Rough N' Rowdy 16 featuring Jersey Jerry vs. Jeff Nadu | Next Friday at 8PM ETBUY NOW

Knee Jerk Reactions to Week 8: Patriots vs. Chargers

Things to consider while saluting those who didn't go with Squid Games or Ted Lasso:

--As the Patriots continue on their upward trajectory from what they once were to what they're trying to become, it's hard to overstate how big a win this was. On the road. By far their longest trip of the year. Against a second-tier AFC opponent with legitimate playoff aspirations. One that had two weeks to prepare. With one of the most impressive young quarterbacks in a generation. But one where, bless their hearts, Pats fans turned into a home game:

Which is exactly the kind of travel New England has been doing for 20 years. But was supposed to be a thing of the past. On the first day of Training Camp, when the stands were only at about 80% capacity, sports radio smartasses were calling it "The Tom Brady Factor" and saying fans had lost interest in a post-GOAT world. Yeah, well, so much for that theory. What we saw yesterday was very much like the game at San Diego in 2014. The Chargers were thanking fans for selling out the game early in the week, only to find out it all people from Everett, Woonsocket and Nashua. Vince Wilfork said it felt like a home game as the Pats scored the last 10 points of the game to come from behind and win 23-14. That team went on to win maybe their most satisfying Super Bowl of them all. I'm not saying this current team is on the same path. But this is the kind of win you need in order to stay on that road.

--The key factor being that, despite Mac Jones having the worst struggles with accuracy he's shown as a pro, when they needed him to put game away, he did exactly that. When they took over at their own 34 up by a touchdown, I turned to the Irish Rose and said, "What we need now is just to keep moving the chains. A long, sustained, clock-killing drive. Even if it ends in a field goal, it'll be game over." So what did Jones do? 15 plays. 59 yards. Four 1st downs. Jones was 4-fo-4 on the drive as he spread the ball around. A 17-yard pass to Jakobi Meyers, a 15-yarder to N'Keal Harry, a 9-yarder to Nelson Agholor. And the final twist of the dagger, a short completion to Meyers off a designed roll out on 3rd & 1. Just shy of seven minutes bled off the game clock as Patriot after Patriot turned to stay in bounds, got down on the ground and forced LA to burn through all their time outs. Field goal. Game out of reach. A combination of situational awareness, composure and clutch plays that is either a part of your team DNA or it isn't. And despite a bunch of stalled drives, negative plays and mental errors earlier in the game, when this offense needed to take control of this win, they did exactly that. For a huge statement win.

--And make no mistake, Jones did struggle for much of this one. As we said so many times during the Brady Epoch, it would be great just once to win a game where it wasn't all about the quarterback carrying everybody else. Well this is what it feels like. Jones didn't carry them until they absolutely needed him to late in the 4th quarter. Prior to that he was overthrowing deep shots (Agholor at the goal line on the final drive of the half and other occasions) or sailing short throws (missing Meyers in the flat on the same drive) and having to settle for field goals. 

--Jones is very much a rhythm QB. But for long stretches, the McOffense felt like when you take your car into the shop with some unspecific complaint about how it doesn't feel right and the mechanic tells you it's your timing belt. And even though you're not sure that's not a thing they make up just to charge you 500 bucks, you realize the timing has felt off so you agree to pay him. In this case, it seemed like Jones was running 3-step passing concepts when his receivers were running 5-step routes. Or he was on 5- when they were on 7- and so on. Take for instance, the drive that stalled when the Pats had a chance to tie it at 14-all but had to settle for 14-10. After hitting Kendrick Bourne on a nice Snag route (a curl at the numbers) got the ball to the Chargers 36, four straight rushes put them in a 2nd & goal from the 5. Jones then proceeded to run a rollout throwaway. Then was hurried by Drue Tranquill off the edge and hit Hunter Henry in the thigh on the goal line as he was just beginning to make his break. Field goal.

--I mean, the numbers speak for themselves. He missed Agholor on three vertical routes. Meyers is his most reliable wideout target but they only completed 4-of-9 attempts. One of the NFL's most accurate passers completed 51% of this throws. Either Jones was the Rockette who was out of step with the rest of the kick line or they were out step with him. 

--And make of this what you will:

  • Jones: 18-for-35, 218 yards, 70.9 passer rating
  • Justin Herbert: 18-for-35, 223 yards, 66.7 passer rating

I don't know if that's the kind of eerie coincidence you tell around a campfire with a flashlight under your chin. But it's at least worthy of spooky theramin music played by a cute blonde.

