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Knee Jerk Reactions to Week 13: Patriots vs. Bills

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Things to consider while appreciating the Billdo, a new tradition unlike any other:

*Another week, another win that we’ll probably take for granted even though we shouldn’t. Every year I expect at least one loss in the division, on the road typically, and this easily could have been that annual slip going up the stairs on the way to the AFC East title. But wins like this don’t come easy. The people who want to blame the Patriots success on a weak division are ignoring a little thing like all four teams are currently in the playoff hunt, the last place team just put 38 points up on Kansas City in a win, and if they Bills had won this they would’ve been 7-5. Very good teams lose about three or four of these a season. So don’t fail to appreciate it when the Pats don’t play their best and still come away with a 20-point road win in the division. As the Bible says, it’s not getting what you want, it’s wanting what you’ve got. Or maybe that Sheryl Crow. But she is very wise.

*That said, if this game was a Friends episode, the title would be “The One Where Gronk Came Off the Top Rope and Almost Killed a Guy.” So let me come right out and say he ought not have done that. I want to make that clear. I am one of the country’s most outspoken advocates for Using Your Words. I’m the one who coined the phrase “Friends don’t let friends pile drive their 6-6, 265 lb. frame into a guy while he’s lying prone on the ground.” And it will cost him. Maybe not a suspension, since he’s a first time offender. But I wouldn’t rule it out. When the discipline is being decided by an unscrupulous, morally bankrupt, cowardly little nematode worried about his next pay raise and looking for any opportunity to show what a tough guy he is, all bets are off. And even in the heat of battle, you’ve got to realize there’s a despot just begging for an excuse to stick it to your team and back off.

*But we can’t have a rational discussion about Gronk’s hit on Tre’Davious White without including the cause of his frustration. My any objective standard, there is a special set of rules that pertain only to him. The Gronk Rules. In a league where a defenders get flagged with spot fouls for giving too much sideeye to a receiver beyond five yards, you can basically treat Gronkowski like Matt Lauer treated his interns and get away with it. It’s been that way for years. On the play where White made the interception, he clearly grabbed the back of Gronk’s shirt and yanked it like he was starting a lawnmower, gave him an arm bar, then shoved him off the ball to make the INT. That doesn’t mean White deserves a concussion for it. I’m not victim-blaming. He’s just doing that the officials allow and what I’d tell him to do if I was coaching against New England. But let’s not be shocked when the guy who can’t get the calls everyone else watches it cost his team the ball and he finally snaps. Not to mention he himself had been flagged three times in the 2nd half alone. That’s not an excuse. But let’s not deny that The Gronk Rules were what the lawyers like to call a contributing factor.

*I’ll get more into Gronkowski’s day further down, but I don’t want to go any longer without mentioning what we are witnessing with this defense. A month into the season, they weren’t bad; they were historically bad. Giving up points at a pace that would’ve made them the worst defense in NFL history. Today, they are tenth in the league in fewest points allowed. And in the Monday night game, if Pittsburgh scores nine or more or Cincinnati puts up 30, the Pats will move ahead of those defenses as well. They gave up 33 or more points in three of their first four games. In the eight since, they’ve yet to give up more than 17. In the first four weeks they averaged 32 points against. That’s more than they’ve surrendered in their last three games combined. We’ve seen them turn things around before, but never like this. If the NFL was a bad ’80s teen comedy, their defense would be the shy awkward girl who ditches the glasses, does a makeover then comes down the stairs at a party in slow motion to Spandau Ballet.

*I recognize the need to grade on the curve here. That opening drive by the Bills was not encouraging. It was all positive plays and ate more time off the clock than Wagner’s The Ring Cycle, minus all the laughs. But then finally the Bills remembered that they are, in fact, the Bills, and reverted to form with that atrocious interception by Tyrod Taylor. It’s just who they are. That team is like a dog that can walk on his hind legs for a while so we can all say “Look at the good boy! He thinks he’s human!” And he might make it all the way across the kitchen floor. But sooner or later he’s going to have to go back to walking on all fours, drinking toilet water and licking his balls.

*Which is not in anyway to take away from Eric Lee. I heard from a guy who has a radio show in Buffalo I’ve done a bunch of call-ins with. He called me at the end of the game and Eric Lee’s name on his lips was what despair sounds like. Because here was a guy who was on the Bills practice squad, picking off a ball on the goal line, running around in the Bills’ backfield all day, sacking quarterbacks and knocking down passes. Unless something even crazier happens, I’m giving Lee the 2017 Antwan Harris Trophy, named for the guy in the 2001 AFC championship game who took a lateral from Troy Brown on a blocked field goal and raced the length of the field while all of New England said with one voice “Who the Christ is Antwan Harris?!?” For the record, my all time favorite in that category is Fred Coleman, who that same year caught a crucial 46-yard pass from Brady in the playoff run, on his way to a career total of two catches for 50 yards. Plus there was that Butler kid in the Super Bowl against Seattle. Eric Lee has a long way to go to match that.

*Speaking of which, Malcolm Butler and Stephon Gilmore played arguably their best game of the season. Granted, it was mainly Butler on Donte Thompson and Gilmore on Zay Jones, so I don’t want to make it sound like they shut down Cris Carter and Randy Moss. But when you hold any tandem to two catches for 22 yards each in a league that’s outlawed pass defense, that’s a nice day at work.

*The best play Jones made was staying with a ball that Gilmore perfectly defensed, getting a hand on it and batting it away until Jones grabbed it. But in the red zone, Gilmore completely eliminated him. Breaking up a fade route. Chasing him to the back corner, ripping the ball out and then essentially pinning Jones to the ground, slapping him in the head with his own hands and doing the “Why you hitting yourself, huh? Why you hitting yourself?” thing.

