Things to consider while thinking that if Steve Trevor can look so good in 1984 after blowing himself to bits in World War I, maybe the Patriots offense can straighten out too:
--There's a lot to unpack here. A lot of it about the very serious issues facing said offense. But first I want to focus on the inexcusably bad, embarrassingly incompetent, scandalously atrocious officiating. And all the calls that cost them at least the chance to kick a bunny field goal that would've sent them to overtime, and possibly an easy win in regulation.
Beginning with the Travis Kelce fumble that was blown dead. In a replay-addicted league in which no play is ever blown dead because the refs would rather let it play out, then solve it with a 20 minute committee meeting afterwards:
Moving onto Sammy Watkins going through the ropes and out of the ring to beat Stephon Gilmore with a folding chair while the referee must've been arguing with this tag team partner because there was no call:
Continuing with the N'Keal Harry non-touchdown, that looked like he'd stepped out of bounds to no one on Earth save for the middle aged man in the striped shirt who was standing right there staring at the sideline. But which was uncorrectable because Bill Belichick had used up his challenges trying to undo their earlier egregious mistakes:
And wrapping it up with the festive paper that was this non-call. In a league where everything can be pass interference if your heart believes it's pass interference, this was ruled good defense:
And there's this, from Laurent Duvernay-Tardif's Illegal Use of the Hands penalty that set up a 2nd & 15 when it shouldv'e been a 2nd & 20:
Congratulations to Andy Reid in this season of giving. Enjoy your gifts.
--So yes, I wish to talk about these things. Partly because these calls are the reason we're not listening to a national debate about the inherent unfairness in Patrick Mahomes never touching the ball in overtime instead of another Patriots loss. But also because it feels a lot better to complain about being screwed by the officials than be honest about the serious problems on this team. Think of it as like when a married couple argues about hiring someone to clean out the oil burner instead of how their kids are horrible and the husband feels trapped in a loveless marriage and the wife is cheating with the handsome bohunk from the school committee and that's why she's at PTA meetings every other night. It's simply easier than dealing with the bigger issues.
--And in the Patriots case, the bigger issues are that the Patriots converted just two of 12 3rd downs, mainly because Brady faced pressure (according to Pro Football Focus) on an incredible 69.2% of them. That he was pressured 10 of 20 times altogether in the 1st half. That when Phillip Dorsett wasn't getting interfered with, he wasn't making catches, either. That despite being on the field for 39 plays, Mohamed Sanu was a complete non-factor. And that other than that one drag route reception that should've been a touchdown, N'Keal Harry was N'where to be seen. Sony Michel was taken out of the game for good after a completely ineffective 1st quarter (1.6 YPA). And Isaiah Wynn struggled hugely. That's a former first round pick, a guy they traded a second rounder for, this year's first rounder and BOTH of last year's first rounders. And combined they gained you enough yardage to pick up three 1st downs (34 total yards). So yeah, you'll have to forgive me if I'd rather focus on how bad the officials were than the zero return we're getting from all the recent draft capital this franchise has invested. It's just easier for me this way.
--But on the other hand, it's not about me and my coping mechanisms. At some point, facts must be faced. The issues here are not going to admit themselves. That's my job. And I think I've put my finger on them. Are you ready? Because you'd better prepare to have your mind blown. Here's that scene in every Turner Classic Movie where the report comes racing into his editor's office and yells, “Stop the presses, chief! I got a story that's gonna knock this town on it's ear!!!” Jump cut to a spinning headline. Boldface type in a banner across the page: “NOBODY'S GETTING OPEN!!!” There. That's it. My expert analysis that you can only get here. Remember to like, share and subscribe.
--Alright, I'll dive a little deeper. More and more, we're seeing defensive coordinators go with vanilla Man-under coverages, confident that, aside from Julian Edelman, they have the matchup advantage across the board. Steve Spagnuolo is a Pattern Read coach to the core of his being. Meaning his defenders play a zone in which they're responsible for a given area, but play Man on receivers within their zone, based on recognizing the tendencies of patterns they run. It's a complex, difficult to learn system that relies on understanding concepts and a ton of film study, but highly effective with the right personnel. Yesterday felt like Spagnuolo's defense was as complicated as a pick up game of half court at the Y. Everybody take a guy. And when the other team's best player (Edelman) has the ball, whoever is guarding the fat guy come over and help out.
--And when your longest plays from scrimmage are, in order: a fleaflicker, a halfback pass, two pass interference penalties and a keeper by a 42-year-old quarterback, it should be obvious your little Island of Wideout Misfit Toys isn't winning any one-on-one battles.
