Knee Jerk Reaction to Week 7: Patriots vs. 49ers

Steven Senne. Shutterstock Images.

Things to consider while realizing you just watched the most gruesome horror flick you'll see this Halloween season:

--I watched this one in a bar with a bunch of my Weymouth buddies. Ordinarily I try not to quote them here. One, because it only encourages them. And two, because I'm not doing my job if I just sit here and write "This team sucks!" 500 times like Bart Simpson staying after school. But in this case, I'll make an exception. 

--How bad was this one? So bad that late in the first half, my friend Kenny said, "This game is the worst thing that's happened to me today." Our day began with a text from him saying his father just died that morning. That story is 100% true.

--While there's a whole genocide of wrong in this one and plenty of blame to spread around, the autopsy is pretty straightforward. When the deceased is laying on the slab is from Texas and has been cut in two down the middle with chainsaw wounds, you don't wait for the Covid-19 test results, you just put out an A.P.B. for Leatherface.

--And in this case you don't need to find do a deep dive to explain why Cam Newton was so objectively terrible or find creative ways to say how atrociously he played. The numbers say those things better than words ever could:

He's been so bad that we're going back to the Ron Meyer days and that year Bill Parcells was mentally checked out and looked like Chris Christie to find production this. But if we're going by the eyeball test, we haven't seen quarterbacking this gawdawful since the late '80s/early '90s when it was being done by Marc Wilson and Hugh Millen. Playing in front of an empty stadium is more than just a public service; it helps the whole nostalgia trip. If things stay like this and they partially reopen Gillette, they could do a theme game where everyone wears Starter jackets and does Ross Perot impressions and tells Joey Buttafucco jokes while listening to Haddaway. Maybe even get Irving Fryar a weekend furlough to come out for the coin flip. But I'm in no hurry. Living through those Before Times was enough for 10 lifetimes.

--With Newton coming off surgeries and coming into a new system with a short and surreal offseason, I was prepared for occasional lapses. Little speed bumps along the way that would slow down his progress. But he's hit a Jersey barrier. The last two weeks he's suffered a complete breakdown of his mechanics. His footwork. His throwing motion. His anticipation. This is a precision offense based on timing and at times relasing passes before your receiver gets into his break and trusting he'll be where you expect him to be. Yet not once can I recall him yesterday taking his 3-, 5- or 7-step drop, planting his feet and getting the ball out. Or last week either, for that matter. I'd love to give Newton a pass because he just got over a potentially deadly virus and I once took two weeks sick leave because of a bad haircut. But he says he's asymptomatic. And besides that, I've yet to hear the effects of Covid include: Fever, respiratory issues, shortness of breath, loss of sense of smell and taste, and the sudden need to bounce on your toes 27 times while scanning the field the pocket collapses. If that's part of it, Fauci's been quiet about it.

--And we can blame his receivers, since all three of Newton's interceptions plus Jarrett Stidham's came while targeting wideouts (meaning the WR unit has now been picked off eight times with one passing touchdown on the season, woof), but that doesn't explain much. Like how he badly missed a wide open Damiere Byrd on the deep out route where he drew a Roughing the Passer call. (You can't blame the hit because it came well after the ball was released and was one of those letter-of-the-law one where they throw the flag because someone on the ground tugs the quarterback's shoelace.) Or the curl route by Byrd that he bounced a good five yards in front of his target. We all just assumed his arm had been hit or the ball was deflected at the line, but nope. Just a total miss. Nor does that explain forcing a ball to Jakobi Meyers in double coverage not once but twice. First when Meyers was bracketed high/low on a crosser and then the desperation heave with the corner in trail and the deep safety right there.

--Both were inexcusable. And I don't care how much the conventional wisdom says that when you're faced with an absolute have-to-have-it situation, always look to Jakobi Meyers. I think if for some bizarre reason the 49ers are going to put two guys on a man who came in with one catch for seven yards on the season like he's Calvin Johnson in his prime, the prudent thing to do is look elsewhere.

