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Knee Jerk Reactions to Week 5: Patriots vs. Colts

 Things to consider while having what can only be described as Flashbacks. Straight Flash, Homie:

–This one was far from a flawless, museum-ready masterpiece. At some point it stopped being a football game and started being your buddy trying to describe an episode of Impractical Jokers he just watched. “So Sal threw this ball right to some guy in the supermarket. Then Murr let this one go right through his hands straight to this other guy on the street. Then Q like carried the ball for two steps before it popped in the air to this lady in the park, only to have Joe flip it right back to him a few seconds later. Oh my God, it was hysterical! …”

–But if you look at it like an algebra equation – take all the mistakes and miscues, the passes thrown up for grabs that were completed, the perfectly thrown balls that were turned into interceptions by the receivers, the drops and missed tackles, and put them onto both sides of the “=”, divide by them and solve it – you’ll find out that the bad plays pretty much cancel each other out. And what you’re left with is “X = The Patriots physically dominated the Colts.”

–I’m being semi-serious. Let’s work the problem. Julian Edelman’s drop is canceled out by Chester Rogers’s. The one that popped out of Zach Pascal’s hands and was picked off by by Jonathan Jones equals the one that popped out of Rob Gronkowski’s hands and was picked off by Najee Goode. But when you eliminate all the variables, factor out all the Lowest Common Denominator sloppiness we’ve come to expect from your typical Thursday nighter, cross multiply and divide, the remainder is a constant. The Patriots pushed the Colts around like they’ve been doing for the better part of 18 years.

–In a lot of way, this was like Throwback Thursday. The Pats pounded the ball with Sony Michel running behind James Develin and tight formations with all their receivers pulled in between the hash marks like they did with LeGarrette Blount in the Deflategate game or Jonas Gray that one time. Yes, Brady’s toss to Josh Gordon was an exact, historically-accurate reenactment of the one he threw to Randy Moss against Miami in 2007, but it could just as easily have been the bomb he hit Moss with in the 4th & 2 game. And you can’t be over the age of say, 18, without seeing Devin McCourty tear the ball away from Jordan Wilkins and not immediately think of Tedy Bruschi ripping a fumble out of the cold, dead fingers of Dominic Rhodes in the ’04 playoff game at Gillette. Back in the day, that one was the kind of legend good men used to teach their children as the pluperfect example of one guy simply wanting it more. And we saw it again last night. Only terrible drops and bad turnovers kept this from being a total annihilation.

–There was just example after muy macho example of the Patriots just out-physicalling (redline me all you want, spellcheck, I say that’s a word) Indy. Michel knocking Anthony Walker out on a power run. Michel knocking Clayton Geathers out on a power run. Jimmy Neckroll going full Kook-Aid man on Goode to spring Michel for 16 to set up the third touchdown. Michel on a toss sweep meeting three Colts head on at the sticks and coverting to set up a 1st & goal. Gronk catching a skinny post for 15 and it taking four defenders to pull him down. Rogers having to leave the game after taking a glancing blow from Duron Harmon to break up a pass in the end zone. It had everything we’ve grown accustomed to except Gronk throwing Sergio Brown out tha club. If there’s been one constant in this New England-Indy “rivalry,” it’s that the Pats have always been the Wyatt Earp to the Colts delicate, dome-stadiumed, climate-controlled fancy-pantsed Mr. Fabian.

–With the exception of Adam Vinatieri. That kick off the upright might’ve made a sound, but I couldn’t hear it over the sound of his mighty dong hitting his thigh like a great iron bell clapper.

–On the subject of the Patriots’ toughness, in case you haven’t been noticing, Trent Brown has played his planetoid-sized ass off. I defy you to name one player on the right side of Indy’s defense that produced a negative play, got into the backfield or disrupted the timing of a throw. Don’t bother. You can’t. And this is a unit that was among the league leaders in sacks coming in. So far he’s played better than any five game stretch of Nate Solder’s career. I did a radio segment hosted by a Giants fan and off the air he asked me WTF is up with Solder because they can’t believe how bad he’s been. I was a Solder guy and always will be. But if you don’t think Belichick got out at the right time and upgraded the left tackle spot with Brown, you’re living in fantasyland.

–What we’re seeing now is the early stages of Josh McDaniels being able to run whatever version of the McOffense he wants. On the opening drive, it was all one-back sets, with controlled passes to James White, Edelman and Phillip Dorsett from the slot and Gronk at Y- and H-tight end and Brady going 9-for-9. On the second possession, it was the power running game, with 21 personnel, a lot of pulling by Shaq Mason and wham blocks from Gronk. Then he expanded the playbook, with misdirections to Cordarelle Patterson to freeze the defense, an almost Pistol 2-back set with White and Michel on either side of Brady that resulted in a 13-yard dump down to Michel. Then, eventually, some deep shots downfield when the Colts loaded up on taking away the underneath. It’s a work in progress still, but you can see this McOffense starting to stand on its own, taking its first steps and will pretty soon be jumping out of the tub and running bareassed into the back yard before mom can catch it.

–Most of which he did without using Gordon, who was pretty much the 1-iron he left in his bag until the Back 9. There were a couple of plays Gordon looked like the primary target but wasn’t open where Brady was looking for him. But that takes time. Now that he knows he can chuck a prayer ball into the end zone that is an interception at least 90 percent of the time and Gordon will come down with it, be shocked if he doesn’t start going to him more and more.

–I have a calendar, so I don’t need to be told it’s early and there’s a long way to go. (Thanks for the tip though.) But it’s possible that if things go according Emperor Belichick’s design, this could be the best skill position group the Patriots have ever had. No, I am not forgetting about 2007. That unit had Ben Watson at tight end, a serviceable but limited player with 36 catches. This one has the TE GOAT. Plus James White who is at least the equal of Kevin Faulk, if not even better. Michel has already shown more than Slo-Mo Maroney. Edelman as the Wes Welker. If Gordon can begin to approach his 2013-level potential, get acclimated to the offense and stay off the bong hits of Mind Rape, he can actually be a fair approximation of Moss.

