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Knee Jerk Reactions to Week 12: Patriots vs. Dolphins

Pats lights

Things to consider while putting out the Christmas lights:

*How many times over the last decade and a half have we seen games that went exactly like this? It’s become a Patriots trope. To the point now the channel guide for any game could read, “NFL Football: The New England Patriots don’t play their best, but a zany, undisciplined opponent makes dozens of wacky mistakes on the way to another blowout win as hilarity ensue.” If the Pats were a sitcom, this plot would be the “planning a surprise birthday party” or “grandparents decide to stay over” of story lines.

*It’s not like I think Adam Gase is a lousy coach. I don’t. But he’s just another NFL head coach tasked with trying to clean up the operations of an organization that’s been a dysfunctional family circus for a generation. Where dumbass, unforced, penalties before the snap and dumbass cheap shots during the play and dumbass, energy-wasting yapping after the whistle have been not only tolerated, but practically encouraged. So he’s stuck watching his punt return team fall asleep on a fake, defensive holds keeping Patriots drives alive, Kenyan Drake getting up in Kyle Van Noy’s face, Bobby McCain punching Danny Amendola in his well-protected face, Ndamukong Suh tackling Dion Lewis by the facemask (and getting away with it). Not that the Patriots played a mistake-free game by any stretch. Just that the number of games in the Bradichick Era where they’ve lost the Stupid, Self-Inflicted Wound battle could probably be counted on your hands without using your thumbs or pinkies.

*Which makes the decision to go for the fake punt on their own end of the field in the 1st quarter that much ballsier. Because this was one of those matchups where you didn’t have to take chances, just limit your mistakes and let the Dolphins run around stepping on rakes and piles of dogshit. And if it failed, Bill Belichick would’ve looked as bad as Pete Carroll did trying it last week. And the thing is, Miami looked ready for it. They had eight guys in the box. Neville Hewitt was in the middle, spying Nate Ebner, but Joe Cardona bounced up to put a hat on him. Michael Thomas was on the edge but Brandon Bolden sealed him off. And now the play shows up on tape so every opposing special teams coach is going to have to spend valuable time prepping for a call they may never make again. Brilliant.

*I’m declaring that from now on, the game right after Thanksgiving is the official start of It’s OK to Be Impressed by Patriots Defenders Season. In that way that you can start listening to Christmas music and putting up the decorations. We’re deep enough into the year now that it’s appropriate. I singled out Van Noy last week against Oakland, and he played even better yesterday. He stuffed a hole to stop a 3rd & 1 conversion, chased Matt Moore out of bounds for no gain on a naked bootleg, and then solo tackled Laron Landry on an End Around, all on the same drive. They had him in coverage on the running backs, an area that has killed them for years, and he’s reliable there. And late in the game he hit the Quinella of recording a sack on the same play he drew a hold. I’m not saying he’ll ever make a Pro Bowl. He’s just become that solid guy who covers the field and never seems to blow an assignment.

*On that note, let me add Elandon Roberts to my holiday playlist. He’s been showing this uncanny burst in the blitz game, like on that sack when he read the center Mike Pouncey, and as soon as he committed to one side, Roberts shot the A-gap to his backside and had Moore on the ground before he could react. And since this is that most wonderful time of the year, when Matt Patricia usually starts dialing up more aggressive play calls and more exotic blitz packages, I’m really looking forward to seeing what he’s capable of.

*While I’m talking about QB sacks, Ian Eagle needs to check himself. The very next play after Roberts’ sack was the one by Trey Flowers, assisted by Marquis Flowers. And he went there. Does he think no one else has tried? I looked at the two Flowers issue from every possible angle. I’ve been doing it for weeks. I put on coffee and filled a wastebasket with crumpled notebook pages. And the reason I never said anything was because there was nothing there. No word play to be had. No puns to drop. But along comes this hack with his “Two for one Flowers” and his “Bouquet of Flowers” and bombs. When Dan Fouts can’t even give you a pity laugh, you know you should’ve left it to the pros. Or better let, alone entirely.

*See, this is how it’s done: “Ted Karras? Looked more like Karrasshole on that snap, Dan, amirite?” Boom. Roasted.

*I can’t imagine what it was like for Karras to have to face Dante Scarnecchia after that one. I’ve always said that as bad as Bud Thornton’s belt on the back of my ass felt when I got out of line, it never hurt as bad as Irene Thornton saying “I’m very disappointed in you.” That was like a knife dipped in Tabasco plunged into my heart. Scarnecchia strikes me as a guy who gives you both treatments. Plus there were other breakdowns. False starts. One by the entire offensive line, which tells me that was probably Karras too. Like I’d rather walk into the 9th circle of Dante’s Inferno covered in Sterno than have to face Dante Scarnecchia in that position meeting room tomorrow.

*Credit Brady for diving after the ball with two Dolphins pass rushers all over him. I think there’s a part in all of us that would rather see him pull a Cam Newton there. But competitive fire isn’t a light switch you can turn on and off. Believe me, I’ve wished he’d stop throwing himself into harm’s way like a Born-Again trying to pray the gay out of some kid. You can’t. It’s who he is.

*And on that note, Eagle and Fouts might have set an NFL record that may never be broken, asking why Brady was still in the game in the 3rd quarter. With the score 28-10. Really? Have we gotten so hyper-critical of Belichick that we’re now saying he’s arrogant for thinking maybe 15 minutes is enough time to blow an 18-point lead? Oh well. If they’re saying that stuff it just means there’s nothing else to bitch about. And leaving Brady out there is my second favorite flavor of Belchick arrogance, right after running up the score.

