Things to consider while everybody goes all Hallmark Channel on us:
–Here’s how I’m looking at this one: By applying what I’ll call the Dickens Standard. Meaning, let’s say The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come appeared in your bedroom on December 24th, 1999. When the Patriots were 2-6 down the stretch to finish 8-8, Drew Bledsoe had gone from an MVP candidate in the first half of the season to forcing the ball into the hollowed out shell of Ben Coates in the second half, Terry Glenn was in open revolt, Bobby Grier was blaming the coaches and Pete Carroll was a dead man walking. So you were going through life miserable. Treating everyone like garbage. Without a drop of the milk of human kindness, even for your employee with the handicapped kid. So the GoCYtC showed you your 2018 self. With the team winning the AFC East for the 10th straight year. Double digit wins for 16 consecutive years. And one home win against a bad team away from the No. 2 seed and a playoff bye. If you’d look at that future and say, Wait. The quarterback only had 126 passing yards? That kind of sucks,” then you’re a dick who deserves to spend eternity wrapped in ghost chains.
–And I’m not complaining about the anemic passing game because I think it wasn’t so much a bug as it was a feature. I don’t know if going to heavy on the run was the plan all week, but for certain it became the plan once Josh Gordon got caught ripping bong hits. As it was, the Bills’ defense leads the league in fewest passing yards allowed. And rather than drive himself bananas trying to figure out a way to get one of his other wideouts to take over Gordon’s role, Josh McDaniels simply replaced him with Dwayne Allen and overwhelmed Buffalo at the point of attack. So we got a lot of 2 back, 2 tight end sets. Plenty of runs where Allen was the lone tight end and Gronk was on the sidelines. Outside runs and passes to running backs to set up power rushes. It was McDaniels going to the basement at Gillette, finding the old Commodore 64 they used in 1978 with the monochrome screen that runs BASIC, powering it up and finding that it still works.
–Besides, haven’t we wanted this? How many times have we seen this team unable to run the ball, unable to make a stop on defense, and said it would be nice to win in some other way than relying totally on Tom Brady to carry them? The answer is, lots. Lots of times we’ve said that. I know I have. More times than I care to remember, usually at this time of the season. It’s my Red Ryder carbine action, 200-shot, range model air rifle with a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time. Believe me, I won’t be disappointed if Brady drops 400 in a win against the Jets next week. I only know that we just watched him throw for 358 in a nutcracking loss to the Dolphins and then for 126 an easy win. And this one was much, much jollier.
–A lot’s been made about Chris Hogan “not being involved” in the offense. But he was. As a matter of fact, he was on the field more than any skill position guy other than Brady. It’s just that in this gameplan, his role was as an upfield/edge blocker. And he committed feats of strength against the Bills smallish defensive backs, which, while they won’t pay the bills for his Fantasy owners, were crucial to the plan for this one.
–Repeatedly the McOffense used outside runs and swing passes to get the Bills stretched out sideline to sideline and then gash them between the tackles. For instance on the second possession, they ran a Corderelle Patterson Jet Sweep with the entire rest of the offense flowing to the back side. They then followed that with an I formation, motioned Allen to a sort of H-back spot, and ran Sony Michel inside kick out blocks from Trent Brown and Joe Thuney and behind Allen as he went to the second level to stop Corey Thompson dead in his tracks. Michel had a full head of steam and a low center of gravity by the time he even met a defender, easily slipping a tackle from Levi Wallace and ripped it for 19 to set up the first touchdown.
–James White’s score was set up the same way. As swing pass to Rex Burkhead. Another sweep by Corduroy. This one against a loaded box with Wallace in motion in which he got outside blocks from Gronk (inside) and Allen (outside) and simply outraced the defense, whizzing like a Saber jet. Followed by another swing to Burkhead the other way. Then out of 11-personnel with Gronk as the lone TE, White followed a wham block from a pulling Shaq Mason on Lorenzo Alexander and nobody was going to catch him.
–Even Julian Edelman’s 4th down touchdown bomb was set up by the blocking on the plays before it. After catching the Bills napping with a 25-yard catch and run by Burkhead on a little checkdown pass, Michel ran behind down blocks by Allen and Gronk as Brown peeled behind them to throw a kick out on Wallace and open a huge gap and make it a manageable distance for Edelman to hit a quick slant. One that he turned into the biggest play of the game. And which redeems him after being such a South Pole Elf in Pittsburgh.
–All of these scoring plays were either directly or indirectly the result of blocking on the interior, but also from the guys detached from the formation. So yes, Virginia. There was a Chris Hogan.
–I’m trying to be charitable because the Baby Jesus would want me to, but I’m just not seeing it with Burkhead. His couple of chunk plays notwithstanding, there are just too many negative plays with him. I suppose in the spirit of the season I can forgive the fumble because Thompson got a direct hit on it as Burkhead was being dragged down. But the interception was clearly the result of him running right into coverage on a “Return,” which is an option route where if it’s a zone, he’s supposed to sit underneath and if it’s man, to run away from the defender. White makes that read in his sleep, but with Burkhead it always seems like there’s something preventing him from playing one clean, mistake-free game in a Patriots uniform.
–But at least they got the ball to White double digit times. Even with a run-first game plan. And once again when they do keep running the offense through White, wins follow.
