How it was:
How it's going:
Things to consider while appreciating all the thoughts and prayers in this difficult time:
--The main thing I'm trying to do as we look back on the last two weeks is detach myself emotionally from it enough to admire the sheer grandeur of what we've witnessed. Because it really is astonishing in a way. The rarest thing in this life is perfection, in any form. Everything created by humankind is flawed in some way. And even the worst things we make are mitigated to some extent. (I mean, at least the Hindenburg made it to New Jersey and Challenger made it off the launch pad.) But once in a great while, we are capable of acts of such breathtaking failure that they deserve to be respected for their perfect awfulness. Jerry Lewis once directed himself in The Day the Clown Cried, a Holocaust movie in which his titular character leads children into the gas chambers, a film so perfectly horrible even he refused to release it. In the last eight days, the Patriots have failed on that level. If this season was a TV show, it would be the legendary Star Wars Holiday Special. If it were music, it would be Yoko Ono. If it were a military campaign, it would be the Roman legions getting wiped from existence by the Barbarians at Teutoburg Forest. Though even Varus had the excuse of being way beyond the end of his supply lines in a hostile land. Yesterday's loss was like him walking his men into a trap between The Coliseum and the bath house.
--Losing 34-0 at home to anyone - much less this New Orleans team - is so bad that to call it a disaster does it a disservice. And a two-week stretch where you've lost by a combined 72-3 can't even be called a catastrophe. This was an Extinction Level Event. One that no one survives. Where everyone has to accept their share of the blame. Put the Patriots roster up on your screen, close your eyes and point, and your finger will land on someone directly responsible for historic, atrocious, back to back losses. (But I suggest backing up your files first; your computer WILL crash.) From Mac Jones all the way to Joe Cardona, who has been doing nothing but long snapping for eight seasons, but suddenly can't deliver one without it being a tribute to Tim Wakefield (RIP).
--All up and down the organizational chart,t op to bottom, side to side, the stank of this is in everyone's hair and clothes and fingertips, and all the Silkwood showers in the world won't be enough to scrub it out any time soon.
--I remember a line of dialogue that stuck with me, even though I can't even recall what show it was from. But it was subtlely brilliant enough that it was saved to my mental hard drive. When a teacher gave a kid a low grade on a book report and said, "I needed you to tell me why you hated the book, not just how much you hated the book." I'm 500 words into this KJR and so far have only talked about how much I hated this game. It's time to get into the why.
--Let's begin where I've been beginning everything since the beginning of camp: The offensive line. That adjective has never been more on the nose in a lifetime spent watching this team. Two months ago they were still looking for answers with this group. And I said that if they don't find them, you might as well tell your girlfriend to start making plans to go apple picking and corn mazing in the fall, because you'll have no excuse to stay home and watch the Pats. Well now we're peak Leaf Peeping Season, and it's only gotten worse. So put on the flannel and go live that Pumpkin Spice Life.
--I posted this one yesterday, but it deserves an encore:
And please indulge me while I add this:
--It really hasn't mattered who's been in the lineup, even on those rare occasions when they were able to trot the same five guys for 100% of the snaps. They've been virtually indistinguishable from one another. Imperial Stormtroopers who can't hit a target. An Orc army losing every battle. Security guards on the Enterprise. Pawns getting knocked off the board by every piece they go up against. For example, Riley Reiff had to sub in at both guard spots. He came in for Antonio Mafi after the Pick-6, either because Mafi got injured or because he and Trent Brown got stunted into the Oort Cloud by Tanoh Kpassagnon and Carl Granderson:
Then just as the Pats offense finally started to move the ball right after the 2:00 warning, Reiff let Cameron Jordan in through the gap between him and Brown for a sack that put them in 2nd & 18. Followed immediately by this gem. Pay close attention to Brown against Granderson and Vederian Lowe facing Jordan:
Brown made so little contact with Granderson that it wouldn't have counted in a game of Tag (I was strictly a "Flying Colors Don't Count" kid, and was more than willing to die on that hill, I can assure you). And even though Lowe probably committed a false start, he was essentially a bystander. The two starting tackles would've put up a better fight if they were a masked tag team from Parts Unknown going up against The Hart Foundation.
--But again, in this debacle, no one will be spared. When it was still a ballgame at 7-0, the Pats attempted an outside zone run by Ezekiel Elliot out of shotgun at the New Orleans 34, only to see Granderson blow through a David Andrews pull and blow it up with a 4-yard tackle for loss, putting them in a hole that led to Chad Ryland's missed field goal.
--And just to demonstrate the total system failure is a feature of this offense, not a bug, look at this lack of push. This was out of a two tight end set. By now, Reiff was at right guard for the injured Michael Onwenu, and he got shoved back by Nathan Sheperd's penetration on the back side. On the play side, the firm of Andrew, Mafi, Brown & (Pharoah) Brown looked like they were hitting a blocking sled. But one that was cemented into the ground. With iron pilings drilled down into the bedrock:
--Nothing else was going to matter if the Pats couldn't solve their O-line problem. And now it's become unsolvable, because it's too late to do anything about it. Unless there's some One Piece-style Devil Fruit Adrian Klemm can give his guys to give them the power to redirect pass rushers and blow run defenders off the line of scrimmage. And even then, the NFL will start testing for them.
