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Knee Jerk Reactions to Week 14: Patriots vs. Dolphins

Things to consider while realizing I’d rather be forced to watch the video for “Christmas Shoes” on constant repeat until New Year’s than film of this game ever again:

*Simply put, these games happen. It might feel like they don’t happen to the Patriots but they absolutely do. And always have. In preseason I never once bought into the “19-0” talk because every year they go 5-1 in the division. Winning is hard. Winning in the division is extra hard. And in this entire run of 17 years (and counting) the Pats has swept the AFC East exactly twice. As a matter of fact they lost a divisional game in each of the five seasons they won the Super Bowl, against Miami in 2001, ’04 and ’14 and against Buffalo in 2003 and last year. It’s that one screw up they make every year in the same way a Persian rug maker puts one flaw in his work because only Allah is perfect.

*Believe me, I’m not about to polish this turd. There’s no mitigating how gawdawful they were. But what I find hilarious is the reaction you get every time the Patriots lose a single game. All the 1s and 0s crawl out of the Internet to @ me with “Quit making excuses! They suck! They got dominated! How you gonna spin this, Old Balls???” Like if I do anything less than make a Keaton Jones video sobbing into the camera about how upset I am the Pats got bullied, I’m in denial or something.

*So let me say it: The Patriots got pushed around in all three phases. Against a team on the edge of the playoff hunt. On the road. In a place where they rarely play well. By a touchdown. You’ll just have to pardon me if I’m not buttoning up the suicide vest over this one.

*I’ve been around long enough not to expect any kind of rational thinking out of the crowd who try to bathe in the Patriots blood every time they play a lousy game. I got accused of “making excuses” for Gronk when I said he should not have jumped on Tre’Davious White and he deserved the one-game suspension and what he did would cost his team. Well stop me when I say something that’s not correct because his suspension just cost his team. Again, that is not an excuse. It’s simple, irrefutable fact. You don’t go 0-for-11 on 3rd down if you’ve got the best third down target in football playing 60 snaps. You simply don’t. And his presence in the game would have easily made a 7-point difference. He didn’t miss the game because of a tough break or being unlucky or life being unfair. He came unglued at the wrong time, got what he had coming and hurt his team. I don’t know how I can be any more critical than that.

*And at the same time, I’ll give all the credit to the Dolphins they deserve. Without Gronk to have to account for with multiple personnel, it looked to me like they played mainly a Cover-1 Robber, with one safety deep, the other dropped down to take away the underneath throwing lanes, with the corners playing press man. I thought going in we’d see a heavy reliance on the backs, but never imagined they’d struggle so much against Miami’s 8-man box. It was your classic Nick Saban inside-to-out scheme, forcing everything toward the sideline and deep. And the Patriots had no answers.

*Typically getting the running backs involved in the passing game is a pure positive. (See: James White, Super Bowl LI MVP runner up.) But all those Brady completions to them were checkdowns. Never hitting them in stride, no yards after the catch. All leading to 3rd & longs followed by deep shots up the field they had no shot of converting.

*Nobody has played bump and run on Brandin Cooks all year the way Xavien Howard did. Nobody has come close. Cooks has either been able to outrun coverage, run defenders off and then come back at the ball, or free himself with quick cuts. Last night he was able to do none of those things against Howard. Howard’s first interception was just a bad underthrow by Brady, but Cooks didn’t do anybody any favors not giving Howard the old Brandon Browner treatment and just taking the OPI. On the second, Cooks had a step and the ball would’ve hit him in stride, but Howard just hit the R-button and D-Pad to find some Turbo gear and out race Cooks to the spot. I guess it’s fair to worry that he put on film how to play Cooks and take him out of a game, but I’m not sure there are too many corners in the league that have the skills he showed.

*The offensive line had been doing a solid job lately of neutralizing elite edge rushers like Von Miller and Khalil Mack by throwing a Batman utility belt’s worth of different weapons at them. But it just wasn’t working against Cameron Wake, who was getting around the corner all night. Miami ran a lot of games up front that mainly moved Ndamukong Suh around. And when he wasn’t on Shaq Mason, nobody could handle him, particularly not Dave Andrews or Joe Thuney, who had as bad a game as we’ve seen all year.

*While I’ll probably hate myself for saying this because it’s just the kind of thing you only notice in the middle of a frustrating loss, but am I the only one who looks at Andrews and sees some of Hagrid’s half-brother Grawp? With my apologies.

*I thought the best player on the field for New England was Pat Chung. He had Julius Thomas in single coverage all game. Defended some passes. Was effective in run support. Then he got completely pantsed by Kenyan Drake on that play where Chung blasted into the gap and had him squared up only lose him to a spin move and cutback that got him down to the 4. Plus Chung was the one who drew the flag on that punt return that took the ball from across midfield back to the New England 15.

*So instead I’ll give the game ball to Joe Cardona. His long snaps on Ryan Allen’s seven punts were money.

*While I’m on special teams, what was Dion Lewis thinking? The Patriots had 13 possessions and started eight of them inside their own 25, mostly due to Lewis carrying kicks out of the end zone. I’m not saying you never run them out but when it’s not working, and given that most long returns get brought back anyway, the Plan B of just taking a knee and saving your strength to pick up 3rd downs is not the worst option.

*But nothing put the “special” in special teams like that onsides kick attempt. The Patriots HAVE to win the Super Bowl now, just so we’ll maybe get the benefit of the practice footage where that play worked. Like seriously I don’t know what it was designed to do, but it might be some work of diabolical genius. Instead of looking like a kid rolling the ball with both hands at a 6-year-old’s Rock & Bowl party.

*OK, now I understand why Eric Lee was on the Bills’ practice squad. Yes, he occasionally flashes with a brilliant display of athleticism. But he defends an edge with all the effectiveness of Roy Moore’s wife giving a speech about Jews. I can’t even count how many times Jay Cutler broke containment and threw on the run. And how many more 1st downs Captain Neckbeard could’ve picked up if he had just scrambled more or if Thomas wasn’t dropping passes. And Lee played every single snap. For some reason getting an end to hold his ground on the edge and not get caught inside is one of the hardest tasks in all of coaching. But if Lee doesn’t clean that up or Trey Flowers isn’t back soon, Ben Roethlisberger is going to look like Mike Vick against this unit.

This Week’s Applicable Movie Quote:
Clark Sr.: “You just cocked it up. It’s okay, it happens.” …
Clark: “How did you get through it?”
Clark Sr.: “I had a lot of help from Jack Daniels.”
Christmas Vacation

*Is it me, or do Sean McDonough and Jon Gruden have the worst chemistry of any broadcast team on TV? McDonough’s worked with everyone. He’s done baseball, bowl games, college basketball, Olympic bobsledding and the Masters. He’s worked with everyone. But every game he and Gruden sound like two guys just meeting on a Grindr date they immediately regret making.

*For instance, my favorite moment was McDonough going over a graphic that showed the Patriots hadn’t been held without a 3rd down conversion since 1991. And a minute later Gruden says “No 3rd downs! I haven’t seen that from Tom Brady … ever!” like he was on his phone the whole time and wasn’t listening. Gruden seemed to have more going for him with Guy Fieri while they were stuffing their gobs with Philly cheesesteaks.

*Is it too big an ask that some company just buy the naming rights to that stadium and just leave it on there for a while? It sucks enough losing there every other year without the place having more names than Daenerys Targaryen.

*Sometimes after a game like this, you just need to stick your tongue against the canker sore and just maximize the pain. So to do so, I’m going to pick my favorite Patriots 3 & out. I’m having a hard time deciding between the one that went: Drop by Dwayne Allen, bounced at Amendola’s feet, sack by Suh, punt. Or the one that went: Hold on Thuney, incomplete to Cooks, incomplete to Hogan, complete to Amendola, -2 yards, punt.

*But by far my favorite worst set of downs was the one after Amendola was ruled down at the 1-centimeter line, and five plays later they were settling for a 33-yard field goal. Hope that hit was worth it, Gronk.

*The bottom line is that this game really won’t mean a thing if the Patriots take care of business the rest of the way. Beat Pittsburgh this week and they have the tiebreaker. Beat Buffalo and the Jets and they can’t be caught. And when the history of this dynasty is written (Note: I am writing the history of this dynasty. Stay tuned.) the third loss of the season at Miami with a depleted lineup won’t even get a paragraph. Just as long as they win out. Which is a huge “if” should they play like that again.