*Granted, Butler had that totally unnecessary hold on a 3rd & 10 that got him taken off the field. But it was just for one play. The important thing is that the cornerbacks are getting it done in man coverage, mixing in some zone without any of the breakdowns we saw in September. Gilmore is no longer playing like the coverage calls are The Enigma Code. And quietly they’re becoming the elite pair we thought they’d be.

*One guy on the defense in particular I think has improved is Malcom Brown. In the past it looked to me like his technique would break down, he’d get all high-hands, get stood up too easily, lose leverage and get pushed around. But now every time I watch him he’s staying low but still tracking the ball and not getting lost in the wash. Especially when the Bills were mixing and matching Joe Webb in there and running read options, he controlled Richie Incognito a couple of times and stopped Webb for negligible gains. And that’s why we’re seeing him get more snaps than any other DT in their rotation-heavy front.

*The play of the game from that front was obviously the 19-yard sack in the 3rd quarter. And while Taylor was chased back by the entire blitz package of Kyle Van Noy, David Harris and Deatrich Wise, I thought Adam Butler putting a rip move on Vladimir Ducasse was probing raid that won that battle as soon as it began.

*But it was Brown who finally knocked Taylor out of the game. While I respect Taylor’s toughness and how he hung in there all day, by that point putting him down was just the humane thing to do.

*I pretty much watch the Patriots in real time, meaning these are the only commercials I actually still sit through. And they’ve taught me that as a middle aged white man, I should be spending a lot more time sitting in the front seat of my car talking about fast food with my friend like douchebags.

*There were enough mistakes along the offensive line for Dante Scarnecchia to come out firing with his laser pointer in meetings this week. Take Joe Thuney in the 2nd quarter, letting Kyle Williams put a swim move on him on a 3rd & 8 , forcing a field goal. But overall, I thought they executed great in the power run game. I believe Cameron Fleming had a false start but otherwise held up his end of the bargain, mostly against Shaq Lawson. And Shaq Mason continues to play the best football of his career. I’m disappointed we still haven’t had the stars align to give us that Shaq vs. Shaq matchup I’ve always dreamed of. But I refuse to give up.

*Maybe the best blocking all day came on that 44-yard run by Dion Lewis, that set up the second field goal. Running out of the I, Mason helped Dave Andrew on Adolphus Washington, then bounced up to take out linebacker Preston Brown pursuing, while Lewis slipped tackles from Ramon Humber and Micah Hyde. The rest was done by Philip Dorsett, who took White out the play with an upfield block, something he’s been doing a lot of since he came over from Indy.

*But I don’t want to sleep on the Rex Burkhead touchdown that made it 23-3 and pretty much took Buffalo off life support. Mason helped Andrews double Cedric Thornton while Fleming sealed off the backside LB and Thuney pulled. Burkhead went behind Thuney for as long as he could and then dragged Hyde and Jordan Poyer the last five yards like they were the Osha and Bran to his Hodor. Burkhead and Lewis are just making so many guys miss and getting so many tough yards after contact now that I doubt we’ll ever seen Mike Gillislee again.

*This Week’s Applicable Movie Quote: “Fun isn’t something one considers when balancing the universe. But this … does put a smile on my face.” – Thanos, Avengers: Infinity War

Belichick rings

*Every NFL stadium does pat downs now and are so Terror Threat Level: Red when it comes to enforcing the “Clear Bag” policy, the question of how that Billdo gets smuggled in is too horrifying to contemplate.

*It doesn’t matter who’s in charge of the Bills, you can guarantee that at least once a game they’ll make a decision so egregiously stupid you almost think it’s required in their contract. I mean, can anyone explain what Sean McDermott was going for challenging that play when Burkhead tripped Brady and he threw the ball away? Down by contact makes no sense because nobody touched him. Intentional grounding wasn’t an issue because the ball reached the line of scrimmage and there were receivers in the area. Plus you’re risking a timeout over like five yards in the early part of a game. It’s as if when they get around Belichick, they automatically start to out-think themselves to impress him. Like that It’s Always Sunny when they crashed the frat party and Charlie tried to do the Will Hunting speech but all he could spit out was “You … read Garrison and Wood. Garrison! Wood!” They always make asses out themselves without Belichick even forcing them to.

*As a side note, I don’t see how Danny Amendola can get his helmet ripped off his head before the whistle and that penalty gets lumped in with the two dozen personal fouls called after the play. That interception should never have stood.

*Now back to Gronk. It took awhile for Brady to start finding him, but he was at his best, especially in that first touchdown drive that started the half. And first, let me humblebrag this:

KJR

*Boom. Roasted. After getting called for a push off (Gronk Rules), he came wide open on a dual blitz from his side for 19. He then went for 25 over Hyde as Hyde grabbed him (Gronk Rules). They caught one for 16 at the sticks in a high-low bracket between Brown and Poyer. Then got a push as Burkhead punched it in from their Jumbo personnel to make it 16-3.

*But maybe my favorite Gronkowski moment was late in the 3rd when he was obviously singled up on White and ran a Go while Brady stared him down, double-clutched, waited for him to go free and lofted it up for Gronk to high point the ball right over White’s head. When he’s doing that, no one who isn’t wearing slimming vertical stripes on their jersey can stop him.

*And that’s what I’m afraid is going to happen. Let’s just hope it gives him a week off to rest before the Pittsburgh game. But we’re onto Miami.

@jerrythornton1