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Knee Jerk Reactions to Week 10: Patriots vs. Titans

 
Things to consider while there is no feeling in the world like getting teabagged by a collection of guys who owe their lives to you:

–Alright, let’s get through this. I promise you at the outset, you’re not going to enjoy this. I’m sure as hell not going to enjoy this. This is not going to be Knee Jerk Reactions to a football game. This won’t be a snarky, semi-analytical recap of what we just witnessed. This is going to be like dissecting a frog in 9th grade. It’s going to be an autopsy. But the fun kind of autopsy where we make the cadaver’s mouth move like a ventriloquist dummy and make it say wacky things. This’ll be the gross kind. Where the height and weight of the victim can only be estimated from the partial remains.

–I meant what I said in that opening line. All those ex-Patriots on the Titans were plucked from obscurity by Bill Belichick, beginning with Mike Vrabel, who couldn’t start for Dick LeBeau in Pittsburgh. But when he hit free agency in 2001, Belichick called him in minute one, signed him and turned him into a legend. Dion Lewis missed the entire seasons of 2013 and ’14 before he found a home in New England. Logan Ryan was a late-round/undrafted projection coming out of Rutgers. And enough’s been said about Malcolm Butler. Getting not only beaten, but beat down by them has to be an all time humiliation for Belichick. Like Jack Woltz losing that starlet he gave singing lessons, dancing lessons and acting lessons to Johnny Fontane’s olive oil voice. Like Apollo Creed losing the title to Rocky Balboa. Or the Duke Brothers losing their fortune thanks to Billy Ray Valentine.

–And yet it’s not the first time. In fact, it’s happened enough where his former assistants have beaten him that it’s almost a pattern at this point. Belichick lost to Eric Mangini, Josh McDaniels, Matt Patricia and now Vrabel the first times he faced them. And those last two in particular are, all things considered, two of the worst performances of the Dynasty era. Just utter breakdowns in all three phases. Basically being as close to non-competitive as we see from this team. Such that every thing about their preparation, their focus, their effort and their talent is worth calling into question.

–And you know what? Good for them. It looks after this that Vrabel has done the impossible: Given the Tennessee Titans an identity, which they haven’t had since forever. Since Steve McNair (good) or Vince Young (not so much). Let’s be honest, when you look at the prime time lineup and see the Titans on say, a Thursday nighter, you know you’re in for an instantly forgettable night. They’ve been the NFL’s sherbet course. If the Titans were a person, they’d be that guy you talk to at your class reunion that you have to fake it because you have no recollection of him ever going to school with you, even after you go home and find him in the yearbook. But what we just saw out of them was an aggressive, tough, opportunistic, confident bunch who won seemingly every single contested play. As a Pats fan, this game might burn your eyes and singe your nostrils, but at least you won’t forget it.

–On a personal note, if I seem extra bitter it’s because I watched this from a hotel suite in West Virginia with my son. He’s a post-military, 22-year-old freshman whom we’ve seen all of one week in the last two years combined. I wanted to see him again, obviously, since the last time we watched a Pats game together was like December of 2016. But also to fill that hole in my heart shaped like a big, DI college program, since that’s something I’ve never gotten to experience. I may blog about that at a later time, but suffice to say watching the Mountaineers turn a 3-3 tie with TCU into a 33-3 game in the span of about 10 minutes on the game clock was a billion times better than watching The Fun-Free Ryan Allen Punt-a-palooza Show. I was hoping we’d hit the Football Quinnella, but the universe decided that would be too big an ask. So I’ll just have to console myself with the fact he’s living in one of America’s great tailgating scenes and sleeping in a bed in Morgantown tonight instead of a hole in the ground in South Korea while a Bond villain lobs missiles into the ocean. You can’t have everything.

–I could begin anywhere when it comes to finding fault. There are no diamonds to be found in this dogshit. Put the keys of every Patriot on the active roster into a bowl, pull one out at random, and you’ll be going upstairs to have loveless, commitment-free sex with someone who contributed to this loss.

–But I’ll start where I started last week’s Knee Jerk, by holding up the keys to Stephon Gilmore’s car. As dominant has he was in shutting down Davante Adams last week, he was thoroughly dominated by Corey Davis. We haven’t seen many receivers too physical and too athletic for Gilmore to, at the very least, force them to fight to gain separation. But Davis was. Early, often and repeatedly. A deep in-cut on the first drive. In between the hashmarks on the second. Which set up his touchdown on a Go route that left Gilmore trailing by two steps and with no other choice than to abandon all pretense of trying hide the blatant PI and still, Davis made the Willie Mays over-the-shoulder catch like it was training camp 7-on-7s. The last time anybody went from so good to so bad so fast, Halle Berry was following up Monster’s Ball with Catwoman.

–On the other side of the ball, it’s not exactly like you can open the hood, point to one part and say “Here’s yer problem, lady.” The McOffense was totaled, set fire to and rolled down a hill into a ravine for the insurance money. There wasn’t any one positive you could take away, much less pinpoint any one thing that was the cause of it all. So instead, I’ll just pick my favorite. None of the receivers were getting open. Against a statistically bad collection of corners, nobody was shaking coverage or finding open space between defenders. I suppose I should give a pass to Julian Edelman, who at least seemed to be putting up a fight. Though even he had a half-a-season’s worth of passes broken up on him. And a decade’s worth of passes hitting him square in the face without him ever seeing the ball. (That would be one.) Chris Hogan was rendered invisible, save for his one memorable play, and that was committing a penalty on a punt. Josh Gordon had consecutive passes go through his hands. And this was against Ryan and Adoree’ Jackson, with Butler assigned to punishment duty of nickelback. (Which, when they’re paying you $62 million, is the only thing worse than actual Nickelback.)

–It appeared that the gameplan was drawn up expecting receivers to come open deep upfield. So plays took forever as Brady held the ball until the protection collapsed. There were too many 3rd & longs where he was forced to throw to guys who were closer to their defenders than you’re allowed to be at a Catholic school dance. If they expect to score more than 10 points next game, they’ll need to leave enough room for the Holy Spirit.

–To be clear, that is not my way of giving Brady a total pass. I defy anyone to find video of the last time he was consistently this off target with his throws. Hint: Don’t look for really good quality video, because it predated hi-def digital. Again, it’s not like he had guys all alone frantically waving their arms for the ball. And between the drops and Gordon and Phillip Dorsett falling all over the place he did manage not to turn the ball over. But too many times he had guys trying to pick throws up off their cleats or having to sky for the ball. Which is becoming a theme.

–And as always the case when you’re forced to wait for targets to come open, pass protection wears down. There was one nice ball to Edelman when it was still 17-10 and he shook Ryan with a double move to get it down to the 40, which was made possible by some great pass blocking by Dwayne Allen. But earlier James White got trucked by Wesley Woodyard for a sack. Ted Karras followed up a tough week filling in for Shaq Mason with an even tougher week following last week’s tough week. In particular he got zero push on a Brady keeper on 3rd & goal from a foot. And the tackles struggled more than they have all year. Trent Brown, who’s been a one-man fortress, got speed rushed outside by Jayon Brown for a sack. Marcus Cannon gave up some pressures and had that terrible false start on 4th & 1. But they get a bit of a pass because they manned up and played hurt.

–Otherwise it could’ve been much worse because it’s hard to have any faith in the O-line depth. Consider the time LaAdrian Waddle almost got James White killed missing a block on Brian Orakpo. I feel like if any of the starters go down, the backups couldn’t protect Brady if they dug trenches, planted mines and put a double ring of concertina wire around the pocket.

–There’s a disturbing trend lately where, when the offense struggles, instead of changing things up and finding some adjustment that will work, McDaniels goes right to the gadget plays. Reverses and double reverses and jet sweeps. I would’ve rather have seen a little more commitment to getting the ball out quicker and the screen game than another wide receiver pass.

–What do you say we save the tape of this game and put it on permanent display in the front entrance to the Hall at Patriots Place. We make an exhibit out of it for all the museum visitors to be greeted with from now until the end of the world. And we call the exhibit “The Last Time Tom Brady Was Every Used as Something Other Than to Throw the Ball or Hand it Off.” If ever there was a metaphor for all the trick plays where he ends up as a blocker or a receiver, that Self-Tacklization catch and (air quotes) “run” was it. No more, McDaniels. Shut it down or so help me I’ll be doing to One Patriots Place what Antifa is doing at Tucker Carlson’s house.

–Besides, every time they try it, an opposing coordinator calls it, with better results. They’re just mocking us now. Mariota picked up 21 frickin’ yards on that pass from Darius Jennings. Maybe instead of trying to perfect the pass to Brady, they should work on stopping it.

–Of course you can’t have one of the worst games ever without the play-by-play crew to go with it. Maybe I’m just not used to it from all the prime time games. Or watching Marcus Mariota repeatedly drop dimes on 3rd downs put me in no mood for Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts. But their skills for making a terrible game even worse are actually impressive in a weird way. For example, there’s a guy sitting there in a pineapple costume with Mariota’s “8” on it and Ian and Dan are not only incapable of bantering their way through the visual, they didn’t get what that dopey Titans fan was going for. Like the cultural reference went right over their heads. So if Mariota was from say, Holland and a guy dressed like a windmill or he was from Sydney and the guy wore a kangaroo costume, the point would be lost on them. And Fouts continues to be a Walking Dad Joke with absolutely zero ability to self-edit. Adoree’ Jackson breaks up a pass and he has no issue with saying “That’s … adorable” because clumsy puns equal comedy. He’s that guy that you dread introducing to your friend Austin because you know he’ll say, “Like Austin Powers? Oh, behave!” like the poor bastard wasn’t listening to that from the years 1997-2005. Plus I’m 99 percent sure Eagle talked about Malcolm Butler’s struggles and Fouts talked like he was still on the Patriots. I’m not 100 percent because by that point I was rage drinking. OK, I’ll stop now. Eagle and Fouts were the least of our problems on a day like yesterday. But they do blow. I don’t know how bad teams who get them all the time deal with it.

*This Week’s Applicable Movie Quote: “The torso has been severed in mid-thorax; there are no major organs remaining. Right arm has been severed above the elbow with massive tissue loss in the upper musculature… partially denuded bone remaining. …” – Matt Hooper, Jaws

–It’s a bad day when you’re relieved there was a pass interference because it negated a play where Duron Harmon dropped an interception that was hung in front of him like a pinata.

–I’d like to take James Develin off the naughty list, just by virtue of the fact the most hated play call in all the land is the dreaded White Fullback Handoff, which has a conversion rate of about 0.4 percent. But Jimmy Neckroll executed it to perfection. And since it was the only touchdown of the game, he gets a pass from me. But don’t call that one again, either.

–Special teams continue to be about as bad – let’s be kind make that inconsistent – as any time I can remember. Continually in the first half they gave Tennessee field position at or across midfield. Opponents this year have averaged among the best field position to start drives in the NFL, which is probably the most un-Patriots aspect of a season filled with them.

–This puts the Patriots two full games behind Kansas City, a team that is not showing any signs of slowing down the way you’d expect an Andy Reid team to do. So we’ll probably relying on a team that has already lost three road games to have to win in Kansas City in January. That thought alone makes me want to pitch CBS my show, “God Blocked Me.”

–I feel like I haven’t complained enough. So let me mention the utter inability to tackle Lewis, even when they had their big bodies like Malcom Brown and Danny Shelton in there to fill gaps. Brian Flores taking forever to realize Gilmore wasn’t equipped to handle Davis and start rolling coverage his way. Pat Chung getting pantsed by Jonny Smith in the end zone. Not to mention that Monday schools and businesses will be closed for Veteran’s Day but millions of veterans will have to work anyway. In the Kingdom of Thorntopia, vets will get to stay home while everyone else will have to work. Agreed, that has nothing to do with this game, but I’m just firing my shots indiscriminately now.

–On a related note, that flyover of Apaches was the best part of the day. I wish I’d turned it off at that point and took my Marine to a bar. But days like yesterday are when I earn my pay.

–On one positive note, I like to think I saw the Patriots future. Nominating Will Grier as the replacement for Brady. Your Patriots starting quarterback, Week 1 of the 2023 season.

–I’m happy for the bye to get here, because there’s a lot to work on. But we all need to strap ourselves in because it’s gonna be a long two weeks.