FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- In a Sunday Night Football battle that some billed as a rematch of Super Bowl XLIX, it was the New England Patriots who felt the disappointment of goal line failure this time around in a 31-24 loss to the Seahawks at Gillette Stadium.
Tom Brady's offense had four shots from inside the 2-yard line in the final seconds but came up empty on two quarterback sneaks, a stuffed LeGarrette Blount leap over the middle of the line and, finally, a fade in the left corner to Rob Gronkowski that fell incomplete.
The win said a lot about two clear Super Bowl contenders, Seattle (6-2-1) coming across the country to send a message with an impressive road win on a short week while New England had its defensive flaws exposed at a time when many had anointed the Patriots the head-and-shoulders best team in the NFL coming off its bye week.
While it was the offense that came up short at the very end, it was Bill Belichick's defense that allowed Russell Wilson to throw for 348 yards and three scores -- all to Doug Baldwin -- and put the spotlight on New England's ongoing failures in pass defense -- both in terms of porous zone coverage and lack of a consistent pass rush of any kind.
New England (7-2) allowed a season-high 31 points, failed to force a turnover for the second straight week and fifth time in nine games, and yet Belichick seemed to be remaining positive about his squad in the immediate aftermath of the hard-fought loss.
"I thought that was a tremendous effort by both teams tonight," Belichick said just after congratulating Pete Carroll. "That's about as competitive of a game as you can get. Unfortunately, we just couldn't quite make enough plays and we could certainly micro-analyze probably 100 plays in the game.
"They're all important. They're all critical. You get into a close game like that and there's a lot of things that could've made a difference one way or the other. But in the end give Seattle credit. They've got a good football team and they played just a little bit better than we did tonight and I'm proud of the way we competed. We've just got to do a better job."
Belichick even went on to bristle a bit and defend his team when asked if the unit that ranked second in the NFL in points allowed coming in got a wakeup call with the 31 points by the Seahawks.
"We go into every game trying to score as many points as possible and limit the opponent to as few points as possible. I can't imagine it will be any different than that. That's always what it's been, that's always what it's going to be," Belichick said. "What else would it be? I think we came into this game and we were right there with Seattle, right? Fewest points allowed, top whatever it was, whatever the rankings were. I don't know. Get down to within a few inches of it being a 31-31 game.
"You've got two good football teams out there. They had a good defense, we had a good defense. They had a good offense, we had a good offense. I mean you were at the game."
A day later, after breaking down the film of the team's first loss of the season with Brady under center, Belichick made it clear there is need for improvement "across the board" but that the defense is giving its best effort even if the performances in recent weeks have been growing less impressive by the game.
"We are trying to do everything we can," Belichick said, "to try to play as competitively as we can."
REPORT CARD VS. SEAHAWKS
PASSING OFFENSE: B -- Aside from pressures allowed, New England's passing attack had been borderline perfect in Tom Brady's first four games since returning from his Deflategate suspension. While the protection was actually better against a talented Seahawks front playing without Michael Bennett, Brady wasn't up to his previous standards. The veteran threw his first interception of the year -- the first by any Patriots quarterback in eight-plus games -- on an ill-advised, underthrown deep ball intended for rookie Malcolm Mitchell in the second quarter. Overall Brady completed 23 of 32 passes for 316 yards, failed to throw a touchdown for the first time in five weeks, was sacked twice and tallied a 90.1 passer rating, his first below 124 this season. The aerial attack struggled to find rhythm after an opening scoring drive and closed the day with Brady's fourth-and-goal fade in the left corner of the end zone intended for Rob Gronkowski falling incomplete. Tight end Martellus Bennett was the most productive target, catching all seven passes thrown his way for 102 yards. Julian Edelman also caught seven passes, totaling 99 yards, but the veteran fumbled the ball away after a reception midway through the fourth quarter that gave Seattle as short field on the way to what ended up being a game-sealing touchdown. The passing offense wasn't the reason New England lost, but the unit wasn't able to pick up the slack and carry the team against a solid Seattle defense the way it so often does.
