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Knee Jerk Reactions to Week 10: Patriots vs. Broncos

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Things to consider while calling off the search party because Brady got Dwayne Allen back from the Upside Down:

*I don’t care how the Broncos have played lately, this is a huge win. I never bought into the 19-0 talk simply because “at Denver” was on the schedule. It’s always been a weird place for the Patriots. Some kind of a gravitational anomaly where the laws of physics don’t apply and the Patriots make stupid mistakes they don’t anywhere else. A Bermuda Triangle where Chris Harper muffs a punt that costs them home field in the playoffs. Where Wes Welker performs a Code Red on Aqib Talib. Where they make Brock Osweiler into a superstar and CJ Anderson rips off a 50-yard touchdown run in overtime. Where a Stephen Gostkowski missed extra point makes them lose the conference championship to Peyton Manning with the HGH-repaired body of a 75-year-old. So hell yeah, any time you leave Denver without losing the game, one of your core players or your mind is a major surprise.

*There are a lot of “YOU ROCK!” thumbs-up Bitmojis to send. But the first one goes to Josh McDaniels for a game plan that found the weak spots in a defense that doesn’t have many and exploited them. He basically took the best cornerback pairing in the league out of the game by going heavy with tight ends and running backs matched up against the linebackers and safeties. Plus he had just enough of a run/pass mix (29 runs, 38 dropbacks) to slow down Denver’s pass rush and make the play action work. It was just brilliant. And showed an ability to take advantage of the vulnerabilities in others that you normally only see in powerful show business guys. So great job on the McOffense.

*Next, you can’t say enough good things about the offensive line. Especially without Marcus Cannon. There have been times in the past when LaAdrian Waddle scared the LaShit out of me. But he was the right edge of a line of Jersey barriers that the Denver pass rushers had to snake their way through to get to Brady. Plus they mixed up the protections, with the tight ends taking turns chipping Von Miller and Derek Wolfe. They threw a lot of James Develin at the ends and lead blocking on the interior runs. But for the most part, it was just winning the one-on-one battles along the line of scrimmage. Including the interior guys like Dave Andrews dominating Domata Peko, who I think had one stop all night.

*One blocking scheme that jumped out at me was on that 26-yard pass to Gronk when it was 27-16. Gronk and Martellus Bennett were doing their Riggs and Murtaugh thing to the right, with him on the inside. The ran a play action to Dion Lewis as both tight ends released and Waddle took the inside guy. It looked like that left Miller to come in unaccounted for. Except Joe Thuney slid back to take him out and Brady hit Gronk in the intermediate level behind the linebackers. They just never let Miller get into a rhythm going against the same blocker all night, where he can set a guy up with moves from one play to the next. Because he just never knew who’d be on him.

*Another example is the very next play after that, where Gronk lined up opposite Miller but stayed in to block. He stood the best pass rusher in the game straight up and was forcing him backwards as Waddle took care of Wolfe and Brandin Cooks ran an arrow route around Talib for 25.

*I don’t want to harsh Dwayne Allen’s mellow given the fact he just joined Chad Ochocinco in the One Touchdown Club, but I wish his blocking was anywhere near as consistent. On the sequence that followed, where Lewis ran it twice to make it 34-16, his first rush was right behind Allen stoning Brandon Marshall. On the next, he completely whiffed on Miller as Lewis hit the right side G-T hole. Allen managed to kind of pivot around and sort of get in Miller’s way, but he almost blew the play up. Lucky for him Lewis hit the hole too fast, Waddle bounced up to the second level to take our Darian Stewart and Lewis slipped through Talib for the score.

*Still the best hit all night was watching Trevor Reilly take out that official, and then struggle with the moral dilemma of whether to help the AARP member he just nearly killed or go make a play. For future reference, you always leave the official to die. Always. And if he’s not laying there saying “Don’t worry about me. Go. Save yourself. Your team needs you. …” with his last gasp, then he was never worth saving to begin with.

*I read a really great piece Friday from a really smart football writer about how the Patriots would use their cornerbacks in this one. And by “read” I mean “wrote.” I said that, in spite of the world’s opinion of Stephon Gilmore this year, they’d match him up on Demaryius Thomas and line Malcolm Butler up on Emmanuel Sanders, which they did. Exclusively. All game. Granted I thought Johnson Bademosi had earned snaps as well, and he had exactly zero, with Jonathan Jones taking the slot receivers. But I’m chalking that up as a win.

*And I’ll argue that Gilmore had his best game in a Patriots uniform. Despite giving away two inches and 40 fricking pounds to Thomas, he played him in press, jammed him to keep him from releasing into his routes. He held Thomas to 44 yards, with his longest reception being a fluke where Trey Flowers hit Brocketman, the ball came out of his hand like it was fired out of a t-shirt cannon and landed in Thomas’ hand. The rest of the night? That’s what $32 million in the next two years is supposed to look like.

*Malcolm Butler, not so much. Although, maybe just because I’m so glad to get out of Denver with a blowout win, I’m not ready to say it was a total disaster. In spite of the numbers. Yes, Sanders ripped of 137 yards against him. And there was that deep ball where he put on a move that got Butler’s hips flipped to the inside and then immediately broke outside for a 38 yard catch. But some of those catches were the back shoulder kind that are tough to defend. And there was that sideline catch where the ball passed right through Butler’s hands like he was a Hogwarts ghost. Butler fights on every down and doesn’t get shook and I think there’s value in that. Plus he had a couple of break ups and Sanders only caught just over half his targets. So I’m officially not worried about Butler. Though I wouldn’t mind seeing a little Badassmosi in there too.