–Granted, that’s a big ask. But given that four weeks ago we were talking about this being the worst group in team history and now it’s even plausible to discuss it being the best is the kind of miracle we crazy, wafer-eating Catholics build shrines for.

–It has to be a miserable existence watching your defense get shredded by a back like White. Just one swing pass, screen and check down after another, while your defenders can never seem to adjust or stop him on first contact to limit his yards. Oh wait. I know it is. We’ve seen it here a million times. And when you’re on the business end of a back like him, it’s a form of torture that should be banned in the Bill of Rights. Death by a thousand paper cuts and all that. So just appreciate how good White is playing right now because backs like him will demoralize a defense.

–Defensively, they did to Frank Reich’s West Coast what they would’ve done to it in the Super Bowl if life wasn’t a cruel, empty void, bereft of meaning. They didn’t just load the box, they overloaded it, with multiple linebackers (mostly Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy) playing up on the line and Pat Chung dropping down to the Robber role. Essentially leaving the second level undefended and daring Reich to try to beat their Cover-2 and Single High Safety coverage with Ryan Grant and Chester Rogers if Andrew Luck has no time to throw.

–And it was effective. For a while at least. Neheim Hines never got going, finishing with 15 carries for 45 yards playing from behind the whole game. The Colts offensive line held up well enough I suppose, given how bad they’ve been and how much of a mismatch they were against the Patriots defensive front. It’s obvious Reich’s game plan was to stick to short- and-intermediate passes and keep his team in 3rd & shorts.

–All of which worked perfectly for a while. On the first Indy possession, Trey Flowers, who is sneaky playing some of the best edge defender in the game right now in terms of both pass rushing and stopping the run, came inside on Le’Raven Clark. Pat Chung lined up on the A-gap but then stunted with Hightower to rush the B-gap instead. Flowers and Chung both fired in and didn’t stop until they met up again on Andrew Luck’s ribcage. And it looked like it was going to be another blowout over Indy.

–Then, either Brian Flores/Belichick made an adjustment or the Colts did. Probably both. The pass rush became less aggressive. Hightower was dropping into coverage from the Sam LB spot a lot. They seemed to be playing off coverage more. And eventually Luck made them pay.

–Old problems this Pats D has been battling for years without a solution came up again. Luck started getting enough time that he could’ve won a Great British Baking Show Showstopper Challenge before he released his throws. A big gain for Jordan Wilkins went right through the Continental Divide between Deatrich Wise and Danny Shelton. And (stop me if you’ve heard this before) they couldn’t cover a tight end.

–Not that there’s any shame in giving up big numbers to Eric Ebron. If he has a great game against you, you can feel any feeling you want except “special,” because he does that to a lot of defenses. My concern is they covered him with Chung, with Devin McCourty and, on his last touchdown, with Hightower, who had no chance. They fired a whole clip at Ebron then threw the empty gun and nothing slowed him down. I shudder to think what Travis Kelce will do next weekend.

–For reasons I can’t quite process and that make me feel sort of uneasy, Joe Buck bothers me less than he used to. I mean, I could always count on his unique blend of self-importance and preachy know-it-allism whipping me into a good play-by-play nerdrage. Now, he’s just kind of … there. Talking. Giving down & distance and such. Not bothering anyone. Could it be because I’m getting old and I’m just not as passionate as I used to be? Possibly. I’m not even as curious about Altoids as the can says I should be. So maybe. Then again, Buck is pretty goddamned hilarious on Brockmire and might have won me over. Good career move, Joe.

–This Week’s Applicable Move Quote: “Did we just become best friends?!?”
“Do you wanna go do karate in the garage?”
-Step Brothers

–Ed Hochuli’s kid learned everything from the old man except how to give unnecessarily wordy, long-winded explanations for routine plays like he’s getting paid by the word. And we can thank God for that. I’ll miss Hercules’ impressive pythons as much as any fan of the human physique. What I won’t miss is “Holding, defense. What is holding? Webster’s dictionary defines it as …” Let’s all be grateful Ed taught his son everything he knows about officiating, but not everything Ed knows.

–Jason McCourty’s acclimation to the defense continues. Jonathan Jones got the start, but by the 2nd quarter, it was mostly J-Mac. Iso’d against Ryan Grant. Firing into the backfield on run force and stopping screen passes. It’ll be interesting to see who gets the start against Kansas City, but I think overall McCourty has been the best of the lot. As I said last week, take your time getting back, Eric Rowe.

–I’m still interested to see what Jason McCourty did to draw a penalty for illegal formation on a kickoff. So, I’d imagine, are Belichick and Joe Judge, who were incredulous. I honestly don’t ever remember hearing that called before. But then again, I drink like a 16-year-old future federal judge, so don’t go by me.

–The Colts made the game close on bizarro turnovers and unforced errors. But more to their credit, they did it with Special Teams as well. Beginning with that mistake by McCourty, they swung the momentum by pinning the Patriots deep, leading to a 3 & out. Which then led to a great return by Zach Pascal, the rare punt return that wasn’t immediately flagged for a block in the back. That set up Ebron’s first TD and made a semi-game of it.

–While I’m feeling generally pretty jacked about this team and what they seem to be on the verge of putting together, I think they are going to need every minute of the extra long week to get ready for Kansas City. Everything I think about the way the Pats match up against the Colts, I think the opposite when it comes to Kansas City. So at least they have pleased the Schedule Gods, who have blessed them.

–We’re onto Columbus Day.