Things to consider while realizing this isn’t the first time the Patriots pulled off the rare Hail Mary goal line stand to win a game. Because time is a flat circle:
–What a mess. What a fabulous disaster. That was less a football game than it was a piece of avant garde performance art. That was some foreign film full of symbolism you’re supposed to pretend you understand when you’re trying to seduce a Liberal Arts major. This was the masterpiece Dewey Cox was trying to make on LSD that was five songs on top of each other with goats, tangy strings, bushmen, velvety pancakes and 50.000 didgeridoos. This was what it looks like when two 12-year-olds play Madden for the first time and it’s all just broken plays and missed tackles and hundreds of turnovers because they have no idea what they’re doing.
–I should be looking at this one Big Picture. I should be taking the Google Earth view, pull back and see them going on the road and dropping a 38-burger against one of the top defenses in the league without Gronk and without Marcus Cannon and losing their lead running back early on and feel great about it. And I’m sure in a few paragraphs I will. But for now I just feel the need to invoke the Knee Jerk Privilege I was born with and vent a little.
–Because holy moly, was this one of the most careless, undisciplined, un-Patriotic (that’s capital-P; I’m not getting political) performances we’ve ever seen. If Rex Ryan made a baby with Marvin Lewis using Norv Turner’s sperm and they gene-spliced the fetus using old Marty Schottenheimer DNA they took from a mosquito stuck in amber, that baby would coach a team to make fewer mental mistakes than the Patriots did yesterday. And he’s just a baby.
–And yet, for all the unforced errors and own goals they committed, they always seemed to pull off another play to make up for it. There was this Gollum/Smeagol dichotomy to everything they did. By way of examples:
*JC Jackson commits not one but two hands-to-the-face penalties, the single easiest infraction not to commit. I mean, even a kindergartner knows his boundaries when it comes to touching and personal space. But then he makes up for it with a surreal interception where I’m pretty sure he passed through Josh Bellamy’s body like Casper.
*Cordarelle Patterson lets a kick return fly out of his arms like he’d gotten blasted by 1987 Lawrence Taylor. But it turns out he ran into Keionta Davis who was blocking for him. Then he runs one all the way back. Cordaredemption Patterson.
*At the end of the half, with every opportunity to pin Chicago deep and call it a half up 21-17, Ryan Allen shanks his punt, and Keion Crossen compounds the error by running up the sidelines out of bounds, the second easiest penalty not to commit since it simply requires you take a 90-degree angle back onto the field. As a result the Bears had a chance to bookend halftime with scores. But they blew it. (More on that later because I’m still ranting.) Now mix in Julian Edelman trying to field a punt with his facemask at the 4 instead of just letting it bounce in for the touchback. But the punt units made up for it with a block/scoop and score touchdown.
*The defense dropped not one but two easy interceptions in the end zone, one by Elandon Roberts and the other by Stephon Gilmore. Then the unit redeems itself with JC Jackson’s pick and that ridiculously athletic grab by Jonathan Jones, that was as much of a magic trick as it was pass coverage.
*Then mix in your assorted mistakes like 10 men on defense, which forced them to burn a time out. An illegal shift penalty. Allen at the end of the game, with a golden opportunity to put Chicago inside their own 5, instead boomed it through the back of the end zone for a net of about 8 inches. In all three phases they were sloppy enough to their own three-part miniseries of Hoarders. But again, they beat the spread on the road against a playoff contender when they were severely banged up. So I shouldn’t be bitching, I suppose.
–I’m not ruling out that all the weird plays and dysfunction were directly caused by Belichick wearing his head warmer upside down.
I feel like it created a temporal displacement in the time/space continuum that affected everybody. I mean, it’s fine. It worked out. They won. But if you screw around with that stuff too much and the results could be catastrophic. Like he could’ve changed history so that the dinosaurs don’t go extinct or the Colonies lose the Revolutionary War or worse, that he takes the Jets job in 2000.