RUSHING OFFENSE: B-MINUS -- New England's ground game didn't churn out of a ton of yards, but did balance out the offense with plenty of carries and found the end zone to close out drives. LeGarrette Blount ran it 21 times -- his fifth 20-plus carry game this season -- for 69 yards (3.3 avg.) and found the end zone three times. Two of the scores were from just 1 yard out in the first and second quarters, while his third was an impressive 13-yard run around left end in the third quarter. But, Blount was stuffed short of the end zone on a leaping attempt for his fourth score of the day on the second of four fourth-and-goal chances New England had to try to tie the game in the closing seconds. Blount's day was symbolic of the season he is having, giving his team attempts and touchdowns, though his yards per carry (3.7) remains less than impressive despite his nearly 700 yards and 12 rushing scores.
PASS DEFENSE: D -- This is where the game was lost for New England. Mixing some man looks with too many soft zone coverages, the Patriots gave Russell Wilson way too much room to throw the ball all night long. Despite continuing to be limited in terms of his mobility and willingness to run, Wilson completed 25 of 37 passes (68 percent) for 348 yards with three touchdowns -- all to Doug Baldwin -- and no interceptions for a 124.6 rating that was the highest allowed by New England all season. Wilson had completions of 38, 36 and 39 yards, each to three different receivers, that were among the five longest pass plays allowed by the Patriots all season. Logan Ryan was back in the starting lineup at right cornerback after being replaced the last two games, but struggled in his return. No. 3 cornerback Justin Coleman allowed a 36-yard completion on his first snap of the day and earned a 26-yard pass interference later. Trey Flowers was a lone bright spot with a pair of sacks, otherwise the defense once again struggled to find a consistent pass rush on a night when the coverage was far too porous far too often.
RUSH DEFENSE: B-minus -- While Wilson was pretty much allowed to do whatever he wanted through the air, New England's front did a decent job against an admittedly struggling Seattle ground game. Like New England, though, the Seahawks did stick to the rushing game enough to stay balanced. Seattle ran it essentially 24 times for 96 yards (4.0 average) when two Wilson runs for no-gain off his goal line to end the game are removed from the tally. C.J. Prosise got the bulk of the work with 17 attempts for 66 yards (3.9 avg.), including Seattle's longest run of just 10 yards. Christine Michael chipped in with five carries for 22 yards. Overall, the Patriots tackles well and played solid up front against a suspect run game and suspect line, but never forced the visitors to abandoned the run at any point.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C -- While New England avoided the huge mistake when Nate Ebner recovered rookie kickoff returner Cyrus Jones' fumble following a 43-yard return in the fourth quarter, the third phase was far from perfect in the losing effort. Justin Coleman wiped out a nice 21-yard punt return with a clipping call. Punter Ryan Allen had just two attempts, one a 56-yard field-flipper, the other just 36 yards. New England's kickoff coverage also lacked its usual impact, allowing Tyler Lockett's 32-yard return to the 37 on a squib kick in the fourth quarter. Stephen Gostkowski also kicked one off out of bounds in the first quarter, continuing his mistake-filled season. It wasn't a great night for the kicking units.
COACHING: D-PLUS -- The Patriots were coming off a bye, waiting at home for a Seahawks team coming across the country on a short week. Yet, it was Seattle that controlled the game most of the night and seemed to be the playmaking pacesetter. Josh McDaniels seemed to fall in love with changing his personnel groupings on virtually every snap, even when the offense was sputtering with consecutive three-and-outs in the first half followed by a two-play drive ending with Brady's first interception of the year. New England continues to not use Bennett and Gronkowski in two-tight end sets as often as might be expected given the tandem's versatile potential. Defensively, Matt Patricia never found a formula to slow Wilson and the Seahawks through the air. New England played more soft zone than anything else and the pass rush wasn't good enough for yet another week. Belichick and McDaniels deserve questioning for the final four plays on the goal line, including a pair of QB sneaks, especially when they admitted they were trying to run the clock as well as score, failing to do the latter in the end. Belichick usually has his team ready coming out of a bye week and it generally excels at home in prime time. That simply wasn't the case, with the Patriots' game plans and emotional state worthy of questioning after two weeks that included the trade of Pro Bowl linebacker Jamie Collins and the potential distraction of Belichick and Brady supporting Donald Trump's presidential campaign.