Things to consider while realizing things have gotten bad in journalism when even the man who's done pioneering work in the field of anti-Patriots hit pieces has problem with a hit piece:
--Were there some negatives in this game? Problems that need to be solved? Issues that need a good addressing? Absolutely. And I'll get to them. But your team doesn't finally have it in a have-to-have-it game, only to have you hit the bad parts first. If your kid finally passes a test after flunking his first couple, you don't begin by going over all his wrong answers. That can wait. When Washington's troops finally won a battle, he didn't start out with, "You call that a victory? If we lose any more brigades, I might as well tell Cornwallis to start picking out the curtains he wants in Mount Vernon." Call me a cockeyed optimist (why all optimists have cock eyes is something I've never understood; you'd think that bunch would be super pessimistic about everything), but I'm that kind of guy who prefers to talk to airline pilots about all the times they didn't crash. I apologize for nothing.
--I also refuse to grade this one on any sort of a curve. A win is a win, regardless of how objectively terrible Zach Wilson is. As inert as the Patriots was at times, they were facing a Jets defense that we've been told for two years was Super Bowl caliber. And which tied Josh Allen's brain into a balloon animal not two weeks ago. Like Belichick said in the postgame, 15 points is not going to get it done most weeks. And came extraordinarily close to not getting it done this week. But it did. This was a team that has thus far proven incapable of making plays to close out games. But it closed out this one. Granted, that play was a safety. But whatever it takes. If you're complaining after this one, I wish you good luck in your Boston sports radio career. But I won't be tuning in.
--We'll get to that safety, because that was the Stone Cold Stunner finishing move that ended this bout. But for starters, I want to start with the start. No sooner had Anfernee Jennings stuffed Garrett Wilson for a 1-yard gain on the first play, than on the next, Zach Wilson tried to slide his protecting to the right with a very audible "Red Wanda" call. That somehow still left the Jets line with three blocking five, and Jennings Red Wandered into the backfield untouched and dropped Breece Hall in the spot where he took the handoff. That was all the proof you needed that Steve Belichick's crew knew the Jets offense better than their quarterback does. I realize that by saying this, we'll probably lose a draft pick next year, but I'm in celebrating mode and throwing caution to the wind here.
--But the major factor holding the Jets to just one sustained drive and just 171 yards of total offense? The rookie. Whom I think we can safely say has been the best player in a Patriots uniform through three games. In fact, it hasn't been close:
The official matchup stats I rely on haven't been posted yet. But unofficially, Christian Gonzalez held last years OROTY Garrett Wilson to two catches on three targets for five yards. I believe it. And while I don't normally talk about other games in KJRs, it's important to mention he was credited last week (by Pro Football Focus) with holding Tyreek Hill to zero catches on two targets. Let's compare Hill's stat line against Denver yesterday with his against the Pats secondary:
And this was with all three Cornerback Jones out of the lineup. Essentially Gonzalez played CB1-through-CB4, and did so exceptionally. Not since Mike Myers played Austin Powers, Dr. Evil and Fat Bastard in the same film as anyone taken on so many roles with such versatility. And Gonzalez played four of them. Playing mostly press man with very little in the way of safety help or any sort of bracket coverage. Plus he killed one drive with a pass break up against Allen Lazard, another on Randall Cobb. Then in the 4th, continued a trend of having at least one corner blitz per game, hurrying Wilson just enough for Myles Bryant to break up Lazard. When your secondary is depleted to the point you've got Bryant playing every snap and Shaun Wade as your CB3 and a team with talent at wideout doesn't burn your crops, salt your fields and sow thorny vines into your ground so you'll never be able plant again, that has to mean you're getting exceptional play from your top corner. And we are.
--For both teams, this was going to be two of the better pass rush units in the game facing two of the most porous offensive lines. Irresistible Forces against Moveable Objects. But while I'll get to the Patriots O-line later on, the Patriots front did a great job of mixing blitzes with effective 4-man rushes. I actually thought the played the most basic formations we've seen so far. They came out in a standard 3-4 look, with Davon Godchaux (before he got hurt) as the 0-tech nose, flanked by a rotation of Daniel Ekuale (before he got hurt), Keion White, Lawrence Guy and Christian Barmore two-gapping and plugging the holes effectively. From that set up, we saw Jabrill Peppers play low in the box as the strong safety/Robber, where he came off the edge on the Jets second possession to drop Dalvin Cook for a loss. In the 3rd, he shed a block in the backfield to get out to the flat and drop Cook on a swing pass for no gain. At the start of the 4th quarter, we also got an A-gap safety blitz from Kyle Dugger, coming up from the post safety spot he was normally occupying, that flushed Wilson out of the pocket as Josh Uche finished him off for a loss. Overall it was a lethal cocktail of disguising defenses, bringing pressure from different spots, while winning 1-on-1 battles, against a makeshift offensive line trying to protect a quarterback who doesn't grasp the concept of being protected. That'll kill ya every time.
--As far as the safety, Matthew Judon's wedding dance floor spin move got results for the second game in a row. And Deatrich Wise, Jr pushed Joe Tippmann into the backfield like he was wearing Heelies and Christian Barmore bullrushed Laken Tomlinson:
--But to me, the most impressive display of defensive linemanning I saw all day was from someone who doesn't get credit for the sack but should. That ended up on Barmore's stat sheet. With protection sliding to the right, he got chipped by Alijah Vera-Tucker, fought off Tippmann, and brought Wilson down. Helped by Jennings, who first hung back spying on Wilson before blowing past Tyler Conklin. But pay close attention to White from the left tackle spot:
White pulled triple duty. Not only occupying a double team from Vera-Tucker and CJ Uzomah, but pushing far enough into the backfield to keep Cook from releasing into the flat, thus taking away Wilson's safety valve. They haven't been moving White around as much as they did in preseason. As far as I can see he's playing exclusively with his hand on the ground in odd fronts. And it's plays like this that prove why they love him there.
--Though arguably the best sack of the day goes to Wilson himself:
They say the most effective pass rush is the one you don't have to use. When you've got a quarterback committing self-Sackrifice (note the word play; that's the Old Balls difference), it saves your guys a lot of wear and tear, and deserves to be appreciated.
--We can also add that it was another great performance by Bryce Baringer, flipping the field several times and pinning the Jets inside their 20 on four occassions in a game in which field position was everything. What a great rookie class this is shaping up to be. It's utterly jaw dropping.
--Personally, I'd rather see Teeth Guy become the fact of Jets fans than have to endure another cutaway shot of Fireman Ed. For that matter, I'd rather see Teeth Guy on every commercial time out than another ad with Travis Kelce and Ryan Fitzpatrick, who are locked in a death struggle to see which of them can be overexposed the most in the shortest amount of time. No matter which one wins, the loser will be America.
--In keeping up the spirit of positivity here, first the good parts about the offense. They were positively (more word play) able to pound the ball in ways they couldn't in the first two weeks. Thanks partly to the fact they had most of their O-line intact. Which I guess now means Vederian Lowe at right tackle and Cole Strange for half a game because that's about all they can seem to hope for these days. They were particularly effective at sending Ezekiel Elliot through the interior gaps and then countering those with crack-toss plays out on the edge.
--But then Bill O'Brien added a wrinkle we haven't seen, not even in training camp, by running a lot of 13 personnel Jumbo groupings, with Pharoah Brown as the third tight end. Even lining Brown up at H-back or as fullback in a standard I formation, helping to fill the Jimmy Neckroll shaped void in all our souls:
--Which set things up beautifully in the passing game. The Patriots ran play action, with Seam-Flat combos on both sides. The run fake and Hunter Henry's underneath route froze both outside defenders and Mac Jones had it read from before the snap:
He actually said he knew going into the week that this play would work, but refused to divulge how he knew. Which is fine. I'm just happy to have a coordinator and quarterback who can work together to spot other team's tells and exploit them again. It's seemed like forever since the last time.
--In other good news, Kendrick Bourne has emerged as Jones' most trusted wideout. And with good reason. Here he runs a stop route behind a shallow mesh concept (sometimes referred to as a "Seattle"), with Mike Gesicki throttling down in front of Will LB Quinnen Williams and jingling his keys at him to distract him so Bourne can sit down in the empty space behind him:
--Then there was the big 1st down he converted on Sauce Gardner. You can't see it here but the initial read was to the side of DeVante Parker and Juju Smith-Schuster, who was running a Slop (slant option). But with neither of them coming open, Jones looked back to Bourne, who ran a man coverage beater by running Gardner off and breaking it back on a hook:
These are the sorts of connections you get when your receiver and quarterback are in each other's Circle of Trust. We see it with Bourne. We see it with the tight ends. We're seeing it somewhat with Elliot but not with Rhamondre Stevenson, who dropped one certain 1st down catch and failed to get his head around on a hot route. But we're definitely not seeing it among the other wideouts. It seems like every deep ball is hitting the turf. The corner route to Parker that he was a step and a half too slow for that ended the first drive. The first possession of the 2nd half, when Demario Douglas was running a Go and Jones expected him to come back on the ball against deep coverage. Smith-Schuster just after the 2:00 warning, not expecting a back shoulder throw. Just example after example.
--I like to see Jones be verbal at the line. Declaring the Mike. Sliding his protection. Putting guys in motion ("Mike! Go!" to Gesicki). Coming out to the slot when need be to give specific instructions to Elliot or Douglas. A conductor bringing up his brass section, lowering his woodwinds, asking for a little Rallentando from his percussion. I know he's in command of O'Brien's system. But three games into the season, he and most of his targets are simply not reading the sheet music the same way.
--Or to put it in terms of reductive and downright offensive gender stereotypes, these high leverage plays keep working out like when a husband is supposed to pick up something for his wife at the craft shop, or she tries to get something for him at the hardware store.
"What is this?"
"It's the route I was supposed to run."
"This was a skinny post. I asked you run a fade."
"This is what you told me."
"Did you write it down?"
"No. But I asked for help and this is what the route they gave me. …"
We've become accustomed to September being an extension of training camp and that it can take that first month to iron this stuff out. Well their next game falls on October 1st. So let's get crackin' already.
--I generally despise the whole concept of the network trotting out some retired official to explain the controversial calls. Or at least the execution of it. Because 99 times out of 99, they're just in the role of Rules Official/Professional Apologist. It's more like being the White House Press Secretary than anything useful. But damn, did we miss out on an opportunity to hear someone spin this:
In what universe is this solid coverage but Bryant's minor contact in the end zone was DPI? I expect Sean Hannity will do a half hour about how this is an example of when blue state DAs go soft on crime. And now you can mug someone in front of 80,000 people and not even draw a flag. It makes as much sense as Nantz and Romo simply ignoring how blatantly bad this non-call was.
--But then again, the Jets did tackle Mac Jones three times on the same play without a penalty:
Gardner claimed after that Jones punched him in the junk:
Which is acceptable only if it's proceeded by asking, "What's the capital of Thailand?" If what Gardner claims is true, Jones needs to learn that.
--This Week's Applicable Movie Quote: "The rain on my car is a baptism. The new me. Ice Man. Power Lloyd. My assault on the world begins now." - Lloyd Dobler, Say Anything
--At least there's one positive to the unholy coupling of Kelce and Taylor Swift. One we can all get behind:
--I'm not so high about beating the Jets by 5-points that I'll suggest next week's game at Dallas is going to be an easy W. But having watched this last night, 2-2 feels suddenly within reach: