Things to consider while realizing we need to quit expecting terrible things to stop happening just because the calendar changed:
--I don't want to put too fine a point on this, because in the grand scheme of things there was never a hell of a lot riding on the outcome of this game. When you're counting on the Jets to beat a playoff team in order for you to win your division, you're not winning your division. So the stakes become considerably lower. Win and you're playing a road game in the Wild Card round. Lose and you're playing a road game someplace else. Either way, we still get to see the Patriots play after all our Christmas decorations are put away. (By next Saturday night, yours should be all put away. Usually by Martin Luther King Day Weekend, I'll start knocking on the door of strangers' houses offering to take the damn wreath off the door for them. It takes about 10 seconds. Get off your asses, you lazy slobs.)
--Besides that, there's the Miami Road Game Factor, which is baked into the schedule, regardless of whether the Pats have to travel there in the blistering heat of September or the steam bath that is December. Weird things just simply happen to this team and always have when they travel to Rock Hard Robbie Pro Life Stadium or whatever it's called now. That rectangular monstrosity is the site of some strange gravitational anomaly. Like it was built on an old burial ground, like in "Poltergeist." Or where once stood the kind of abandoned mental hospital the kids who do ghost hunting shows have sleepovers so they can yell "Did you hear that?" and run down halls carrying shaky cams. Or all these events might just be karmic retribution for Ray Berry's 1985 Patriots breaking about a 20 year Orange Bowl losing streak in an AFC championship game they had no business winning. Whatever it is, when you play down there, things like stupid mistakes, strange bounces, bad breaks, and the Dolphins scoring on a Razzle Dazzle lateral play as time expires aren't bugs; they're features.
--So part of the point I'm making is that, given the situation we were in last year, there's a lot to feel great about right now. Just not this game. Regardless of what was riding on it, there's a lot here to be beyond frustrated about.
--At this point, we know what this Patriots team identity is. It's been staring us in the face all season. They have demonstrated beyond all doubt that there is nothing they are incapable of. Good or bad. They can play with the elite teams. They can dominate the bad teams in every phase of the game. And then they will fall apart like they're coached by some overwhelmed, unprepared, in-over-his-head, ineffectual slapdick who thinks he's still running a college program. They are an exercise in duality. Alpha/Omega. Jekyll/Hyde. Gollum/Smeagol. Spock/Evil Spock with a Goatee. Capable of playing both the best football the league has seen this year, and among the worst. At both the best and worst of times. And nobody has the first clue which split personality is going to get off the plane in Western New York at the end of the week.
--There's a lot to get into, but to best illustrate my point, let's look at the last few minutes of the game. They not only just made it a three point game and had all the momentum, they also had all their time outs. Plus the 2:00 warning. The Dolphins had none, and were starting from their 25. For the better part of 20 years, we knew with a moral certainty this team would be getting the ball back with enough time left to give themselves a reasonable shot to tie the game. And for some stretches of the Dynasty, it was almost a fait accompli this thing was headed for overtime. But this time, Miami managed to run 10 plays, burn all of Belichick's timeouts, plus 2:50 off the clock, and give the ball back to New England on their own 2. Then hilarity ensued:
I'm not saying this had any bearing on the outcome of the game. I just can't believe it was attempted. What kind of mad scientist craziness is this? Had they practiced it and at some point it went 98 yards for the score? Was it supposed to eventually go back to Mac Jones for a fleaflicker? Was it all just improv? Like they took suggestions from the audience and one was, "Run a Jet sweep to Jakobi Meyers, have him lateral it back to Gunner Olszewski, only it's in a doctor's waiting room and you're all speaking in Shakespearean iambic pentameter." All I know is that at some point in the future, Josh McDaniels is going to be in a head coaching interview, and someone who doesn't want him hired will pull up this clip, only set to "Yakety Sax." The good news is, it's on tape now. So future opponents will have to be ready for it, and he can counter to something else. Smart to get it out there now.
--The sequence I'll never get over - which is to say, I won't get over for the couple of days it will take me to drown this game in bourbon and move onto the Buffalo game - the absolute peak of frustration with this team, came on the Dolphins second possession. Their first was a repeat of the Bills game two weeks ago. Positive yards on every down. No negative plays. The clock just running non-stop, ending in a touchdown. Then came Jones' pick-6 for a 14-0 deficit, followed by a 13 yard drive. But the second time Miami had the ball, the Pats defense was beginning to get control of the game. Tua Tagovailoa throws one of the nicest interceptions in the NFL, and he delivered a beaut right to Devin McCourty who had it all the way. He got into position, squared up to it, tracked the ball all the way into his hands, and dropped like it was a hot cookie sheet. No matter, they forced a punt. Only to have Michael Palardy fake the punt and run with it. Which the Pats were thoroughly prepared for, and he went down short of the 1st. Great. Brilliant. We were set up with better field position than if McCourty did hold onto the ball. And then this:
And I'm crying to the sky, for so many reasons. Because Brandon Bolden didn't hit him. Because their helmets never made contact. Because, unless I've missed something, there's not been some huge point of emphasis in the league this year to overprotect punters as they're giving themselves up since they're the ones who sell tickets and put eyeballs on TV screens and push merchandize sales. Mostly because this is another example of the trend toward these incompetents officiating from their feelings, instead of what their eyes tell them. This was a French Impressionists rendition of an Unnecessary Roughness hit. Like a Monet. And it elicited an emotion response from these stupid boobs, so they threw flags like it was an actual hit. And I don't want to take Bolden completely off the hook either, since he could've just put his hands out, instead of leading with his helmet and giving these striped twits the excuse to keep the drive alive and let Miami put another three on the board. I don't think it helped anyone's mood that the penalty was immediately followed by a LeBron commercial. In case we needed to be reminded of someone who's benefited his whole life from garbage officiating.
