Things to consider while appreciating that Belichick and Ernie Adams decided to fire up the Weaponized Weather Machine again:
*It took seven games and enough atrociously gawdawful defense to last a hundred generations, but finally everything made sense again. We’ve been living in a bizzaro Pandora world, with floating mountains and plants that have underground fiber optics to each other and blue guys who have sex with the pterodactyls they ride, but Belichick and Matt Patricia made the Laws of Patriots Defense Nature apply once more.
*Honest to God, there’s so much talent on Atlanta I would’ve settled for 300 passing yards and 24 points and been over the moon about it. But to hold Matt Ryan to 233 yards, a lot of those coming in meaningless chunks at the end of both halves, and 7 points thanks to a garbage time score? And 3-for-12 on 3rd and 4th downs? I didn’t even dare wish for that because it was too impossible. I might have to start praying for peace in our time and for The Walking Dead to get good again, just to see if I’m on a roll.
*Until I hear otherwise, I’m going with this theory. Something I wrote about last week and seems to be confirmed by this game. That the Patriots scheme is complex, which is why so often it looks like anarchy early on in the season, but usually among the league’s best once you start getting up into the range of 50-60 practices. My old work friend had a BMW that I loved. It had heated seats that felt like your ass was being warmed by the wings of Pegasus and the engine sounded like a choir of angels. But it was a precision machine that needed tons of maintenance that my tank-like Explorer didn’t, which is why I was always giving him rides to work from the shop up the street. That is the Belichick/Patricia scheme. It allows you to swap out freakishly athletic specimens like Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins for their generic store brand equivalents like Cassius Marsh and Kyle Van Noy. But it takes time, attention and practice to get it tuned up and running a peak efficiency. This week, just to officially beat this metaphor to death with a cliche, it finally fired on all cylinders.
*That said, the scheme seemed a little more simplified than it was, say, a month ago. Early on, I thought they’d be keeping Johnson Bademosi, who’s 6-0, 206 on Julio Jones and Malcolm Butler on Taylor Gabriel. But nope. They kept the corners playing a side. It looked to me like a lot of basic Cover 2 with mostly man and a little pattern match zone coverage underneath. But all five starting defensive backs played their nuts off, both in coverage and the run game.
*Bademosi has been a godsend. At 7-0 in the 2nd, one play after Duron Harmon broke up a deep shot to Jones, he defended a pass for Jones to force a punt. When it was 20-0, he shed a Jones block on an outside toss to Tevin to drop him for no gain. And in his two weeks on the job starting opposite Butler, I challenge anyone to show me a play where he blew an assignment, got turned around by a double move or otherwise effed up. Bademosi? More like … BadASSmosi, amirite? Huh? Up high! [Clears throat. Puts hand down.]
*And we can say the same thing about Butler. He also brought down Coleman for a loss on a great run read in the 2nd. He was iso’ed on Julio Jones running across the back of the end zone, a nearly impossible play to cover given Jones’ size and speed, stay with him stride for stride and broke up the pass. Even the touchdown he did give up was all about Jones balling out. Butler had the position, he had the ball in his hands. But Jones was that tallest bridesmaid who would NOT be denied the bouquet. By far this was Malcolm Go’s best game of the season.
*Besides Bademosi, there’s no one who’s made the most strides with the added reps like Kyle Van Noy has. He’s had some bad games lately. The run defense has been getting gashed, particularly on 1st downs. But last night he was at Play Recognition Level: Bruschi with his reads. On the first Falcons possession, they ran a 3rd down toss to Devonta Freeman, but Jonathan Jones held his edge against a Ryan Schraeder block while Van Noy penetrated to blow the play up. On their next-to-last possession, 4th & goal, with all the DBs up on the line and only he and David Harris on the second level, Van Noy read the Taylor Gabriel jet sweep. And playing “Force” meaning he was responsible for the cutback, he shot the gap and tackled Gabriel for a loss. Trey Flowers’ penetration helped blow up that play, but Van Noy gets the imaginary helmet sticker.
*Did I mention David Harris? I guess I did. Because he actually played. And actually contributed. At times he was alongside Van Noy or Dont’a Hightower in a 4-2, and others he was the Mike with Hightower up on the line. Early in the second he took on a block from Alex Mack, won that battle, and then put Coleman into the ground where he stood. Later, he came downhill to break through and stop a screen pass. And on the next play stuffed a run up the middle. And he blitzed on the play just before the half when Coleman dropped a short pass just as Flowers lined him up and was about to put him in an early grave.
*Sure, once or twice Harris over-pursued and got caught in the wash trying to get back into the play. But beat writers at camp were talking about him like he needed a Rascal scooter to get around the field. He played 1/3 of the defensive snaps and I want to see more of him. But first I have to go around and take the “Have You Seen Me?” signs off all the telephone polls.
*It might not have been their biggest game on offense in terms of numbers, but there was no shame in Josh McDaniels’ Xs & Os game. Adding Rex Burkhead gave him someone else he could pull out of his running back Multitool. A corkscrew to go along with Mike Gillislee’s serrated knife, Dion Lewis’ nail file, etc., etc. And he took advantage.
*Atlanta has built a defense on speed, youth and athleticism. So McDaniels overmatched them with a power run game. It put the McOffense into a lot of favorable down-and-distances, which neutralized the pass rush and kept every section of the playbook usable. Which is partly why we heard Brady making so many “Alert!” calls. It means a route is built into the pattern that will change based on the coverage. So say, it’ll be a post if the safety has closed the middle of the field, and a Go if the middle of the field is open. I mean, you don’t HAVE to have 2nd & 1s to do call those, but when a quick, smallish defense is forced to bring defenders down to respect your run game, it certainly doesn’t hurt.
*Obviously a lot of that is on the offensive line, who have put together two 2016-caliber games in a row. Nate Solder was mostly on Adrian Clayborn while Marcus Cannon drew Vic Beasley and Shaq Mason saw a lot of Dontari Poe. The protection held without the kind of help from the running backs we saw against the Jets. The interior of the line had a great night, with a consistent push on powers and inside runs and creating space on outside zones. Joe Thuney seems to be functioning without the obligatory false starts and holds. And Mason is developing into one of the best right guards in the game. I’d pay good money to find out who was responsible for Campbell when Gronk ran up the seam and he came in un-even-looked-at. But Beasley’s sack was an obvious hands to the face non-call so I don’t hold that against Cannon at all. Just another quality showing by the unit that looked as bad as the defense did not that long ago.
*Credit to for the play calls after that 4th down red zone stop. Atlanta came with a single high safety to load the box, since conventional wisdom and all common sense said the Pats would run it, backed up to their own end zone like that. Instead he ran Brandin Cooks up the seam, Brady put a laser sight on him and delivered a perfect sniper bullet before the safety could react. A ballsy call that worked perfectly.
*Obviously neither does having a healthy Gronk. Because I appreciate you reading this and want to be your Life Coach, I recommend you not take for granted what he does to a defense. The multiple personnel they have to commit to him because they don’t know on a given play if he’s going to block, go short, run deep or block and then release. He set up that first field goal by catching a pass in hi-lo bracket coverage between De’Vondre Campbell and Keanu Neal. On James White’s TD, Gronk was the Y receiver split from the formation opposite a 3-man bunch and cleared out an area for White to come underneath Deion Jones, cross his face and catch it at the goal line. He had another deep out toe-tap with pair of hands wrapped around his legs.
*And yet Gronk’s best play was probably the block on Brandin Cook’s touchdown. Cooks got behind him like he was a plowhorse. Robert Alford wanted no part of those hands and Cooks simply drafted behind him into the end zone.
*But the best part of that play (besides the six points) was that Brady officially gets credit for a touchdown pass. On a ball that he dropped into Cook’s hands. You’ll burn more calories tossing Fun Sized Butterfingers into some Disney Princess’ bag next Tuesday than he did.
*One part of Cooks’ game I didn’t pick up on when he was in New Orleans is the way he uses his speed to run off defenders, plant his foot and break back on the ball. I’d seen videos where they said short/intermediate passes are not his game and don’t get your hopes up on 50/50 balls. But he’s so effective at taking advantage of the fact they have to respect his extra gear, he doesn’t see a lot of contested passes.
*Speaking of the receivers, Chris Hogan might have a Wolverine-like Adamantium skeleton, because every week now he gets the snot knocked out of him and barely misses a snap. Consider that big catch he had in the 3rd, scraping along behind the linebackers as they bit on a play action to get it down to Atlanta’s 9. He got crushed on that one to the point Referee Skeletor (I don’t care what is name is; you can’t make me) put him in the CTE time out chair. But he came back from the Blue Tent From Which No Traveler Has Yet Returned. The guy is Penn State Lax Tough.
*I guess my only question is how do they tell if Hogan is concussed or not? I mean, you can’t exactly check his eyes to see if they look dazed and crazy.
*This Week’s Applicable Movie Quote: “Something came out of the fog and tried to destroy us. In one moment, it vanished. But if this has been anything but a nightmare, and if we don’t wake up to find ourselves safe in our beds, it could come again. To the ships at sea who can hear my voice, look across the water, into the darkness. Look for the fog. ” – Adrienne Barbeau, The Fog
*Get a load of Dan Quinn. You can’t see him going for all those 4th downs and convince me he doesn’t have Super Bowl LI occupying all the space in his personal little skull-shaped kingdom. I’ll concede the last one, since it was desperation time. But the first two were bananas. Even the one Matt Ryan converted with (stop me if you’ve heard this before) a quarterback scramble for the 1st. The second one came at midfield. In a 10-0 game. At 1:55 to go in the half and the Patriots holding all three timeouts. It’s one thing if you’re Hue Jackson and have nothing to lose. But the coach of a playoff team only does that when he’s intimidated as hell by fear of the Alpha on the other sideline.
*Even without Cassius Marsh’s field goal block or Atlanta’s other miss, this still would’ve been one of those games where the Pats’ special teams gave them a huge edge. I know the hotness is to cower in fear every time Gostkowski lines up for a kick. But his kickoffs have been consistently dropping right at the goal line and starting opponents in a hole. And on one kick, Matthew Slater took a shot from Justin Hardy that snapped his entire upper body back, he recovered, kept pursuing and forced the ball out of bounds at the 11 like he was the T1000. Until further notice, they’ll get the check mark in that match up every week.
*Kids, if you clap your hands and believe, you can make Brady try to complete a pass to Dwayne Allen.
*I can’t be considered a human being if I don’t mention Brady’s mom and Solder’s baby and great they looked. The main thing I learned when I got to do the Jimmy Fund Radiothon at WEEI and do the ring announcing for this charity boxing event called Haymakers for Hope, there is nothing in human existence that make you feel better than meeting an older woman or a toddler who stared cancer in the eye and kicked its ass. Absolutely nothing.
*Finally, thanks to NBC for the subtle product placement.