Things to consider while appreciating the fact I got to watch the game with Pete Frates and family. Because it’s not every day you meet someone who started a movement that changed the world:
*Full disclosure: I was at the game last night. So without the benefit of the DVR and the ability to re-watch plays, this’ll have to be the SparkNotes version of a regular KJR. And if Jon Gruden said something stupid or had any of those awkward, bad chemistry moments with Sean McDonough, you’ll have to read snarky commentary about it from someone else.
*You won’t see too many regular season wins as satisfying as this. The Ravens are not only Patient Zero that unleashed the Deflategate epidemic upon the world, they’re also the closest thing to a true rival the Patriots have. These teams genuinely white-hot hate each other. And for Baltimore, this was a revenge game for the humiliation of blowing two 14-point leads in the playoff game. But instead of vengeance being theirs, Sweet Karmic Retribution kicked them in the teeth with steel-toed stilletoes, then walked over to Pats fans, gently cradled our face and slipped her tongue softly into our mouth. And it was glorious.
*You can’t overstate the dominance on both sides of the ball. Against a defense that is in the top five in the league in every category, the Pats put up almost 500 yards of total offense. Tom Brady threw for over 400. They ran pratically at will right between the eyes of the best run-stuffing unit in football. They put up 30 points and it could have easily been more.
*Defensively, they built off what they did last week against a bad Rams team by continuing the aggressive, attacking, punishing style they established. If it wasn’t for two Special Teams turnovers, one of which put the ball right on the doorstep and the other put it right in the master bedroom next to the nightstand where the Mrs. hides her vibrator, Baltimore might have had one score on the night.
*Not to mention the huge plays early on that established the Pats as the Alpha Male of the herd on this night. Malcom Brown’s safety was a clinic of reading, reacting and blowing up the fullback like a Hellfire missile on an ISIS safe house. Shea McClellin’s blocked field goal was stunning in so far as I don’t think anyone in the building knew he had the athleticism to Parkour the center like that. (I will take my share of the credit since I mushed the hell out of the kick by reminding everyone within earshot that Justin Tucker hadn’t missed all year. Just doing my job. You’re welcome.) By the time those two plays were over, the Ravens went into Submissive Male mode: Tail lowered, weight back on their rear haunches, eyes to the ground, acknowledging the Patriots dominance. The rest of the game was just the Patriots breeding with all the females.
*And let’s not sleep on the way Belichick coached circles around John Harbaugh. That perfectly executed fleaflicker pass. The way the offense beat the Ravens with deep balls. Harbaugh’s decision to go for the onside kick down by one score with two timeouts plus the two-minute warning. And Belichick going for it on 4th down on the last play, when 32 other NFL coaches (which is to say 31 plus Jeff Fisher) would’ve gone for the field goal as the final nail. Needless to say, Harbawl is gonna have a lot of things for the Rules Committee outlaw this winter.
*You could say this just about every week, but the things Brady was doing are damned near impossible. The Ravens were almost exclusively playing two deep safeties, and he continually hit guys on routes of plus-15 yards. Two of his touchdowns were on deep throws. Two of them were against the blitz. And on that 79-yarder to Chris Hogan, the safety (Lardius Webb? Don’t quote me on that.) froze so badly on the play action, he might as well have been a Westworld host Brady said “Cease all motor functions” to.
*Maybe even more impressive was the way the Pats were able to line up in obvious run sets and still effectively pound the rock. LeGarrette Blount, sometimes with two tight ends, always behind James Develin, might be putting together their best season at running back since 2004 Corey Dillon. I mean, his YPA won’t make you form a religion. But he gets tough yards. First downs, TDs. Steady, solid, productive runs like the ones he had on that final drive to drain the clock to zero. That’s not something you’re supposed to do against this Ravens front. And it has to have defensive coordinators double-fisting the Zoloft.
*And just like the Rams game, you can’t say enough good things about the offensive line, the guards in particular. Joe Thuney might be the best pulling guard they’ve had in the Belichick Epoch. And Blount’s 1-yard touchdown looked like he was running right up Shaq Mason’s back. Just as importantly, to my eye it looked like all five O-linemen played every snap, which is the kind of thing that Gunnery Sgt. Scarnecchia dreams about.
*While I’m talking about Thuney, the other rookie they got for Chandler Jones has gotten his hands on the world’s most precious resource: Tom Brady’s trust. Malcolm Mitchell didn’t look like he was reading defenses at a Brady level early in the season, but now they’re turning every page at same time. People are always screaming for Belichick to give TB12 more “weapons,” and this kid is becoming Teenage Negasonic Warhead before our eyes.
*Defensively, I didn’t notice any thing that seemed especially new-wrinkly. They stayed exclusively in Cover-2 (save for one play where Devin McCourty came down, then dropped off at the snap, but after Flacco had checked to a run and it went for 9), switching back-and-forth between a Big Nickel safety and a third corner, depending on Baltimore’s personnel. Most QBs’ first read is the deep vertical, and hey progress to their checkdowns. Flacco is deep ball happier than most, and there was nothing there for him all night, save for that Cyrus Jones breakdown (more on him coming up). And unlike earlier in the year, when guys are catching those balls underneath, the secondary is making them pay. Not to the extent they forced the drops they did against LA, but limiting the damage. Much like my in-laws at holiday time, the Pats D is getting less passive/more aggressive.
*This week’s Applicable Movie Quote: “Take the biggest guy in the world, shatter his knee and he’ll drop like a stone. ” – Dalton, “Road House”
*Overall, I thought the Gillette crowd – the Real Housewives of Foxboro – brought their A-game. There was plenty of noise when the Ravens were trying to run the hurry up. They got to their feet on third downs. They were great. But if you’re one of those people singing and dancing on the video board to “Shake it Off” right after they let 14 points evaporate off the lead in 85 seconds, I don’t get you. At all. I like T-Swizzle as much as the next guy, provided that guy isn’t Feitelberg. But trying to understand how you can be so happy at a time like that is like trying to make sense of Westboro Baptist.
*Every time I got to Gillette, I’m left to wonder why the lighthouse doesn’t look like a lighthouse. If it was up to me, I’d have that thing outfitted with the Eye of Sauron. And fire it up 24/7, ceaselessly searching for the Fifth Ring of Power.
*How do you solve a problem like Cyrus Jones? Fielding punts should be fairly simple. If you’re not trying to catch it, run away like it’s frigging unexploded ordinance. And that bomb he gave up to Breshad Perriman was inexcusable. It wasn’t like Perriman put a great double move on him or anything. He simply can’t square his hips to a receiver and gets turned around on the regular. But it’s either in his head now or at the college level he was getting by on sheer talent. I just can’t imagine them straightening his head out this late in the season.
*Martellus Bennett is playing hurt. And that touchdown catch he had, tearing the ball away from blanket coverage by Zachary Orr, was a true Nut Up or Shut Up moment. I hear that after the game, he compared it to two hands reaching into the pizza box for the last slice, and he’s going to get it every time. I only resent the comparison because I wish I’d thought of it first. Damn, I DO love this guy.
*I was waiting for it all game. It took a while, but I didn’t lose hope. Finally, I got my wish. Like a package in the mail, the long, convoluted, overly complicated Ed Hochuli penalty call arrived. I still don’t know what he said. Or why a Patriots kick return that crossed midfield went back to their side, then back to the red zone and I think eventually across the Norfolk town line. I just know that at last we got Ed being Ed. It was too cold for the Gun Show, but at least Hercules brought his out his ego.
*I’d like to see Yankee Candle figure out a way to develop new scents along the lines of “John Harbaugh’s Misery,” “Joe Flacco Failure” or “Terrell Suggs’ Steroidal Rage.” I’ll buy them by the case to make me happy all year long.
*We’re onto Denver. Meaning we’re onto whatever weird, inexplicable bizarreness is going happen in Denver. Because you know it will.
Bonus Shameless Plug: Jerry has a book! “From Darkness to Dynasty: The First 40 Years of the New England Patriots” has been called “the perfect book for any reader who is a die-hard Pats fan.” It’s available now online and at bookstores everywhere. Details and scheduled book signings are at JerryThornton.net.