--None of which is to suggest Jones had a bad day overall. He didn't turn the ball over the way Herbert did. He had his share of big time throws. Not the least of which was the 44-yarder to Agholor. The Pats were in a 2x2 alignment with the tight ends on the outside and receivers in the slots, with Agholor inside Jonnu Smith. Agholor ran a Box Slant, where he attacked Chris Harris Jr.'s outside shoulder before flipping his hips and getting separation, then crossing post safety Derwin James' face:

The thing is Brandon Staley has his defense play as much two-deep coverage as anyone in the league. Which is why they've been among the worst run defenses all season. In this game they adjusted and dropped a safety down more than they'd done it all year, so Jones took his shots with Cover-1 beaters in the deep outside zones. Take for instance the one to Henry, running a Sail concept deep crosser after Bourne ran off the single high safety with a vertical route:

--Then there was either of the two 15-yard completions to Harry. I'll go with the first because it came as the Chargers really began to come up in force to stop the run. You don't see it here but LA had loaded the box against the Patriots in an I formation, so Jones countered by motioning Smith from right to left, then Jakob Johnson from fullback to Y-tight end on the other side, in order to get a hat on every hat. Johnson released to the flat while Damien Harris ran a Sit which drew up the inside linebacker and cleared the deep middle for a Dig by Harry. Who not only got position on Asante Samuel Jr, but managed to injure him while still making the grab. 

I'm not saying that makes us even for Asante Samuel Sr. letting a 19-0 season slip metaphorically between his literal fingers. But the sins of the father, and all that. What I am saying though is that this makes two weeks in a row Harry has made big catches and maybe we're building on something here.

--And yet all things considered, Jones best moment might have been the 2-point conversion after Adrian Phillips' Pick-6. In a kinda sorta hafta have it situation, with Brandon Bolden staying in protection freezing two linebackers at the goal line and everyone else in man, Jones stood tall and patiently went through progressions until he perfectly anticipated Meyers getting a step ahead of Harris:

It was a telling moment, as Jones wouldn't miss another pass the rest of the game. 

--Overall I think the offensive line had yet another very good game, aside from two costly holds by Justin Herron (as an extra tight end) and Isaiah Wynn. Michael Onwenu drew the short straw on having to block Joey Bosa, and continued to make his case as the Pats best O-lineman by keeping Bosa from making any impact plays. Time and again it looked like Bosa was coming clean around Jones' blindside before Onwenu would materialize in front of him and push him deep and away from the pocket. Granted they didn't roll over the Chargers Front-7 in the run game the way I'd expected them to. But I think a lot of that is owed to LA loading up the box for that very purpose. If they produce 141 rushing yards with a touchdown, and just one sack on 36 dropbacks, you'll take that every time. It would appear that (L to R) Wynn, Ted Karras, David Andrews, Shaq Mason and Onwenu are your starting five for the rest of the season as Trent Brown recovers from the most crippling calf strain in the history of medicine. Just remember it was only four weeks ago in the Tampa game that this team had negative rushing yards and Jones was fighting for survival on every pass attempt and appreciate how far this unit has come in a month.

--Which is why it was so frustrating to see Josh McDaniels go all two-ply soft in those red zone situations. Empty sets in goal-to-goal situations. The pass that went off Henry's leg followed by a fade route to Meyers on 4th down that had no shot. After that turnover on downs, the defense makes a stop and a drive starts at the Chargers' 36. And once Harris has set up a 2nd & 5 at the 6, he goes pass, pass, field goal. I acknowledge that I was one of the people ripping McDaniels for not being too conservative earlier in the year, but you've got to read the room. These were situations screaming out for basic rules of warfare. Just hitting the point of attack with overwhelming force. Not feints and diversions. Run at them until they prove they can stop you, instead of flanking maneuvers that will sound really clever when they're being taught at West Point. 

--And for the most part, the run game was effective. McDaniels mixed up the run formations. The Chargers got a healthy dose of Jakob Johnson, in Power I,  Offset I and even some "Go Go," which is when you put a back both ahead of and behind your QB in shotgun. The Iso Lead Strong - with a pulling guard followed by a fullback - was working for them, such as Harris' TD when Johnson blew Tranquill out of the hole. But they also ran well with 12-personnel, either Harris or Rhamondre Stevenson behind two tight ends. And dare I say it, I think I spotted at least two RPOs both handed off to Brandon Bolden, one that went for 14 yards (3rd quarter) and another that got blown to smithereens (4th, when James came free on a run blitz). Since RPOs were a staple of the Alabama attack Jones won a championship with last year, I've been looking forward to them baked into the pie a little bit more here. But baby steps.

--Somewhat in fairness to McDaniels, when he was opting to throw the ball in goal line situations, he was as yet unaware that the officials were going to have such a gawdawful time telling penalties from non-penalties. Meyers getting manhandled in the end zone on 4th down, no call. Henry getting held but the refs deciding he had a "blocking posture." Which, while doctors recommend you shouldn't do that because it might give you a permanent slouch, doesn't make it legal for a defender to grab and pull you. Jones taking a shot to the back three seconds after the whistle and long after he'd stopped competing on the play. The Patriots having to burn their last time out because Nassir Adderley picked a fight not just with Andrews but with a bunch of his own teammates while the play clock kept running. (Look for Belichick to file away that little stunt away for future reference. Next time he's looking to bleed the clock, all he has to do is have two defensive backs start a family quarrel that keeps the opponent's from huddling.) The non-safety call that Belichick challenged while the refs decided Christian Barmore was held, just not "in the field of play." Squeeze me? Baking powder? Just to be fair, I'll throw in the play where Jones ran with it, went to the ground and got gently brushed, but they called it Unnecessary Roughness and tacked 15 onto the end of the run. This was amateur hour at the 4:00 p.m. game. The kind of performance you expect from the crew of trainees working the 1 o'clocker between the Jets and Jaguars. 

