“Well, that is how you go into a bye week.”
That’s what I typed Sunday evening to begin my column. Just a simple, easy line marking the enthusiasm that abounded in New England after the Patriots smacked the Bills, 41-25, gaining a league-best 7-1 record and a three-game lead in the AFC East heading into their mid-season break.
Oh, a trade? Involving whom, you say?
Well, then. Goodbye, Jamie Collins, hello, speculation.
Two seemingly disparate thoughts can be true here. One, Collins was the most athletic, dynamic player on New England’s defense. Two, Bill Belichick had to trade him.
Collins was seeking a new contract. He also had a tendency to freelance, which sometimes made for a broken play, but other times resulted in a showcase for his tremendous athletic skills. Human nature being what it is, a player in that situation might try to freelance a little more often in an effort to make more “splash”-type plays, increasing his future contract value. The fewer reps the player is allowed on the field, the more this tendency may arise in a quest for that one highlight. This might be true, but again: this is human nature. We don’t need to trash Collins on his way out.
We also don’t need to ever utter the words, “If I were Belichick,” because none of us outside of Gillette Stadium (and, it appears, few of those inside of it) knows what the man sees or understands that helps him arrive at his conclusions. Again, human nature being what it is, the head coach might feel the need to ensure that every defensive player heeds the word of his coordinator. As he overlooks every aspect of the team, he might want to feel fully in charge of said team and subtract anything or anyone who he feels could impede that, even his most talented defensive player. This might be true, but we don’t need to trash Belichick.
In short, the coach made an impactful decision that seems rash, but it’s one that he felt he needed to make. We’ll see how it works out.
Anyway, the Patriots won! They’re 7-1! They have next week off!
Wait: we can’t even distract ourselves with a game this week? Good God.
Third Degree Burns: The Patriots started out super hot on third down, as Tom Brady began the game five-for-five to convert all chances, eight for 10 passing overall, with 107 yards and two touchdowns. Most remarkable about Brady’s performance was his ability to use all of his receivers. On their opening TD drive, Brady shot a down-and-out to Julian Edelman for a first down. He completed a four-yarder to Martellus Bennett, followed by a pretty floater to James White in the left flat for a third-down conversion. Rob Gronkowski’s one-handed grab was out of bounds, but Chris Hogan’s 16-yard out converted the next set of downs. Edelman gained 10 after finding an opening against zone coverage. Gronk caught one, albeit for a three-yard loss after getting felled by the ant-like swarm of Bills. Then Danny Amendola gathered in a nine-yard touchdown pass. All told, Brady completed seven passes to six receivers on the first drive.
I mean, if you’re playing defense, who’s the guy to cover?
A Game Of Quarters: New England started out Mojave-like in the first quarter, burning the Bills for 120 yards and two touchdowns. They went Arctic in the second, frozen to minus-10 yards up to the 6:20 mark. Yes, the Bills’ defense deserves some credit, but penalties and missed blocks led to the kind of inconsistency that you’d hate to see show up at the wrong time. What gets so frustrating is that, as we see above, when the Pats get it going, they seem about as stoppable as that runaway train that picked up speed and kept going in that movie.
What the hell was the name of that movie again?
Anyway, maybe that’s the frightening aspect of this team: as good as they’ve looked overall, they still haven’t played a consistent four quarters yet.
Hold Your Head High: But be careful linebacker Dont’a Hightower doesn’t try to knock it off. His bone-jarring hit on running back Mike Gillislee in the first quarter set the tone for the day. Devin McCourty smacked Reggie Bush at the 13 on a kickoff return. McCourty had another noteworthy stop, mashing Brandon Tate like he was an Irish breakfast. And late in the fourth quarter, Malcolm Butler laid the wood on Robert Woods (ha! see what I did there?). Buffalo’s a team that wants to act like a bully, and they reacted like bullies tend to when New England stood up to them.
Will A Part Of Gronk Feel Sad When He Scores 70? Congratulations to Rob Gronkowski, scorer of 69 touchdowns in a Patriots uniform. Gronk set the New England career record on Sunday, passing receiver Stanley Morgan. Here’s what amazes me: Morgan took 13 seasons to notch that number; Gronk took seven. Even more incredible, Morgan played 180 games for New England, while Gronk has only played 86.
So … that’s pretty good.
From Glen To Glen And Down The Mountain Side: Oh, Danny Boy. Amendola’s rambling 73-yard kick return to start the third quarter deserves more attention, as it marked the first time since the Houston game in Week Four that a Patriots special teams play made had such a positive effect on the team. This replay shows the blocking alignment from the end zone, as well as a nifty move by Amendola as he spins out of a tackle at the 45-yard line and zips to his right for another 30 yards. That, plus three catches for 75 yards and a touchdown, demonstrated Amendola’s aptitude for key plays.