--When CBS showed the 2nd quarter stat that San Francisco had 222 yards of offense while the Pats had 11 passing yards, my buddy Davo made the point that on Tom Brady's worst day, he would've had at least a 100 passing yards to that point with the exact same lineup. My only issue with his argument was why go to Brady? Name any quarterback. Carson Wentz. Daniel Jones. Sam freaking Darnold. This is the 21st century. Every rule in pro football is geared precisely to make sure that your quarterback will have more than 33 feet worth of forward passes in one half of a game so you won't get bored and go shopping on Amazon or get on OnlyFans. It doesn't matter who's running the routes or if you're facing the 2013 Seahawks, 98 passing yards in a game is statistically impossible in today's game. And when I thought Newton was going to come to New England and do things we never thought possible, this is definitely not what I was going for. 

--I won't talk much more about Brady because that situation deserves its own blog. But I will say this. If Belichick had just let Alex Guerrero have the run of the place they wouldn't be in this mess. He would've used his TB12 Fitness magic to keep everybody corona-free.

--I'm not at all used to losing games this badly. And one thing I've found is that when your offense can't score, those Tracy Wolfson human interest stories lose all their charm. Yeah, 23-6 and about to give up another touchdown is not the time I want to hear about a  charming tale about how Julian Edelman went out with Jerry Rice's daughter. If their Prom went like Edelman's season so far, someone would've left covered in pig's blood while hundreds burned to death in history's ugliest tuxes.

--But as scary as it is is to score six points - at home, with a normal, uninterrupted practice schedule, no less - don't let it distract us from the real demon in the basement: This defense got straight up pushed around. Cue the spooky theremin music. 

--The 49ers didn't do anything the Patriots weren't expecting. In fact, they played Niners football like they have since Kyle Shanahan arrived four years ago. They use their three wide receiver sets in the run game to not only block you on the perimeter but also with orbit reverses and Jet sweep action to hold the defensive end on the play side. They widen you out horizontally and then open holes with stretch runs, gap plays and kick out blocks from the tight ends. And that's exactly what they did to the Patriots, who positively were not able to handle any of it whatsoever. 

--I mean, how many slip screens did they throw to Deebo Samuel that turned into chunk plays? Or bubbles to Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk only to have them pick up seven or eight yards before they even had to slip a tackle? Which they did early and often. On opening drive play that Samuel took down to the Patriots 3, Samuel motioned across the formation with Jonathan Jones following him. At the snap George Kittle ran a post that cut Jones off Jones and took him out of the play entirely. Vertical routes by everyone on the play side cleared out the first 20 yards or so save for Ju'Whaun Bentley coming all the way from the Mike LB spot and he was not about to outrun Samuel who busted it for 14.

--Worse than giving big, physical, run-oriented, YAC-happy receivers big cushions to operate from, the defense got straight up bullied. Running primarily out of their version of a "big" lineup, a 4-2-5 with Bentley and Anfernee Jennings as off the ball linebackers and John Simon up on the LOS, they were simply outmatched and physically dominated. Jennings, who has been getting more and more reps as his rookie season has gone along, really took a step back in this one. Playing 80% of the snaps, there were just too many instances where he was solo blocked completely out of a play. He had a particularly bad sequence on the 49ers last touchdown before the half. On a swing pass to JaMycal Hasty, Kyle Jusczcyk ran him off and the play went for 16. On the next down, Hasty took it off the left end as Samuel sealed off Jennings and it went for 20. A play later he got taken out by a kickout as a pass to Samuel in the flat went for nine. All in all it was a rough day at school for everyone, but for Jennings in particular. 

--Still no one had it worse than Jones. When he wasn't getting caught up in Kittles' wash on that first drive, he was giving up 19 on a dig route by Aiyuk on 2nd & 17 in the middle hole underneath Cover-2. Then Jones absolutely got trucked by Jusczcyk on a speed sweep run by Aiyuk where he was on the edge as the force player. As we speak the stadium crew is blasting bits of Jones up out of the turf with their leaf blowers. Though to be fair to him, he is a cornerback. And the fullback was taking out much bigger bodies all game. I think the next time they face Jusczcyk, the Patriots should just take the long way home and avoid his street. It's better than having to lick white dog poop.

--Actually, allow me to contradict myself so you don't have to. Chase Winovich had the worst day of anybody. For a guy who was extremely polarizing to draft pundits last year, he's been nothing but a positive. A high motor guy and a plus pass rusher who's developed into an every down defensive end and core special teamer. But this was a bad look. 

