Knee Jerk Reactions to Week 5: Patriots vs. Buccaneers

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Things to consider while being glad the Pats defense doesn’t have to stop Jose Altuve:

*I get the sense most Patriots fans are too fixated on how bad this one looked at times to really appreciate how great a bounce back win this was. Yes, it wasn’t an aesthetic master work. Mistakes were made. So it wasn’t the “We’re Onto Cincinnati” game, but it was still one of your classic moments of the Bradichick Epoch Patriots righting the ship at a desperate time. On the road. With a short week. Against a quality opponent. With an emerging quarterback and a great pair of receivers and impact players on defense. I won’t be ignoring all the negatives. I’m just saying don’t fail to recognize wins like this don’t come easy in this league. Especially not four days after your defense got vivisected by a below average offense at home. Enjoy this.

*Not to simplify things too much, but I think the solution they came up with for all the confusion in the Tower of Babel that was the secondary was just to go back to basics. The put the big guy on the big guy, the little guy on the little guy. Stephon Gilmore, you take Mike Evans, Malcolm Butler, you got DeSean Jackson. Pat Chung, you’re on the tight ends. Safeties, you guys do safety stuff. Forget all the whistles and bells and complex calls. Like 007 in Skyfall, going off the grid, putting the gadgets away, pulling the tarpaulin off the old Aston-Martin and kicking ass.

*Interestingly enough, I think the short week helped the Pats. When you’ve got a Thursday nighter after playing Sunday, you have time for one full practice. Which is no time to install new looks. So the Buccaneers never copied off the Panthers’ work. We didn’t see any of the bunch formations, 3-man route combos and rubs that had me stress drinking all week. Meanwhile Matt Patricia just deconstructed his coverages down to the essential elements and let his corners just play.

*It looked like almost all Cover-1 Robber, with Duron Harmon as the single high safety, Chung in the box and McCourty down as the “Rat,” joining Chung as force players against the run, but then on pass plays watching Jameis Winston’s eyes and having middle of the field responsibility. That coverage is the rebar in the concrete of the foundation of the Belichick/Nick Saban defense. And eliminated the need for all that presnap panic and wild semaphore signaling.

*Things were much improved too up front. But I think that was a simple as having Dont’a Hightower all the way back. He played 86 percent of the snaps. Some on the line at the Will, but a lot more at his more traditional inside spot. As the game went on, they looked to be doing their Frank Caliendo of the Texans “Diamond,” a 5-man front with their best athlete Trey Flowers covering the center and Hightower and Kyle Van Noy on either side of him, dropping into coverage or shooting the A-gap, depending on the call.

*There were even some glimpses of the kind of aggressive, downhill, attacking style they do when they’re at their best. McCourty reading a screen and stuffing it for no gain. McCourty again at the end of the 3rd, run blitzing for a TFL. Elandon Roberts in the middle, doing that Belichick “Rain” thing, in which he reads the center to see which side he slides to. And once he commits, you kamikaze the opposite gap. Brandon Spikes and Hightower were always great at that, and Roberts forced an incompletion with a near sack doing it in the 4th.

*I’m not claiming it was a total success. But they eliminated the huge chunk plays that were making life here a waking nightmare. They only allowed six more on the scoreboard than the Red Sox on a Chris Sale start. And my expectations are so low now, I’m happy just to know their opponent has a punter on the roster, for Christ.

*Offensively, no one’s going to take this one to the Frame Center and pick out a spot in the foyer to hang it. But absent Gronk and facing a good defense, Josh McDaniels pivoted, doing the exact opposite of the game plan from just three weeks ago. Against the Saints the throws were all to the backs and tight ends. This one was all about spreading it evenly to the wideouts and James White. Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola, Brandin Cooks and White all had between eight and 11 targets, like a receiving corps socialist utopia out of Bernie Sanders’ wettest dreams.

*Dwayne Allen is a different story. At this point, it’s just gotten awkward. I mean, Brady targeted Jacob Hollister once, but never looked in his direction. It’s like Brady’s throwing a party and invited everyone in the office except Allen and so now he has to avoid him. Like if he sees Allen getting into the elevator he pretends he forgot something and he’ll have to take the next car. Awkward, but weirdly fascinating. He had 50 snaps last night. And I can’t wait to see how long this guy they traded draft picks for and has 126 career catches can go without ever touching the ball.

*Obviously it’s not just all because he’s the Tobey to Brady’s Michael Scott. The pass protection is approaching late-2015 levels of non-existence. And Allen is staying home a lot to block. With mixed results. He gave Solder some much needed help (Solder got abused by Robert Ayers so much a social worker might be opening a case file as we speak) on blitz pickup buying Brady enough time to find White covered by Ryan Russell on a wheel route and hit him for 24 to set up the first touchdown. But on the second possession, he almost got Brady buried alive when he got beat on a stunt. Brady got the ball off to Cooks on a deep out, but still. If Allen’s not going to catch passes, he’s going to have to be the Michael Hoomanawanui third tackle guy. And he’s not being that either.

*Still, when he does run routes, teams cover him. On the first touchdown, Hogan was in the slot between Allen and the Z-receiver, Amendola. Brady motioned Amendola in to release (Z-ING in their playbook) forming a 3-man bunch. Allen drew his man outside, Amendola crossed under him to run off the safety, and Hogan went between them on a stop route for the score. If Allen is going to be a decoy, at least he’s fooling the other ducks.

*Here’s a semi-annual reminder that Thursday Night Football eats ass. It’s just a terrible product. The players aren’t ready. The broadcasters aren’t ready. I’m still not hard wired to remember to set my Fantasy lineup. Add the most flag-happy officiating crew in the NFL and it’s like watching the first preseason game every single week.

*Also, Color Rush bites. In the Kingdom of Thorntopia, on all football uniforms, the jerseys will contrast the pants. And on all baseball uniforms, they’ll match. Always. No exceptions. Thornton has spoken. Long live Thornton.

*The ref for this one was Carl Cheffers, whose crew is notorious for over-officiating games. And this was no exception. The Patriots had 12 in all for over 100 yards. But that’s on them. Because for every cheap one they called like the peel back block 15-yarder against Solder, they had at least three or four egregiously stupid one, like Brandon Bolden negating a 3rd down stop by jumping offsides on the frigging punt. Or back to back roughing the passers on that last drive of the half, right after a fist fight with Jackson. I was waiting for Belichick to kill Cassius Marsh with his mind like Eleven from Stranger Things. But he saved that power for Nick Folk. I’m 99 percent positive I saw blood trickling out of Belichick’s nostril after that third miss.

*By contrast, Dirk Koetter’s Disapproval Face is that over-the-eyeglasses stare that my teachers and professors used to give me. It’s that look that says they’re taking your unwillingness to do the work in their class personally, and you’ll never amount to anything. Maybe it works on his players but it was wasted on me.

*I’m sorry for Folk, but HR has to be telling him right now how it’s policy for security to escort you out of the building, right? It’s hard enough to forgive those long misses. But that 31-yard miss was just unprofessional. It came off his foot tumbling sideways, like when you throw a wet Nerf ball at the beach without squeezing any water out. It was worse than any pass Tim Tebow ever threw, and I don’t say that lightly.

*They didn’t talk much about a New England presence at the game, but my guess is this was one that Pats fans made the trip for. When Belichick was successful challenging Deatrich Wise’s sack the crowd went bananas like it was a home game. You don’t hear it said, especially from the AnitPata crowd, but no fan base in the league travels like Patriots fans do.

*The sight of a massive, bearded Dave Andrews standing in the middle of a play with his helmet off just staring at the ref was surreal. It was like watching a homeless guy walk into traffic and you just feel helpless to do anything. And you’re just relieved he didn’t get killed, no thanks to you.

*One problem I’m having when I’m watching these games live and don’t have Red Zone to flip to is I find myself obsessed with figuring out who the new Colonel Sanders is. They used to give them a long run before bringing in a new guy. Like they way they change Doctor Who every three seasons. It would go from Daryl Hammond to Norm MacDonald to Rob Lowe. But they’re running Rob Riggle with some new guy I can’t identify. And I’m thinking about it while actual football is going on. Well played, KFC. Well, played.

*This Week’s Applicable Movie Quote: “I’m not dead!” – The Dead Body That Claims It Isn’t, Monty Python and the Holy Grail

*For this week, I’m not going to get hung up on Jameis Winston’s 300 passing yards. I’m much more concerned with that first Tampa TD drive when the Pats were getting their yambags kicked in and losing the physical battles. Like watching Lawrence Guy obliterated on a zone run by Demar Dotson on a 17-yard Doug Martin pick up. Van Noy get ragdolled by Ali Marpet on a 9 yard run. Hopefully putting Hightower back off the line will solve that problem. Or that Amber Alert I sent out for David Harris turns something up finally.

*Apropos of nothing, I like Tampa Bay’s style. Their packaging. Not the Color Rush of course. But their helmets are badass. That logo is the best football among the modern ones, meaning the non-old school logos with all the history and tradition, like Dallas or Pittsburgh. And I love the Pirate Ship gimmick. I could get behind them if I wasn’t already spoken for in a committed relationship.

*Of course I love it more when they can’t fire the cannons because they can’t hit field goals.

*Most importantly, they avoided being sub-.500 this deep into the season for the first time since the Dark Age of 2002. Hopefully they take this long week to further tighten up the secondary, figure out where best to put Hightower and most of all, have Dante Scarnnecchia come up with a battle plan for the Defense of Fort Brady. Just the fact he’s taking this much punishment and still throwing for 300 yards should win “The TB12 Method’ a Pulitzer and him a Nobel Prize in Medicine. But I can’t live another Pats game like this.

@jerrythornton1