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Knee Jerk Reactions to Week 13: Patriots vs. Bills

Things to consider while regretting the Patriots couldn't conduct themselves as well as the Celtics did when hosting royalty:

--I wish I could remember which sitcom it was, but that detail is buried under a mountain range of other pop culture references. I just recall a great throwaway line once where the teacher (or was it a professor?) gives a student a lousy grade on a book report saying, "I needed you to tell why you hated it, not just how much you hated it." Rest assured that for this Knee Jerk, the why is so obvious I plan to focus a lot more on the how much

--I hated this game like it was FTX. Like it was Deadspin back when Deadspin was a thing. I hated it like it was a Gender Reveal Party. I hated more than anything I've ever seen on Prime, including Rings of Power. I hated it like it was a person who closes their eyes while starting a sentence with, "Well, actually ..." I couldn't hate this game more if it called me today without texting first. I'm filled with more resentment toward Matt Patricia than that mom who tried to mask shame my family during Covid, while we were passing her on a hiking trail. The Patriots were that $1.7 million San Francisco public toilet that broke down after three days. I hated their performance like it was the 1980s drinking water at Camp LeJune. I would rather have spent three hours of my Thursday night watching  those  TikToks where sad narcissists talk direct to camera beginning with, "I didn't want to have to make this video, but ..." If this game could speak, it wouldn't be aware of how embarrassingly loud its conversational tone is. If it were a meal, it would have a hair in it. If it was music, it would be Christmas songs on the store PA system in September. I'm in the process of moving to a new house starting tomorrow, and I've hated the process of organizing every item in 28 years worth of accumulated stuff less than I hated the Patriots offensive scheme. Above all else, I hate the way it made me hate it so much.  Hate turned in on itself. An infinite Moebius strip of hate. 

--I hate it so much, that it's reduced two of the most optimistic Pats fans walking the planet to this:

That's how much. 

--What I will never get over about this 2022 team is how they've become the sort of team we spent 20 years laughing at, because we always knew we could count on them to do stupid things. Commit unforced errors. Dumb penalties. Mismanage the game clock. Squander timeouts. It became obvious weeks ago that that exact sort of lack of discipline and situational awareness is baked into this team. A feature, not a bug. Now they're the comedy of errors. They're the ones getting laughed at. And they're giving us absolutely zero reason to think they're going to clean it up at any point. That's a project for August, not December. 

--Let's start with the end of the half. After three straight 3 & outs, they finally got something going. A 1st down. A 2nd & 1 attempt fails, and they have to burn their second timeout. The Patriots I've known and loved throughout the entirety of the 21st century would've had a second, no-huddle play all chambered and ready to fire to spare the timeout, but OK. They wanted to talk it over. And the quarterback sneak they could've easily gotten off while burning about :07 off the clock succeeds. Super duper. But then they burn their final timeout, rather than hustle up and spike it with a half a minute left. Exsqueeze me? Baking powder? Now instead of having the entire field to work with, Mac Jones has to keep it along the boundaries and Buffalo's defense uses the sidelines as extra defenders. DeVante Parker can't get both feet in bounds. Hunter Henry gets shoved out of bounds after a gain of four. Jones has to escape the pocket and throw on the run, incomplete. And because they'd given up any opportunity to use the middle 80% of the field, the first promising drive drive since their second possession dies right at Nick Folk's Oort Cloud. With predictable results:

Let me also add I hate the fact I'm using doinked field goal tries as highlights now. This is what they've reduced me to.

--This is the sort of brainshart we could've had a good-natured chuckle over if it had happened back in the glory days. I would've found some snarky comp, and referenced some coach who's notoriously bad at game management. "Suddenly Belichick had a Vulcan Mind Meld with Andy Reid" or "He became demonically possessed by Rex Ryan," or something. Then we'd go back to talking about how he pulled off another win. But this sort of mismanagement has become business as usual. Particularly at the ends of halfs. If it's once in a great while, then it's funny. Like Grandma mangling some celebrity's name. If it happens too often, it becomes Grandma forgetting the kids' names. This often, and we're getting dangerously close to wondering if it's time to take the car keys from her. 

--I respect the hell out of the analytics nerds, I truly do. I admire anyone with a brain capable of staying focused on research in a world filled with shiny distractions like having Kate Beckinsale's Instagram at your fingertips 24/7.  I personally know a guy who's written Patriots research books who can tell you things like how many players have recovered fumbles on their birthdays and the like. So here's a question beyond my capacity to resolve: What is the single season record for most times gaining just enough yards to be within half a yard of a 1st down without converting? And will the 2022 Pats double that number or triple it? After Buffalo's first touchdown, the Pats put together a cryptocurrency collapse of a series, with: A penalty on the kickoff. A 1-yard loss on Kevin Harris' only carry. Mac Jones' intentional grounding penalty nullifying Cole Strange's (ineffective) holding penalty, which also could've been a safety. So it was a Russian Nesting Doll of fuckupery that created a 3rd & 18 from their own 1. So naturally a Rhamondre Stevenson run picks up 17 1/2. Later it was Jones scrambling and sliding to within a foot of the line to gain. Kraft Productions could sell a commemorative DVD of this season that is all just receivers catching passes a half-yard shy of the sticks. If there was a knot in the chain attaching the 1st down markers, this team would be 8-4. If the rule was 9 yard for a 1st down, they'd be Super Bowl favorites. Instead, we see more of Michael Palardy than his family. 

--I keep blaming Matt Patricia and have already compared Belichick to a beloved relative who's beginning to show signs of early onset bad coaching, but by no stretch do I mean to let Joe Judge off the hook. For whatever role he's playing in this holocaust of wrongness that is the Patriots offense, that stench is on him too. 

