Say what you will about the aesthetics, this New England team has resilience. In a slugfest that looked about as pretty as a post-fight portrait from Raging Bull, the Patriots once again got notable contributions from offense, defense, and special teams to hold on for a 21-13 win on Sunday. New England heads into their bye week for some welcome recuperation with a 6-2 record.
With all of the injuries that have happened to this team, they’re going to need some help from opponents via miscues. Sunday, the Chargers seemed willing to step up in that regard.
We’ll get to a few muck-ups later, but from a coaching standpoint, let’s focus on L.A.’s early decision to go for a 51-yard field goal on fourth and one. Kicker Nick Novak‘s longest kick of the season was 32 yards. The effort might have had a shot if not for interference from Pats D-lineman Lawrence Guy, but still: the visitors gave up a chance to gain one yard, keep possession, and assure points, instead trying a field goal 19 yards longer than any of Novak’s boots this year? Didn’t make a lot of sense.
New England, of course, will take it. They play at Denver Sunday night, November 12.
So, anything else going on? Hmmm?
One Scoop, With Jimmy’s Pleas: So the backup goes to San Francisco. In the end, this is what Jimmy Garoppolo wanted. He’ll be happy to bound onto the field and take the helm of an offense on a regular basis. After an initial shock, the tremors have settled, especially when we take a hard look at a) how much Garoppolo was expected to play in the next year or two, and b) how expensive it would be to keep him next year. Tom E. Curran lays out a pragmatic look at potential reasons for the trade on NBC Sports Boston, including what Jimmy may have had on his mind.
Still concerned about NBC Sports Boston’s Mike Giardi, though there’s no truth to the rumor that he and the QB wear one half of the same amulet around their necks.
Ship A Hoyer: On Wednesday, the Patriots brought in Brian Hoyer as a backup quarterback. Hoyer came to New England as a rookie free agent in 2009 and spent three seasons in Foxboro. He has played for six other teams, the most recent one being San Francisco, who released him upon the Garoppolo signing after he went 0-6 as their starter. QB position solved! Right?
Brady In Red: On to the main quarterback in residence. Credit the Chargers’ defense, but the Patriots’ red zone offense certainly looked like it needed improvement. Tom Brady worked some magic in the first half, including hitting six straight receivers on the home team’s lone touchdown drive, the final connection a 2-yard toss to tight end Rob Gronkowski. Brady completed 19 of 26 passes for 191 yards in the first two quarters, finding eight different receivers. He led the offense on 40 plays compared to the visitors’ 18. Their second possession of the game produced that 14-play scoring drive, providing a misleading look at how this game would go.
For a glimpse of true Brady goodness, go to the end of the second quarter. With a little over one minute remaining, he shuffles around the pocket for roughly half an hour, finally seeking out James White along the right sideline with a touch pass over linebacker Hayes Pullard for a 25-yard gain. Watch White from the beginning and you’ll see him get pinned along the line of scrimmage by Pullard before breaking out and up into the open. Brady sees the cut and throws the ball once Pullard turns in pursuit. It’s a cool play that shows how quarterbacks need to take what’s given and improvise.
In the second half, Brady was Under Siege more than a Steven Segal movie, somehow completing 13 of 21 throws for 142 yards (he went 32 of 47, 333 yards overall). He weathered over 650 pressures (note: figure may be exaggerated) while his time in the pocket seemed to decrease like cross-cuts in a Hitchcock film. Yet he managed 10-play and 12-play field goal drives, plus a 16-play drive that resulted in a missed field goal. Brady kept the offense moving, until he couldn’t. Why couldn’t he? Pats beat writer/grieving Garoppolo groupie Mike Giardi looks into player and coach reactions to their scoring struggles in this piece. Something to work on for the bye, I suppose.
Rex In Effect: Strong game from running back Rex Burkhead, with four rushes for 15 yards and seven receptions for 68. Burkhead catches the ball and runs like Jim Brown setting off grenades at a Nazi’s house. He’s tough to tackle in both strength and elusiveness, a sharp prong in their multi-back attack. In fact, all three smaller backs made contributions, with Dion Lewis rushing for 44 yards (plus returning a kickoff for 71 yards like a pinball shot out of a musket) and White catching five passes for 85.
