Commentary

Lessons from Patriots' losses

A close look at New England's bad games shows the Giants may have a Gronk-buster

Originally Published: January 30, 2012
By Vince Verhei | Football Outsiders
Deion Branch Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesThe New York Giants needs to focus on stopping Deion Branch and Rob Gronkowski to win.

A week ago in this space, we looked back at the four worst games the New York Giants played this season and found that the first item on their to-do list in the Super Bowl is to shut down New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski. This week, a look back at New England's worst four games makes that tactic even more obvious. As Gronkowski fared this season, so fared the New England offense.

Let's start by identifying the Patriots' four worst games. Unlike what we found on the Giants' schedule, there are no surprises here. New England's four bad games included its only three losses of the season (three nail-biters at that, falling 34-31 at Buffalo in Week 3, 25-17 at Pittsburgh in Week 8 and 24-20 against the Giants in Week 9) and its 27-24 Week 16 victory over Miami, a game in which the Dolphins (who finished 6-10) led 17-0 at halftime.

Only one of these four games -- the loss to Buffalo, which was 3-0 after beating New England but went 3-10 afterward -- looks like a particularly bad performance in hindsight. There's no shame in losing close games to playoff teams like the Steelers and Giants, and though New England struggled early against Miami, it did make enough plays to win. It's definitely fair to say that the Patriots at their worst were a better team than the Giants were at their worst this season.

But what can we learn from those losses, and what will the Giants learn?