--There were two Patriots who embodied the split personality of this team more than any others. One is Bolden, since he bears at least partial blame for that bogus penalty, but then made some of the best plays of the game when they were needed most. This run being the prime example. The offense went big here, with Michael Onwenu outside Trent Brown as a tackle eligible. The Dolphins were in a 4-man Under front, meaning in gaps and lined up away from Onwenu's tight end side. While the play side O-linemen blocked down on the rest of the D-line, Brown tried to cut block Zach Sieler, who got by him and had to be picked up by Jakob Johnson. Which left Johnson too preoccupied to hit Elandon Roberts, who came in clean to fill the hole. But Bolden put a jump cut on Roberts that belongs in an instructional video. He then proceeded to evade the safety coming down, and got behind the backs of both Nelson Agholor and Meyers as they threw blocks at the next level.
I've been saying it all year because it bears repeating. I had no idea Bolden had these capabilities. This offense should've been screwed without James White. And the only reason it hasn't is because of the way Bolden has Next Man Upped. He's been a godsend.
--The other Patriots player who played his own evil twin yesterday was Matthew Judon. On the good side, he had Tagovailoa's snap count down to a science. Time and time again he was off before the ball was in Tua's hands without getting called for offsides. Like when they needed a stop, he got off the blocks and drew Durham Smythe out on the edge to block him, drove the tight end back, and allowed Kyle Van Noy to come in clean behind him to finish the play.
He did likewise on the 3rd & 7 in the red zone where JC Jackson broke up a pass intended for DeVante Parker. Judon's pressure forced the ball out before Parker could try to shake Jackson's coverage. And on probably the worst, most egregiously horrible mistake by any Patriot all day, Lawrence Guy inexplicably extending a drive by covering the long snapper on a punt for no damned reason, you could see Judon motioning for Guy to slide over into the gap. So at least his head was in the game for that one, while Guy was a catatonic trance or something.
--But there were just so many other breakdowns by Judon, who has arguably been the best player on the roster for most of the season. He had real issues handling the Dolphins RPO concepts, and continually lost containment to his side. On the very first play from scrimmage after the Pats made it a 17-10 game, Duke Johnson went around Judon's (and Adrian Phillips') side for 27 yards. And that came after he was put in the Time Out Chair for a ridiculously blatant Roughing the Passer prior to the half. He's picked up quite a collection of those as the season's gone on. And maybe gotten away with a few more. You can admire a guy who earns his living operating on the edge of the rules. But more and more this has become a league where your reputation is everything when it comes to the officials. And I'm afraid we're getting to the point Judon's going to turn himself into a flag magnet. And subsequently, not get the flags when he draws a penalty:
Because we've seen before, that's how these things work. Judon better stick to coloring inside the lines for a while or else it's going to get rough for him out there.
--While we're still talking about these officials, you know that 4th down when they stopped the game to check the replay and re-spot the ball? Then declared they'd move the ball forward six inches, but then barely budged it? I'm not even mad. In fact, I can relate. I've spent my whole adult life referring to a tiny measurement as six inches. I got your back, Bros.
--What I am cheesed off about was the decision there not to go for the 1st down on 4th & >ahem< half a foot. At midfield. With just over a minute to go in the half. You'd just faced a 3rd & 18 and hit Kendrick Bourne on a screen who then proceeded to fight and claw his way for 17 1/2 yards, dragging Jaelen Phillips behind him like a husky pulling a sled. Your team is crawling back into the game. Let them try and finish that set of downs and maybe bracket halftime with points, the way this franchise used to. Instead they took the coward's way out, with a delay of game and a punt. A true strength of this team is its interior offensive linemen. You've got a quarterback who has proven - and proved later in the game - he can pick up a yard when you need it. In fact, he did it on the subsequent drive to open the 2nd half. And every time Belichick chooses not to go for it on 4th & 1 or less, you can feel the relief from coming from the other sideline.
