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Knee Jerk Reactions to Week 14: Patriots vs. Dolphins

Things to consider while still trying to process this M. Night Shyamalan twist ending:

–Yeah, “shock” is not a big enough word. Without a doubt, as surprise endings go, this one was about as terrible as anything we’ve ever been on the wrong end of. Stunning enough to change your whole world view. But looking back through the game, we had plenty enough foreshadowing that we should’ve seen it coming. Keeping with the Shyamalan theme:

–They were dead all along. Miami’s stadium – Joe Robbie Margaritaville Hard Shark Dolphins Pro Life Park or whatever they’re calling it now – is just the East Coast distributor of the weirdness that always seems to happen in Denver. Missed kicks, muffed punts, odd bounces. Stephen Gostkowski’s missed extra point after being perfect all season was just the first clue that things were going to go horribly, horribly wrong in that turquoise and orange Charnel House.

–Water kills the aliens. Frank Gore, who’s about six months from appearing on daytime TV selling your grandparents reverse mortgages and that cane that stands up by itself, shredded the defense for a 36-yard run.

–The village is really in modern times. Brandon Bolden, who probably didn’t crack 50 yards total in his Patriots career, shredded the defense for a 54-yard touchdown run.

–Mr. Glass is really a criminal mastermind. Tom Brady forgot they were out of time outs at the end of the half. So the most cerebral, focused, situationally aware quarterback in NFL history suddenly went all Manny Ramirez on us, took a sack instead of throwing the ball away and kept an easy three points off the board.

–The trees are making people kill themselves. None of which should distract us from the fact that even if the Pats hadn’t bungled that last play, it would’ve been one of the few times ever a team won a game in which they were physically dominated, on both sides of the line. On offense and defense both, the Dolphins pushed them around, particularly on the interior. Gore and Bolden gashed them because there were huge holes to run through. The Patriots inside run game was completely ineffective and early on was reduced to just constraint plays to keep Miami’s defense honest and set up the play action. If it wasn’t for two miracle special teams plays and if Miami had simply kept pounding the ball between the tackles, the Patriots would’ve been the ones trying the desperation Hook & Ladder at the end.

–It says everything that Patriot who made the most positive impact was Albert McClellan, who’s automatically the favorite to win the 2018 Antwan Harris “Who the Hell is That Guy?” Award. He and fellow candidate Ramon Humber should be heroes today. Instead, what they did will probably never even rise to Trivia Question status.

–What worries me most was their inability to run the ball. Which admittedly is me kind of picking nits when their quarterback threw for 358 yards and 3 TDs and they never turned the ball over. But the reason for my concern is they were committed to run. They came out in a ton of 2-back sets and even some 22-personnel (2 RBs, 2 TEs) and Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead were repeatedly met in the backfield by Akeem Spence, Davon Godchaux, Raekwon McMillan and Kiko Alonzo. This is the time of year where typically their ground game starts to take over. Witness Dion Lewis leading the league in rushing down the stretch last year. Or the end of the 2015 season when they went to Miami and Bill Belichick was determined to win it behind Steven Jackson and Bolden (where were the touchdowns that day?) and Brady only had 21 attempts in a loss. And yet with their line healthy and their run packages on the field they could not penetrate their enemy’s perimeter defenses. That’s an ominous sign.

–Maybe the worst aspect of losing this one is that it wasted a great bounce-back game by Rob Gronkowski. Eight catches on eight targets. 107 yards. A touchdown. The thing is, I don’t even think he ran many more routes than he had targets. He lined up almost exclusively at a traditional Y-tight end, only sparingly at H-back and never detached from the formation. He stayed home to block a lot on passing downs. He also took his usual disproportionate amount of vicious hits and isn’t breaking tackles like he used to. Like in the 1st, Jerome Baker dropped Gronk right where he hit him, like he was Michael Crabtree or somebody. Though late in the 3rd when they were in danger of losing all the momentum, he fought through Minkah Fitzpatrick for key 1st down. So there were true vintage Gronk moments. Stemming off his route to get separation from Alonzo in coverage to convert a 3rd & 7. Snatching the ball out of Bobby McCain’s hands at the goal line for the score. His stumbling attempt to make a tackle at the end – and he was only on the field for the Hail Mary, not to be making tackles, der – shouldn’t take away from what a factor he was.

–The same can be said of Josh Gordon. He makes a great hand grab on a drag route on Fitzpatrick and in one motion turns upfield for 29 yards. But a drop by Julian Edelman and Cameron Wake beating Marcus Cannon to hit Brady’s arm sets up … a missed field goal. A Dig route in front of the linebackers in zone goes for 21 yards but only leads to a field goal. On the last possession, he runs another Dig to pick up a 1st, then gets them into a 1st and goal by beating Fitzpatrick on a Go and drawing a PI. Three ineffective running plays later they’re settling for a field goal and setting up that fiasco at the end. Several outstanding plays, leading to six total points.

–It’s bad enough to get pantsed like this. But with Gronk and Gordon producing the way they did is extra humiliation. It’s getting pantsed the day you were behind on your laundry and wearing your old Ninja Turtles underpants that still fit.

–Making matters worse, for most of the 1st half, Brady was dialed in. His targets had laser sights on their chest and he was hitting the mark. He went through a stretch where I believe they said he’d only completed 1-of-7, but some of those were by design. This year more than any, he seems determined not to force balls and risk turnovers so we’re getting more passes intentionally bounced at guy’s feet or chucked into the facepainters. Which is fine by me. And yet, the one time he targeted Chris Hogan he had him open in the end zone and flat out missed him. It’s one of those plays that costs you the game before the play that cost you the game cost you the game. Maybe there’s a Lady in the Water reference I could apply to it, but I willfully repressed the memory of that piece of shit.

–Going back to the defense, the Patriots were lucky to be in this game at the end. As unlikely as it sounds, if it wasn’t for McClellin, they wouldn’t have been. They started out with Dont’a Hightower up on the line at Will linebacker, but after he got walled off by Jesse Davis on Gore’s 36-yarder and a quick touchdown drive by the Dolphins, they moved him back to off-the-line LB on Miami’s second possession. Bolden’s first TD was a total breakdown in gap discipline, with Durham Smythe down-blocking on Lawrence Guy, Ju’Wuan James throwing a kick out block on Kyle Van Noy and Kenny Stills taking care of Pat Chung. And only Bolden’s second, he simply roadgradered Jason McCourty at the goal line.

–It was the 180 degree opposite of how they physically overpowered Minnesota last week. In seven days they went from being monsters to being the Island of Misfit Toys, all cowboys riding ostriches and squirt guns that shoot jelly. And I have no explanation as to how it happened.

–I mean, it wasn’t all bad. The State Worker defense was effective again. Their play on 3rd downs was outstanding. Tannehill got hurt because Trey Flowers threw James into him. Adam Butler quick-twitched Davis to drop Kenyan Drake for a loss and force a punt. John Simon occasionally flashes and had key sack. I just know I’d rather spend all of next Sunday hosting the guy who takes a dump in Aaron Rodgers’ house and then sets fire to the bathroom than see a 5-yard gap between the end and the D-tackle even one time against Pittsburgh.

–This Week’s Applicable Move Quote: “Surprised? If I woke up tomorrow with my head sewn to the carpet I wouldn’t be any more surprised than I am right now.” – Clark Griswold, Christmas Vacation

–You realize you’re officially old and pathetic when you watch an entire NFL game and the only time you wish you could switch places with anyone on the field, it’s the groundskeeper guys. I haven’t been maintaining the prize lawn at Stately Thornton Manor all these years without learning a thing or two about ground repair. If I had made the trip to Miami, I would’ve come down out of the stands and landscaped circles around those hacks. Give me the Scott’s 4-step program and my mower and I’ll have that field at Land Shark Marlins Player Pro Stadium looking like the 18th fairway at Augusta.

–And to further pile on the disappointment, if the Pats had made a tackle at the end, today would all be about how Tannehill’s helmet communication went out. And Mike Tomlin would be worried Ernie Adams has created a portable radio jammer, like the one he has hidden in the lighthouse at Gillette. Goddammit.

–In the grand scheme of things, this game might not even matter. Houston lost, so the Patriots are no lower in the playoff seeding than they were. It’s a missed opportunity for sure. But maybe nothing more. In a perfect world it’ll just be the opening scene of the DVD, shown in black & white and slow motion to heavy cello music to set an ominous tone for the good things to come. The dark part of a story with a happy ending. That scene in Act II where all hope is lost. Sam thinking Frodo is dead or guys coming to arrest George Bailey on Christmas Eve because Uncle Billy lost $8,000. God, I hope so. Because if they’ve ever had a regular season loss that hurt worse than this one, I can’t remember it.