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Knee Jerk Reactions to Week 2: Patriots vs. Jaguars

Things to consider while wondering if we all would’ve been better off quitting at halftime:

–God, what do you even say to polish a turd like this one? Other than they need to coach it better. Scheme it better. Play it better. Execute it better. Call it better. Defend it better. Offend it better. You and I needed to watch it better. I should’ve eaten ribs and chicken tenders at my buddy Nick’s house better. Drank my IPAs better. In the next 30 paragraphs or so I’ll probably need to jerk my knee better and have a better reaction. Just gotta get better in all phases so that this doesn’t become anything more than an early season blip on the road against a quality opponent and not part of a trend. I would rather walk barefoot across a living room of my friend’s kid’s Legos than watch four quarters of football like that again.

–To be fair to the Patriots – and none of us are in any mood to be fair to the Patriots, but play along with me – every year there do seem to be these losses you can circle as soon as the schedule comes out. More often than not, they’re road games in Florida, like the Dolphins game in November last year. The trips to Denver. Kansas City has been a tough matchup in recent years. More than anything, this game reminded me of that Week 1 game at Miami in 2014, when they were rotating the offensive linemen in order to deal with the heat and as a result Brady looked like he was quarterbacking from the center lane of the interstate. Three weeks later was the prime time debacle against the Chiefs and #We’reOntoCincinnati and rest is glorious, glorious history. So it’s madness to lose your mind over one road loss to a Super Bowl contender so early in the season. But I’m not about to let that stop me.

–There is a virtual Netflix menu of things to be frustrated about. And listed under “Continue Watching for Jerry” is the series I’ve been bingeing for 10 years called “Making Bad Quarterbacks Look Unstoppable.” You might remember previous episodes like “Matt Flynn 2010,” “Rex Grossman 2011” and the multipart “Mark Sanchez” shows. The defense did that thing were they opt for this off coverage, this soft zone where they play 6-8 yards off the line to keep everything in front of them and wait for Blake Bortles to make a mistake. And by that I mean, instead of forcing Blake Bortles to make mistakes, they just sort of politely invite him to and hope he accepts. But like so many of those other bottom-of-the-league QBs in the past, he didn’t take them up on the offer.

–Instead, Bortles just gladly took advantage of the underneath stuff they were giving them, exploiting the Patriots cover guys with shallow crosses before dropping absolute dimes like the one to Donte Moncrief in the end zone that Stephon Gilmore turned his head for but never located. And the perfect throw he dropped right into the bucket when Keelan Cole had Eric Rowe beaten by two steps on a Go. That ball might have come out a heartbeat too late, as Rowe was able to close the gap and missed it by two inches instead of two yards, but still. Bortles’ performance was a reminder of those dark days pre-Aqib Talib or Darrelle Revis when the Patriots secondary’s marketing slogan was “Where Mediocre Bad QB Incentive Bonuses Happen.”

–It was an especially tough day for Rowe, who gave up that one-hander by Cole who looked like Stefon Diggs collecting his mail, and then got benched after the touchdown. That’s when the Hive Mind of the entire Patriots Fan Collective all said in unison with one voice, “Put Malcolm Butler back in.”

–Instead what we got was our first extended look at Jason McCourty. And overall, that look was not good. A nice stop on 3rd down early in the 2nd quarter was followed by him missing a tipped ball. Trailing behind Cole on a crosser that went for 17 yards to set up the final score before halftime. Later came a play where Bortles left the pocket and crossed the line of scrimmage and J-Mac ran downfield, away from him, to cover the tight end. And as if to prove the theory that twins are creepy, supernatural beings who can feel each other’s feelings, Devin McCourty played one of his worst games since his second year in the league, repeatedly allowing catches in front of him, getting pantsed by Corey Grant on deep slants and missing tackles. Mrs. McCourty could be forgiven if she swapped out of her stitched-together Jason/Devin jersey during the half.

–Not that it started with the defense. It seemed like as soon as Stephen Gostkowski sliced his drive into the woods on that first field goal attempt, the air just went out of the whole team. They were moving the ball well to that point. Running a lot of 22-personnel behind James Develin with Jacob Hollister and Dwayne Allen alternating between their “tight end Brady throws to” and “tight end Brady vaguely remembers talking to at the Christmas party once” roles. Brady was finding Gronk open with Myles Jack in coverage. But when that drive stalled and they came away with no points, they went into a sort of football Low Power Mode, with their screen shutting off every six seconds or so.

–From there, every mistake they made was exploited by an opportunistic Jaguars team. Every break went against them, like Trey Flowers punching the ball out of Dede Westbrook’s hands, only to turn into a perfect bounce pass to DJ Chark. Calls went against them, including the inglorious return of The Gronk Rules:

The Jags mixed up their coverage by putting Tashaun Gipson and a cast of thousands on Gronk, who vanished into thin air and was never seen again. The playcalling got Sean Hannity-level conservative. Then the defense got stuffed into a locker. And it all began with a good drive to open the game resulting in zero points.

–If DJ Chark started working the EDM club circuit, what would his club name be? I mean, the one thing you can’t go by is your actual name, right? Even if it’s already perfect?

–The coaching staff has a lot to answer for. Jacksonville likes to play a lot of Cover-3 and quarters (ie Cover-4), leaving them somewhat vulnerable (a relative term since they’re the best pass defense in the NFL) to running back passes to the flat and wide receiver screens. But we saw almost no attempt to establish those out of Josh McDaniels. Instead we saw calls like a handoff to James White on 3rd & 5 with the corners playing off coverage. Another 3rd & 5 in which the primary read was Phillip Dorsett on a Go route that had no chance. Screen passes behind the line that went nowhere behind the fastest, most athletic secondary in the league and a pair of linebackers like Jack and Telvin Smith.

–I appreciated McDaniels verbal tirade at the end of the 1st quarter. But everyone in New England was screaming back at him when the Pats finally got the momentum on their side after Gilmore’s forced fumble, Chris Hogan’s touchdown, a 3 & out by Jacksonville and a 27 yard catch by James White. Then they went with a 6 yard pass to White (good), a deep shot to Gronk (bad) and then a backside throw to a backpedalling Cordarelle Patterson, who promptly landed on his ass like a toddler tripping over the dog (awful).

–But no one has more coachsplaining to do than Bill Belichick after deciding to punt on 4th &, to use his own legendary phrase “the length of my dick.” Down 24-13 midway through the 4th quarter. With the best short-yardage QB in history and $50 million worth of Shaq Mason in front of him. That whole sequence was just a holocaust of wrong. From the decision not to go for it. The officials not calling Jacksonville for offsides. Brandon King for not immediately calling for the snap of the ball when they WERE offsides. (It’s a cliché to say “You had ONE job,” but since King never sees the field at linebacker, it’s literally true.) And just when it looked like the coach, officials and special teams had screwed up as badly as they could, the defense said “Hold my beer” and allowed Westbrook to Tecmo Bowl Bo Jackson them for 61 yards. Ballgame.

–Nothing says “It’s going to be a long week” than Belichick finishing the game without his headset on. Just letting his entire staff know there’s nothing they’re saying worth listening to. With the thousand yard stare of a dad ignoring his kids arguing in the backseat. Things are going to be ugly in those offices.

–I don’t even know what the commercial is supposed to be, but why do they have Tony Romo taking phone calls from Robert Loggia’s office in Scarface?

–One Pats defender who got particularly exposed by all the digs, drags and in-cuts was Ja’Whaun Bentley, who had looked so good in the passing game last week. The knock on him out of college is that he doesn’t have speed or agility to stay with anyone in coverage, but until now that hasn’t shown up. All we can do is hope this isn’t some weakness exposed, permanently.

–It didn’t help matters one damned bit that the Front-7 was generating less than zero pressure. I could blame it on Flowers coming out the game early. But to me it seemed to have much more to do with Jacksonville’s line simply dominating them. Andrew Norwell especially did a number on, at various times, Lawrence Guy, Danny Shelton and Malcolm Brown, who did such a great job pushing pocket on Deshaun Watson last week. Norwell was quietly one of the best signings of the offseason and makes me afraid that with Tom Coughlin, the Jags might finally have someone in charge who knows what the actual eff he’s doing.

–This Week’s Applicable Move Quote: “It was a team effort. And I guess it took every player working together to lose this one.” – Reamer, BASEketball

–Someone else who regressed badly from Week 1 to Week 2 was Trent Brown, who did a flawless job in pass protection against Jadeveon Clowney and sometimes Whitney Mercilus, but had massive struggles against Calais Campbell. LaAdrian Waddle got taken to Christian Grey’s torture room by Dante Fowler as well (that strip sack was all on him), but we’ve come to LaExpect that. Needless to say Brown is going to have to have a bounce-back game because depth at tackle is already at critical mass without Marcus Cannon.

–I suppose in Brown’s case, it’s not unfair to blame the heat. He’s 380 lbs playing in 100 degrees and oppressive humidity and never left the field. He probably sweated out the equivalent of a family of four.

–By the way, that is not me complaining about injuries. The fact the Jags did all this on offense without Leonard Fournette and while losing Cam Robinson to a torn ACL should haunt your dreams this week.

–A couple of bright spots:
1)Chris Hogan. Hogan is the only viable deep threat on the roster right now and still was able to get open and score twice. The square in he made on Ramsey in the endzone was a coaching tape-worthy example of body control, not giving away the route, planting your foot and cutting without giving the DB the chance to react. His second one – and I’ll credit McDaniels for this – was perfectly set up by all the screens to Patterson. On this one, they ran Patterson into the flat which got two defenders to bite and free Hogan up. So if nothing else, they got that one on tape so opponents will have to account for it and McDaniels can come up with a counter move.
2)Sony Michel. It wasn’t perfect. He dropped a sure 1st down ball early on. But he flashed enough to make you see what they saw in him when they shocked the hell out of me by using the 31st pick to get him. He makes people miss. Has a nice forward lean to his inside runs. Showed nice vision to find cutback lanes. And best of all, flipped Campbell over onto his head in blitz pickup. I already have a giant curiosity factor with regards to this kid, especially given that he hasn’t been seen almost since the first week of camp.

–And fortunately, the gods of football scheduling have provided us the blessings of the rich, bountiful harvest we need right now: The chance to go up against Matt Patricia’s defense. All those ritual blood sacrifices have paid off.

–We live in a world where two games out of 31 have ended in ties, the Browns came within a missed field goal of starting 0-0-2, and the best players in football are Patrick Mahomes and Ryan Fitzpatrick. It sort of puts a loss to a very good team in perspective.