The Patriots Defense Had a Terrible Game. Just Like All Great Defenses Do

As we piece through the wreckage of the Patriots first loss in 322 days, 13 consecutive games, three postseason games, one championship, one Duckboat parade and the most famous Asian massage in history, the question on everyone’s lips is whether it was just a bad night for the defense that was on pace to set every record in the books, or was this them being exposed once they finally faced a team with better offensive personnel than Luke Falk and Robby Anderson. As the IT guy in your office likes to say whenever just shutting it off and starting it back up again doesn’t work, the question is whether Sunday night was a bug or a feature.

So with that, it’s a worthwhile exercise to see what the other historically good defenses the Boogeymen have been compared to did. Let’s take a dive into the seasons that the best of the best produced to see if they ever had a game like the Pats did in Baltimore.

1973 Steelers. Points Allowed per Game: 9.9
Worst Game: Week 3, 30 points scored by New England

The Steelers have no lack of defenses that are in the conversation as the Best Ever. I chose this edition because they had just won the two previous Super Bowls, and would stay intact to win two more. But mainly for that preposterously low Points per Game average. And yet, in Week 3, they faced a Patriots team that had gone 3-11 the year before and gave up more than three times that. These were the “Grogan’s Heroes” Pats, who would finish 11-3, the biggest turn around in league history. But at the time no one realized was a playoff team. Still, the Patriots lit them for 30. At Pittsburgh. Without any defensive scores like the Ravens had Sunday and despite Steve Grogan throwing two interceptions. Chuck Fairbanks team took advantage of 6 turnovers but more importantly, dropped 399 total yards against a unit that had more Hall of Famers than a steakhouse in Canton on Induction Weekend.

1985 Bears. Points Allowed per Game: 12.4
Worst Game: Week 13, 38 points scored by Miami

Next year will be the 35th anniversary of this team and still you can mention “The ’85 Bears” and everyone gets that you’re referencing the most dominant defense of all time. They didn’t give up a point in the postseason until a fumble on the opening kickoff of the Super Bowl produced a short field goal. And then didn’t allow another score until the game was 46-3. They went into this game undefeated. And got shredded by Dan Marino on Monday Night Football. Buddy Ryan’s 46 Defense that only allowed 16 passing touchdowns on the season gave up three. They only allowed six TDs on the ground for the season, but allowed two to the immortal Ron “1,127 Career Yards” Davenport. They’d go on to surrender just 43 more points over their final six games and gain immortality. But in this one, they were way less than average.

2000 Ravens. Points Allowed per Game: 10.3
Worst Game: Week 2, 36 points scored by Jacksonville

The last of the great defenses to carry a truly pisspoor offense to a championship before Bill Polian’s rules changes turned the league into a 1980s Denver Nuggets game, the Ravens only allowed 16 total touchdowns in the regular season, 11 passing and five rushing. Mark Brunell’s arm produced three of those in this game. Despite the Jags rushing attack only picking up 46 yards on the ground, Brunell carved Baltimore up for 386 passing yards. And the 36 points Jacksonville scored represented 21% of the Ravens total Points Allowed, 165. To put it into a little more perspective, 2000 Mark Brunell was not 1985 Dan Marino. Not by a damned sight. He was 10th in the league in Passer Rating and got sacked 54 times. But on this day, the Ravens didn’t want his hands.

2013 Seahawks. Points Allowed per Game: 14.4
Worst Game: Week 5, 34 points scored by Indianapolis

This was the Legion of Boom that would finish the season by holding the most prolific offense in league history to eight points in the Super Bowl. They gave up just 16 passing TDs and 4 rushing all season and just 274 yards per game on the year. But the Colts managed 317 yards against them and three touchdowns, one a run by Donald Brown and the other two Andrew Luck hookups with TY Hilton of 73 and 29 yards. The Colts Special Teams added another touchdown for the final total. But they got pushed around by a very average (14th in points scored) Indy offense.

I could dig deeper and add more legendary defensive teams at it would be the same. The point being that it’s impossible for any unit on either side of the ball to dominate week after week. It simply doesn’t happen. But the occasional bad game does. Every season. To every team. The Patriots didn’t get “exposed” by the Ravens’ perfectly executed Read Option game any more than these championship defenses got “exposed” in these games during their all time great seasons.


So slow your roll. This is still the same defense that kept the 11th highest scoring offense in league history out of the end zone and even out of the red zone in carrying the team to a championship just nine months ago. They didn’t just all of a sudden forget how to make stops. And nine consecutive stellar exhibitions of team defense is a trend. One bad game isn’t a trend. It’s an unavoidable fact of life in the NFL. So get over it and move onto Philly.