Things to consider while appreciating the hardest fought, closest, and most historically significant win in the United States of America this week:
--To me, the most surprising thing about this game - aside from the pleasant surprises of all those drives that were finished, mistakes that were avoided, passes that were completed, and big time plays made when you needed a big time play - was the general reaction of Patriots fans on Twitter who were not pleased. Like after the month-plus we've had since Cam Newton caught the coronacooties gives us the luxury of worrying about style points.
--Yes, I acknowledge it was far from perfect. Plato's Theory of Forms would not suggest there's an ideal example of secondary play and it looks exactly like the Patriots man coverage from last night. But when you're 2-5 and on your first four game losing streak since the year 2020's first time voters were born, you don't seek perfection. That way lies madness. You just need to respect the fact a horribly depleted team with an injury report that looked like a Civil War casualty list went on the road, made clutch plays on both sides of the ball, scored the last 13 points of the game and came away with a win.
--And in particular, you should be grateful that Newton played arguably his best game in a Patriots uniform. He didn't turn it over. His throws were on target, save for one where Dameire Byrd had to break up an interception on a go route where he was covered and a 2nd & 10 where he took a five-step drop from under center and overthrew Jakobi Meyers on a seam route. His mechanics were fixed apart from one or two throws where his feet were sideways. But I'm picking nits. The fact is he was 27 for 35 for 274 yards and a 99.0 passer rating. He looked the most like Obama Era Newton. Throwing to a receiver corps cobbled together out of lawnmower parts and leftover pieces of protocol droids.
--Not to compare this weekend's prime time quarterbacks but, when Tom Brady puts up 3 points at home with Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown, Scotty Mitchell and Rob Gronkowski, and Newton scores 30 on the road throwing to a 7th round injured tight end and a receiving corps made up entirely out of UDFAs, only one fan base has the right to be bellyachin'.
--Not that I don't understand. When the Pats were down 10 to start the 4th, I too felt the siren song of Trevor Lawrence. You could easily see losing this one, being one game in back of the Jets for that sweet, sweet top spot, with the tie breaker. But that's loserthink. We don't do that here. At least we haven't since the choice for No. 1 pick was between Drew Bledsoe and Rick Mirer, back in the Late Cretaceous Period. And I don't want to go back to that mindset. Not now, not ever. I don't know if it was coincidence or what, but yesterday the guy in line behind me was wearing a Patriots "Jambalaya" shirt. From 1996. I kid you not. That wasn't even much of a thing back then. But it was a sports radio promotion having to do with the Super Bowl being in New Orleans. Anyway, as I saw this slob standing way too close to me in his cargo shorts, grey hair, glasses and 24 year old shirt that he hasn't replaced in the nine Super Bowl trips and six wins since, it was like seeing an alternate timeline version of myself. And I had an epiphany. It told me that hoping to lose to get a higher draft pick instead of winning today would never be part of my life again. Thank you for bearing with me as I work through these personal issues. You're an important part of my therapy.
--And yet I've buried the lede here, which should be that we were just invited to Jakobi Meyers' Wideout Reveal Party. And it turns out he's going to be ... a star. Congratulations to the beautiful fam! We're all so happy for you! If not a star, Meyers has at least proven he's built on all the promise he showed from the beginning of camp last year. And became just the fourth guy in franchise history to post a stat line of 12-catches and 169 yards (Terry Glenn, Troy Brown and Wes Welker being the others). On his 24th birthday, no less. And you can already see that whatever chemical reaction causes a quarterback and a receiver to make a good combination, that's happening with Newton and him.
--Meyers is a precise route runner with sound technique in pretty much the entire route tree. He's particularly good at keeping his balance as he sinks his hips, hits the turf with his plant foot and makes his cuts with no wasted motion. That's been so much more a part of the Patriots passing game from Brown to Welker to Julian Edelman than straight line speed has ever dreamed of being. And Meyers does it really well. Plus he's got an innate ability to set up his coverage that you don't expect from a guy who came into the game with 37 career receptions. On the reception that got the ball to the 34 to set up Nick Folk's gamewinner, he was facing off coverage with inside leverage. So he closed the gap with long strides, got an inside release and broke back outside before sitting down in front of the two deep safeties with a hook in the deep middle hole. (And since you're probably asking, the answer is yes. "Hook in the Deep Middle Hole" is one of my signature moves in the bedroom.) Maybe best of all, Meyers has some fight in him. He might just be a pup, but he bites.