At this point of the season, whom would you call the least effective back? I’d say Gillislee. Maybe it’s too early – maybe the breakaway run we’ve all expected/been waiting for is just around the corner – but Gillislee remains the least versatile of the running back crew. Because of that, defenses gear up for his carries, which has made his short-yardage efforts less gratifying than they could be. I could see any of the above three backs converting on third and one as well as Gillislee has. It’s not for lack of effort: at 218 pounds, he’s not that big of a back, and, as much as he’s adapted to this offense, he still seems to miss gaps in the defense.
Again, with time, Gillislee could grow into the ground-and-pound role (is that a football thing, or is that a restaurant?), but right now he has failed to live up to (admittedly high) preseason expectations.
Come On Feel Van Noy: I keep using that pun because he keeps earning it. Yes, the season-ending pectoral injury to Dont’a Hightower has forced Kyle Van Noy into a more prominent role than expected when he was signed last season, but the Patriots must feel pretty secure about having him. The linebacker tied for the team lead with six tackles on Sunday, and it’s no accident that his battery-mate Elandon Roberts also had six. After Melvin Gordon’s what-the-hell-was-that 87-yard touchdown run, the defense settled down, allowing 20 rushes for 70 yards for a 3.5-yard-if-you-ignore-that-one-play-thanks-very-much average. Before each snap, you could see Van Noy getting his teammates into position. It’s worth repeating that no one player can replace Hightower. Still, Van Noy can do a lot as a catalyst in making up for Hightower’s absence. Rich Hill of PatsPulpit.com gives a rundown of all-hands-on-deck linebackers, including a snap count for each.
New England held the Chargers to 13 points, and that’s including the 87-yard TD. Los Angeles had scored 21 points the previous week in Denver, so, not bad. Getting better, it seems.
Penalty Killers: This offense would work sooo much more efficiently without the penalties. They just crush themselves, as – especially, it appeared, in L.A. territory – they would see more yellow flags than a grand opening of a Hertz dealership. Left guard Joe Thuney got overwhelmed on a couple of plays, resulting in a desperate hold on Corey Liuget and a clip on Brandon Mebane along the line. Little things like an illegal block above the waist (argh, Nate Solder) prevented New England’s offense from sustaining drives and putting points on the board. Thanks to the defense, this game needed just one more Patriots touchdown for the home team to get comfortable. The offense looks off a bit, and they have a hell of a task ahead of them getting ready for the Broncos.
All About The Benjamin: Yiiiikes what a day from Los Angeles returner/human blooper reel Travis Benjamin. I don’t know much about returning punts. Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to catch a few, but I can’t imagine trying to do that while a pack of jackals sprinted toward me. I do know the basics: secure the ball, and don’t give up ground. Well, maybe Benjamin thought the game felt a little boring, or maybe he just thought he could outrun 11 professional athletes across an entire football field, but for whatever reason, he found himself back in the end zone doing the looking-glass version of White fighting his way over the goal line in overtime. You can watch that remarkable special teams play here.
You’d think Benjamin would have been more aware and/or cautious, considering a near flub at 7:08 of the first quarter, when Pats’ cornerback Jonathan Jones blocked safety Rayshawn Jenkins into Benjamin on a fair catch. The ball ricocheted off Jenkins’ and Jones’ shoulders yet somehow settled between them, allowing the safety to corral it.
Later on, running back Austin Ekeler, possibly feeling bad that Benjamin was getting so much negative attention, took the kickoff out of the end zone and got planted at the 12-yard line. Rough day for Los Angeles’ returners and special teams in general.
A Dwayne On The Offense? Well, maybe not that bad, but it’s time once again for our weekly Backup Tight Ends 2017 Reception Count, and it’s not good news for veteran Dwayne Allen. Rookie Jacob Hollister now has three (including a 13-yarder Sunday), Allen zero.
Allen could make up for his lack of receptions with consistent blocking, but that hasn’t been happening. Case in point, Allen missed a block on Joey Bosa (aka Brady’s Nightmare In Human Form) at the end of the third quarter, resulting in Gillislee gaining zero yards. Worth repeating that Hollister can miss blocks just as effectively as Allen can, and he has proven he makes a more viable target.
