Is this what a rift looks like? I’m always fuzzy on how they hate each other pic.twitter.com/fDcvTncKuf
— Jerry Thornton (@jerrythornton1) January 21, 2018
Things to consider while looking forward to two weeks of “rift” talk. If that’s still a thing:
*There’ll be plenty of time to talk about the Big Picture and what another trip to yet another Super Bowl means historically and so on. For this Knee Jerk though, I’m just going to stick to this game for the most part. Other than to point out the obvious. That this is Tom Brady’s eighth Super Bowl appearance in his 16 seasons as an NFL starter. Four times he has come back to win a postseason game after trailing by 10 or more points in the 4th quarter. And in those four quarters he’s completed 72 percent of his passes for 551 yards and 5 touchdowns. This would be the undisputed career highlight for most of the quarterbacks in the Hall of Fame. For Brady, it might’ve cracked his top five. The cliché would be to say that what we are watching is Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky or Tiger Woods and say we should appreciate the greatness we are witness to. But it’s more than that. Watching TB12 in these games is like watching an eagle soar across a sunset over the Grand Canyon while a herd of wild horses gallops by you and Brie Larson hands you a glass of wine and slowly undoes her sun dress. If you don’t respect how amazing this is, you’re not unappreciative. You’re dead inside.
*And to further state the obvious, he staged this comeback with a hand that he didn’t know he could play with just four days earlier. With his No. 1 target knocked out of the game just before the half. With his No. 2 target knocked out of the season in August. Against an elite defense that was checking every box on the “blueprint” for beating the Patriots offense. Beating Brady’s protection with four rushers. Playing Cover-3 with physical Man underneath. Aggressively swarming to the ball. Limiting yards after catch. And still he managed two touchdown drives with the fate of the world in his surgically repaired hand. And posted the highest passer rating for the game that the Jags had surrendered all year. He’s The Storm, alright. That Red Spot on Jupiter that’s been going for millennia they could fit two Earths into.
*And once again, Danny Playoff Amendola came up huge in the clutchest of moments. No moment was bigger than that go-ahead touchdown catch, crossing in the back of the end zone with just a step on Tashaun Gipson against a goal line zone. One of the best game-winning postseason TD catches ever. Right up there with Santonio Holmes in the Steelers-Cardinals Super Bowl. But even that catch has competition from the 3rd & 18 he converted. The one where he reached up and snagged a 1st down conversion like a lizard catching a fly with his tongue. And don’t sleep on his punt return that took it down to the Jacksonville 30 to set up his game-winner. He went home after the game to this:
…and the fact it wasn’t the highlight of his night says everything. Given all the huge plays he’s made, Amendola is now officially Bill Belichick’s best free agent signing. Remember when everyone was screaming that he couldn’t ever replace Wes Welker? I know I do.
*I also thought I’d never forget Brandin Cooks’ drop of a pass that should’ve tied the game halfway through the 3rd. But we all should. All things considered he still had a great game against a top-down defense with two Flash-quick corners designed to take away exactly Cooks’ style of play. Still he managed to be only the fourth receiver to have 100+ yards against them all season. And the whole game turned on the pass interferences he drew. (Which were totally legit calls, by the way.) He did what he’s been doing all year which forcing corners to give him a cushion, then breaking back on the ball at 12-15 yards and getting 1st downs. He was literally getting separation of 5-6 yards against AJ Bouye that way while mixing in just enough deep shots to keep Bouye from ever being comfortable trying to time his break and jump the routes. Just an incredible job against one of the top CBs in the game.
*Not that the game was at all fun. My mental state pretty much stayed on that narrow band of the emotional spectrum between “Catatonic” and “Praying for the Sweet Release of Death.” Every time they get into a game like this I try to tell myself it’ll be OK and Brady has the Warrior Spirit and to just relax, they’ve got this, etc. And every time I fail. Mostly I waited for the coordinators to make adjustments and it just seemed to take forever. I’ll get to Matt Patricia in a minute, but since we’re talking about the offense, let’s start with Josh McDaniels.