--And while we're talking about winning catches, there was this one by Byrd. All season he's shown a consistent ability to run off a defender, then break back on a ball and catch it beyond the 1st down marker. This was as good a job of turning up field and breaking one as we've seen from anyone all year. Helped by one of the best downfield blocks we've seen, thrown by Meyers:
--As satisfying as anything to me is that Josh McDaniels schemed up all this production without any whistles and bells. This wasn't some complex RPO or modern spread attack with the blind spot camera when you turn on your blinker and the Smart Park [tm] feature and all the extended warranties. It was very much a 1978 playbook. Almost all two back, one tight end sets (21-personnel packages) that ran on running downs with a lot of powers and dives from Damien Harris and Rex Burkehead hitting the holes behind Jakob Johnson. When the Jets loaded the box, Newton checked to a lot of stretch plays, preferably with tosses to Harris. And when they brought up safeties (Harvey Langi was a particular pain in the ass all night) or run blitzed, he ran play action on them. I mean, aside from having just one tight end, it was almost a high school game plan, and I don't mean that as a pejorative. In fact I'm impressed, because it was so effective. The Pats last four possessions went for:
- 13 plays, 7:33, touchdown
- 17 plays, 9:26, field goal
- 11 plays, 3:53, touchdown
- 8 plays, 0:47, game winning field goal
Just look at the final drive. They went 45 have-to-have-them yards on two screens to James White, a draw to White, another White screen, a QB keeper for a 1st and that final completion to Meyers. They can call the same formations and plays Johnny Football ran to beat Canton High as long as it works like this.
--And yet for all of it, this was Newton's finest moment. Less a QB scramble than a Criss Angel stunt, escaping a Langi blitz, being locked in a box upside down while wearing a straight jacket and suspended above an active volcano before somehow slipping Langi again, then finding Meyers for the 1st.
Too many times this year we saw Newton turn the ball over when pressured. This is the Newton we were hoping for in our wildest fantasies back in July. And hopefully this is the teaser trailer of what he's going to be in the second half of the year.
--I'm in such a good mood after that ending I can't even get worked up over the fact we're already into "Cars with giant red bows on top commercial" season. Even that one where the guy surprises his wife with two frigging SUVs in the driveway (way to relate to your target audience in the middle of worldwide economic collapse, dicks) didn't bother me. For once, lets get the consumerist Christmas insanity going as early as possible.
--Now to the defense. We've been on the business end of several peggings from Joe Flacco in the past, so it's tempting to chalk this up to "Well that's just Flacco." But that would be forgetting this is not that Flacco. This one is a shadow of the shell of that older one. He's been on the bench behind Sam "Shaggy" Darnold. This game - and sort of where this defensive unit is trending - feels more like those years when their marketing slogan was, "Where Mediocre Quarterback's Incentive Bonuses Happen." When they'd make backups like Matt Flynn or Rex Grossman look like they were Madden QBs with the God Mode cheat codes. And it's unnerving when you remember how dominant they were a year ago at this time. But they've fallen off the edge of the Earth since the Baltimore game last year.
--In general, Jason McCourty has been a solid pro since he came here. JC Jackson has been nothing short of a godsend. Like finding a magic lamp in the sand or a $1 million instant scratchie on the sidewalk. But holy moly did they struggle. I thought the first New York touchdown to Breshad Perriman was set up on the previous play. McCourty and Jackson were both lined up with outside leverage on the wideouts to funnel them into the middle where Jonathan Jones was dropping into deep Cover-2 alongside Devin McCourty. But Berrios beat it by stemming his route into the open middle of the field (MOFO). On the touchdown, Perriman made an outside break with what some coaches call a "power skip," then a stutter step to make Jackson bite and then left him in the dust while D-Mac took too shallow an angle getting over. Another thing that set it up was the Pats only rushed three, putting Adrian Phillips and Shalique Calhoun in coverage on La'Michal Perine and Chris Herndon. But the Jets kept both of them in protection, effectively taking Phillips and Calhoun out of the play.
--The next Jets TD was set up by a blatant J-Mac MMA-style arm bar, followed by Jamison Crowder beating him in the end zone to catch a perfect throw at the boundary. Though to be fair, his coverage wasn't bad and that was a hell of a throw and catch.
