Things to consider while being grateful I once saved a vial of Jerry Jones tears and have been gradually building up a tolerance:
--If you're coming away from this win underwhelmed because the offense was insufficiently efficient or complaining that they're going to have to play better if they're ever going to meet your lofty expectations, I want you herded onto a rocket ship and launched into a black hole. Let it crush your negativity into a singularity and spread it out across the event horizon because this was one of the most impressive victories in memory, all things considered.
--In no uncertain terms, this was a gut check. One in which we checked, and this team does, in fact, have guts. Lots of guts. Oodles of Noodles of guts. Here we had a 42-year-old quarterback who was questionable with a bad throwing elbow. One veteran wide receiver who was also banged up. Just two other receivers, with a combined 18 career receptions. A right tackle who was sick all week. A left tackle making just his third career start. A linebacker playing fullback. A defense facing the No. 1 offense, with the best running back and the league's leading passer. While playing in the same conditions as Andy Dufresne when he broke out of Shawshank.
If you're not capable of appreciating a win under these circumstances, the whole Dynasty thing is just not your bag.
--What it means in practical terms is a team that was 8-3 at this time last year (and about to drop consecutive December games to Miami and Pittsburgh) is 10-1. They just swept the NFC East. In fact, they swept the entire NFC for the sixth time since the league went to eight divisions in 2002. They hit double digit wins for the 17th straight year. And that quarterback fighting an elbow problem improved his career home record to 140-21 (.870), meaning he's lost just 21 times at home in his 19 seasons as a starter.
--Think about that. And look around the league and compare what Tom Brady is doing right now to his contemporaries. Aaron Rodgers just got yanked from a game in which he threw for 104 yards on 33 pass attempts (3.2 YPA). Brady's offense scored 17 points in Philly last week and it was the Book of Revelations around here. Russell Wilson's offense scored 17 points in Philly yesterday and it was a helluva good game, way to go guys. I'm not expecting perfection when 2/3 of your veteran wideouts are out and you're facing the No. 6 defense in football. But I do hope for a win. And I'll take it.
--And I'm giving credit where it's due. Thursday as I bow my head over my plate of delicious comfort food while my kids are griping about the slow WiFi, my brother and sister are starting to talk in an Irish Whisper and my in laws are on their second helping of passive/aggressiveness, I'm going to remember to be thankful for Stephon Gilmore. He was in iso man coverage on Amari Cooper on 26 of 30 pass plays. And threw an Invisibility Cloak over him. Cooper has three seasons of 72+ catches and 1,000 yards and had never been shut out in 19 games with the Cowboys, but Gilmore mirrored him all afternoon, running his routes better than he did. That interception being the prime example. Cooper had a step on him scraping behind the linebackers on a shallow cross, but Gilmore put on a closing burst as soon as Dak Prescott committed to the throw. It's like he baited Prescott into it, the way Darrelle Revis used to. Because he's got the quickness and the understanding of opponent's route concepts to make someone covered even when they're open, if that makes sense. If it doesn't then this stat should:
--And while Gilmore is playing mostly Man, you can tell right now he's feeling in The Zone:
--Scheme wise, this was the polar opposite of the Eagles game last week in which they Speed Dated different defenders to different receivers while doubling Zach Ertz. Instead they just primarily played Man across the board, Gilmore on Cooper, Jonathan Jones on Randall Cobb (with a nice PBU to stall the first Dallas drive) and JC Jackson on Michael Gallup. And, it should be noted, Joejuan Williams got his first significant snaps of the season, also matched up on Gallup in the 2nd quarter. That left Pat Chung and Devin McCourty to handle the tight ends and Tony Pollard, who did next to no damage.
--In fact, the only big plays they gave up seemed to come when they switched to zone. Which they did on a few occasions after showing Man looks before the snap, hoping to confuse Prescott and force a turnover. Nice idea, but it didn't work. Instead it lead to chunk plays like that 22-yard catch by Gallup in front of the deep Cover-2 shell that had a Roughing the Passer call tacked onto it that took Dallas from midfield to the red zone and set up their second field goal. Or that out route by Cobb in the soft spot of the zone over McCourty and underneath Jackson that went for 59. But for the most part, when the Defensive Coordinator firm of Belichick, Mayo & Belichick played to their strengths, the Cowboys couldn't find a matchup where they had the advantage.