--As far Jones goes, the way he was described coming out of Bama, we had every reason to suspect he had all the mobility of a guy in a walking boot. Miami is the second blitzingest team in the league. Jones has been among the most blitzed quarterbacks all year. So in response, we got a lot of designed rollouts and moving pockets and he showed plenty of ability to both buy himself time and throw on the run. The best example being the 36-yarder to Hunter Henry. It was your classic Yankee concept - Nelson Agholor running a post to clear out his side of the field, while Henry comes from the other side at the inside linebacker like he's blocking, but then releases on a crosser - only with Henry coming from inside Jonnu Smith in a two tight end set. Meanwhile Jones escaped the pocket, drew the cornerback up to stop him from tucking and running, and delivered a touch pass to Henry in a full sprint. To his left, no less:
For his part, Henry took over the game for a stretch in the 4th quarter. On the drive that resulted in Bolden's second touchdown he got it started with a little sit route under the Dolphins middle zone. Then the Pats ran a 3-level route concept where Bolden released into the flat, Bourne ran a curl at the numbers to split an inside/outside bracket, and as the outside corner passed Bourne off to the curl/flat defender, Henry ran a corner route over him, easily beating the single high safety to the outside and finishing it with one of him most athletic catches in a season that's already loaded with them:
--Henry then kept the drive alive with a catch at the numbers to set up 3rd & 1. Followed by him finishing the drive with the rare, well-executed legal pick play on Bolden's second TD:
If I was in a better frame of mind, I'd go on some riff about the connection between these two. How they've bonded in such a short period of time. How they belong in a 1970s cop show. "'Henry & Jones,'" a Quinn Martin Production." The tough, no nonsense veteran gets teamed up with a green, still wet-behind-the-ears rookie fresh from the Academy and has to teach him that you can't always go by the book. That real police work means trusting your gut and an understanding of human nature. Meanwhile Captain Belichick back at the station house is always breathing down their necks because he's getting heat from the Mayor about this latest case. And at some point Jones slides across the hood of a car to chase the perp down an alley while Henry is already there with the cuffs ready because he knew enough to go around the back of the building. "Partner, I'm getting too old for this." Belly laughs. Freeze frame. Roll credits. But that's only if I was in a good mood after this game. And I'm not. So forget it.
--This is the damned shame of this game. Jones had one of his best, if not the best game of the season on deep balls. Plus his receivers were helping him with diving catches and winning the fights for contested balls. For instance, this gem to Meyers:
Of course there's a nationwide coin shortage. Because Mac Jones was dropping dimes all over the place.
--I think the biggest single factor is having Nelson Agholor back. In the Indy game and the second Buffalo game, defenses were loading the underneath zones and coming downhill on every short/intermediate throw to limit YAC because they didn't have any fears about giving up home runs. But Agholor has to be accounted for. Watch the way he draws the deep coverage away from Meyers so he's got room to win this 50/50 ball over Brandon Jones:
--All of which are good signs. But only signs. They were squandered because Jones threw a terrible pick-6 on a simple Hitch by Meyers that was simply covered by Xavien Howard and simply should never have been attempted. Then he blew a center exchange with Ted Karras, which is supposed to be even simpler. Just as they're on the edge of the Dolphins red zone. Instead, they take it 40 yards, take 6:30 off the clock and kick a field goal to make it a 27-10 game. Unforgivable.
--Which was just part of the source of all the frustration. Another game where they struggled to stop the run. Where they were unprepared for handling the Dolphins RPO. Where yet another mobile quarterback tortured them. Watch the overpursuit by Kyle Van Noy and Josh Uche here. And (I think it's) Jalen Mills gets earholed as Tagovailoa runs wild and free:
Add to that the Guy penalty, the Judon penalty, Mills getting a DPI on a ball in the end zone the receiver never looked at. The continuing bout of 4th down attempt shyness. The way the offensive line had to be shuffled and reshuffled like a cribbage deck. The utter failure to make a stop with all your time outs in a have-to-have-it situation. I could go on, but I'm just belaboring the point. These are the things that have been such an endemic aspect of this season that they're in the team's DNA at this point. All we can hope is that they don't flare up in Buffalo, else it's going to be a very short postseason.
--This Week's Applicable Movie Quote:
Mitch: "There's two kinds of people in this world: Those who get stomped on and those who do the stomping."
Kathy: "Where'd you come up with that theory?"
Mitch: "That famous guy said it. What's his name? Uh… Oh, yeah: Jesus!" - "Dirty Work."
(I'll admit this doesn't exactly fit the situation. But it's applicable because Bob Saget directed the movie. And I swear on my family that I was watching it literally yesterday morning and a friend and I were texting about how great a job Saget did. Life comes at you fast. So does the death of your beloved artists.)
--Someday that hideous LEGO-looking stadium is going to be torn down. And if I live long enough to see it, I'll put up all the money in my 401K to swing the wrecking ball.
--Still, congrats to the Dolphins on winning both their Week 1 and Week 18 Super Bowls. And now get to join Week 15 Champion Indy in watching a rebooted Dynasty with a rookie quarterback compete in the playoffs. Enjoy.
--My final entry will be lost on all but just a handful of people. But Knee Jerk Reactions is my dojo. We go by my rules.
It's bad enough a guy would schedule his treatment now, just to get out of paying his Fantasy partner of five years his half of the 1st place money. But having another Weymouth guy get well wishes out of one the greatest Hall of Famers we ever saw play is unforgivable.
Screw you, Brink. Get your priorities straight. This is why Jakob Johnson is my favorite German. Now get this done because next season we've got a title to defend.