*His game plan going in was obviously to attack the edges of the Jaguars’ defense. Which was a curious decision given that the Jags really don’t come at you with a lot of complex schemes. They line up in their base 4-3 or their nickel, sub out the D-linemen but basically give you two looks and try to beat you with their speed and athleticism. Which they did to McDaniels’ plan, repeatedly. The reverses, bubble screens and wheel routes out of the backfield were being blown up like Berlin in 1945 and he just kept calling them. Eventually what got things going was when he got away from trying to beat them horizontally and went for the aforementioned comebacks/curls by Cooks and crosses by Amendola in front of the deep safety. Which were great, I just wish it didn’t take so long to make the adjustments. If McDaniels takes that many years off my life in the Super Bowl I’ll be dead in 1994.
*A huge part of the turnaround goes to the offensive line, particularly the interior who I thought did a complete 180 from the 1st half to the 2nd. Shaq Mason in particular (who I think is their best O-lineman) struggled early against Marcell Dareus. But he had non-help from Dave Andrews. But as the game wore on they kept the front of the pocket clean and Brady had time to let routes develop.
*And someone who deserves to get singled out is Dwayne Allen, who came in for Gronk. And while for whatever reason Trump would sooner look at Rosie O’Donnell than Brady would look to Allen in the passing game, his blocking was crucial. On the Dion Lewis run that put the game away, Allen made a combo block, first firing down on Dawuane Smoot and then bouncing up to the second level to take out Telvin Smith to give Lewis the space to pick up the 1st and close it out. The prop bet on his Super Bowl catches will be +/- 0.5 and with or without Gronk I’ll take the under. But he’s contributing.
*On the subject of Gronk, that hit by Barry Church was a killshot, plain and simple. I don’t mind it so much any more. I’m used to it by now. It comes with being Rob Gronkowski. But when Church tries to argue the call or says after the game “they said I hit him high,” he’s just insulting our intelligence. He’s like an American caught selling meth in Indonesia on Locked Up Abroad trying to tell us it was all a big misunderstanding. And I fully expect the Eagles to come after Gronk in the exact same way. All I ask is they don’t pretend it isn’t a Code Red when we all know it is.
*Here’s how I expect this to go:
Concussion doctor: “69.”
Doctor: “OK. You’re cleared to play.”
*At this point, what do the Patriots do with all those Lamar Hunt trophies? They’ve got to be more annoying than cute. Like you owned a few Funko Pops so they girl you’re dating keeps buying them for you and now you have to find a place to display them when you’re really not that into them. My guess is they’re keeping those things in the back of a warehouse like the end shot of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
*And I credit my pal Nick Stevens for this. The newer Hunt trophy blows. It looks like something prisoners get locked up behind when they’re standing trial on Krypton.
*Speaking of alien worlds, for a few hours yesterday we lived on a dimensional plane where Blake Bortles was 15-for-17. With 12 straight completions. Blake. Bortles. Bizarro Bortles. I think he was one field goal drive away from the Detroit Lions telling Matt Patricia they were going to look at other applicants but they’d keep his resume on file.
*The Jags offense was originally written on sheepskin scrolls with berry juice and animal blood. Either power runs behind a fullback or 11- or 12-personnel (one back and one or two tight ends). But they mixed it up with some three wide receiver sets, bunches and spreads. And took a flamethrower to the Patriots with misdirections and boot concepts. The Patriots took the fakes every time, giving Bortles wide open targets to hit and then didn’t tackle well. They also got no pressure with a very vanilla rush four-man package that Jacksonville had no problems with. It was excruciating.