--The problems have been the same all year. They're still as bad as anyone in the league on 3rd downs, and last night's 3 of 12 didn't help. And they're as bad as any team I've ever seen in the red zone. Every time they cross the 20, they enter into a mysterious realm where reaching the end zone means crossing a bridge guarded by a troll. "Answer me these riddles three, and six points ye shall see …"

--This was their only trip to the red zone all game:

It took them 56 minutes and 45 plays, but by God they did run plays in the red zone. Though in military terms, it was just a minor incursion. And probing unit to test the enemy's combat effectiveness. From there they backed up 10 yards on a holding penalty on Conor McDermott, an incompletion intended for Parker, a short completion to Jonnu Smith, a Buffalo penalty, an incompletion intended for Hunter Henry, a 13-yard sack, and another incompletion at the end of the 5K Mac Jones had to run, just to avoid another sack and stay in field goal range. So that one drive that took 17 plays and took 5:45 off the clock ended up narrowing the Bills lead to a manageable 14 points with less than 2:00 to play. It represented exactly 1/3 of their total plays and just over 25% of their time of possession. And all that blood spilled and treasure spent got us a field goal.

--So get me Ernie Adams back. By any means necessary, get him back. Mr. Kraft is always willing to make AirKraft One available for people in need, send it to fly him in, I implore you. Pay him Anthony Fauci money. Build him a state-of-the-art laboratory under the new construction next to the Gillette lighthouse that would put the Batcave to shame. Do whatever it takes and bring him back so he can design a play or two where a pass reaches the end zone. It's not too big an ask.

--Anyway, here's Marcus Jones as a palate cleanser:

Nothing elaborate about it. Just a bubble screen to the slot receiver. One block from Parker on Damar Hamlin coming down from the strong safety spot to spring him. And Jones' warp speed does the rest. Then with that bit of clever, outside-the-box thinking out of the way, Patricia and Judge decided that was enough thinking for one night and went back to run plays and checkdown passes to Rhamondre Stevenson, who is the entire offense at this point. 

--Now that your sorbet course is out of the way, let's turn to the defense, who so far have been the little kid happy his big brother is the one getting yelled at while no one's noticing what he did wrong. (As the youngest of four boys, I didn't event that move, but I did perfect it.) Steve Belichick employed a strategy that has served them well in the past, which is play from the top, down. With a lot of man underneath a deep Cover-2 shell or single high safety focused on taking away the deep shots. It's worked well when dealing with a coordinator and a quarterback who lack the patience to take what you're giving them, and just have to start taking "shots." Who just don't have the discipline and have to stick that fork into the toaster sooner or later. The problem is, the Bills are not that team. Leslie Frazier and Josh Allen were only too happy to accept what they were being given. They were almost polite about it. Allen was the guest at the party sampling all the hors d'oeuvres being carried around and thanked the server every time. "These open receivers in the flat are delicious. Have you tried the combackers? Amazing. Oh, these sit routes are to die for. Where's the guy with the platter of quick slants? Ah, there he is …" Knowing that he'd still be able to finish the drive and didn't need to take the shots. 

--Speaking of which, I said at the beginning of the game I'd do a shot every time the Bills punter came on the field, and that by the end of the game I'd be as sober as Danny Ainge. As it turned out, they forced three punts. Which had me drunk as Danny DeVito. But it's progress.

--The truly disturbing part of all this is the realization that it didn't matter what scheme Steve B. drew up. Shuffle that deck any way you'd like, let the Bills cut the cards. However you deal them out, Allen is holding five wild cards. There simply is no matchup where the Pats come out ahead. Put Jonathan Jones on Stefon Diggs, Jack Jones on Gabriel Davis, Myles Bryant on Isaiah McKenzie - all of which they did - and it's a mismatch in Buffalo's favor across the board. Shuffle again and put them all on someone different, and the result is the same. That's what's so depressing. The Patriots need to get more talented at cornerback - and there's hope they will as Jack Jones and Marcus Jones develop - but at the same time Buffalo needs to get significantly less talented at receiver, or else this will repeat itself twice a year until the heat death of the universe. 

--And that doesn't even address the talent at the quarterback position. What can you possibly draw up on the meeting room's white board to prevent this?

--For bright spots, and I'm really going to have to do some heavy lifting to find some, there's Josh Uche. I mean, he was in backfield most of the night against a very injured, very much nutting up David Quessenberry. He forced the game's only turnover. But then did the one thing the Pats edge players are coached not to do against running quarterbacks, which is let yourself get caught upfield, behind the pocket. Which had Allen saying, "Don't mind if I do! These easy scrambles to inside the 5 are scrumdiddliumptous!"

--As the Bills were up two and three scores, their offense were calm and deliberate, took their time, took the easy throws and short checkdowns and ran the clock down, with no sense of urgency. The Patriots offense played the exact same way. I can't think of a more damning thing to say about the way its being coached.

--This Week's Applicable Movie Quote: "Ah, don't sell yourself short, Judge. You're a tremendous slouch." - Ty Webb, Caddyshack.

—In one sense, I guess was kind of appropriate. There’s no better way to honor the teams that wore the red jerseys and Pat Patriot helmets than by getting your doors blown off by the Bills. If you’re gonna wear throwbacks, you might as well throw it all back.

--One major positive is that the game was over quickly. Which was good for the soul of America. It was the worst Amazon Prime production since that romantic comedy with Woody Allen, Miley Cyrus and Joy Behar

Finally? Mood:

--The entirety of my worldly possessions are getting loaded on a truck in 24 hours, so this is it for me this week. Unless the Patriots do something dramatic in the next 72 hours, you won't be hearing from me until Monday. And if they, let's hope it involves major changes to the offensive coaching staff. That is something I'll gladly jump back onto the grid for.