–Gronk is a different story. For probably the first time in his career, he’s not the best blocking tight end on the field. And that interception going right through his palms is probably going to get him removed from all the brochures for TB12 Fitness. Which, by the way, unofficially gives Brady like seven interceptions that were directly the fault of the receiver, and Gronk probably has at least three of those. Stats are for losers and all that, but football needs a new one to account for a perfect ball thrown right on the money that the receiver deflects to a defender like a Larry Bird touch pass to Kevin McHale under the basket. If modern science can split the Quarterback Sack into the ½ Sack, we can surely figure out a way to account for the No-Fault Interception numerically.
–While we’re on the subject of interceptions, that was a veteran game by JC Jackson in every respect. He never left the field. Never blew a coverage as far as I could tell. On his interception, he had the outside on a trips set by the Bills. Different systems treat that differently, but the way Nick Saban has always described it, he and Belichick treat it like 3-on-3 basketball where you take a zone or a man, and call out switches. Jackson played it like he had Curl/Flat responsibility and shaded over there when Logan Thomas came out. But he kept reading Josh Allen’s eyes, peeled off his man and dropped into the deep Seam to make the grab. In a season where Michel has been the only draft pick to contribute, having an UDFA rookie play the way Jackson has is making my heart grow three sizes.
–I get that when you’re playing a one o’clocker against Buffalo in December, CBS isn’t going to send their A-squad. But woof, are Greg Gumbel, Trent Green and Bruce Arians terrible. Ariens is new, so at least he has an excuse. It’s one thing to make an excuse for Robert Foster not catching a ball because the sun was in his eyes – which we know because Robert Foster decided to give the whole stadium the ASL sign for “Don’t blame me for not catching the ball because the sun was in my eyes” – Green actually had the balls to excuse an overthrow by Allen on the sun throwing off his depth perception. Right. Because you can’t ask a QB to triangulate the position of a target with the sun shining behind his back.
–I was half waiting for them to blame Stephen Hauschka’s missed kick on the solar wind. But I guess I should just be worried the league will might investigate whether Belichick put the sun there and start taking draft picks away.
–Defensively, this was a huge rebound game. And much needed. My biggest concerns over the back-to-back losses was the total inability to stop the inside run or get to the edge before ball carriers could turn the corner on them. And they checked both those boxes. They checked them twice. They played a base nickel with a lot of Pat Chung and Elandon Roberts at ILB, Dont’a Hightower on the line of scrimmage at Sam and Kyle Van Noy as the Will. With mostly Malcom Brown and Lawrence Guy inside and Deatrich Wise coming in on passing downs. And Ufomba Kamalu as this week’s Guy I’ve Never Heard of Making a Big Play, stuffing LeSean McCoy for a loss on the opening play of Buffalo’s second drive. There were even a few rare sightings of Danny Shelton, who I was beginning to think wasn’t real. But there he was. I guess the jolly fat man all dressed in red shows up once a year.
–For what it’s worth, after experimenting with different linebackers wearing the green dot throughout the early part of the season, it would seem the defense is running entirely through Devin McCourty. After that Kamalu stop put Buffalo in a 2nd & long, Roberts and Hightower were showing a double A-gap blitz, but both turned to look back at McCourty who waved it off and they dropped back into coverage at the snap. I don’t know how many teams have their strong safety making the calls or the logistics of having someone who’s not physically in the middle of the defense communicating with everyone, but it seems to be working. Still, it’s one more thing to consider if they have to go on the road to a noise factory like Kansas City in the playoffs.
–This Week’s Applicable Move Quote: “It’s Christmas Eve! It’s… it’s the one night of the year when we all act a little nicer, we smile a little easier, we… we cheer a little more. For a couple of hours out of the whole year, we are the people that we always hoped we would be. It’s a… miracle. It’s really a sort of a miracle. Because it happens every Christmas Eve. And if you waste that miracle, you’re gonna burn for it, I know what I am talking about. You have to do something. You have to take a chance. You do have to get involved. There are people that are having… having trouble making their miracle happen. There are people that don’t have enough to eat, or people that are cold. You can go out and say hello to these people. You can take an old blanket out of the closet and say “Here!”, you can make them a sandwich and say “Oh, by the way, here!” I… I get it now! And if you… if you give, then it can happen, then the miracle can happen to you! It’s not just the poor and the hungry, it’s everybody’s who’s gotta have this miracle! And it can happen tonight for all of you! If you believe in this spirit thing, the miracle will happen and then you’ll want it to happen again tomorrow. You won’t be one of these bastards who says “Christmas is once a year and it’s a fraud”, it’s NOT! It can happen every day, you’ve just got to want that feeling. And if you like it and you want it, you’ll get greedy for it! You’ll want it every day of your life and it can happen to you! I believe in it now! I believe it’s going to happen to me now! I’m ready for it! And it’s great. It’s a good feeling, it’s really better than I’ve felt in a long time. I, I, I’m ready. Have a Merry Christmas, everybody. ” – Frank Cross, Scrooged
–When you consider they turned the ball over three times and were handed the ball in terrible field position three times thanks to some horrendous decision making by their kick off returners, that was a hell of an impressive performance. Made more so by the fact they were facing solid defense and coming off one of their worst performances in a decade. They all but eliminated the stupid presnap nonsense. Made it obvious they were going to pound the ball and managed to do so. And won a game with a combination of the the run game and a stout, opportunistic defense, like they used to in the early half of the Bradichick Dynasty. I’ll take it.
–Anytime you get to see Brian Hoyer and it’s not because of injury or ineffectiveness, it’s a good opportunity to count your blessings of the holiday season.
–Also, thanks to the Philadelphia Eagles. I’ll never get back the 2018 they ruined. But yesterday helped a little bit. Bless us all, everyone.
–We’re Onto Merry Christmas.