*Do you get the feeling that Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth are just reading public service messages for the National Football League now? Like just randomly working a shot of the Broncos’ Veterans Day tribute into a chance to plug how none of those players you see taking a knee have anything against our military. And besides, you’re not seeing too many of them take a knee any more. And if they do, it’s nothing against our military because they love our military. Yay, NFL! where you’ll find everything you like represented and none of the things you don’t like. Buy our sponsors products! They do it every week now and it’s weird. Like they’re being forced to read it by the Joker who’s hanging them upside down. I miss the old Al Michaels, who used to crack Harvey Weinstein jokes and let you know when he got screwed by a back door cover.

*Then again, when the Marine Corps Silent Drill Team is there with rifles, it’s never a bad idea to mention how much everybody respects and admires the military. If it was up to me, those guys would perform at every game I could possibly book them. It’s just hypnotic watching them work. Like the world just goes away for a while. More please.

*I can’t get over the way the defensive line played, especially given the absence of Malcom Brown. Against an inside/outside zone proficient Denver front, they consistently filled the gaps, took away cutbacks and spilled plays out to the numbers so the linebackers could make stops. Alan Branch seems to have found that mental space he gets into when he wants to play tackle football. But the rest are just guys. Literally, in Lawrence Guy’s case. They played quite a bit of 3-4 fronts, with Branch and Adam Butler alternating at 0-technique nose, then going to a 3-3 front on passing downs with Guy and Deatrich Wise in there. I’m not saying they were dominant. Just that the unit is playing well considering you could win a bar bet asking someone to name 2/3 of them and they have strangers like Trevor Reilly and Ricky Jean Francois in there who should be wearing “Hello My Name Is” tags in the huddle.

*David Harris is finally not making me embarrassed I was so fangirling it when they signed David Harris this summer. He had a season high 30 snaps, all of them in a two-inside linebacker set alongside Kyle Van Noy or Elandon Roberts. He seems to move fine. Showed a great burst on a delayed blitz to get into Brockstar’s face. Comes downhill well on run plays. And had a nice PBU in coverage on Jeff Heuerman. I don’t know if he was just slow to pick up the defense or if they were managing him because of his age or what. I just cringe imagining how thin they’d be at ILB without him.

*This Week’s Applicable Movie Quote: “I expected the Rocky Mountains to be a little rockier than this.” “I was thinking the same thing. That John Denver’s full of shit, man.” – Dumb and Dumber

*That non-catch call on Gronk in the end zone is proof positive – in case you still need it – that referees have abrogated all responsibilities for making correct calls. They just call it however, let the replay official sort it out, and then hide behind the “no conclusive evidence” standard. There was never a single frame of that replay showing the ball on the ground, being bobbled or being anywhere other than securely in his hands. Whatever. It didn’t affect the outcome of anything but every Fantasy league in the world. My bitch is more about the fact that replay is supposed to be a safety net, and they ruse it as a hammock.

*I don’t keep up with such things but didn’t Sports Authority go Chapter 11 and get bought out by Dick’s Sporting Goods last year? So why do they still have stadium named after them? I guess the logical explanation is nobody wants to play at a place everyone would call The Dick at Mile High.

*Have a night, why don’t you, Rex Burkhead? Lining up at H-back. Splitting wide. Getting past Jamal Carter on that punt block by getting low and slipping under him. Picking up a 4th & inches on a Power run behind, Allen, Thuney and Nate Solder. A spin move for 8 followed by getting out of bounds after picking up the 1st down to set up Allen’s TD before the half. And his best move was the footwork on that touchdown to make it 7-0. He was in what the Patriots call a “Normal” split, which is two yards outside the numbers and Stewart was playing off his inside shoulder to take away leverage, but Burkhead ran a Dig route across his face for the score. It was a bold strategy, making Mike Gillislee a healthy scratch. But worth it just to finally get a look at his Samuel Adams’ Fall Variety Pack of skills.

*James White didn’t have a great game by his standards. The one sack they gave up was a total swing and a miss by him in protection on Justin Simmons. But by God, that move he put on to score the final touchdown was him at his best. The Broncos were in man coverage with two LBs in zone on the goal line. White ran right at Will Parks and basically did the Star Lord vs. Ronan dance off from Guardians of the Galaxy 1 right in his face. “What are you doing?” “I’m distracting you, ya big turd blossom.” And once he got Parks to commit to a side, broke the other way for the score.

*And the best part of that play was it meant Brady was done for the night. At the same time, it was weird seeing Brian Hoyer out there because I’ve been so emotionally invested in seeing Jimmy Garoppolo get reps for so long now. This’ll take some getting used to. My hope is Hoyer gets to finish a lot of victories this year. And then maybe someone can digitally insert Jimmy G into the plays, in that way Ridley Scott is going to take Kevin Spacey out of his J. Paul Getty movie. With all due respect to Hoyer.

*Congratulations to Martellus Bennett for finding that miracle cure for whatever made it so he couldn’t catch passes from Brett Hundley. Let’s just assume Belichick rubbed his hands together and laid them on his shoulder, Miyagi-style. Whatever did the trick, every time he makes a play, the world will hate the Patriots even more than they did before. And that is a pure good.

*I know everybody’s worried about Gostkowski missing kicks. But don’t for one hot second overlook the importance of the field position he’s forcing on teams. I count six of Denver’s 10 drives starting at their 25 or worse, four of the 10 from their 21 or worse. That has a direct correlation to points scored. It’s settled science.

*I hope I can walk with half the balance and agility Lewis showed running back that kick on my next Field Sobriety Test. But don’t drink and drive, kids. It is wrong.

*We’re onto Mexico.

@jerrythornton1