Christopher Cross? If Chris Hogan was angry at Buffalo, he got it out of his system after four receptions for 91 yards and a TD. Brady’s 53-yard parabolic touchdown pass graphed out how the rest of the day would go for the home team. Even more impressive was Hogan’s sideline catch in the second quarter where he leapt over cornerback Ronald Darby and latched onto the football for a 19-yard gain. That play brought New England out to its own 44-yard line and set up Brady’s 53-yarder to Gronk for a 21-10 lead.
Post Mortem: How about the goalposts killing the Bills’ hopes before halftime? With 4:18 remaining in the half, the home team drove from their own 25 to New England’s 31. With 32 seconds left, Dan Carpenter gave the 49-yard field goal a shot, but the kick sailed like an eephus pitch in the Western New York wind, going high and to the right before eventually boinking off the upright. In the remaining 27 seconds, Brady threw an incomplete pass, then found White for a six-yard gain where he shimmied out of bounds. A 15-yard gain to Amendola, followed by a 7-yard pickup to Gronk, set up the Pats at the 33. With three seconds remaining, Stephen Gostkowski hit a 51-yarder that moved like a knuckleball before it banked off the left post and through for three points.
A potential 21-13 lead quickly became a 24-10 advantage. Coupled with Amendola’s second-half kickoff return and Edelman’s touchdown off of a screen pass, New England scored 10 points in less than one minute of playing time to break out to a 31-10 lead early in the third.
Will Commish For Food: I know, we around New England have stopped talking about domestic assault in the NFL because a player got traded, but I’d like to add one more note before the post-bye week. Commissioner Roger Goodell makes over $30 million a year. The league should know that I am willing to do his job for less than half that. Shoot, one-tenth that. The first rule I’d like to enact involves the penalty for abuse. We can keep the automatic six-game suspension, but we will use those six games to run a thorough investigation from an unbiased third party. If the charges have merit, and if there is proof such abuse has occurred before, the player in question will be suspended for a year, with pay. The team will pay the salary, though they can work with the league to move the salary off the cap.
This does a few things, most notably remove conflict involving payment that can often prevent a victim of abuse from coming forward. The player must then attend a psychiatric health facility as an in-patient for anywhere from three months to the full year, depending on the extent of the abuse. No matter how long he attends, he is on probation for the extent of his employment by the NFL.
This would a) keep the abused party safe, b) ease the stresses of day-to-day life that become a factor with some professional athletes’ behavior, and c) encourage the athlete to focus on himself and do the work necessary to avoid becoming a repeat offender.
It’s an imperfect strategy that could withstand some tweaks, but it beats the “nothing to see here” m.o. of the NFL. Anything that would help someone come forward – victim or abuser – and get necessary help seems like a better idea than a blind eye and a cover-up. Or the owners could fire Goodell and hire Amy Trask. But they’d never do that.
Collins’ Worth: One issue I have with sports radio in general involves the amount of time taken on each topic. Take a look at the quote box below for a second.
Jamie Collins was the Patriots’ most talented defensive player. Bill Belichick traded him for what seemed like little value. This doesn’t make much sense.
Got it? Great. Now talk about this for four hours, and then four more hours, and four more on top of that, and you have the gist of every Boston sports radio station this week. Speculation combined with ignorance that often materializes in the form of rhetorical questions (“Did Collins do something? Is he hurt? Is Belichick mad at him?”) makes for tedious radio. It reminds me of when Princess Diana died in a car crash. The American cable news networks kept going overseas for updates.
Yes, updates. As if maybe she weren’t still dead.
The Collins trade is over. It’s unsettling and confusing. But we know for sure that Belichick didn’t do this on a whim. He has no other player who can fill the fast-moving, high-jumping shoes of his departed linebacker, so he’ll gather his forces and try to put everyone in the right spot for the next eight games and beyond. We’ll see how it works, and until then only speculate whether or not it will.
Not-So-Happy Gilmore: Man, the Bills will never learn. After the game, instead of talking about self-improvement or how the Patriots deserved credit, most Bills players refused to believe they’d faced a better team. Cornerback Stephon Gilmore said that the Patriots “didn’t ever beat us one-on-one, really. We just gave them everything.” This seems an odd thing to say, as on the Hogan TD it appeared that Gilmore himself was so thoroughly roasted he’s now featured in a Boston Market menu with two sides and a medium soft drink.
Let’s see, here … on New England’s first TD, Brady scrambled to his right, allowing Amendola to lose defensive back Jonathan Meeks in the end zone. Hogan then ran past the entire Buffalo defense for the next score. Then Gronk dusted Nickell Robey-Coleman for a TD. So that makes three instances where the Patriots seemed to get the better of the Bills in one-on-one match-ups.
Gilmore’s seemed an odd point of view to take, especially considering Coach Rex Ryan’s realistic, sportsmanlike press conference where he lauded the Patriots and seemed willing to concede the AFC East title to them. Not sure how Bills fans feel, but measured, contemplative Rex seems like a better bet for their future than fiery, trash-talking Rex.
I Have Osmosed The Basicalities: On CBS’ halftime show, after the panel lauded Brady’s efforts and execution, James Brown said, “He has internalized the fundamentals,” and then went to commercial break. Um, what?
