Knee Jerk Reactions to Week 8: Patriots vs. Chargers

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Things to consider while wondering if Tom Brady handing out inflammatories like peppers and tomatoes to kids isn’t the TB12 Method of giving them poison candy:

*OK, so it wasn’t gorgeous. Too many lost opportunities. Drives that stalled. Points left on the board. Great field position squandered. Inconsistencies all over the place. As wins go, this one has a great personality and its friends tell it its really pretty. But it’s going to use a photo of itself standing next to the win over the Falcons as its profile pic so you don’t immediately swipe left.

*I mean, it did look great for a while there. Gus Bradley’s defense almost exclusively employs a Single High Safety in order to play an 8-man box. Typically the Patriots go after those by attacking deep and to the outside with multiple vertical routes. But for the entire 1st half Brady was finding guys underneath with comebacks and stop routes and killing the Chargers six or eight yards at a time. Then for whatever reason those easy pitch-and-catches stopped connecting and they never really got back in rhythm.

*Here’s the thing: I think what sets the Patriots apart from other teams is they will patiently stick to short completions all day long. On defense, they’ll concede those throws because they know eventually opposing coaches and quarterbacks will get bored with that passive approach and feel the need to prove their manhood by attacking deep, playing right into their hands. Brady and Josh McDaniels didn’t do that. The offense just simply kept misfiring, particularly in the red zone. Brady started missing like a Stormtrooper. Gronk turned in one of the most Aaron Dropson games of his career. The 3rd down attempts you take for granted came up Error 404: File Not Found and the lost the opportunity to put this one away early.

*And there was no more glaring example than the opening drive of the 2nd half. When a Deion Lewis return put the ball on LA’s 25. A touchdown there would have made it 22-7, which wouldn’t mean the Chargers were dead, but time for them to have the talk about burial vs. cremation. Instead, Brady threw an infield practice ground ball at Brandin Cooks’ feet, a pass to Gronk was broken up, Brady had to throw it away on 3rd down, and Stephen Gostkowski missed the kick. When you get field position like that and come away with zero points against a team with even a strand of mental toughness in their DNA, then 999 times out of a thousand the momentum shifts, they come out sky high, drive the field and score on you. Thank the gods of scheduling that this was the Chargers.

*There are just those franchises in all of sports you can count on to do stupid shit when you most need them to do stupid shit. And the Chargers have perfected it. Like I’ve said before, this is the team that, in the Norv Turner years, once finished second in the NFL in offense and number one in defense and still missed the playoffs. And like I told Pat McAfee and AJ Hawk on this week’s “Laces Out,” Travis Benjamin’s punt return is behind only the Butt Fumble and the Colts’ Funt play as the worst play the Pats have ever benefited from.

*Muffing the punt is nothing; the greatest returners of all time do that. The fact that he didn’t just fall on it, turn around and fall forward for two yards or simply kick the damned thing into the Militia, he ran 11 yards back into the end zone with it. With Jonathan Jones, Mathew Slater and Brandon Bolden running unblocked behind him like the Nazgul chasing Frodo. 11 yards. To the one place he shouldn’t be. Seriously, if a punt returner at Boston College did that, the FBI would open a probe into points-shaving. And if you want to pick nits, at the end of the game driving for a game-tying score with no time outs left, Benjamin caught a ball outside the numbers and cut back inside for like one extra yard while the clock ran down. Then Rivers throws a Hail Mary attempt to the 3-yard line. It doesn’t matter who the coach is or even what city they play in, that franchise just perpetuates the never-ending cycle of stupid. But of all the Chargers plays in the world, that safety was the Chargeriest.

*As frustrating as it is to see the McOffense underachieve, how many times have we watched them win a 1980s Denver Nuggets-like shootout and then said we’d like to see one time when Brady doesn’t have a great game and the defense steps up and wins it. Well here you go. I’ll concede that the Chargers are a slightly below offense. But they’re not the Dolphins, either. And when you remember all the favors they did for Alex Smith, DeShaun Watson (no shame in that, it would appear) and Cam Newton, the fact they held Phillip Rivers to 212 yards and 3-of-10 on 3rd downs is a reason to break out the good scotch you got for Father’s Day.

*In coverage, Malcolm Butler had that one breakdown vs. Benjamin. The Patriots will have their corners sight-adjust base on a receiver’s split, to force him either inside toward the linebackers or outside to the boundary. In this case, Butler was lined up with outside leverage and Benjamin made a quick inside move. The problem was that Keenan Allen also blew past Pat Chung in the slot. So Devin McCourty, who had that half of the deep field, had two 9-routes to cover and couldn’t get over to help Butler. And Johnson Bademosi’s one major glitch was a the kind of bogus 30-yard pass interference call that makes the dead crawl out of their graves at the old defensive backs cemetery. The rest of the time if they completed something on him, it was back shoulder throws where he was in the perfect position, which I have no issue with. Aside from those two crapfests, the corners were solid throughout for the second straight game.