*Getting back to the defense, people have settled into their roles, all across the board. Malcolm Butler is getting the mid-sized Kenny Stills receivers. Stephon Gilmore it taking the rangier, DeVante Parker types. Jonathan Jones is the slot guy in dime on Jarvis Landry, with Chung down there when they’re in nickel and the safeties deep. The communication is excellent, with none of the breakdowns we were seeing two months ago. For instance, on that 3rd & goal stop that resulted in a field goal, the Dolphins had a 3-man bunch that the Pats defended with Butler inside, Jones in the middle and Gilmore wide. Butler signaled to Gilmore, who stayed outside called the switch like in 3-on-3 basketball as you’re supposed to, no one came open on the combo route and Adam Butler put a rip move on Pouncey to force a throwaway.

*And Malcolm Butler played his best game of the year, that bogus PI penalty on the fleaflicker that Stills tried to catch with his foot notwithstanding. Stills only finished with 47 yards, and more than half of those were one catch on Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon in prevent. And on the very next play Butler punched a sure catch right out of his hands. The starting corners played the way I dreamed they would when I drunkenly floated in the white trash pool all summer.

*Holy schniekies I still can’t get over that collision between Trevor Reilly and Senorise Perry. It looked like the kind of thing you only see in a PSA about the dangers of texting and driving. But it was just one of those games where every other play someone is slow to get up. I haven’t seen that many bodies on the ground since the last time I watched European soccer. Except these injuries were real.

*God knows we’ve seen the Patriots swing and miss on receivers who outrun the world. Trackletes like Bethel Johnson who had limited skills or Jeff Demps who wanted to go win medals instead of play football. So it’s really special to see a guy like Brandin Cooks, with that rare combination of speed, precision route-running, hands, and the grasp of the concepts.

*On the 39-yarder to Philip Dorsett, Cooks drew the safety running a deep post from the other side. Later he ran Cordrea Tankersley off and came back on the ball for 13. He ran a Jet Sweep that should’ve been stopped by Reshad Jones, but Cooks disintegrated him with a head fake and picked up the first. On that 38-yarder, he cut inside underneath Amendola running a vertical from the slot, a great route defeat zone that left him so in the middle of nowhere he couldn’t have gotten a cell signal. Then his touchdown was just simply pure, blazing speed, getting around the end before anyone react. Watching him doesn’t make me long for the days of Jabar Gaffney and Kenbrell Thompkins.

*This Week’s Applicable Movie Quote:
Bruce Wayne: “So you’re fast.”
The Flash: “That feels like an oversimplification.”
-Justice League (Which I just saw, by the way. Ignore the critics. It’s the balls.)

*I probably buried the lede by taking this long to get into Dion Lewis, who is so good right now he’s taking Mike Gillislee’s job away. Remember when the book on him was that he was great at making people miss, but also kind of make of porcelain? And the speculation that he would be a surprise camp cut because they couldn’t trust him to stay healthy? Yeah, about that. When he’s not making people miss, absorbing hits, bouncing off them and still picking up yards in bunches. He runs with that forward lean some guys are blessed with, where even when you bring them down, their center of gravity and momentum pick up another body length at the end of every run that makes him such a good between-the-tackles runner.

*Also, I should note, he’s still making people miss. Take that early run early on when he got behind a Shaq Mason pull, jumped over Andre Branch, bounced on the mushroom, grabbed the gold coins, ran up the green tower things and picked up 22. Next week I want to see him get the Invincibility Star

*This was not a great day for the refs. I don’t blame the Dolphins special teams coach for losing his shit during that endless punt formation. Especially since I was doing the same thing. In a lifetime wasted in front of football games, I’ve never in my life watched a play clock go down to zero and then just reset like someone hit the “ADD :30” button on a microwave. If the game clock had been running too, I would’ve welcomed it. But watching the Patriots punt team do the Mannequin Challenge for two full minutes only to then take a delay of game and then punt it into the end zone isn’t going help the declining TV ratings any.

*Let’s get this straight. And remember it the rest of the season. No matter what little fantasy the auto companies sell you, no one in the history of the world has ever woken up on Christmas Day to find someone surprised them with a car. Just stop already and let’s get back to making guys look like assholes for not buying their wives tennis bracelets made out of Blood Diamonds.

*I have to admit I was worried this week hearing that Gronk missed a practice. It’s been a while since we’ve had to worry about that. But we’re a dozen games into this season and he’s about as mobile and uncoverable has he’s been in years. On his first touchdown, they spread five wide and even though Reshad Moore is 6-1, 223, it was a total mismatch. And that came after he had two big catches against zone. So on his second, they tried Kiko Alonso on him, Gronk put a jab step on him, and it was never close. Save for the double catch that almost cost him. In between was a 22 yard seam route where they had single coverage on him because he looked like was blocking on an wide receiver screen. I just can’t imagine what answers any team could come up with to stop him, apart from putting a tranquilizer dart in his haunch.

*And now Gronk is getting into the pre-planned, choreograph end zone celebration game with Cooks? I’m equal parts excited and feeling cheated that it’s taken them this long. But I’ll overlook it so long as the keep coming.

*I can’t believe it’s almost December and they won’t clinch the division for a week or two. I guess this really was the year the AFC East closed the gap.