--Two stat lines sum up the level of success in this one as well as any numbers could:
Ezekiel Elliot: 21 carries for 86 yards
Sony Michel: 20 carries for 85 yards
When your supposedly struggling running back halves 18 holes against the best in the business, it takes the combined efforts of a lot of people. Not the least of whom were the Patriots tackles on both sides of the ball.
--Defensively, they've been getting consistently solid and at times dominating play out of the rotation of Danny Shelton, Lawrence Guy and Adam Butler. And yesterday against Elliot and the interior of the Cowboys line Zack Martin, Travis Frederick and Connor Williams, might have been their finest hour. On the second Cowboys drive Elliot gashed them for a couple of 7-yard runs and then a long gain on a screen as Martin sealed off Dont'a Hightower. But from then on for the most part, the three tackles were able to plug gaps, fill the cutback lanes the Cowboys' line creates with their inside zone blocking and force Elliot to the outside where the linebackers played spill all the way to the sidelines to keep him bottled up.
--That started to put the Cowboys offense into a lot of 3rd and longs and is the reason they only converted two of 13. And to me there was no better sequence than late in the 3rd with the score still 10-6 and them needing to make a stop, Elliot was forced to the edge where he got blowed up by Shilique Calhoun, Chase Winovich and Jones. And shortly after, facing a 2nd & 3, Guy dropped Pollard for no gain and the drive ended in a punt. Just great all around work by the DTs responding to maybe their biggest challenge of the season.
--And for the record, I haven't given up on my dream of a selling CBS my “Big Bang Theory” spinoff, “Sheldon: Butler Guy,” in which an insufferable though probably autistic nerd is hired to be the gentleman's gentleman of an eccentric, curmudgeonly billionaire and hilarity ensues. As high concepts go, it's practically Shakespeare compared to “Bob [hearts] Abishola.”
--The other tackles who deserve praise are Marcus Cannon and Isaiah Wynn. (God, how good it feels to say Wynn's name in a KJR.) Cannon was sick all week. With what, I don't know. Maybe he was feverish or puking or was pooping the devil's coffee all week. I just know that when you're sick, you just want to lie on your mom's sofa drinking warm, flat ginger ale (because cold, effervescent ginger ale is poison, I guess) and Lipton's Cup-a-Soup, not go out in a monsoon and engage in hand-to-hand combat with DeMarcus Lawrence and Robert Quinn. And both Cannon and Wynn performed admirably. Wynn in particular was exactly the upgrade from Marshall Newhouse I've been dreaming of. And it's no coincidence they came right out of the gate running Sony Michel behind him, three times for two 1st downs. Additionally, Brady had the cleanest pockets we've seen in forever, with time to throw for the most part. Though not always:
--Shaq Mason had problems, both with penalties and La'el Collins beating him with a rip move for a sack on 3rd & 11 that killed a 3rd quarter drive. And Wynn had a false start and got beaten by Quinn on the play where Brady escaped the pocket to hit Julian Edelman at the sticks on 3rd & 20. But overall I felt like Brady had room to throw and time to go through his progressions that'll be more than adequate once he gets Mohamed Sanu and Phillip Dorsett back and getting open. And we owe it to the tackles being able to handle the Dallas edge pressure.
--To clarify: I'm using the term “The Dallas Edge Pressure” in the football sense, and not referring to the sex move of the same name.
--Condolences to Mike Periera for seeing his streak of never thinking a call should go the Patriots way come to an end on that obvious non-catch by Cooper. But prior to that, he and Troy Aikman managed to see more bad refereeing than a WWE tag team match and every call going against the Cowboys. I'll agree that the officials were as typically awful as we've become accustomed to. But I'll see your phantom trip:
…and I'll raise you Jakobi Meyers wearing Chidobe Awuzie like a cape, no call. And N'Keal Harry's back shoulder throw inside the 5 with way more contact than they flagged JC Jackson for on his weekly Reputation Call DPI penalty. Or the 3rd & 10 non-call when Jourdan Lewis was all sorts of inappropriate and grabby with Edelman. There was plenty of bad officiating to go around, as has become the norm. But that was a two-way divided highway of wrongness with traffic going in both directions.
--As for Harry, he had an up and down afternoon, as you'd expect of a wideout in his second career game. That touchdown was exactly how the college scouting department dreamed it when they drew up the profile on the kid. Being physical. Outfighting his coverage for the ball. Fade route in the red zone. Keeping his body in control. Hand catching it. That's how we all envisioned it on draft day. Except even more romantic, thanks to the rain.
--Beyond that, Harry had a couple of drops. That aforementioned one with the coverage all over him was slightly catchable. The one inside the 2-minute warning would've been another toe tap grab, but you've got to have that. The most costly drop was of course the one by Meyers when Jeff Heath went full Clobberin' Time on him. My biggest job hazard is my leg falling asleep while I write, so it's not my place to say he should've caught that. But it was a perfectly placed ball and holding onto those is what separates the UDFA legends from the future trivia question answers.
--But like with Harry, Meyers did enough to make you believe he has a future:
--This Week's Applicable Movie Quote: “Certainty of death. Small chance of success. What are we waiting for? ” - Gimli, “Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”
--It's great to see Belichick's Weaponized Weather Machine is all calibrated for its “PLAYOFF” setting. I bet Ernie Adams has been pulling some OT in his lab located under the lighthouse transmitter.
--Whatever James White did to be left out of the game plan, I hope he issues an Antonio Brown-like apology on the 'Gram so we can begin the healing. This just seemed like the perfect opportunity to let him take over a game and he barely saw the field, let alone the ball. I almost wonder if it was an accident. Like maybe the Patriots HR Department was trying to make all internal documents racially sensitive so they omitted all references to “White” like my school system did. Regardless, it seemed like a huge opportunity wasted.
--That aside, Josh McDaniels did go deep into the playbook in an attempt to dictate Rod Marinelli's defenses and create mismatches. Given the fact that with his personnel is so limited right now the offense isn't exactly Optimus Prime, he's had to get creative. So we get Elandon Roberts at fullback. Two back sets with Michel and Brandon Bolden. A Jet sweep to Bolden for 13 (nice block by Matt LaCosse on Heath to make it work). A screen pass to Rex Burkhead with Ted Karras out in front, that would've gone for a ton of yards if Burkhead had cut behind Karras but still picked up 8. At one point Brady motioned White out wide to create an empty backfield while staying under center. If we've ever seen that before, I don't remember it. It's usually at this time of year when the McOffense starts adding layers of complexity because it can. Right now it's happening because it must.
--Still, the best signs for this offense came late in the game, when they were able to do the very thing everyone in the building is expecting and do it effectively. Late in the 4th when you know Brady is going to be looking for Edelman, yet he puts a double move with a stutter step to turn a defender and break his route out for 23. Or that final possession when they line up in an I, Roberts takes out Quinn and Michel picks up the 1st to bleed Dallas of their timeouts. I guess they could still stand to come up with a play where a Brady throw hangs in the air for a full five seconds.
But it should give us some confidence going forward that they can execute some basics and not every play has to be a magican's trick to work.
--This might have been the strangest game for Special Teams we've ever seen. It just ran the gamut from one extreme to the other. Mathew Slater's punt block – without contacting the punter – was superhuman. Then he sort of weirdly stopped running on a punt that dropped inside the 5 and maybe could've been downed. You had great coverage on kickoff returns. But then Jake Bailey was so unable to pin the Cowboys deep on the 27 opportunities he had, I think he retroactively has to give back his Special Teams Player of the Week Award. You had the lucky break of a Dallas field goal hitting the post. But then respond with a false start that turns a makeable 41-yarder into a 46-yard miss. In an area where the Pats have dominated all season, their Special Teams went full Smeagol/Gollum all of a sudden. I guess you just blame the elements and call it a day.
--I'm not sensing a conspiracy or anything of the sort. But it is ironic that in that NFL Shops ad/earworm where “The champ is here,” the one who is never there are the actual champs.
--Nice try, Fox. But “The Deputy” will never make it. America has its TV deputy, now and for all time.
--The Patriots D has given up 117 points through 11 games, the lowest total in the league since 1977. They just held the best offense in the league to three field goals. So if anyone can please let me know when they've actually played “somebody,” so we can begin to think they're kind of good, I'd appreciate it.