--Here's the damned shame of it. Besides the fact it'll take a Festivus miracle for the Pats to catch Baltimore for the 1-seed. Putting aside that in 10 years of playing together, Brady and Edelman had never lost a home game to an AFC opponent, going 42-0. Or that this is the first time a quarterback under the age of 25 has ever beaten them in the regular season since Gillette opened in 2002. The true suck of this loss, aside from what it does in the standings and the streaks it breaks is that, if they'd pulled it out, would've been one of the great regular season wins of the Dynasty era.
--One of the things I like best about this team is that it doesn't recognize the concept of moral victories. That such talk is fine for potty training your kids or the life-affirming quotes on your aunt's Pinterest page, but here it's all about results. We do and should honor the moral victory of the guys at the Alamo, but fat lot of good that did Davy Crockett when Santa Anna's cigar butts were piling up on his grave. Still, there are enough positives to be taken out of acknowledge it wasn't the total disaster it feels like.
--First of all there's the fact they hung in there and made a game out of it after being booed off the field at halftime. In the 3rd quarter, it felt like they were one more stalled drive away from watching the exit ramps out of the stadium look like a Black Friday Doorbuster sale from all the people who'd rather go home and get ready for work in the morning than watch another punt. That period from JC Jackson's interception to about midway through the 3rd, which began with a terrible 3 & out and included 23 unanswered points by Kansas City, felt like a real low point in terms of fan morale. One of the deepest valleys in a 20-year journey that has mostly been spent living above the tree line.
--I mean, you can pick any of a dozen moments that felt like they'd hit rock bottom. The blocked field goal in which Tanoh Kpassagnon appeared to blow right through Marcus Cannon on the interior. Tyreek Hill beating Jonathan Jones for the 1st down on 3rd & 19, followed in short order by 48 yards to Mecole Hardman on 2nd & 25, both with a rusher closing in on Mahomes. There was the catch by Kelce where he went down and nobody bothered to touch him so he got to his feet and picked up another eight or so yards, which just felt so … so Browns. Let's not forget watching Chris Jones screaming in Brady's face without having someone remove his head and make a decorative, Christmas Balsam-scented Yankee Candle out of his skull. Then you had that possession at the end of the 2nd, with the ball at midfield and a slim chance to get points on the board before the half, when Frank Clark went around Wynn like he was an orange cone at a Combine drill for the sack and the drive went no place. That was the last straw. When the stadium erupted with the Booourns like it was 1991 all over again. I spent halftime on my phone and trust me, no one in the organization wanted to be searching the name “Kraft” at that point. Twitter is dark and full of terrors on a GOOD day. Apparently there's a lot of lingering resentment about Florida strip mall visits and released wide receivers that is not going to be resolved with anything less than a Super Bowl win.
--But watching this team hang tough should help a little. Defensively, a unit that has shown the versatility to play multiple styles made the adjustments they needed to. Early on, playing a lot of post safety (so Cover-1 and Cover-3, closing the middle of the field). For the most part they trusted Gilmore to handle Watkins on the Flat- and Drag routes. And Pat Chung to take Kelce by himself. As we saw last year, Jonathan Jones was mainly in coverage on Hill, but they also matched career Core-4 Special Teamer Justin Bethel on Hardman in an attempt to fight speed with speed.
--From there they switched to more of a Tampa-2, with Jones dropping into the deep middle zone and one of the split safeties bracketing Hill while the other slid to whichever receiver released to run a vertical. As a result, Mahomes found his completion percentage going up but his YPA were cut by more than half. He was trying to beat them with Death by a Thousand Checkdowns. But the Patriots swarmed to the ball, limited yards after the catch – Jackson in particular made a nice read & react on Spencer Ware, tackling him for a loss of nine on a screen pass to stall the drive that resulted in Nate Ebner's blocked punt – to keep a great offense off the scoreboard for the last 24ish minutes of the game.
--Just as encouraging is the way they handled Kansas City's run game, which is mission critical if they're going to be able to carry this team deep into the postseason. I know saying “You've to stop the run” sounds like the stuff in the core curriculum at The Dan Fout's School for Lazy TV Analysts. And so very, very 1970s. But it's been this unit's biggest design flaw and needs to be straightened out if they don't want to be trying to spend January trying to get off the field on 3rd & 2s.