–I was surprised by the game plan coming out, both in the scheme and how effective it was. For one of the first times all season, they came out with Sony Michel in single back sets. With a ruthlessly efficient run/pass mix swapping him with James White. It was yet another thing they put on film for opposing defenses to have to account for. Then the score at the end of that opening drive was electric. A trip set left, with Edelman motioning from outside to in, catching a bubble screen inside and then going behind blocks by Chris Hogan and Dwayne Allen before finishing it off himself, busting through defenders like John Wick capping a bunch of henchmen in tailored suits. Great play call, perfectly executed.
–I thought Brady had Edelman too much on Missile Lock in the second drive and it caused the drive to stall out. Later he began to explore other options, most notably Hogan, white and Josh Gordon. But by now I’ve resigned myself to the fact in AirKraft One goes down over the ocean and all the survivors are scattered to the point Brady and Dwayne Allen are alone on an island with a football, he’s not throwing it to Allen.
–I honestly don’t think I’ve ever seen a worse defensive play than the Pats letting Mitchell Trubisky run backwards from the 8 to the 30 and still run it in for 6. They had him dead to rites. Adrian Clayborn speed-rushed Charles Leno Jr. Trey Flowers beat Bobby Massie on the other side. They met at Trubisky. Even if he escaped all it took was someone to force a throw. But to their credit Leno and Massie stayed with the play, got out ahead of the QB. Adam Butler had him squared up by made a terrible decision to attack his inside shoulder as Trubisky cut outside. Leno sealed off Dont’a Hightower. And Cody Whitaker pancaked Duron Harmon at the goal line. I thought I’d never live to see a worse play. But a mayfly would have, because Trubisky’s scramble to the 1 might have even been worse. He slipped an Eric Rowe tackle. Roberts stopped running at the boundary and got juked to the inside. And Trubisky can run but he’s no Randall Cunningham. And yet he produced the two most Benny Hill Theme-worthy plays in Patriots history.
–It should be apparent by now that Belchick has given up all hope that a defense can shut down a passing offense under today’s rules. That all you can do is stay back, keep them in front of you, hope to create a turnover or, failing that, get in the red zone where there’s less field to defend, make the zones you need to defend smaller and force field goals. By no means does that explain them allowing a prettay, prettay good running QB to Michael Vick them out of the building. But it explains the deep Cover-2 shells and the receivers coming open in the middle of the field. Just be thankful Trubisky has no ability to throw on the run because a QB who can would’ve treated the secondary like Anakin did the Younglings at the Jedi Temple.
–OK, time to turn a little positive. Strange as it might sound given how many times Trubisky broke containment, I thought the pass rush brought consistent pressure. Clayborn and Flowers in particular were beating the tackles most of the day and each had a sack. It was enough at least to allow them to stay with a 4-man rush and leave 7 in coverage. Sure they need to finish more rushes like the great ones do, but for now at least we can cross “Fix the pass rush” off the Honey Do list on the Patriots’ refrigerator.
–Coming back to Earth for a moment though, the loss of Michel is a real running kick to the groin. There’s an MRI today and probably by the time you’re done reading this we’ll know more, but it does not look promising. Of course neither did Hogan. When he was clutching his knee I prepared myself for the worst, and he came back huge, so who knows? Not only was he becoming an integral part of their attack, but because of what his loss would mean to this rookie class. As it is, it’s like they’ve been stuck in the ice station in The Thing, getting infected with the Injury Monster one at a time. And Michel has been their Kurt Russell. I’m crossing all crossable parts he gets to come back after the bye week or so.
–Josh McDaniels made some interesting calls after Michel went down. Those 2-backs sets with White and Kenjon Barner gave them some options and produced first downs. Barner ran hard behind the fullback. I didn’t hate the idea of the direct snap to White near the goal line except it was to the short side of the field so Chicago had no problem plugging all the gaps outside. Even still, that set up White coming out of the backfield iso’d on Leonard Floyd who simply had no chance. White put somewhere between four and a million head fakes on him. And as soon as he planted his inside foot, Brady had the ball in their to the outside.
–The end around touchdown run by White was maybe McDaniels best call. It got no less than nine defenders on one side of the field and White couldn’t have been caught by a cheetah coming off the backside.
–I’ll say it: James White: First half of the season MVP. And it’s not even close.
