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Knee Jerk Reactions to Week 17: Patriots vs. Jets

Things to consider while taking dead aim on the playoffs and hitting center mass:

–So after everything, all the talk of rifts and conflicts, of benched cornerbacks and exiled trainers, of pliability wars and skipped workouts, of free agents lost and superstars almost traded, of palace intrigue and talk show fodder about power struggles, of Facebook documentaries and cryptic Tweets, of declines and cliffs, after all that, here’s where we find ourselves. Back to the bye. Needing one win to get back to their EIGHTH straight conference title game, with two weeks to prepare.

–All that noise of the last 360 days just amounted to a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Once again, the Pats are one of the top four teams of the regular season. Just like every year since 2010 – all those other years that had none of 2018’s drama – they earned a playoff bye. And they did it by playing their most complete game of the season. Dominating in all three phases for four full quarters with no let downs.

–To the haters who are so bizarrely obsessed with the idea of this dynasty’s decline that never seems to happen for them, I’ll concede that the Jets are objectively horrible. They played like their coach was about to be fired, the team bus was running and their bags were packed. But I concede nothing else. This team was one once-in-a-generation fluke play away from being the one-seed. There isn’t any peasant uprising against their evil overlord coach. There’s no giant moral failure or crisis of confidence going on here. They lost some games because they played like deep fried crap. It happens. They also beat four playoff teams. And are the only team in the league to go 8-0 at home. That almost never happens. It sure as all hell doesn’t happen to teams as they fall apart the way the haters claim this franchise is. So if that’s you, or you’re one of the jagoffs who call me a homer for refusing to give up on this team – and I say this in the spirit of the holiday season – go stick your dick in a wall outlet.

–The weirdest thing about the Patriots five losses is that none of the teams that beat them made the playoffs. What does that mean? Damned if I know. Maybe beating them is a like a bee sting. It hurts a little but it’s fatal for the bee. What I do know for sure is that giving names to regular season plays doesn’t age well if you’re a non-playoff team.

Cringe.

–One note before I get into the actual game is that this was one of the rare times I was at the game. I almost always watch from home because I can write about it better from the perspective of the guy sitting on his couch, rewind plays, bitch about the broadcast and so on. But my son is home for Christmas break and asked if we could go because he hadn’t been to one since he was like 9. So if I get a name or a play wrong, you’ll just have to deal. Also, when it comes to talking about how terrible Dan Fouts was and how hideously corny Ian Eagle’s puns were, you’re on your own. I had the week off from them.

–That said, I wonder if it translated to TV just how dominant the Patriots defense was. They played mostly Cover-1 with Duron Harmon as the lone deep back and Devin McCourty dropped down into the Robber (sometimes called the Rat) position, in the middle of the field watching Sam Darnold’s eyes for curls, in-routes and crosses. And when Devin was out, Jason McCourty played it, which is an interesting callback to preseason when he was finishing games at safety with all the scrubs. At the time it looked like punishment duty or that he’d be a camp cut. Now it just looks prescient.

–On the outside it was mainly Stephon Gilmore on Robby Anderson like a regrettable tattoo he couldn’t get lasered off, with JC Jackson taking either Chris Herndon or Deontay Bennett. I know those three aren’t going to make anyone forget the 1999 Rams and Anderson has some of the worst hands in the NFL and catches balls almost by accident. But still. Gilmore and Jackson are locking receivers down. And with J-Mac as a depth guy and Jonathan Jones coming in for subpackages, they are as good 1-through-4 at corner as any Pats team since Revis, Browner, Arrington and Butler.

–But really what stood out to me was the play of the linebackers. They went with a ton of 3-LB sets, with Dont’a Hightower up on the line as the Will and Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts at the second level. Unlike the Pittsburgh game a few weeks ago, these three were stringing plays out sideline-to-sideline and the Jets could never get a ballcarrier around the corner. On that red zone stop when it was 21-3, Hightower drove a blocker into the backfield as Jackson made the tackle. And on 4th down, Van Noy shot the A-gap into Darnold’s grill mix (as the youngsters like to say) to force the throw that hit Gilmore in the back.

–Van Noy in particular was all over the field. At midfield he and Roberts came up to the line on the outside, he took on a pulling tight end to turn Elijah McGuire inside and create a tackle for a loss. He penetrated enough to disrupt the play enough for Derek Rivers to pick up a sack. One play before his scoop & score he was a good 30 yards up the sideline in coverage on Trenton Cannon. There might have been times this year when the linebacking corps looked slow or overmatched. But it was not this day.

–Another guy who stood out was Danny Shelton. Mainly owing to the fact that he was on the field for one of the few games all season. And he played a lot, as a major part of a rotation inside that also included Lawrence Guy and Malcom “Autocorrect’s Bane” Brown. I saw him get moved fairly easily from his 1-tech spot on one long Jets run, but for the most part he looked like he did in camp. And was in on most, if not all, of those two red zone turnovers on downs, including a 3rd & 1 when he get into the backfield on Brian Winters to blow up the play along with Guy. I shouldn’t be as excited as I am about Shelton because he’s been a major disappointment. But right now he feels like a great late season acquisition.

–Speaking of major disappointments, a guy tailgating not far from me was wearing a $99.99 Josh Gordon jersey. We all make mistakes, but if you blow 100 bucks on a college bowl game, you don’t wear the betting slip on your back.