*To Patricia’s credit though, he finally adjusted, right around the time McDaniels did. He actually switched to the rarely seen Bear front, a 3-0-3 with a nose head up on the center and the tackles playing outside shoulder on the guard with a 5-technique end on the weakside and a strongside end on the tight end’s inside foot. It was prefect against a Jags offense that was just trying not to screw up instead of trying to put the game away, so their attack got conservative enough to win the Alabama primary. Leonard Fournette was running into two defenders in whatever gap he hit. Malcom Brown and Ricky Jean-Francois especially. The 3rd & 2s Bortles was looking at earlier in the game became 3rd & 8s and punts. And instead of passively waiting for Jacksonville to make mistakes, they started forcing them.
*Best of all from that front, Patricia got more creative with the pressure. Straight rushes became stunts and twists, including the James Harrison strip fumble and the Trey Flowers sack. He brought Pat Chung off the edge and then Malcolm Butler, forcing incompletions and checkdowns that didn’t get the 1st. And I hope when Adam Butler brought down Bortles he went right over to Jalen Ramsey and did the Heisenberg “Say my name. … You’re goddamned right” thing.
*Let’s all promise to make a mental note of how 60 minutes is usually enough time for McDaniels and Patricia to figure it out and quick expecting them to have all the answers in the first 15. But who am I shitting? When they go scoreless in the 1st quarter against Philly I’ll be in the exact same mental state.
*I’m not saying Phillip Phillips didn’t deliver a quality, bittersweet singer/songer ballady version of Anthem. I’m just nostalgic for a time when winning Idol meant you were the next big pop sensation. Now their past contestants comprise 96% of America’s Anthem industry. The next season should be called “Who Wants to Sing ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ at State Fairs for the Rest of Your Life?”
*This Week’s Applicable Movie Quote: “I am Jaguar Paw, son of Flint Sky. My Father hunted this forest before me. My name is Jaguar Paw. I am a hunter. This is my forest. And my sons will hunt it with their sons after I am gone.” – Apocalypto
*This Week’s Bonus Applicable Movie Quote: “Ocelot spleens! Jaguar’s earlobes! Wolf nipple chips, get ‘em while they’re hot!” – Coliseum Vendor, Monty Python’s The Life of Brian
*I’ll give the Jags credit that some of their mistakes were necessary, like the pass interference calls in coverage on Cooks. But there were also the usual assortment of unforced errors we’ve grown to know and love over all these playoff games at Gillette. A delay of game. Not getting set because they were trying to get a play off to prevent the Pats from challenging a catch. The decision not to go for a 4th & 1 from the Pats side of midfield. Eventually someone will discover that the lighthouse that doesn’t look like a lighthouse is actually a transmitter that scrambles brainwaves. But by then Belichick will have Ernie Adams build a wireless version and the old one will be dismantled.
*Belichick’s postgame fashion is now the best reason to stay through the postgame. I thought nothing could top last week’s Patriots pullover with the Pats logo torn off. But yesterday’s Flashdance look did it. It’s the look that says “I just won another AFC championship” AND “I didn’t come to your 80s Party looking for second place.” That’s why you never throw old trendy clothes away, kids.
*So we’re all in agreement that Stephon Gilmore is really good? I was as hard on him as any man alive back in October, but I’ve been firmly on Team Gilmore since he came off the injured list. That play he made on Dede Westbrook alone was worth the $65 million. And when you realize he was 1A/1B with Bouye as far as best free agent corners on the market, it looks like a steal.
*The Patriots deserve America’s undying gratitude just for saving them from a Jacksonville/Philly Super Bowl. At least you’re getting a villain instead of a nondescript, barely relevant franchise nobody is passionate about whose helmets are weirdly painted black on the front half like Wile E. Coyote just had an Acme bomb go off in his face. At least now you can hatewatch the game. You’re welcome.
*That fumble by Lewis was not a fumble. When you’re on the ground with the ball pinned to your leg, that is down by contact in any reality. So the Patriots got hosed in the most critical call of the game, and still won. That’s what champions do. Take a lesson from that, Pittsburgh. Better yet, don’t.
*I think we can all agree this is ultimately what won the game.
*Finally, there’s this. We’re onto Minneapolis.