In this situation, we see that part of Brown’s job involves getting the last word in before each break. This can lead to unusual utterances like the one above, where he had to say something, no matter what. Kind of like what the expert in the science-fiction movie does at the end of each scene: “I know one thing: we’ve never seen anything like this before.”
Oh, really? We’ve never seen a robot the size of a skyscraper destroying a city before? Thanks for the tip.
Farming Cumberlands: The Patriots tried out a number of special teams free agents recently, including old friend Tyler Ott, long snapper out of Harvard. (If he ever makes a mistake, Vegas won’t even carry the odds that the announcer will say, “Not the smartest move for a Harvard kid, eh?” Hilarious!) Also of note, Oregon punt returner Bralon Addison and Cumberlands kick returner Wendall Williams (not to be confused with Wendy O. Williams, late lead singer of the Plasmatics. Oh, you didn’t confuse them? Fine. Never mind.)
Addison (5-9, 197) returned this 81-yard beauty a year ago at Michigan State. He was signed by the Broncos as a rookie free agent, then released in August. Williams (5-11, 185) ran an alleged 4.19-second 40-yard dash, though at his pro day he was timed at 4.40. He also had a 6.64-second 3-cone drill, which is Edelmanesque. In 2015 at the University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg, Kentucky (Go Patriots!), Williams topped the nation in kickoff return yards per attempt (32.4). He spent some time with the Texans and the Jets this season. You can see some of his college highlights here.
Way too many column inches to spend on two fringe NFL guys, but it points to a desire to have consistency on kick returns. Before Amendola’s efforts Sunday, Matthew Slater brought back the Bills’ first kick and fumbled (though helpfully, harmlessly out of bounds). Edelman has brought stability to the punt return unit, but watching the Patriots’ two best wide receivers make themselves vulnerable to high-speed punishment doesn’t exactly soothe the nerves. Could be time for a regular return guy to take the hits. (Come on, Cyrus Jones. Pull it together.)
Send Me An Angle: I have to wonder if the NFL really wants to do what’s best for the game, because they refuse to buy cameras for pylons. As Coach Belichick suggested, cameras placed on the goal line give the best angle for whether or not the ball crosses the plane. We saw a perfect example of this on Edelman’s touchdown, when he scooted past one defender (with help from a nifty cut block from Amendola) and scrambled over another to reach the ball toward the end zone.
Did he make it before his elbow touched? I assume most Patriots fans think so while most Bills fans would disagree. And we’ll never know, because the NFL has deemed it “too expensive” to equip each pylon with a camera. Really? A quick search for spy cameras shows that WalMart prices them at about $30 each. Maybe they’d require some higher-tech devices, but they can’t be that expensive.
Again, the NFL loses credibility here after spending $12 million on an investigation into alleged football deflation. If they wanted to improve this aspect of the game, they could do it, easily.
A Little Out Of Thuney: I’ve heard it’s good to read hard-copy print instead of pixels at some points during the day, so Sunday morning I skimmed the Lindy’s draft magazine for 2016 (and, if you’re going to buy a draft magazine, this is the one). Entertaining to read the pre-draft statuses of guard Joe Thuney out of N. C. State and linebacker Elandon Roberts from Houston, whom the Patriots grabbed in the third and sixth rounds, respectively.
Lindy’s listed both players as “Worth Watching,” meaning they deemed neither worthy of a draft pick. This puts Thuney in Sebastian Vollmer territory, as the Patriots turned a lot of heads using a 2009 second-rounder on the Houston product who was not ranked in most mock drafts. Like Vollmer, Thuney has started since the beginning of camp. Roberts, meanwhile, has tallied 20 tackles, almost all of which have come in the past four games in relief of Collins.
(I wrote that before the trade, I swear.)
Giving Up The Ghost: As a regular viewer of “Marvel’s Agents of Shield” (and, yes, I am a grown man), I have to wonder about the addition of humorless, joyless murderer Ghost Rider into the mix. His head flames up because he made a deal with the devil, apparently, and now he’s useful in eradicating ghosts. Seems like a lot to add to a show already dealing with super-powered inhumans and alien life forms. It’s like if “The X-Files” had a story arc that took place in Middle-earth. Way too much going on, there.
A Nice Departure: It’s probably due to Journey’s “Any Way You Want It” residing in my high school wheelhouse, but Southwest Airline’s lip synch commercial is one of the only ads this season that I actually look forward to seeing again.
Cold Front: When my sister and I were little, we had nicknames for the various cough syrups our mother gave us. Dimetapp was “Yummy,” Robitussin was “Yucky,” and the brown bottle of prescription antibiotics Mom kept around for the tough coughs was “Poison.” It amazes me that, 40 years later, Robitussin still hasn’t figured out how to make their product taste like something other than cherry-infused candle wax and despair.
Yes, we give our child Dimetapp. And I am jealous of her.
Rest easy this week, friends. The Pats host Seattle on November 13 at 8:30.
Chris Warner overbought candy for trick-or-treaters by a laughable amount, which wasn’t entirely by accident. He tweets: @cwarn89