And the third was simply Jackson getting caught flatfooted and committing self-tacklization. That's a first week of camp kind of breakdown, and supercallifragilistic uncharacteristic of Jackson, so we can sort of forgive it because it's so rare. I'm just sorry Bon Jovi had to be there to witness it.
I hope someone had the presence of mind to cover his beautiful eyes.
--At least Jackson made up for it with the interception. That came at exactly the moment where you found yourself (at least if you weren't part of the "Tank for Trevor" delegation), saying "We need a turnover here." I think the plan was to stay mainly in 3-4 and disguise the calls as much as possible. So for instance on that one, Terrance Brooks was deep helping to bracket Denzel Mims on his go route, while D-Mac was in the intermediate middle zone. It was a just a bad decision by Flacco, who might have been drunk with power from the two other times he burned Jackson deep. Whatever, it was a redemptive, clutch, game winning play. And exactly the kind of thing cornerbacks talk about all the time, putting your mistakes behind you and focusing on the next play. Those touchdowns might still cost him millions when he hits the market next year, but JCJ stock had a late day rally on that pick.
--For the most part, they went with a base 3-4, with Byron Cowart as the 0-tech nose tackle, Chase Winovich, John Simon and Deatrich Wise splitting the duties at outside linebacker, Phillips in his full time role as hybrid strong safety/inside linebacker and the immortal Terez Hall next to him.
--Yes, you read that right. Terez Hall. Playing in his first career game in the two seasons he's been on the roster. Because I want our relationship to be built on trust and honesty, I was trying to identify him for most of the first Jets possession and couldn't find his number or name on any online rosters. And the Monday Night Football crew must have had the same issue because they never mentioned him once. I finally remembered I'd kept a complete roster from training camp (because my life is a non-stop, nuclear powered electric factory, yo) and was able to identify him. It's almost getting to be a Jeff Foxworthy bit. "When your top rookies like Kyle Dugger, Anfernee Jennings and Josh Uche are barely seeing the field and half the guys on your defense getting all the snaps might as well be extras from "The Replacements"? You must be in 2020." [Pause for laugh.]
--This Week's Applicable Movie Quote: "We're not gonna get rid of anybody! We're gonna stick together, just like it used to be! When you side with a man, you stay with him! And if you can't do that, you're like some animal, you're finished! We're finished! All of us!" - Pike Bishop, "The Wild Bunch"
--The special teams were an advantage in this one. After starting a drive on their own 7 and only moving the ball 20 yards, Jake Bailey flipped the field with a 59 yarder and no return. I could stand for Gunner Olszewski to quit trying to return kicks from five yards deep into the end zone. But when your kicker who just turned 36 and is all banged up goes 3-for-3 on FGs and 3-for-3 on XPs, you just take that win without questioning anyone. Nick Folk earned the right to flex.
--So did the Patriots offensive line. Even for those plays when Isaiah Wynn was out and Korey Cunningham filled in, they opened holes and withstood a very blitz happy Jets front. In spite of the fact that virtually the whole line is either dealing with or still getting over injuries that made them lose playing time. If this unit of (L to R) Wynn, Joe Thuney, Dave Andrews, Shaq Mason and ROTY Michael Onwenu can stay together, they are your path to victory in the electoral college that is the race to the AFC playoffs.
--I don't spend a lot of time on opposing players here, but Mekhi Becton is going to be fun to watch for the next decade, at least. He's already one of the better young tackles in the league and is going to be a fixture in New York, like a Nick Mangold or a D'Brickashaw Ferguson.
--Newton is clearly in that small, elite group of NFL players opponents can try to beat the bag out of and still the announcers will say it's not a penalty. Think Gronk from 2011-17. In a league that puts a protective halo around every quarterback, the entire MNF crew was in unanimous agreement it should not have been roughing the passer when Ashtyn Davis went helmet-to-helmet and snapped his head back like a crash test dummy's. I guess it went on all the time when he was in Carolina, but I was blissfully ignorant. Every time the league decides some guy's size and strength makes him a deserving target an makes different rules for him than they do for say, a Drew Brees, the total NBAification of pro football gets one step closer to reality. Just call the rule book.
--Well the Jets were fun while they lasted. I'm going to miss Adam Gase when he's gone.
I'm not so optimistic about Baltimore. Losing to them last year was the beginning of the End Time.