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Knee Jerk Reactions to Week 16: Patriots vs. Bills


 Things to consider while realizing that if you did nothing for the next 364 days but get ready for next December 25th, you still won’t achieve anything close to the perfection of a Very Brady Christmas:

*This is the second year in a row the Patriots played on Christmas Eve. So like last year, this is less a “Knee Jerk” reaction than a “Post-Gallons of Oakheart & Egg Nog” reaction. So you’ll have to give me a pass if this week I maybe step back a little and look at the overall picture instead of take a closeup view of the brushstrokes like usual.

*And just to pull way back to the other side of the gallery, here’s a little historic perspective on what we’re witnessing right now. This franchise wasn’t exactly born in a manger, all calm and all bright with three kings bearing gifts and angels singing. It’s birth was a painful C-section with blood on the walls and tons of complications that nearly killed everyone involved. And from that time in 1960 to 2002, they never once won as many as 12 games in a season. In the 15 years since, they’ve done it 12 times, including the last eight seasons in a row.

*And not to make this about the quarterback because he wasn’t the story of this game. But this raised Tom Brady’s career W-L, including playoffs, to 220-64. That puts him 156 games above .500. That’s more than Dan Marino had in his whole career. And credit to Kerry Byrne of Fancred for this: Joe Namath is in the Hall of Fame and considered maybe the greatest Jet of all time. His career record was 64-64. Meaning that in order to tie Brady, he would have had to go another 156-0. This is all just a reminder that it’s OK to ask for new toys under the tree because you’ve been so good this year. Just don’t forget to appreciate the ones you already have.

*And just to keep beating the Christmas metaphor to death, the best surprise we’ve had this year has been at running back. For two years we had visions of a healthy Dion Lewis dancing in our heads. And now that we’re getting our wish, he’s better than we could’ve hoped for. I think I’m guilty of looking at this guy who’s 5-8 and wouldn’t hit 200 lb unless he was holding a bag of groceries and just assuming he needed to be in put out in space and have room to make people miss. But he is regularly now running through contact, breaking tackles and dragging defenders across the 1st down line. Plus making those moves in the open field. I’m just not sure I’ve ever seen his skill set on anyone. Certainly not in Foxboro. He’s got that Ant-Man like ability to shrink down to 3rd down back size but still maintain his full power back strength. And I don’t know how you defend against that.

*By way of example, with the Pats down 10-3 and a drive sputtering because Brady missed a wide open Rob Gronkowski, Lewis powered through three tackles to pick up 11 and it set up Gronk’s touchdown. In the 4th when it was 23-16, he took a screen pass behind two separate Nate Solder blocks on Jerry Hughes and Dave Andrews bouncing up to the 2nd level against Ramon Humber, then cut behind Brandin Cooks’ block on Shareece Wright at the goal line for a 12 yard score. Then his final touchdown was right up the center-guard gap, through the pile of bodies, his aforementioned Ant-Man skills turned up to full power.

*And clearly the game plan going in was to find ways to let Lewis win the game. Right from the opening possession when they ran a toss to him against a loaded box and Matt Milano blew it up. As the game wore on, Josh McDaniels got deeper into the “Late December” chapter in his playbook, including the old Kevin Faulk direct snap play to Lewis. A Jet sweep by Jacob Hollister behind a Gronk block. A screen to Mike Gillislee behind all three interior linemen. An end around by Cooks. It’s always satisfying to see McDaniels pull out the plays that the Ravens will get the Rules Committee to outlaw this Spring.

*And yet for all of it, my favorite Lewis moment was him on that final scoring drive getting brought down near the sidelines, and while he was flat on his back, signaling that the clock should keep moving. That’s the kind of situational awareness that no one on the Steelers sideline had with over three minutes to think about it, and Lewis does it in the middle of a drive. It’s going to be fascinating to see if he can take over a playoff game like he did this one.

*While we’re on the subject of the Rules Committee and the Steelers, I’ve decided the question of what constitutes a catch isn’t a matter for the league, the officials or the replay system to determine. It’s a philosophical question. It’s like trying to decide what is Truth. Or Beauty. Morality. The Nature of Man. That sort of thing. You might be a Descarte “I catch, therefore I am” Completed Pass Dualist; I’m more of a Kierkegaard Catch Existentialist who believes it’s imperative that we all Survive the Ground. The point is, there is no wrong answer. It’s completely subjective. I thought Kelvin Benjamin had that ball. The wise sages who are paid to contemplate such abstract issues disagreed. The Bills had to settle for a field goal. How can we prove them wrong? I honestly don’t know how baseball manages to solve such a complex moral question so easily.

