If something called a “nerve-wracking blowout” exists, New England’s 35-17 handling of Miami would qualify.
With 5:33 remaining in the first quarter, tight end Rob Gronkowski outmuscled Reshad Jones and broke to the outside for a catch at the goal line. The score made it New England 14, Miami 0. Tom Brady had completed seven of 10 passes for 103 yards. Overall, the Fightin’ Foxborites had compiled 163 yards compared to the Miamammals’ eight.
It seemed that the contest was over. However, an errant shotgun snap for a fumble return touchdown made it 14-7 and – temporarily at least – changed the tenor of the game. On that Patriots possession (their first of the second quarter), the home team looked well on their way to another score. Brandin Cooks caught a 13-yard pass and pulled an end-around where his juke froze would-be tackler Jones like an Icee for an 11-yard pickup. But, the ensuing snap caught Tom Brady by surprise and the defense pounced, giving the Dolphins’ hopes a temporary stay.
While the Patriots were winning points-wise, they suffered some losses health-wise. Special teams ace Nate Ebner injured his knee running for a first-down on a well-executed fake punt, slipping to the outside off a block by Brandon Bolden into the open. Linebacker Trevor Reilly had a the kind of collision with running back Senorise Morris that used to make halftime highlight reels but now makes for look-away TV. Marquis Flowers and Kyle Van Noy, defensive end Trey Flowers, and offensive lineman LaAdrian Waddle all needed assistance on Sunday.
The Dolphins had a chance to score at the end of the half while trailing 21-10, but quarterback Matt Moore provided a gift from the heavens: weakly-lofted manna that cornerback Stephon Gilmore gobbled up in the end zone to keep the 11-point lead. After Miami’s quick three-and-out to start off the third quarter, New England opened up a 28-10 advantage on Brady’s second TD to Gronk.
Yes, the Patriots remain the best team in the AFC East. Still, the road to the division crown gets more difficult, as the Patriots travel to Buffalo and then down to Miami, which should be fun because no one has a grudge or anything.
Anyway, some other notes from a surprisingly tense contest/non-contest…
False Start: That 14-0 outbreak to open this tilt proved misleading in terms of what kind of day lay ahead. One poor call by the ref also could have made a difference, a fumble that officials called down. With 4:38 remaining in the first quarter, Trey Flowers and Lawrence Guy wrapped up Kenyon Drake for a one-yard loss at the Miami 30. As the group reached a stalemate, Flowers stripped Drake of the ball and ran it in for a touchdown, but the officials declared that forward progress had stopped. Replay with sound proved that the whistle had not blown yet (more on that in Random Observations below).
Had the officials let that play stand, New England would have owned a 21-0 lead in the first quarter. Would this have changed Miami’s outlook and/or output for the rest of the game? We’ll never know. But Patriots fans were worried, in large part because…
The Brady Crunch: The quarterback took more hits than a background extra on Dazed and Confused. According to Mike Reiss on ESPN.com, Miami’s eight hits on Brady tied a season-high with Houston. And that’s not good, considering Brady spent the Houston game running around like a rabbit in a Rottweiler pen.
Again, this shows Brady’s level of play (he’s 40 years old, you know). He completed 18 of 28 passes for 227 yards and four touchdowns. He had an unfortunate interception in the first half that added to any momentum the Dolphins tried to cobble together. Still, if we look at certain plays, we must discuss Brady’s footwork and accuracy under pressure. A prime example came about midway through the first, on third and seven, when Brady scooted forward to avoid two rushers, then serpentined toward the line of scrimmage and found Gronkowski for the first down. (You can see this play starting at the 1:11 mark of this highlight reel.) Brady seemed to take a little extra time before releasing his passes. Maybe, down in Miami, the offensive plan will involve throwing more quickly. I think fans would be happy with that, especially after an afternoon of watching the quarterback get planted like a daffodil bulb.
Silent Nate: It’s awful when a player gets hurt. They seem to vanish from the public eye. Here’s wishing a quick recovery to Ebner, who went on IR this week. It’s fitting that his final appearance of the season involved an awesome special teams play.
Setting Picks: New England’s defense ended each half with an interception. Stephon Gilmore got the first, the aforementioned lofter in the end zone, where he seemed to run DeVante Parker’s route better than the receiver did himself. Gilmore had big eyes for his second pick (this one with 1:50 remaining in the fourth), but safety Duron Harmon came over the top and big-brothered the last piece of cake, pulling it out of Gilmore’s grasp as both defenders tumbled to the ground.
No matter, New England’s defense picked off Moore twice and held him to 23 completions on 34 attempts for 215 yards and one touchdown. Not enough to overtake the Patriots, especially when the Dolphins only gained 67 total yards rushing.
Oh, rushing? We’ve got some of that right here…
Dyno-Mites: Great efforts from smaller running backs Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead, who have developed ways to run big. Burkhead (13 rushes, 50 yards) had a wonderful effort in the second quarter to set up his own scoring reception. His 22-yard sweep to the left involved a spin move that Kyrie Irving would admire. (That run appears at the 2:55 mark of the highlights.) On the TD catch, Burkhead’s stutter-step at the line left linebacker Chase Allen as desperately alone as Grizabella in Cats.
It took Lewis six years into his career, but he finally broke 100 yards rushing. He totaled 112 on 15 totes (7.5 avg.). Tackling him looked as tough as pinning down the end of a loose firehose: it could be done, but you didn’t want to try it alone. Lewis provided strong starts to two different touchdown drives. On New England’s second possession of the day, Lewis coasted up the middle (at least, it looked like coasting when he did it) for 22 yards, notable especially in his ability to get past the line of scrimmage with a leap over ground-dwelling defensive tackle Andre Branch. Eight plays later, Gronk had TD number one.
In the third quarter, right after I had written “Scary game” in my notes due to Danny Amendola’s fumbled punt return (recovered by Jonny-on-the-spot Jonathan Jones), Lewis settled down the home crowd with a 25-yard burst that got his team to midfield. On that run, Lewis brushed off an arm tackle like it was dandruff, cut off of center Alex Karras’ downfield block, and bashed through two downfield defenders for extra yardage. Just an exciting player to watch, and a tough guy to bring down for myriad reasons. You can see his highlights here.
The Year 2017 B.C.: When a free agent receiver arrives in Foxboro, no one really knows what to expect. We figure he won’t be Randy Moss. We hope he won’t be Chad Ochocinco. Well, Brandin Cooks has delivered. His adjustment to his new surroundings has made him more difficult to defend beyond the turn-and-run-deep defenses he faced at the beginning of the season. Last Sunday, he compiled 83 yards receiving on six catches (13.8 avg.) and had that one 11-yard end-around run.
For whatever reason, it appeared that Miami’s defensive game plan involved leaving crossing receivers alone, possibly for them to get so wide open that they really start to think about the pass and drop it, maybe? Cooks (and, on one occasion, Phillip Dorsett) took advantage, grabbing a couple of long-range bucks to set up New England for scores. Even more promising, Cooks has shown a willingness to gain extra yards after the catch that he didn’t seem to exhibit earlier in 2017, maybe due to more shorter-range passes that give him chances to use his athleticism in the open field. On Brady’s final touchdown “pass” of the game, for example (and I use quotations there because the ball traveled about one foot out of the QB’s hands – more like a “drop”), Cooks eluded end Charles Harris in the backfield by shifting his body ever-so-slightly to his left, then shifted gears around the left side and darted past linebacker Lawrence Timmons for the score. Lots of fun with Cooks and Lewis in the mix.
Spike TV: Back during Gronkowski’s rookie year, I called him the best all-around tight end in Belichick’s tenure. I apologize, because I now realize I undersold him. He blocks well (check him out at left TE during Burkhead’s touchdown run) and seems about as easy to cover as a queen-sized bed with a twin fitted sheet. Match him up with a linebacker or a safety. He’s bigger, faster, and/or stronger. Gronk had five catches for 82 yards and two touchdowns vs. Miami. Imagine what he could do if defenders got called for illegal contact and holding on a regular basis.
Hey, I understand why officials don’t call it. It’s like calling a penalty on the chew toy when a labrador gets a hold of it. It’s against human nature to treat Gronk like any other receiver. Kind of amazing the Patriots won a Super Bowl without that guy. Which brings us to…
The “Marty’s In” Chronicles: Now called Marty’s Out. Looks like tight end Martellus Bennett has bid adieu to this season, heading to injured reserve. Bennett had six catches for 53 yards in two games, pushing through a shoulder injury that proved too much. Having him around provided the Patriots with heavy-duty Gronk insurance. His absence should mean that Dwayne Allen gets more of the short crossing patterns and screens he’s shown over the past three weeks.
Sacks Section: Seven sacks on the day? Well, hello, stat-sheet! With the score getting out of hand, Moore looked to pass increasingly often (hence, 34 passes compared to 19 runs). This rang the dinner bell for Patriots rushers, who went after the QB in many different ways. Trey Flowers and Elandon Roberts had two sacks each, with Kyle Van Noy, Jonathan Jones, and newcomer Eric Lee rounding out the crew.
Roberts’ second sack displayed Moore’s apparent inability to deal with pressure, as the linebacker rushed up the middle with all the subtlety and surprise of Sir Lancelot’s attack on a castle. Lee, whom the Patriots just signed last week, got his first sack in Foxboro from his right end spot off a nifty twist with defensive tackle Adam Butler. When the group sticks with a four-man base rush, they tend to generate about as much pressure as using a bike pump to fill up a car tire. This second half looked like a test run for some blitzes, stunts, and mixed coverage: four rushers coming from different off-line defenders. New England found some success vs. Miami. Much of what they did won’t work against a more savvy, higher-level scrambler like Tyrod Taylor in Buffalo, but the looks they showed will make practice for Taylor a little longer.
Not Dolphin Safe: These games vs. Miami get stressful, not usually in terms of winning or losing (at least not recently), but in relation to injuries and general chippiness the Dolphins seem to favor, especially as the score ambles out of their reach. Whether it’s hitting Brady after the pass but juuust before it’s a penalty, or punching Amendola in the helmet, the Fins seem convinced that they can intimidate the Pats with rough, post-whistle play.
That last sentence makes me sound like a late 19th Century aristocrat. (Why, these rapscallions!) But the fear of an injury caused by unnecessary roughness remains. Early in the third quarter, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh slung Lewis down with a bear-swipe of his hand on the running back’s facemask. Had Lewis gotten up to full speed on the play, Suh might have seriously injured him with that move.
So, do the Dolphins really believe they can scare the Patriots? Does Miami care about hurting opposing players? Yes on the first (see receiver Kenny Stills‘ comments regarding his trash talk in this piece by NBC Sports Boston’s Tom E. Curran), I don’t know on the second. That leads us to the next topic.
Gase Is On The Case? After engineering a notable turnaround last year, I have a ton of respect for Miami coach Adam Gase. But do his players? Does he tell them to knock off the extracurricular stuff, and, if so, do they listen? Because it doesn’t seem like it. Suh and linebacker Kiko Alonso have built reputations as dirty players, and they haven’t seemed to have changed much over the coach’s almost two-year tenure.
After a surprising 10-6 season where they made the playoffs, Miami’s now 4-7 on the year. The less they have to play for, the more dangerous they potentially become. That’s not intimidation as much as it is a nuisance. If Gase and his team want to be taken seriously, they have to start playing with respect for their opponents.
You hear me, you rogues? You skullduggerous guttersnipes!
O-line, Whoa Line: Due in part to injuries, New England’s starting offensive front five has had about as much consistency as the stories in Rashomon. Center Dave Andrews has given way to Karras. Right tackle Marcus Cannon has ceded to Waddle, who has given his spot to Cam Fleming. The offense has remained productive, in large part due to the handsome devil taking snaps. The front five has found ways to gain yardage on the ground in recent weeks while giving Brady a little more time to throw. Yes, he was hit eight times, but on about half of those occasions the QB held onto the ball to give his pass-catchers time to get open.
Next week at Buffalo, the Patriots will face the 25th-ranked defense in yards per game (355) and the 17th-ranked defense in point per game (23.6). The Bills, however, are coming off of a strong effort at Kansas City, where they held the Chiefs to 10 points. Have the Bills gotten that good, or are the Chiefs imploding? We shall see next Sunday at 1 p.m.
Chill, Bro. Sheesh: CBS’ broadcast featuring Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts was, as usual, perfectly fine. New England fans tend to view Fouts as a Patriots hater. I don’t see it, as his negative views of the team seem more aligned with someone who doesn’t quite get what’s happening more than a guy with malicious intent. Let’s start with some of the less-than-ideal work and make our way to the positives…
• Fouts prefaced a well-timed replay of Lewis holding on to the ball despite Miamian efforts to dislodge it (alluded to below) by saying, “Watch the spin move,” yet no spin move was shown.
• Good God, the sack by the Flowers players. At 4:03 of the third quarter, Trey Flowers sacked Moore, joined at the point of attack by Marquis Flowers. Fouts said, “A pair of Flowers,” which was all that needed to be said. Instead, Eagle seemed to lose his mind for a minute, spilling out “Two Flowers for the price of one,” and “Moore was dealing with a bouquet.” All of this said, mind you, after Eagle himself noted Marquis Flowers lying on the ground with an injury. Trey Flowers was also hurt on the play. So that kind of turned out like this hypothetical:
Eagle: Ouch, I just fell and hurt myself!
Me: Yes, you did. Plus, your name is a golfing term! Not an “ace” day for you!
Eagle: My back really hurts!
Me: That must be “rough”!
(You know that if I’m the one pointing out an overuse of puns, it’s too much.)
• With 50 seconds left in the third and the Patriots holding an 18-point lead, Fouts starting talking for the New England coaching staff, saying, “Maybe we should get Tom out of there.” No, Dan. Way too early. As Coach Bill Belichick said post-game, “You watch games in the NFL, things can change in a hurry.” If any team appreciates the potential magnitude of a comeback at any time, it’s the Patriots.
I was wracking my brain (this game was not only nerve-wracking but also brain-wracking) trying to remember the matchup where the Patriots had a big lead and Matt Cassel went in at QB to immediately toss a pick-six. Thanks to Michael Hurley of CBS Boston Sports for his tweet, a reminder of New England’s 49-28 victory at Miami in 2007 where Cassel entered in the fourth quarter with a 42-14 lead, threw a herring to the Dolphins, and ceded control to Brady on New England’s next possession.
Yeah. Brady doesn’t sit unless a comeback is impossible. And it’s possible most of the time.
• At one point, Fout called Reshad Jones “Rashad Johnson.” Eh, both defensive backs. No biggie.
• Fouts went along with the officials on the fumble/non-fumble. He prefaced the replay by saying the whistle blew on the strip by Trey Flowers in the first quarter, but the sound of said replay proved otherwise.
Again, it’s less that Fouts hates the Patriots than he has a bias toward being incorrect.
Some replays CBS missed included:
• On the first play from scrimmage, an incomplete pass, Gronk protested to the refs that he was held. Looking at the play again on the DVR, it appears that cornerback Xavien Howard became a human shawl over the tight end’s back, but it would have helped to see it from another angle.
• While we got replays of TD celebrations, it would have been fun to witness Cooks hop onto Gronk’s back in live action. I mean, if the NFL allows that now, shouldn’t we get to see it?
• With 3:14 left in the half, Brady faked a throw left, then flicked the ball to Allen, who appeared to have wide open plains in front of him. He only gained two yards on the play. On the DVR rewind, we can see Jones eluding the downfield block of Karras to make the tackle. A replay would have been better to see from the end zone to discern just how much room Allen had if Karras could have stayed on his defender.
• At the 13:50 mark of the third quarter, New England stopped Miami on a third and one run. All such stops should get end zone replay treatment, because even after reviewing the play it’s difficult to tell what happened. Fouts credited Malcom Brown, but while the tackle stood his ground, Guy dug into the bottom of the pile as Lee leapt to the middle grabbing for Damien Williams’ legs. That close-up line play is football at its heart and the best reason to have replays, because from afar it just looks like a college prank.
So, let’s look at a few of the things that the CBS crew did well.
• Early in the first quarter, cameras showed a close-up of safety Michael Thomas attempting to strip the ball away from Lewis as the running back held on. A clear window into what ball carriers go through each play.
• Good job by Eagle to point out the variety of receivers on New England’s first TD drive, mentioning White, Dorsett, and Burkhead as contributors. “For a defense, that’s the challenge if you’re going to scout them.” Commendable work also by CBS coming back to this topic with a third-quarter graphic showing Brady’s eight different receivers on the day.
• I enjoyed the line by Fouts after Burkhead burned Allen for a score: “Chase is a good name for Chase Allen, because after that move, that’s all he could do.” See, Ian Eagle? That’s how you deliver a pun.
• Solid stat delivery by Eagle at the 8:45 mark of the third that seven of Moore’s 13 completions to that point had gone to Jarvis Landry.
Listen, all in all, it’s not a bad broadcast. It’s just consistently not the best. Glowing review!
Giant Mistake: I don’t talk about other teams all that much in this space, but I felt the need to comment on the mess happening in New York. Full disclosure: I hate Eli Manning. Can’t stand the guy. And that’s merely out of respect for what he has accomplished. To sit him for the first time in his career just doesn’t make sense.
I’ve read about how great quarterbacks often get forced out of their jobs to make way for others, such as Joe Montana, Brett Favre, and Peyton Manning. But let’s get a hold of ourselves, here. Steve Young and Aaron Rodgers were backups ready to take over as starters. Even Andrew Luck had great potential before his career got ruined by the Greater Indianapolis Guano Show. Geno Smith? He has a sub-58 completion percentage over his career, where he has thrown 28 touchdown passes against 36 interceptions.
If you had to think of a way to rent a team asunder, you couldn’t do any better than Giants coach Ben McAdoo. They are a shell of themselves, and it’s one of those old shells with algae and limpets all over it. Tough for any NFL fan to watch, even those who don’t, let’s say, appreciate the Giants’ accomplishments.
And now for these commercial messages…
Merry Peter Crissmas! I don’t usually say this to giant corporations, but thank you to Walmart for their “Rock This Christmas” campaign featuring Kiss’ “Rock and Roll All Night.” Any commercial that goes beyond bells jingling or guitars jangling (e.g. “Jingle Bell Rock”) holds a special place in my mind.
Take A Picture, But Don’t Say Cheese: A very telling and unintentionally humorous ad from McDonald’s has started its run. We begin with “Do you dream in black and white, or bacon and egg?” which is almost too confusing to sound lame. Then we see a glorious close-up shot of an egg as “fresh-cracked grade A egg” appears on the screen. Next, a buttered English muffin, with “real butter.” For the record, I’m still not sure what “real” means, whether it’s not artificial or not imitation or not of the ethereal plane. Anyway, so far, so good. Then, cheese, and nothing comes up on the screen. Then, ham, and nothing.
This is like going to a farmers’ market and having someone yell, Check out our fresh eggs and butter, and other stuff the origin of which we won’t discuss until money changes hands. The unwritten says it all, McD’s.
A Swaying Song Tonight: The new Apple commercial “Sway” features the slogan “Move someone this holiday” and shows a young woman dancing along a snowy street. In its longer YouTube format, it plays like a sweet short film. (I just can’t figure out how those earbuds stay in place. One spin move and my tiny ear canals would lose at least one of those things.)
Fresh As A Barry: I’m impressed with how Barry Sanders looks in the new Rocket Mortgage ad. He’s just a few months older than I am yet looks several years younger. More impressive, I think, when we consider what a great athlete he was. If I’d accomplished a fraction of what he had on the field – hell, if I’d ever even gotten a look from an NFL team – I would have stopped working out the second I retired and swollen up like a tick.
“SWAT” Flies: I don’t care about the new version of SWAT. Just wanted to commend the producers for sticking with the theme song, one of the greatest TV theme songs ever. Watch this and tell me you’re not thinking about scaling a wall.
Netflix Prix Fixe: Looks like the price of Netflix has gone up. I’m fine with it, because it’s the one network that satisfies my penchant for ultraviolent shows (e.g., “Godless”) and my daughter’s fascination with foreign-made cartoons about unicorns (e.g., “Mia and Me”). My only advice for Netflix would be this: stop making stuff. Or at least slow down. You’re making more movies and shows than we can watch, and we watch a lot.
Also, Netflix, if you plan on ignoring that advice, I have a script for you to look at. No rush or anything.
Wait A Minute Dead: Another perfectly acceptable episode of “The Walking Dead” this week that somehow featured three distinct examples of the “Wait, let me go with you” plot line where one character aims to set out alone but gets joined by another character at the last minute. Seriously, three separate times that happened, with a fourth time where two people mutually decided to head out together. You’d think someone in the writers’ room would speak up the second time and say, hey, haven’t we kind of done this already?
Meh, whatever. At least there’s a rocket launcher.
Regret Of The Week: Went to the dentist this week for a checkup (that is not the regret; actually, a relatively painless cleaning). She uses a hypersonic thingamabob that moves so quickly that it has to douse my teeth with water to counteract the friction. Before she begins, she always warns me by saying, “This has water coming out of it.”
My regret, of course, is that I neglected to say, “Yes, doctor. I know the drill.”
Upcoming Opponent Mascot Etymology: The Bills were originally named the Bison. “Bills” came about as a result of a contest to name the team in 1947. There was, according to Wikipedia, a barbershop quartet named the Buffalo Bills, who had named themselves after showman Buffalo Bill Cody.
So, quietly, one of the weirder team names in the NFL.
Upcoming Opponent Site Etymology: Buffalo, New York, is named after the Buffalo Creek that flows through it. The word “buffalo” originated from the Greek word “boubalos,” meaning “wild ox.”
So, on to Boubalos they go. New England seeks their 10th win of the season while the Codys look to stay in playoff contention.
Chris Warner sees bison at his local zoo and can’t help singing “Home on the Range.” You can tell him you prefer “Don’t Fence Me In” at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @cwarn89.