Cassius Cray: At this point, it is driving me absolutely nuts that edge defender Cassius Marsh can’t seem to dependably, you know, Do His Job. The man maintains his edge less effectively than Robert De Niro in that third Fokker movie. (That’s two De Niro movie references, for those of you keeping track.) It certainly looks like running back Gordon shot through Marsh’s gap on that 87-yard scoring jaunt, as Marsh’s failure to extend his arms allowed him to get hooked. Early in the second quarter (14:05 remaining), Marsh somehow managed to get blocked by a pulling guard, which meant the defender actually awaited his blocker and turned his shoulders upfield instead of keeping his outside arm free. Gordon gained six on that play.
I mean, listen, if you want formidable pass-rushers like the Chargers, get a .500 record and pick Melvin Ingram at 18 overall, then go 4-12 four years later and get Bosa at number three. The Patriots have a tougher time finding those guys in the draft. As much as fans would enjoy a trade involving, for example, a certain aforementioned tight end for some unnamed, world-beating, QB sack machine, it’s not going to happen. New England has to work with what they have, and if the guys they have can’t figure out how to contribute, the team needs to move on to someone who can.
Speaking of those who can…
Bringing Great Shea Upon The Team: Linebacker Shea McClellin can come back to the active roster off of injured reserve for practice and will be available Week 10 at Denver. This has the potential to bolster the defense in multiple areas, from pass rush to run support. McClellin has shown good strength on the edge as well as decent QB pressure (one sack last year). Most importantly, he has the versatility that can help New England’s defense keep opponents guessing. A player worth keeping an eye on in a couple of weeks.
Bademosi’s Mooses: Though not a perfect game, defensive back Johnson Bademosi did an admirable job keeping up with Keenan Allen, a wonderful receiver who doesn’t get much notice on this coast. (Seriously, if Allen played for the Giants, he’d have his own apparel company.) Bademosi drew an offensive pass interference penalty on Allen near the start of the second quarter, forcing the wideout to grab him and spin him to the ground rather than have him pick off a Phil Rivers pass. Near the two-minute mark of the half, the Chargers tried a bubble screen/pick play on third and one, but Bademosi slid past the attempted contact from Mike Williams to ensure Tyrell Williams couldn’t make the reception. New England got the ball back via a punt and kicked a field goal to go into halftime with a 15-7 lead.
Does Bademosi have the talent to become a regular starter? As well as he’s played, as more scouting reports come in, he could find himself in trouble in certain one-on-one situations. But he has done an admirable job stepping in for Stephon Gilmore, who’s dealing with concussion issues. For now, Bademosi represents this defense well as someone continuing to do more than what was initially expected of him.
To Live And Addae In L.A.: Very busy day from Chargers defensive back Jahleel Addae, who reacted to each play like he was hosting his own football party, with high emotional investment on every down. In the first quarter alone, he celebrated on a pass slipping through Gronk’s fingers, then preened after getting away with pass interference (grabbing Gronk by the hip). In one of the more satisfying plays of the day for the Gillette crowd, with 4:50 remaining in the first, White juked Addae like a Buddy Holly 45, as the running back picked up the necessary yardage on third and 11 to keep New England’s lone touchdown drive alive. With 1:19 left in the second quarter, Addae got called for pass interference on Gronk when he seemed to sharply readjust the tight end’s shoulder pads from inside the collar, eliciting a “who, me?” gesture so broad it would have made Jim Carrey cringe.
Maybe, as a Patriots watcher, having Belichick maintain his blood pressure at around zero over zero has shaped this opinion, but it seems that when players and coaches overreact to plays, it can distract them from the task at hand. Give Addae credit, though: he got himself into the action on every series. He may have what I call the Danny Ainge Syndrome: if he’s on your team, great; if he’s not, he should be kicked out of the league.
Ah, fandom. So productive.
See You On The Left Ghost: Oh, Stephen Gostkowski. And it was going so well. What hurts so much about missed field goals (Gostkowski had two Sunday) revolves around the grinding, brick-by-brick nature of this offense Sunday. While Brady took some sizable chunks through the air, the Patriots’ O tended to trudge their way down the field. The Chargers’ defense relied on a four-man pass rush, keeping the defensive backfield more crowded than a battle scene from Gladiator. After sustained drives that burn up a lot of clock, it’s okay to settle for a field goal – especially when the defense holds your opponent to two touchdowns. But when you miss out on a 21-7 lead with 9:45 left in the contest, it’s disheartening, to put it nicely.
To his credit, Gostkowski not only owned up to his mistakes, he gave a complete rundown of how they happened, as reported by Ryan Hannable on WEEI.com.
Fit To Be Tight: We’ll wrap up on a couple of positive notes, and those notes help compose the sweet song of Gronkowski. Despite many examples of illegal contact and defensive pass interference, Gronk pulled in five catches for 57 yards and helped pave the way for 95 yards rushing on the day. With Edelman out, Gronk remains the only pass-catcher who requires constant double-teams, opening up lanes and one-on-one match-ups for other receivers. Yes, this offense can be frustrating at times, but imagine it without the big tight end.
Actually, we wanted to wrap up on a positive note, so don’t do that.
New England has a week to rest, recuperate and possibly reload. We’ll see what’s shaking in a couple of weeks.
God Dan It All: I’m just not sure what I’m going to do with CBS’ Dan Fouts. I feel like he’s having a rough season, but maybe the rants of others have sullied my opinion. In any case, not a strong game call by him. (His play-by-play guy Ian Eagle seemed to do fine.)
A few Fouts foibles included:
• At 11:05 of the first, Fouts credited Guy with containment on a run by Branden Oliver, though it was easy to see that both Bademosi and defensive end Deatrich Wise combined to keep Oliver from getting to the outside, allowing Guy to help on the tackle.
• Fouts credited Trey Flowers with a possible field goal block, but the replay clearly showed Guy both pushing over the long snapper like a top-heavy filing cabinet and reaching up toward the kick. CBS cut to a replay with Guy brushing his fingertips together – the signal for “I blocked it” – yet Fouts failed to correct himself.
• On an offensive pass interference penalty against San Diego at 2:40 of the third quarter (I know – it’s L.A. – but at this point I’ve started typing San Diego so many times I just had to give in once), Fouts wondered aloud if it was actually safety Patrick Chung who hit Bademosi. Not quite: Chung ended up running into his teammate, but only after Tyrell Williams went shoulder-to-shoulder with Bademosi.
• With 7:15 remaining in the fourth, Fouts credited cornerback Trevor Williams with “great coverage,” though it sure looked like pass interference considering Williams grabbed Chris Hogan’s left arm before the ball arrived and never let go. I think I would’ve gone with “solid coverage.” Eh, I’m a stickler.
Some solid parts of the CBS broadcast, though, such as:
• The graphic on New England’s pass distribution in 2016 with Julian Edelman compared to 2017 without him at 3:22 of the first quarter told an informative story. Everyone’s picking up the slack, including Brandin Cooks (five catches for a surprisingly paltry 26 yards vs. L.A., 33 for 563 and three TDs for the season).
• Nice touch with the close-up on Gordon’s eyes as he rambled for the touchdown, as Fouts explained the back was looking up at the replay screen to see if anyone was closing in. Cornerback Malcolm Butler made a valiant effort to knock the ball loose, but Gordon denied him, with some help from the biggest rearview mirror in existence.
• A funny moment that neither Fouts nor Eagle caught happened right after the ill-fated kickoff return by Ekeler in the second. Cameras showed Rivers heading onto the field, shaking his head at the play and at his team’s field position. Disappointment always seems funnier when Rivers shows it, because he’s the reigning champ of Smiling When Unhappy. Seriously, he smiles like he’s a member of The Lollipop Guild. What’s going on in his head, I wonder? If he ever truly content? I’m lost.
And here’s the part of the program where we go over a few replay issues for CBS:
• With 9:50 remaining in the first half, Bosa sacked Brady. CBS managed to show three replays of the down, but two focused on Brady (failing to show the line of scrimmage at the snap) while the third started after Bosa had gotten past Marcus Cannon. While Bosa appeared to use an inside move, there was no way to tell for sure.
• About 30 seconds after the play mention above, Brady launched a bomb to Hogan, who got surrounded in the end zone and (possibly?) had the ball knocked away. On the replay, we saw a closer shot of Brady rearing back and throwing the pass, so…
Listen, CBS: I love watching Brady throw the football as much as anyone, but let’s get a clearer picture of what happened downfield, okay?