–Offensively, this was the perfect game plan. Which is not to say they didn’t leave any points out there or fail to finish some drives. They did. Some of which the Jets were only too happy to help them out with and the Pats graciously accepted. What makes this so perfect is that they no only scored a bunch, more importantly they put stuff on tape that will make them a nightmare for whatever defensive coordinator they face. To the point the coaches breaking down this one might have to resort to Sandra Bullock blindfolds.

–They’ve been using the Jet Sweep all season long, mostly as a way to utilize Cordarrelle Patterson and as a constraint play to keep opponents from loading the middle of the box. But yesterday it was a primary weapon. Twice early on they used it as a Play Action fake, then threw to the receiver they faked the handoff to, first to Julian Edelman and then to Phillip Dorsett. Then they ran it with Edelman after faking the inside handoff to Sony Michel. Later they set up their last touchdown by running it with Edelman, then to Dorsett, then back to Edelman again, behind Gronk as he pulled and wiped out the end who had collapsed in. Now assume they’ll have Corduroy back two Sundays from now. They’ve established they’ll run the Jet Sweep with any of their receivers, fake it and run Play Action, fake it and run inside with Michel once you’re spread out wide, or any of a dozen or so variations. This is just another wrinkle they’ve added. Which is why we’re back into Josh McDaniels Head Coaching Rumor SZN, despite the fact he had the Colts screaming their Safety Word while he fisted so badly last winter.

–Another thing McDaniels did a lot of was spread out his power-running personnel, with James Develin outside the numbers as much as I think we’ve ever seen. Good luck matching up with that when, if you put a linebacker on Jimmy Neckroll he can beat the coverage, and if you defend it with a dime package, Brady can always kill the play, motion everybody in and ram the ball down your throat like they did to Buffalo last week.

–Yesterday also gave me reason to hope that maybe, just maybe, they’ve been holding Gronk in abeyance a little bit, preserving him for the playoffs. His numbers wouldn’t be enough to get even Miami or Pittsburgh to call it #TheStatLine, but he looked almost like his old self. He ran well. Had that spectacular catch & run that got called back thanks to an OPI on Dwayne Allen. (Jealous much? That penalty cost Gronk more yards than Allen has on the season.) He had that one play where he scraped along the line behind the linebackers and fought off Jamal Adams to pick up the 1st. He drew the safety which left the middle of the field open for James White to run a little slant in for the first touchdown. Just as importantly, he was using his whole body to block and driving with his legs instead of just reaching for guys with his arms like he’s been doing. I know everyone is ready to take Old Yeller out back behind the barn, but he looked like a guy who could give them 100 yards in a playoff game.

–Speaking of someone who’s not ready to be put down, aside from overthrowing Chris Hogan in the end zone, can somebody please show me where Brady’s “cliff” went to? Because I think he painted a tunnel on it and a train came out and flattened all the haters. He was shooting sniper rounds all over the place. Spread the ball around, including three to Hogan on the final touchdown drive. Made quick audibles to get the ball out to his wideouts when the corners were in off coverage. Recognized before the snap he had a linebacker iso’d on Rex Burkhead as Edelman drew the safety with a skinny post and dropped a perfect touch pas into his arms. And moved as well as he ever has in his life, away from the dance floor. Ten years ago, Brady wasn’t making that escape-the-pocket, full-sprint rollout throw to Dorsett on the back line of the end zone. If Aaron Rodgers had done that, every analyst on TV would’ve had to be wearing a condom.

–This Week’s Applicable Move Quote: “It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. ” – Sam, Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

–A holding call or two aside, this was as good a game as the offensive line has played all year. White had that pitch that went for like 20 yards not only because Hogan ran Frankie Luvu deep into the backfield, but because Joe Thuney was a good 10 yards upfield running defenders into the portable heaters.

–But the guy I don’t think I’ve mentioned enough all year has been David Andrews. (Other than that time I said he looks like Grawp from Harry Potter, which I probably shouldn’t repeat, no matter how true it is.) I saw a graphic on an analytics site that said the Patriots have 16 rushes of 10-plus yards straight up the middle this season, which is almost as much as all the other spots along the line combined. And they added at least one yesterday, on a Michel run late in the game. Center is the ultimate full time job for not getting noticed unless you screw up. Andrews has not be screwing up and deserves to be noticed.

–JC Jackson helped make that first red zone stop by peeling off his man to make the tackle that set up the 4th & inches. Malcom Brown penetrated from a 5-down lineman front with no linebackers in the middle to make the tackle for a loss. But without Jackson, that would’ve been 1st & goal.

–You can always count on the Jets to do Jets things, like that Roughing the Passer to keep a drive alive. What I’m not used to seeing from them is receivers completely unaccounted for in the end zone, which we saw happen with Gronk, Hogan and Edelman’s touchdown. Say what you will about Rex Ryan, but you never saw breakdowns like that from one of Shrex’s defenses. I’m sure they’ll hire some QB Whisperer to replace Todd Bowles. But somehow hiring good coordinators on both sides of the ball is somehow beyond their capacity as an organization. And I’d like them to keep that tradition going.

–This whole year has felt like one long, tedious, depressing Very Special Episode of a 90s sitcom. And this was the perfect game to end it on.

–We’re onto the Bye Week. No. Days. Off. Except for next weekend.