is forced to contend with a truly elite quarterback such as Aaron Rodgers of the Packers or Drew Brees(notes) of the Saints in Super Bowl XLVI.

Bill Belichick's defense makes third-rate quarterbacks look like Hall of Famers. It's frightening to think what Rodgers or Brees might do. Rodgers has faced the Patriots only briefly, with a little mop-up duty as Brett Favre's(notes) backup against New England in 2006.

Brees, however, gave us a sneak preview of what a Green Bay or New Orleans vs. New England Super Bowl might look like during a huge Monday night game against the Patriots in 2009.

Brees that night completed 18-of-23 passes for 371 yards, 16.1 YPA, 5 TDs and a so-called "perfect" passer rating of 158.3.

The Saints beat the Patriots, 38-17, as Brees set personal records for yards per attempt and passer rating.

It might have been the greatest statistical effort of Brees' prolific career and it was one of the great Epic Failures for a Belichick defense on an ever-growing list of them.

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