*All I do know is that the two reversed calls in eight days ruined a lot of Christmases in western PA. And that is a pure good in any philosophy.

*If the league does decide to take another stab at trying to define a catch, they might want to also find a way to put an end to sequences like this one at the end of the half: 2:00 warning. Commercial. Patriots line up for a 4th & 1. Buffalo timeout. Commercial. The Patriots line up again, and call timeout. The bring out the field goal unit. Make it. Commerical. Kickoff. Touchback. Gruesome Travaris Cadet injury. Showed again in slow motion. Commercial. That was about 15 minutes of solid awfulness that took a total of five seconds off the game clock. Send that tape to London and see if anyone wants that taking up their Sunday mornings.

*Alright I’ve gone this long without getting into Brady. And while I’ll admit there have been an alarming number of missed throws lately and that Pick-6 was just a genocide of wrong (Scott Zolak in the postgame tried to put it on Kenny Britt but I’m not seeing it), let’s not lose sight of the fact Brady led them to scores on the next six possessions, including touchdowns on the last three, before Brian “The Human Victory Cigar” Hoyer came in to finish it. For the game he was 21-for-28 with a passer rating of 106.8. A career day for most, a below average day for him.

*I just can’t imagine how Brady was able to summon the courage to pull that game out without Alex Guerrero not on the sidelines. I mean, I know the gang from the Belichick-Brady Rift Club are blaming the interception on his guardian angel not being there. I’m just not sure how they explain the perfect back shoulder throw Gronk one-handed for the touchdown or him looking off an entire secondary to get Dwayne Allen wide open in the flat and leading him upfield for a big gain or hitting Danny Amendola on his knees in traffic right at the chains. I guess he’s sometimes able to suppress the separation anxiety, but other times it comes back.

*The single weirdest thing I’ve seen at Gillette all season was the guy in the crowd yesterday holding up a copy of the TB 12 Method. I hate carrying anything more than wallet, keys, phone and cigar into a game. This lugged a 10 lb, $35 hardcover book with him all day. And for what? Was he going to look up Green Risotto with Lemon Cream recipes during timeouts? Read about glute workouts? Masturbate to the pictures (which I would respect but wrong time and place)? And the worst part is they won, which means this poor sap has to do it all the time now.

*I’ll say this though: If I thought Alex Guerrero could help the cornerbacks in single coverage, I’d put a goddamned headset on him and get him on the payroll.

*In broad strokes, I think Matt Patricia went with a lot of Single High Safety, dropping Devin McCourty down to help on LeSean McCoy and leaving Stephon Gilmore and Malcolm Butler iso’d. The logic being that Tyrod Taylor is wasy less likely to beat you than Shady. And as a result we got a metric shit ton of the exact kind of chunk plays they defense is normally set up to stop. Deonte Thompkins flipping Butler’s hips on that deep arrow route for 46. Benjamin high pointing balls over Gilmore’s head. And Taylor converting three seasons worth of 3rd downs without ever turning the ball over. I’m hoping this was strictly game plan specific. Because the way they looked, there won’t be a quarterback in the postseason so bad we can honestly say “____ can’t beat them.”

*This Week’s Applicable Movie Quote: “We’re gonna have the hap, hap, happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny fucking Kaye! And when Santa squeezes his fat white ass down that chimney tonight, he’s gonna find the jolliest bunch of assholes this side of the nuthouse!” – Clark Griswold, Christmas Vacation

*I’m sorry I’ve taken this long to mention the best unit on the field for New England (non-Dion Lewis category), the Patriots interior defensive line. Led by Malcom Brown but with an assist from Ricky Jean-Francois and a rotation of Adam Butler, Lawrence Guy and Marquis Flowers, they dominated in the trenches. Particulary against Eric Wood who was in the Hurt Locker most of the day. I still think this front is way more hurt by the loss of Kyle Van Noy than I ever thought possible, but the tackles are rarely getting gashed. And for the most part kept Taylor from breaking containment. All that said, there are way too many names in this paragraph that none of us had ever heard at the start of camp to feel great about this being a championship defense.

*I make it my policy to drop all Christmas music at midnight on the 25th. But just because I haven’t posted this yet, enjoy. Belatedly: