Knee Jerk Reactions from Week 1: Patriots vs. Texans

Very Special Episode

Things to consider while hoping this means this whole dark, disturbing, Very Special Episode of “The Patriots Dynasty” is finally over:

–While I’ll concede that a 7-point win when you’re a 6.5-point favorite in your home opener probably isn’t going to be a game that’ll be flashing before my eyes on my deathbed just before the ground opens up and I dragged into Hell, nevertheless this is one worth feeling good about for a lot of reasons. One, because for now at least, Houston looks to be one of the two toughest teams you’ll face until November. The kind of quality opponent you need to beat in order to help you in the national polls. Two, this was a one-score game on the scoreboard only. You gave the Texans the ball twice in your own red zone, one on a flukish deflection and the other when an undrafted rookie who was cut last week lets a punt hit him in the facemask. But your defense held both times. Even though last year they made Houston’s QB – in his third game – look like a 3-time MVP. And lastly, because September is traditionally the Patriots extended Training Camp, where they’re still figuring things out. Let’s not forget the DEFCON 5 panic state we were in through four weeks last year or the “They’re just not GOOD anymore!” Pats of September, 2014. So if you can’t appreciate that they beat a likely playoff team convincingly on both sides of the ball, please go back to obsessing over the Jimmy Garoppolo trade and Alex Guerrero and shut your face while the rest of us shun you.

–I could start practically anywhere, but let’s just go with the obvious, the Brady-to-Gronk connection. At some point we’re going to have to recognize the historic significance of what we’re witnessing here. And how rare it is you get to see such transcendent talents on the same side, working together in perfect sync. This is Joe Montana and Jerry Rice. Ruth and Gehrig. Lennon and McCartney. Peter North and Tera Patrick.

–That touchdown pass to Gronk was Brady just saying “Ha! Your Double Team skills are no match for our Pliability karate!!!” and chucking it right into the strength of what I think was a Cover-1 with the free safety specifically assigned to Gronkowski. Then there was the disputed catch when he was blanketed with bracket coverage and nobody’s definition of open, ever. But, with a pass that even Gronk admitted in the postgame “I was asking ‘What’s Tom thinking?’” he drilled the ball in there like the movie cop who shoots the guy holding the hostage in front of him. This game was just further proof that you can’t stop him using conventional warfare. That unless the officials call those Gronk rules where you can grab him and get away with it or someone orders a Code Red like the one Barry Church took him out with last year in the championship game, he will destroy you.

–You could probably even spin those catches versus double teams into a negative by saying it shows Brady has no trust in the rest of his receivers. And I have no doubt the anti-Patriots Jihadists will do just that. But why would you? Even as depleted as the receiving corps is, the Pats offense operated as it always does, just with different personnel. James Develin saw more snaps than he typically does, out of two-back sets but also as the lone back at least once, some H-back and even out wide. I’m still waiting to hear from my Knee Jerk Reactions Stats & Info department, but my guess is he set records for “Most Receptions by a Guy With a Neckroll” with four. None better than that 1st down conversion he made from his knees and Brady hit him on the run. Like D-coordinators don’t already have enough to worry about without having to cover the halfback.

–But to me the best development of all was seeing Phillip Dorsett with seven catches on seven targets, which is more than half of what he had all of last year in 15 games. It’s easy to forget he was a 1st round pick, given his 6th rounder-like production in Indy. Which begged the question of whether his lack of production was because the Colts are just terrible drafters or just terrible at using their draft picks. Until yesterday I hadn’t seen any reason to think he would figure it out here, but he clearly has gained Brady’s confidence. His touchdown was a prime example. The Patriots were spread wide, Houston was in zone (probably with a double on Gronkowski) and as Chris Hogan sat down under the coverage near the pylon and Kevin Johnson had inside leverage on Dorsett. So Dorsett broke outside behind Hogan and the ball was in the air even before he made his break. I don’t think it’s a stretch to call that Dorsett at his most Amendolly.

–As we sit across the table from Brian Flores on our first eHarmony date, you have to like what you see so far. First of all, if Matt Patricia wasn’t your type, it’s hard not to notice Flores is his polar opposite in every respect. Patricia is hairy, Flores is hairless. Patricia looks like an unmade bed, Flores looks like an American Ninja Warrior contestant. Patricia carries himself like a guy in line for snacks after hot-boxing in the dorm bathroom, Flores looks like he’ll kill you will lasers from his eyes.

–Whether the change in style signals a change in philosophy, remains to be seen. I’ve always felt like the Patriots defense starts the year keeping it simple and adds layers as the season goes on. Like a school music program that has the kids master “Hot Cross Buns” on the recorder, then gradually moves them up to the complicated stuff. Last year Patricia started this defense on the recorder for the first month and by October/November they were doing concertos. Of course that Super Bowl performance was basically Mumford & Sons, amirite?!

–What we saw out of Flores looked pretty familiar. Mixing it up from down-to-down. A lot of “Over” fronts with Keionta Davis on the strongside guard, Lawrence Guy in the G-T gap on the other, Kyle Van Noy at Will and Danny Shelton head-up on the center. The next play would switch to a more conventional 4-2, with Trey Flowers and Deatrich Wise at end and Ju’Whan Bentley and Dont’a Hightower at off-the-ball linebacker. Then Hightower would come up to the line at Sam, and so on.

–To me the best surprises were Davis and Bentley. I don’t have his numbers but it seemed to me Davis played as much as anyone on the D-line. He took on a pull block by Zach Fulton and stood him right up. He, along with everyone else, kept Deshaun Watson in the pocket, which is always the number one priority with a mobile QB like him. Way more important than pressures or even sacks. And I can’t recall a time all game they overpursued to the point they got behind Watson’s level, which is death. And I think Davis played a huge role in that.

–Bentley continues to look like a 5th round steal. Grand Theft Linebacker. He was supposed to be a thumper type. A big, strong run-force player that draft scouts that have cool vocabularies – because their schnizzle is so lit, yo – like to call “War Daddies.” But who’s too slow to trust on every down because he’ll get exposed in coverage. Think Brandon Spikes. But I’m not seeing it with Bentley. He moves fine for a big man. He anticipates well. He looks like he reads plays and hits the right hole. Twice in one drive he fired into a gap to stop Lamar Miller dead in his tracks. On that drive in the 3rd that ended in a Houston turnover on downs, he dropped Miller to set up a 3rd & 5. It just seems like all that time at Purdue made him NFL-ready the way Tennessee did Jarod Mayo. Granted, Mayo was the 10th pick and DROTY so I’m not putting Bentley within a 100 light years of him. But I’ll be stunned if he’s not the best Pats rookie of 2018 and here for eight years or so.

–Here’s a quote from the Knee Jerk Reactions I wrote the last time a Patriots game was loaded with promos for Magnum, PI: “If Ray Berry thinks he’s Flutie’s Higgins, he’s got another thing coming. Higgins would never make Magnum hand the ball off to a stiff like Reggie “Two Yard” Dupard. He’d either let him keep it himself or give it to Mosi Tatupu. Everybody knows Mosi is Flutie’s TC.”

–And now they’re running ads for a Murphy Brown reboot too? Sorry, Candice Bergen fans; I got nothing.

–I’ve said before I’ve always thought that matchups between linemen are just like they are in baseball. Regardless of talent level, some hitters just dominate certain pitchers and vice versa. It happens along the line of scrimmage all the time. And one guy that Marcus Cannon absolutely destroys and always has is JJ Watt. It’s like he’s got Watt’s Cheat Codes and made him a total non-factor when they were out there together. When Cannon went out – which I assume was to give him breathers because he missed so much of camp and not because of injury – the difference was startling. Watt all of a sudden started getting into Brady’s grill facing LaAdrian Waddle. He had a pressure that ended one drive with a field goal. As soon as they ran that “Dr. Watt” piece you knew he was going to do something against LaAdrian and he did, forcing Brady into DJ Reader for the sack in which he had no LaChance. But Cannon couldn’t own the most dominant defensive end of his generation more if Watt was a House Elf.

–Every time I watch a Texans game I become re-obsessed with Bill O’Brien’s triangle chin dimple. It’s just mesmerizing. I keep waiting for it to glow like the arc reactor in Tony Stark’s armor. I’m not at all into cosmetic surgery, but I’d consider having one put in. If only I had a chin.

–It’s still fair to be concerned about the Pats secondary. Just not on the basis of this game. Aside from a couple of holding calls against (one of which was legitimate) in coverage on DeAndre Hopkins, Stephon Gilmore looked great, holding one of the top maybe three wideouts in the game to 78 yards. And the unit as a whole was solid. We saw none of the egregious breakdowns we were seeing last year at this time, with guys being left undefended and backs and tight ends gashing them all game. And as much as there’s still a Malcolm Go! shaped hole in all our hearts, you have to admit Eric Rowe looks good. His coverage in the end zone against Vyncint Smith was instructional-video-perfect, right up until the time he let Gilmore come across the field to rip the interception out of his arms. I don’t care if you’re on the same team, next time you’ve got to treat that ball like it’s the last marble rye in the city.

–And while I’m on the subject, if I’m coaching Riley McCarron, I put his next paycheck on the ground underneath him and tell the rest of the team whoever gets it out of there gets to cash it. Then we’ll see if he fights harder for it than he did that fumble. I know he’s an UDFA who just got re-signed and I want to cut him slack. But I’m still dealing with my trauma from Chris Harper’s muffed punt in Denver three years ago. We lost a lot of good men at Harper’s Muff.

–This Week’s Applicable Move Quote: “You know, I am 1500 years old. I’ve killed twice as many enemies as that. And every one them would have rather killed me than not succeeded.” – Thor, Avengers: Infinity War

–I don’t want to forget about James White, who has become practically essential to this offense in general, and it’s ability to morph from a viable running attack to a spread offense that creates matchup nightmares all over the place. And then back again.

–On White’s touchdown, I almost felt bad, just because I respect Romeo Crennel so much and a defense of his would never have left a weapon like White completely unaccounted for back in the day. Or tried to defend Gronk coming out of a 3-man bunch formation with just 235 lbs of Zach Cunningham, which happened on that long seam route in the 3rd. Sometime when a guy comes out of retirement (or semi, in Romeo’s case), he’s Dante Scarnecchia. I’m worried Crennel might be Joe Gibbs. I can’t handle the sadness.

–Jeremy Hill had a sequence of consecutive plays that went: Blocked punt, 8-yard run, 11-yard run out of bounds to stop the clock. All of which set up the Dorsett TD that made it 21-6 at the half. That is, before he took Develin’s neckroll to the knee. I know as significant injuries go, the Pats’ depth running back isn’t exactly at Aaron Rodgers level. But a guy that versatile deserves better.

–God, did I miss this. Life is finally getting back to normal. …

–We’re onto Jalen Ramsey.