Tom Brady scrambled and heaved up a wobbly pass off his back foot, the sort of thing a less-experienced, less-accomplished and, well, less-cool QB might do.
The ball was picked off, and the New England Patriots were on their way to a second consecutive defeat.
More importantly — and more interestingly — they were on their way to a five-loss season for the first time in nearly a decade.
And, finally, they were on their way to putting this thought in the minds of other teams around the NFL: Maybe, just maybe, the Patriots are not who they’ve been for oh-so-long. Maybe, just maybe, they’re not heading to another Super Bowl.
“Not playing well enough to win,” is the way Brady put it.
The 17-10 loss at the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday dropped Bill Belichick’s club to 9-5 overall, 3-5 on the road.
New England probably will wind up winning a 10th consecutive AFC East title; it only needs one more victory to do that.
“We’re still in a decent position,” the 41-year-old Brady said.
That’s true, of course. And no one would be foolish enough to write off the Pats just yet. But two consecutive close late-season setbacks — last week’s “Miracle in Miami,” then this week’s penalty-fest in Pittsburgh, with 14 flags against the Patriots — certainly make them look vulnerable.
Then there’s this: New England is currently slotted into the No. 3 seed in the conference standings, behind the Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans, which would translate to a wild-card slot and no bye in the playoffs. Why is that significant? Belichick’s Patriots never have reached the Super Bowl without a bye.
As for that pivotal interception thrown by Brady, a week after he blew a scoring chance at the end of the first half in the loss at the Dolphins? Down 14-10 with about 8 minutes left, but inside Pittsburgh’s 20, Brady was flushed out of the pocket and basically threw the football up for grabs — into the hands of Steelers defensive back Joe Haden.
“I was just trying to flick it out of bounds,” Brady said. “Didn’t want to take a sack.”
But what you did was worse than a sack.
“I’m not used to seeing Tom Brady just throw the ball up and just panic like he’s a rookie,” former Patriots safety Rodney Harrison said on NBC’s “Football Night in America.”
The rest of the league isn’t used to seeing Belichick, Brady and Co. seem this vulnerable.
In case you missed it, here are other top topics after the NFL season’s 15th Sunday:
NICK OF TIME
Well, well, well, here we go again with Nick Foles and the Philadelphia Eagles, right? A back injury kept Carson Wentz out of Philadelphia’s night game at the Los Angeles Rams, a must-win for the reigning champions. So in came Foles, who replaced a hurt Wentz late last season and ended up as the Super Bowl MVP; he went 24 of 31 for 270 yards in the Eagles’ 30-23 victory over LA, helping them improve to 7-7 and hold onto their slim chance at a postseason berth.
WORST TO FIRST
Rookie coach Matt Nagy and new pass-rusher Khalil Mack (another 2½ sacks Sunday) have the Chicago Bears back in the playoffs for the first time since 2010 after beating the rival Green Bay Packers 24-17 to improve to 10-4 and clinch the NFC North. The Bears were fourth in the division last season, meaning that in 15 of the past 16 years, at least one NFL club has gone from worst to first.
ON BENDED KNEE
There was more good news for the Bears: After their game, offensive lineman Charles Leno Jr. dropped to a knee right there on the turf in the middle of the stadium, pulled out a box with a ring in it and proposed to his girlfriend. She said “Yes” — and some of Leno’s teammates helped him celebrate the occasion. Chicago quarterback Mitch Trubisky’s take: “I’m very happy for Charles. He planned it out pretty well.”
JANIKOWSKI JOGS OFF
Kicker Sebastian Janikowski was involved in quite a sequence during Seattle’s 26-23 overtime loss to the San Francisco 49ers, which prevented the Seahawks from locking up a playoff spot. After the Seahawks scored the game’s first touchdown, Janikowski missed an extra point. Then his kickoff was returned 97 yards for a score by San Francisco’s Richie James Jr. — and the Twitterverse made note of Janikowski’s complete lack of interest in making a TD-saving tackle on the runback. Instead, he just got out of James’ way and sashayed to the sideline.
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