Even though Jimmy Garoppolo LeBronned the hell out of that, why even make contact on the play? You know 1) He's not about to go tearing across the field and make the heroic tackle on run back. And B) The officials are going to call that every time before they let a defensive player harm one hair on Jimmy G's beautiful, perfectly manscaped face. More than anything though, when you do, just own up to the lapse in judgement. Take the correction, no matter how harsh it is instead of coming at him like my kid when I'm mad at him for flunking math. The boss is having a hard enough day without your sass.

--While we're looking back at some bad Patriots teams, this was some of the worst tackling I can remember since maybe that unlikable 2009 team. You'd expect to see that level of tackling if some Make-a-Wish kid's dream was to score a touchdown. (I'm sorry if that's too dark. I'm grieving a real life situation that goes way beyond football. So you'll have to forgive me if the line between appropriate/too far is blurred a little.)

--This Week's Applicable Movie Quote: “Trust is a tough thing to come by these days.”  - MacReady, "The Thing" 

--The star of the game was Gunner Olszewski, and I'm not joking. He ran hard on kick returns and made a nice stick on the coverage unit. There's no better indication of how total the devastation was that he was the best Patriots player on the field.

--The depth of the offensive line has been tested all season, almost to the breaking point. Just when you might've thought they'd start to get some continuity by getting David Andrews back, they lose Joe Thuney and then Justin Herron. And by the end of the game they had Michael Onwenu at left tackle who got caught looking inside when Dre Greenlaw came in a blitz of the edge for a sack. And Hjalte Froholdt at left guard, who got quick twitched by Kevin Givens for another. Most of these sacks have been the direct result of Newton holding onto the football like it's his Emotional Support ball. But too many of them have been the exact sort of lapses you'd expect from going to the sub-basement of your depth chart and shuffling bodies all over the place. 

--Josh McDaniels is not off the hook by any means. If your quarterback is having issues with his mechanics and getting the ball out, you've got to call high percentage, low risk plays. At least for a while, if only to get his juju back. Too many times it seems like Newton is looking high-to-low. And by the time he's locating his checkdowns, either the walls have closed in on him or the coverage has found his safety valve. Or both. I don't know if James White was banged up or what, but that would be the only excuse for him taking just 10 snaps when all else was going wrong. 

--As far as Stidham, yes, he looked like an improvement. In that way that if you were speed dating and got me right after Sloth, you'd consider me an upgrade. It doesn't make me handsome. In the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king and all that. There were nice moments for Stidham. Granted, against the Niners deep, prevent, quarters coverage. He found Meyers at the sticks for a 1st down. Made a terrific play, rolling away from Javon Kinlaw penetration (again, on Froholdt) and threw back across the flow of the play to hit Rex Burkhead. There was something there to build on.

--But that interception was indefensible. Just a simple out route by Edelman that he threw right to Jamar Taylor, trailing Edelman by a good step and a half. That route is a staple of the Pats offense. It's required if you're going to be considered for the position. Not being able to hit that every time with confidence is like trying out for the Boston Pops without being able to play "Chopsticks." Or like working for CNN and not knowing how to disable a Zoom video before you start masturbating.

--To wrap it up, New England is having its patience tested like it hasn't in almost 30 years. These are the times that try men's souls. They're either going to solve these myriad problems now - meaning immediately, starting today - or it'll already be too late. I lived through those times and have no longing to ever return to them. I'm not going to run from this team if they don't turn it around, but I'm not in the business of making excuses about missed practices and opt outs the way Tony Romo did there toward the end of the game. (After no one but me was watching, I'm sure.) The expectations for this team were too high as recently as the end of September. And i'm well aware of how ugly it's about to get discussing this franchise and how they've handled the skill positions the last couple of years. It's like when Captain Cook stumbled and bled, the natives who considered him to be a god, became angered to find out he was mortal and stabbed him to death. That's coming if this team doesn't at least make the playoffs. And that doesn't feel even remotely likely at the moment. So this team needs a V-shaped recovery and it needs it now.

--After giving it some thought, I've decided that maybe bringing back football is too risky. Now might be the perfect time to shut it down until next Fall. 

--The one saving grace in all this is that Ken Sr. wasn't alive to see it.  RIP to a man who was unfailingly kind to his son's idiot lifelong friends. My condolences.