*The offensive line is starting to have that familiar feeling from last year where we hear all week about the pair of pass rushing assassins they have to face, like the Moncada brothers from Breaking Bad, and they handle them. It happened week in and week out last year. And while three sacks for 16 yards is not usually something to celebrate, against Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, I’ll gladly take it. Especially since one of them was just Brady in field goal range, holding the ball for ever waiting for one receiver to come open until LaAdrian Waddle gave it LaUp. And on that play, Shaq Mason came across to the backside of the pocket and positively earholed Bosa. I want our relationship to be built on trust so I’m not going to pretend I can rank all 32 right guards in football, but if any of them are playing better than Shaquille Olajuwon, I’d be stunned.

*I’m disappointed Belichick didn’t turn the Weaponized Weather Machine up high with a 15-7 lead at halftime. I mean, rain with a little wind is fine. But next time I want it full blast. Locusts, raining frogs, the rivers running blood red. Some real Old Testament stuff. Next time crank it to 11.

*All else being equal, you have to feel OK in the immediate aftermath of losing Dont’a Hightower. Elandon Roberts penetrating to blow up a Wildcat run on 3rd & 2. Kyle Van Noy coming in from the Will to blow up a pulling Dan Freeny and tackle Melvin Gordon for a loss. And on Rivers’ fumble, Van Noy and David Harris blitzed both A-gaps, wherein Harris promptly drove Gordon’s ass into the ground like a tent spike. Later Harris read and reacted to destroy a RB screen to Austin Ekeler. Yet they’re still managing Harris. He went like three LA possessions in a row without seeing the field. And yet every game he’s annihilating someone in the backfield. Here’s hoping we get to see more of him in that limited Brandon Spikes role, with all of Spikes’ physical presence, but minus his driving and general meatheadism.


*The obvious disaster play can’t be overlooked. On Gordon’s 87-yarder, Roberts made the call and looked like he had it read all the way. But in pursuit he got submarined and taken out of the play, Tyrell Williams screened Chung and Hunter Henry sprung it with a textbook block on Devin McCourty. The Chargers had the numbers, but it was as much about execution and technique as anything. Still, a team that prides itself on DBs who tackle can’t ever let that happen. They’ll be spending more time with Belichick binge-watching that play than I’ll spend on Stranger Things 2.

*Just as a general coaching point though, as nice as it was that Butler hustled back into that play and nearly punched the ball out? A touchdown-saving tackle there would’ve been nice too. Just something to keep in mind going forward.

*This Week’s Applicable Movie Quote: “They Melvined me!” – Grim Reaper, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey

*Chris Hogan has bounced back from a lot of big hits in the last couple of years. But that one he took in the arm from the crown of Hayes Pullard’s helmet looked like the worst one yet. Still, there are not many among us who can say they knocked a man out with one blow from their mighty bicep.

*I say again, Gronk was not up to his usual standards. But still, I’d like someone to put together a supercut of plays where he’s obviously interfered with, without a call. Jahleel Addae flat out tackled him in the 1st and got away with it. I think the reason Addae pitched a fit when he actually got called for one is that he was just following the special rules that exist only when your guarding Gronkowski.

*Speaking of the officials, how can Desmond King have Brady on the ground for two full seconds, then lift him off the ground like he’s about to give him the DDT, and there’s no call? Not even a warning or a stern talking to. If the league doesn’t smarten up and start calling that stuff against quarterbacks, even if they were running, then last Thursday Joe Flacco gave his life for nothing.

*The most under-covered event of the Patriots year is the cheerleader Halloween costume extravaganza. I was shocked and appalled how no other squads dressed up yesterday, and when the Patriots crew does, they’re lucky to get 20 seconds of air time, obscured by a giant Papa John’s logo. To me it’s second only to San Diego ComicCon in terms of super attractive women doing hot cosplay. Sexy Cop. Pink Power Ranger. Sexy Disney Princesses all over the place. If it was up to me, I’d give them a half hour Kraft Productions show, instead of just wasting them on the 60,000 in the stands. Make it so, Mr. Kraft. These young women deserve it.

*Speaking of the people in the stands, kudos to them. On a crappy day, they stepped up their game. When Ian Eagle says “Phillip Rivers is dealing with the crowd noise” on a 3rd down, those are the most beautiful words these ears have heard since “Intercepted by Malcolm Butler!” I can’t remember the last time I called them the Real Housewives of Foxboro. Hopefully I’ll never need to.

*I’m running out of things to say about James White. His blitz pick ups. His ability to get open. That sick Matrix move where he froze Addae in place five yards short of the marker and picked up 15 more. And that catch where Brady was in a crowded elevator full of pass rushers and lobbed up a flat-footed lob wedge to White who hung onto it while he got drilled. But I’m going to spend the bye week on so I’m ready for his next game.

*Next to Benjamin’s safety, possibly the most Chargerian move of the whole game was defending Jacob Hollister and double teaming Dwayne Allen while Gronk went uncovered. I want to see Allen’s contract, because I’ve got this theory that he’s got an incentive bonus that pays him $50 million for his first catch.

*We’re onto the bye. For a team that needs a healthy Hogan and could use Malcolm Mitchell, Stephon Gilmore and Shea McClellin, it couldn’t come at a better time.