Oh, hey, there’s more? Yes, there’s more…
• At 1:53 of the third quarter, we could have used another look at that Hollister catch. Receptions by Not-Gronk tights have been rare sightings this season; it would have been nice to catch another glimpse at that Giant Ibis.
• After the two-minute warning in the fourth, Gillislee seemed to come close to breaking free for a game-ending first down, but the lack of a replay made it difficult to discern what stopped him (upon DVR review, D-lineman Damian Square sped past Thuney and may have swiped Gillislee’s feet).
•Lastly, though CBS showed a replay of the Novak miss from 51 yards, we needed a closer view to see Guy block it. Contrast that with the coverage of Marsh’s field goal block from last week, and you see the way NBC seemed to prioritize that play. For the record, blocked kicks only happen once in a while, so viewers tend to appreciate getting multiple looks at them from multiple angles.
And now, a word from CBS’ sponsors…
The Smellfie Is A Stinker: Ah, Hanes. Seems like you’ve got this bizarre FreshIQ campaign going and you need a marketable word to help it along. Apparently, Hanes undershirts now have “advanced odor protection technology,” so you won’t have to smell your armpits in public anymore (aka, take a “smellfie”).
I discovered “advanced odor protection technology” a while ago. It’s a three-tiered treatment: Laundry. Shower. Deodorant. If Hanes spent more time working on some form of Nacho Dust Repellent, everyone would be happier.
So I Guess American Ale Was Worth Another Look: Looks like Budweiser is attempting yet again to get into a microbrew mode with their 1933 Repeal Reserve. I always think it’s funny when a megacorporation tries to act small. Like, “Hey, man, we get you people: we love beer, too!”
Hey, I don’t drink beer anymore, so I’m not trying to tell you what to do. I would say, though, that New England (and, at this point, most parts of the country) has some outstanding local breweries, so if you’re going to spring for a microbrew-like beer, go for the real thing. I still have my recommendations, but shop around and compare.
Smile For The Camry: The new Toyota Camry commercial makes me wonder exactly what agencies can do to make car ads memorable. This has the requisite close-ups of an impossibly sleek, clean vehicle, along with long shots featuring the car cruising across American vistas (in triplicate, even!). At some point, the shots of the drivers make this seem like some kind of giddy, near-hallucinogenic experience: Toyota At Burning Man. And yet, if I weren’t paying attention to ads for this column, why should I care? They need a different angle.
A parody of “Knight Rider,” where the car is the life of the party and acts as the driver’s wingman? Maybe. Or have Weird Al Yankovic do a parody song, like Taylor Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do” would be “Toyota Camry Too,” or something. Not sure.
Truly amazing I never got into advertising. I got ideers!
Look Who’s Talking Dead: Gunfights! Woohoo! Now you’re speaking my language, “Walking Dead.” Speaking of language, I can’t think of a show that makes it more difficult to hear dialogue. There’s a tendency for characters to speak in drawl-ridden dialect (during gun battles while moving away from the camera) that makes them hard to understand. Not that dialogue matters all that much in the show, but sometimes they shoehorn some exposition in there to help formulate the plot.
Case in point, Rick and Daryl looking for weapons. Here’s what I thought I heard (and this was after multiple rewinds) …
Rick: Split up, check for Huns dear old pasta slide.
Daryl: Height. (starts running) Meat hair on flang alang!
I’m too ignorant of television filming and production to understand what’s missing, but I know that sound has not been the best part of the show. If I’m going to rewind a scene, it should be to watch it again, not try to comprehend the language.
Plus: how does the tiger know who the bad guys are? Why doesn’t she attack, like, everyone?
Never get out of the boat, man. Never get out of the boat.
Opponent Mascot Name Etymology: No opponent next week, so we’ll look at the word “bye,” which comes from mid-16th century English for “by,” alluding to a side issue or incidental matter. Incidentally, New England gets a few days off. We’ll see how that works out for them.
Bye for now, friends. See you in two weeks.
Chris Warner prefers caramel M&Ms to plain, but he’s not picky. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet @cwarn89.