--Here is the line's performance in percentages:
--I'm not excusing Mac Jones, either. It's a major factor in his failures, to be sure. But he's not some NPC in this game who gets a pass because he's the victim of circumstances. He's an active participant and a major contributor to the collaborative effort that is this monstrosity. You can't create something so monumentally horrendous that it could reanimate the corpse of Bill Walsh, or awaken the Lovecraftian Old Ones to come here and destroy us all, without it being an "all hands on deck" effort.
--We can cut Jones slack for not having a clean pocket to operate from all we want. But rewatch him trying to get this simple toss to Rhamondre Stevenson:
… and tell me you'd let him handle your valuables right now. If Jones showed up on your moving day to offer you a hand, you'd make damned sure he was carrying pillows and linens, and leave the breakable stuff to someone you can trust.
--And by no means am I letting Bill O'Brien off the hook. He's been the vessel into which I poured all my hopes that I could memory hole the Matt Patricia experiment and have a real NFL offense again. Right now I want to put together a montage of 2022 highlights played over the theme to Happy Days. ("Sunday, Monday, happy days," fits surprisingly well.) I invested an embarrassing amount of hours this summer studying up on O'Brien's system, watching his coaching clinics, learning his concepts and theories. All for naught. We're seeing none of it. Let's just take the example of the Juke route, which is supposed to be a staple of this attack. When was the last time you saw a slot receiver exploiting linebackers in the middle of a defense stretched to its horizontal limits by hitches and seams on the outside? Hell, when was the last time you saw this unit play with any kind of fast tempo, which is a core concept O'Brien preaches? We've gone 33 consecutive drives without a touchdown. Which seems impossible to do, even if that was your goal. Once in a while you'd expect to get in the end zone just by sheer happenstance. But now we're in a situation where every time they avoid a 3 & out, it feels like a reason to book a caterer and rent a Bouncy Castle.
--A quick word to the people who had the misfortune of buying tickets for this epic goatfuck. You have my sword, my bow, and my axe. I've ridiculed the Real Housewives of Foxboro before for tossing their throwing wine every time something didn't go our way. For instance that time when the Dolphins threw the Wildcat as us and most of the crowd streamed out of Gillette in the 3rd quarter in disgust, despite the fact it ended the longest home win streak in NFL history? Sure, I was not supportive. Or the "Unicorns! Show ponies! Where's the beef?" game - ironically enough, 10 years ago this very week against these same Saints - when Tom Brady completed a comeback in the final 1:13 of the game in front of a basically empty stadium because everyone wanted to get home for the Red Sox playoff game? Yeah, those were terrible looks for us all. But yesterday, when two Ezekiel Elliot runs picked up a 1st down with the game 21-0 and it was Sarcastic Applause Time in Foxboro, you were snarkily cheering for all of us. And the boos were more than justified. Not to mention how this said it better than words ever could:
Bless you, my people.
--Traditionally over the years, during the grimmest of times, we could always look to the special teams as a beacon of light shining in the darkness. If nothing else was there, we knew it would be "Advantage: New England" in the kicking games. No more. Yesterday, with two rookies on each team, the only kicking being done was our rookie's asses. Ryland's miss was from 48 yards and made him 4-of-8 on the season. He was a 4th round pick. Meanwhile Blake Grupe drilled both of his, from 54 and 53. In the same cross breeze, which he no doubt learned to master at Notre Dame. He went undrafted. To make matters worse, Bryce Baringer has been regressing, including a punt that went for 26 yards and set New Orleans up at the Patriots 40. Though to be fair to him, he's probably exhausted from punting at the end of every drive. At least the ones that don't end with turnovers. And the return game has caught whatever cooties the kicking game has been spreading. Jabrill Peppers called for a fair catch at his own 5. The FIVE. Like what did he think might happen if he just yelled "PETER!" and ran everyone away from it? It might take a bad bounce and the Saints could down it at the 4? Or, God forbid, the 3? If you're running it back in that situation, you can maybe be forgiven because you see an opening. But in that part of the field, the fair catch is just surrendering.
--But to circle back to the big issue on special teams, GM Bill has a lot of explaining to do:
--The defense has gotten a pass to this point, but that's just because of the limitations of time and word count. It felt like they had one good quarter in them. And the combination of yet another McCorkle Pick-6 followed by yet another Ryland miss just took the fight out of them. At that point, they seemed to come out demoralized. Derek Carr hit Rashid Shaheed on a Cover-1 beater corner route with Peppers as the post safety, and they were demoralized to the point New Orleans started pushing them around from that point forward.
--From there, they just got physically outmatched. Kendre Miller chipped Josh Uche, released to the flat, Mychael Thomas threw Shaun Wade into the Kraft's booth and it went for 34 yards. A play later, Adrian Phillips had Taysom Hill all squared up, only to get dwarf-tossed out of his way to get up a 1st & goal.
--Then the injuries started to mount, including Peppers and Ju'Whaun Bentley, who was having a decent game to that point. Which seems to be happening a lot to this team. Which happens when things are going this badly. You can only ask so much of your men. Once they start eating the horses and then their shoe leather, guys start shooting themselves in the leg in order to be shipped home.
--This Week's Applicable Movie Quote: "Hey, don't put yourself down. You're not, uh… you're not… you're not good. You stink." - Ty Webb, Caddyshack
--If I'm looking for a positive note, it's this. All I've done is give my heart, my soul, and all my hope into this team, these coaches and this quarterback. At least I didn't invest any actual money:
--Bailey Zappe is not the answer. But since I don't have one to offer, then fine. Bring him on for all I care. I'm too broken to fight you on it.