–Trent Brown continues to be more than just an upgrade from Nate Solder, he’s flat out dominant. Khalil Mack was a complete non-factor. I don’t know what health percentage he was playing at because even a small fraction of Mack should be able to impact a game, but he had none. Nor has anyone else on the offense’s left side all season. As it stands, Brown is the major acquisition of the offseason and what they’d be like without him is the stuff of my worst peyote-fueled fever dreams. As my buddy Nick put it, Brown blocks defenders and the sun.
–Also, credit to LaAdrian Waddle. Normally he fills me with all the confidence I have in the average mall cop. But he played his ass off facing mostly against Floyd but often lined up against Akiem Hicks, who’s been one of the best D-tackles in the league he played pretty much error-free. And I loved seeing him get into some extracurricular with Hicks for playing after the whistle. Waddle was LaAlright.
–David Andrews was fine in the run game opening holes on inside zones and so on. But had two breakdowns against Bilal Nichols. The first, Nichols just straight up swim-moved him for the sack. The other was a 4-point play in that it seemed like they had a quality screen pass developing, designed for Andrews to let Nichols come in. But he came too fast (it’s happened to us all and nothing to be ashamed of) and blew up the play. Either Shaq Mason was supposed to help or Andrews was supposed to chip him first, I don’t know. But he’ll have to clean that jive up.
–This Week’s Applicable Move Quote: “The bears have descended on the news team and it’s not going well! Clearly after today I would no longer – [gets second arm ripped off] Come on! Oh, God! This is getting re-goddamned-diculous!!!” – Frank Vitchard, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
–File this away for later: The Patriots two touchdowns on special teams were created by Dont’a Hightower shooting through the C-gap to block a punt which was then run in by Kyle Van Noy, and key blocks by Hogan and Roberts to spring Patterson. Just remember that the next time a player gets injured on special teams and everyone screams “What are the starters doing out there on punts/kicks/returns?!?” Those plays count. They win games. They sure as hell won this one.
–As many uncharacteristically bad decisions and undisciplined plays the Patriots made, in a billion lifetimes you’d never see them pass up a long field goal try with 0:01 left in the half to try that short dump off pass Matt Nagy called. Kid’s got a lot to learn.
–Don’t @ me, but Gordon’s 55-yard catch and run wasn’t his best play. Not even close. It was that 21-yarder on 4th down he pulled down with Kyle Fuller committing the PI-non-call of the year. Just another example of his ability to hand grab and snatch a ball like no one I can ever remember on this team, including Randy Moss. I admit that the way the game was going, when his helmet popped off I wasn’t thinking concussion; I was thinking his head was still in it. But he was fine. And I had no idea he could break tackles like he does but now we can come to expect it. Like on that 55-yarder, as soon as he juked that first tackler I knew to a moral certainty he’d slip the other. And by his own admission, the only reason he didn’t get through at the goal line was he was out of gas at the end of a 94-yard drive. It’s understandable. It takes a long time to get your lung capacity back once you get off that Demon Weed. I learned that in health class. Or maybe it was Reefer Madness. But I’m sure it’s true.
–The Pats haven’t had too many one o’clockers. So when they do, you really notice the drop off in the quality of the whole product. The officials who missed the obvious push off in the end zone by Trey Burton. Which I can semi-forgive because rules are clear only Gronk gets the OPI there. But when Edelman is in a beef with a guy who’s grabbing his facemask while Edelman is standing there saying “He’s grabbing my facemask! Right now! As we speak! There is a hand on my facemask and it’s attached to this man!” and they swallow their whistles, you know you’re getting the league’s equivalent of the strippers who work the Tuesday afternoon shift.
–And as analysts go, Dan Fouts is the one who should work the pole for the “Legs & Eggs” breakfast shift. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but he gives you an appreciation for Cris Collinsworth, who at least sees things in real time that weren’t on your screen and nine time out of ten, the replay confirms he was right. Fouts gives you none of that. The next game with Fouts, I’m turning off the sound and just listening to a constant shuffle of Joe Castiglione falling out of his chair.
–So yeah, this was a big win but also very much a mess. And I’m legit worried about Sony Michel. The good news is no one got hurt with a bad belly button piercing.
–This Buffalo game could not have come at a better time.