Shocking turn as special-teams miscues produce Patriots clunker

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots are one of the premier franchises in the NFL, but even they have a clunker in them.

This was it.

In a shocking turn of events, the Patriots held a 14-0 lead over the Philadelphia Eagles midway through the second quarter Sunday at home before the Eagles scored the game's next 35 points and ultimately recorded a 35-28 victory at Gillette Stadium.

Stuff like this doesn't usually happen to the Patriots, but they showed they're capable of playing and coaching so poorly for a short stretch of time that a good number of fans headed to the exits early in the fourth quarter.

While there are several areas to pinpoint for the complete meltdown, special teams is the right place to start.

Bill Belichick had cautioned last week that the Eagles had the best special teams units the Patriots would see this season, and Philadelphia showed why it has one of the top units with a blocked punt returned for a touchdown late in the second quarter and an 83-yard punt return for a touchdown in the third quarter.

The blocked punt came when Eagles safety Chris Maragos burst through the left side of the Patriots' protection unit, splitting rookie Geneo Grissom and fourth-year linebacker Darius Fleming.

"We blew it, just didn't block it properly, obviously," coach Bill Belichick said. "Nothing we hadn't seen before, just didn't execute it well."

The Patriots, who are traditionally strong on special teams, also had self-inflicted wounds when trickery backfired on them.

After receiver Danny Amendola's 11-yard touchdown catch midway through the second quarter, kicker Stephen Gostkowski tossed the football to Nate Ebner on the ensuing kickoff, with Ebner attempting a drop kick. Eagles receiver Seyi Ajirotutu recovered the kick at Philadelphia's 41-yard line and the Eagles took advantage of the good field position to score their first touchdown, the first of their 35 points in a row.

Belichick said he didn't see "tremendous downside" to the play in "kicking it to dead space." Ebner, meanwhile, said he could have kicked it better but also credited the Eagles.

"I just tried to put it into space and make it an element of surprise, but they were prepared for what we threw at them," said Ebner, who added he hadn't had a play like that since his rugby days.

That was the turning point, as a fourth-quarter Patriots comeback was too little, too late.

What it means: The Patriots fall to 10-2, have yet to clinch a playoff berth and are now tied atop the AFC with the Cincinnati Bengals and Denver Broncos. With a head-to-head loss Nov. 29 to the Denver Broncos, the Patriots are no longer in the pole position for home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.

Brady not at his best: Tom Brady committed two uncharacteristic plays that hurt the Patriots. He forced a pass at the goal line to Amendola that was intercepted by Malcolm Jenkins and returned 99 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter. Later in the third quarter, Brady threw up a desperation heave into the end zone that was intercepted when the Patriots had generated momentum while trailing 28-14. Not Brady's best day.

One reason to be concerned: Without tight end Rob Gronkowski (right knee) and linebacker Dont'a Hightower (left knee), both the offense and defense haven't looked like themselves.

Ouch: Starting guard Josh Kline left the game with 4 minutes, 49 seconds in the fourth quarter and did not return with a shoulder injury. Meanwhile, special teams captain Matthew Slater left the game in the first quarter with a stinger but returned in the second half.

Fantasy watch: Running back James White was productive in the pass-catching role, recording a career-high 115 receiving yards. ... Tight end Scott Chandler, who was a hot topic entering the game as a replacement for Gronkowski, had four catches for 61 yards and a touchdown.

From the miscellaneous file: The Patriots had won 11 straight games following a loss; this marks the first time they've dropped back-to-back games since Weeks 2-3 of the 2012 season (vs. Arizona and Baltimore). ... Brady hauled in a 36-yard reception in the third quarter, his first catch since a 23-yarder in the 2001 season. ... Brady arrived at 10 a.m. for the game, which kicked off at 4:25 p.m. ... Brady passed Dan Marino (420) for third place on the all-time list for career touchdown passes. Brady had three Sunday, increasing his career total to 423. ... Brady hit 30 touchdown passes in a season for the sixth time in his career, which ranks No. 4 on the all-time list. ... Hitting the 300-yard mark, Brady recorded his 71st career 300-yard game.

What's next: The Patriots visit the Houston Texans next Sunday. The game had originally been scheduled for 1 p.m. but was changed to 8:30 p.m. ET. The game will be nationally televised.