--On that note, I thought they got good games out of the tackle rotation, especially Danny Shelton who held up in the A-gaps on either side of Austin Reiter. And John Simon, who made a 1st quarter stop on LeSean McCoy on the kind of zone read run that has given this team fits, and again on a power run by McCoy in the 3rd. Simon gets better every week; just the kind of sound, disciplined, versatile backer who is a perfect fit in this system. And also Kyle Van Noy was a big factor in run force, with at least a couple of TFLs, when he wasn't chasing Mahomes out of the pocket and drawing that facemask when he had Mahomes back to the goal line and looked like he was about to make a skin suit out of him.
--All in all, I thought the Front 7 was active, played sideline-to-sideline and got into the backfield against a freakishly agile quarterback that can complete 40 yard bombs even if you come at him from all directions like Ninjas. By far their best performance against KC in the Mahomes Era.
--As I type that, I realize I've spent way too many consecutive paragraphs sounding positive. So let's get back to Terra Firma. It's at the point where I can psychically divine their next stupid mistake before it happens. There was a random flag on a defensive stop and I turned to the Irish Rose and said “Illegal use of the hands, defense, hands to the face.” And the next thing she heard were those exact words from the TV like an echo. I didn't see Deatrich Wise on the play. I felt his penalty. Like a presence on a Travel Channel paranormal show. Of course it doesn't hurt that they are on a record pace for Hands to the Face penalties, so it's more Law of Averages than unexplained phenomena. But still.
--Keeping the negativity going, The offensive line is a total goatfuck – make that GOATfuck? Yeah, that works – at the moment, and has been for a while. The problems I'd hoped would end when Marshall Newhouse went to the bench seemed to be semi-over for a couple of game there. But the last couple of weeks have been 2015 AFC championship game- level bad. And I don't say that casually.
--On the drive that followed Kelce's Wildcat touchdown that made it 17-7, James White opened with a 19 yard run that included a nice jump cut to get around Anthony Hitchens. Followed by a Brady, in the face of a blitz, completing to Edelman settling under the coverage and picking up 20. From there the Chiefs went blitz, blitz, blitz and, just to mix it up, blitz on 4th down. One pass went behind Dorsett up the sidelines who never broke back to it, another went off Meyers' suddenly Teflon hands, and the 4th down attempt had no chance of getting to Edelman, Brady's only reliable target. And yet the next possession was even worse. Brady had to shovel-toss one at Matt LaCosse's feet, White got blown up on a screen behind the line of scrimmage, and on 3rd down Brady had to avoid three separate rushers, including Clark and Kpassagnon who beat both tackles. In addition, Derrick Nnadi beat James Ferentz to drop Rex Burkhead on 1st down to put them in a hole. Which led to the aforementioned blocked field goal. Maybe Cannon is still sick and Wynn is still getting his bearings. I just know it'll take all of Dante Scarnecchia's powers to fix it. Which is exactly how Vito Corleone phrased it when he asked the mortician to give Swiss Cheese Sonny an open casket funeral.
--But Scar has to do find a solution. Brady couldn't look any more sad and abused if he was a woman in a Peleton ad.
--Let's get positive again. But there were some good times there, right?
--This Week's Applicable Movie Quote:
Sonny: “Kiss me.”
Det. Sgt Moretti: “What???”
Sonny: “Kiss me. When I'm getting fucked, I like to get kissed a lot.”
- “Dog Day Afternoon'”
--Getting back to my first point about “Wonder Woman '84,” how does Jar Jar Abrams get away with having the Death Star II so intact that the throne room is still a thing and there is even glass in the window behind where the Emperor sat? How many times have we all watch that ship be blasted into space particles? These are cheap ways to make sequels, people. Not to date myself, but when I grew up, we respected the idea of something being blown to smithereens. We even had a band by the name.
--I don't want to get down on an undrafted rookie and the bottom of the WR depth chart, but if you're on the second floor of a burning house holding your dog out the window and the only one there to catch him is Jakobi Meyers, ask him to go get help.
--I made my Cleats for a Cause last night, and I painted them to support Pass Protection for Quarterbacks in Need.
--Don't talk to me if your solution for all this is Antonio Brown. If you think that suddenly that Clubhouse Carcinogen was going to have a Come to Jesus moment, find himself and be a reliable, dependable teammate for the first time in his career, then please explain why 32 teams aren't bothering with him. Wait. Strike that. I'd rather you don't talk to me.
--Besides, I'll never be able to hear you over the fapping sounds of Max Kellerman, Nick Wright, Rob Parker and Shannon Sharpe furiously pleasuring themselves.
--A tough loss to Kansas City? People thinking the Patriots Dynasty is over? And that Tom Brady is too old? Now, more than ever, we need to hear this: “We're onto Cincinnati.”