--It's a disgrace that I've gone this long without mentioning the defense. But Mac Jones is still my Buzz Lightyear and so I sometimes let Woody fall down between the wall and the bed. I don't mean anything by it. I'm just still figuring out what all the buttons on the new toy do and get distracted.

--For openers, this was about three chunk plays away from being a dominant performance. That run by Justin Jackson being the most obvious one. And the most curious. Because for starters, Joejuan Williams - who continues to improve and play a bigger role (he played 25% of the snaps), did a great job of engaging his blocker to set the edge and turn the play back inside to where Carl Davis, Dont'a Hightower and Kyle Dugger were flowing to the ball. But Dugger got put on the ground by a Mike Williams block, Davis tripped over him and Deatrich Wise got ridden halfway to the Nevada border by Rashawn Slater:

On a personal note: During that play, my enchanting Irish Rose, who was deep into her phone looking at Skate Canada results and her girlfriends' Halloween-themed Facebook posts all day, looked up and was cheering for Jackson to keep running before somebody catches him. Until I calmly explained he's on the Chargers. I don't know what she thought the lightning bolt on his helmet was supposed to represent. Maybe that the Patriot her husband's team is named after is Ben Franklin? I suffer for my art. Now it's your turn.

--It was hard to track how the Patriots were covering Herbert's assortment of weapons. Which I'm presuming was the point, because Herbert struggled as well. It seemed like they kept changing up the coverages, throwing him a "Cabin in the Woods" boxes-like variety of schemes to have to process. We saw more two-deep safeties than we saw all year. Oftentimes leaving JC Jackson alone in "Star" coverage on their primary receiver Williams while doubling WR2 Keenan Allen (Cover-2 Deuce), and then switching it up by putting Jackson on Allen and doubling Williams with Jalen Mills (Cover-2 Cone). And a few times it was definitely Joejuan drawing Williams-on-Williams coverage, big body on big body. On one sequence he broke up a pass and then limited his man to no yards after the catch, which is exactly what they were looking for when they took him early on Friday night of the draft.

--And that whole middle section of the game, they had the entire Chargers offense's hive brain tied into a balloon animal. A Top 10 NFL passing attack (7th in the league in passing yards per game) went punt, punt, interception, end of half, punt, field goal, interception, punt. Followed by an essentially meaningless drive where they got most of their final stats because the Coaches Belichick were perfectly willing to trade yards for seconds. Given how ineffective they looked against the two Texas teams in back to back weeks, this was a statement game by the defense as well.

--Matt Judon continues to be the one Pro Bowler of this defense. He led them tackles. Added 1.5 sacks. Had a pressure that forced a bad throw and a punt. And his penalty running into the punter (later offset) shouldn't take away from the fact he balls out on all four downs. His solo sack came off the backside of a three-man bunch formation with Myles Bryant, Kyle Van Noy and Jackson staggered in Lock & Level to prevent rub routes getting anyone open. The off coverage made Herbert hold the ball a nanosecond, which is all the time Judon needed because he's quite simply the best closer this defense has seen since Willie McGinest. Jamie Collins returned to show us he still has a knack for getting into the backfield and whiffing on a quarterback who's all teed up for him. But Judon finishes what he starts.

--As does Barmore. His sack, that Judon got half credit for, came from flat out splitting a double team of Slater and Matt Felier. Just a display of power, speed and technique that would be impressive if you saw it from a three-year veteran. If they get nothing else from this rookie class but a franchise quarterback and an every down defensive lineman who can stop the run and get pressure from any position along the line, it will have been an A+ draft. 

--This Week's Applicable Movie Quote: "It's Halloween. Everyone's entitled to one good scare." - Brackett, "Halloween" (The good one. The 1978 one.) 

--I would rather be woken up from deep REM sleep to find a collection of actual ghosts standing over my bed than watch five minutes of "Ghosts." 

--If there are things more satisfying than watching your fellow Massholes descend upon a multibillion dollar monument to wretched excess like the Vandals sacking Rome and spoil the Halloween party for the dozen or so Chargers fans in existence, right now I can't think of what they might be.

--Here's hoping Coach Firing Season starts early this year so Belichick can face even more new head coaches. Staley was his fourth so far and he continues to the monster in rookies' closets.

--Finally, due to overwhelming public demand, Do Your Pod merchandise is finally here. We've denied you for too long. Remember that Old Balls is not just a person; it's a state of mind. And after a win like this, we are all Old Balls: