You know, I was never the type of kid who jammed lit firecrackers into piles of dog vomit. If I had been, that might give me a greater appreciation for New England’s output Monday Night.
The Patriots got outmatched at every level in Miami for an exhausting 27-20 setback. From a New England perspective, we can offer a concise summary of the night by reviewing the visitors’ final scoring drive. A 38-yard Tom Brady completion to Brandin Cooks and a 23-yard pass to Danny Amendola set them up at the goal line with 1:24 left. On first down, New England ran a pass play despite having the ball one foot from the end zone. (More on that choice in a second.) On the incompletion, running back James White ran forward before the snap for illegal motion.
Unforced penalty? Check.
On first down and goal from the five, Brady seemed to compete a touchdown pass to Chris Hogan, yet Hogan somehow managed to avoid dropping and dragging his back foot, resulting in an incomplete pass out-of-bounds.
Failure to execute? Check.
Second down, incomplete pass, tackle Nate Solder held pass-rusher Andre Branch for a 10-yard penalty.
Losing a one-on-one battle? Check.
Two incomplete passes later, the Patriots settled for a Stephen Gostkowski field goal. Fine, but if time were an issue (the main reason, I believe, to avoid a QB sneak on first down due to the clock running), then why wait until fourth down, especially after the holding penalty made it a treacherous second and 15?
Questionable play call? Check.
In any case, touchdown or no, none of it mattered without getting the ball back. If you want to crystallize New England’s performance on Monday night to its most basic, garbage-y essence, you have to look at the worst on-sides kick in NFL history. Gostkowski tapped that football with all the oomph of a surly teenager forced to play kickball to fulfill a gym credit. (Sports are sooo dumb, you guys!) The ball rolled about seven yards into the patient arms of a Dolphin, a rightful punctuation mark on New England’s declaration of futility. Seriously, Gostkowski may have been better off missing the ball entirely, because at least he could get a chance to kick it again.
Sure, this game stunk like a butcher shop dumpster in July, yet the Patriots remain in the race for first in the AFC. In fact, the Miami game didn’t mean anything, standings-wise, because – even if New England had won and Pittsburgh had lost – next week’s winner between the two will take the conference. Not looking like either team will lose their last pair of games, as the Steelers play the Browns and Texans while the Patriots play the Bills and Jets. Maybe that’s why the team never showed up in Miami: they were already in Pittsburgh.
You can watch what some may refer to as a highlight reel here. Patriots fans may want to put on special eclipse glasses while doing so.
Ah, well. Let’s hold our noses and pick through this like Laura Dern inspecting triceratops dung…
Miamiserable: Boy, Brady does not tend to play his best in Miami. He’s now 7-9 there in his career. He went 18 for 28 (64 percent), with one touchdown pass and two interceptions. The main stat to take home from this one? An 0-for-11 third-down conversion rate. That’s right: zero. Take any offense from any football team anywhere and their conversion rate would be no worse. Seriously, Foxboro High School would do just as well, or the Boston Renegades, or your family’s annual Thanksgiving Day squad. I mean, sure, your cousin Kate might get rung up going across the middle, but she’s a gamer.
If I were a Dolphins fan, I’d have mixed feelings about that. Sure, they play Brady better at home than anyone else in the division. But Miami hasn’t won a playoff game since 2000. They haven’t come in first in the division since 2008. If they can play so well vs. the Patriots, you have to wonder, what the hell are they doing against everybody else?
Is This The End? Part of the reason for Brady’s poor conversion rate involved the absence of tight end Rob Gronkowski, who got himself suspended via a cheap shot at Buffalo defensive back Tre’Davious White. Maybe that’s when the Patriots really lost this game. Having Gronkowski around would have helped, especially with his ability to catch short, quick passes in traffic. More third down conversions would have meant more yardage, longer possessions, and probably more scoring. (Amazing they only lost by seven, after all.)
Hey, win next week, this loss gets forgotten. But if Monday’s loss leads to Sunday’s, then Gronk’s hit on White could become another muffed punt in Denver (and if you don’t know what I’m talking about, watch Barstool’s Jerry Thornton and our old pal Fitzy lament Harper’s Muff.) It wouldn’t stand as the sole reason New England lost the top seed in the playoffs, but it would get associated with more “what-ifs” than the writers’ room during season one of “Lost.” The Patriots needed Gronk, but the big man wasn’t there for them.
Dwayne Drops Keep Fallin’ Oh My Head: Tight end Dwayne Allen is a solid teammate, a strong blocker, and – in emergencies – a viable receiver. He is not a pass-catching tight end. He ended up with two receptions for 10 yards and, when Brady wasn’t missing him, failed to hold on to a pass and/or prevent a breakup. While Gronk catches footballs with the authority of a cat snatching June bugs, Allen catches like a myopic senior center member gathering in a beach ball: if you throw it right at him, he’s got a good chance to double-catch it. Why we didn’t see more of Jacob Hollister, I’m not sure, as what the rookie lacks in blocking skills he possesses in quickness and receiving ability.
Hogan’s Zeroes: Well, not quite. Hogan had one reception for one yard. For whatever reason, Brady has missed connecting with Hogan all year. Many of his passes seem to force the receiver to stop-jump and twist backward, like a dancing background extra in West Side Story who gets noticed for the wrong reasons. The fact that Hogan hadn’t played since late October vs. the Chargers probably didn’t do wonders for the duo’s chemistry.
In that Chargers game, Hogan had five catches for 60 yards. New England will need an effort more like that one, plus Gronk’s presence, to have a chance in the Cinder City. (Note: this is not a nickname for Pittsburgh, but it feels like it could be.)
Not Enough Cooks: One catch for 38 yards? Cooks failed to hold up against the stout defense of Xavien Howard, who picked off Brady twice while pushing Cooks around. Howard deserves credit, but Cooks needed to be more aggressive going after the football, especially on the second interception. On that play, Cooks remained turned away from the pass as Howard sped to it and snagged it out of the air. On the replay, you can see Cooks’ hands come together as he expected the ball to reach him instead of jumping up to meet it at its high point. At one point, the receiver did elicit a pass interference penalty to set up a touchdown, but he jeopardized the penalty call by reaching out and pushing off of Howard’s face mask (a move the official missed).
No one questions Cooks’ speed – least of all Cooks. It’s going to be his strength and aggressiveness that will make a difference in the final games of the season, especially in the playoffs when the refs tend to let defenders get more grabby.
Cutler Over Butler: Speaking of speed, cornerback Malcolm Butler got passed like a blinking light at a drag race. Someone named Jakeem Grant burned him for a 25-yard touchdown in the third quarter and would have torched him for a deep ball in the fourth had Grant not remembered he has five receptions in his NFL career and let the football slip through his tiny little hands. A poor day for the defense overall, epitomized by the fact that they allowed Jay Cutler to care (25 of 38, 263 yards, three TDs).
In the fourth quarter, everyone – and, really, it was everyone – expected Cutler to throw a game-changing interception. He came close: a pass bobbled between defensive lineman Lawrence Guy’s hands before falling to the ground, while a few minutes later receiver Devante Parker tipped a pass thrown behind him that bounced off of teammate Kenny Still’s facemask and dropped incomplete. Cutler didn’t make the big mistake, while Brady and the defense made a few.
Back-To-Back-To-Back: Besides the late-game penalty by White, the running backs had a solid game receiving overall. Rex Burkhead and Dion Lewis each caught five passes for 45 and 50 yards, respectively. White had just three catches for 11 yards, but scored a TD. Rushing yards were difficult to come by (Lewis 17 on five carries, Burkhead eight on five rushes with a TD), a testament to how the offensive line got outplayed. Not many bright spots in the offense Monday night; the running backs got as close as anyone.
He Went To Rutgers, But Kenny Play Wide Receiver? The Patriots signed Kenny Britt this week, an addition that adds some size to the receiving corps. The 6-3, 223-pound veteran had only 18 catches in nine games for the Browns this season after breaking out with 68 receptions for the Rams in 2016. (Some highlights of Britt’s game at the New York Jets from last year here.) Much like the signing of Michael Floyd last season, Britt comes with enough baggage to warrant an extra bellhop, including (like Floyd) a DUI arrest. Upon news of his potential signing, ESPN.com’s Mike Reiss broke down details of Britt’s brushes with the law here. Lots of “ifs” involved, but interesting to watch what, if anything, he can do to help over the next few weeks.
Drake’s Delites: Running back Kenyan Drake thrilled the home crowd as he killed the Patriots. That included 25 rushing attempts for 114 yards. Five catches for 79 yards, including an ill-advised attempt to cover him with linebacker Elandon Roberts on a 47-yard gain. On a running play, Drake twisted out of the potential backfield tackle of Patrick Chung like a discus sent spinning from an Olympian’s hand, picking up acres of yardage. Drake’s consistent success pointed out the impact that linebacker Kyle Van Noy makes on this defense (and on opposing teams), as New England’s linebacking corps seemed a step slow and a bit hesitant in their run support and pass coverage. Trevor Reilly’s tackle for loss in the fourth quarter looked like a play the defense could have used a lot more of but lacked with Van Noy out of the lineup. A poor day overall for what had been a successful defense over the past couple of months.
Again: none of this matters unless you gambled on the Patriots or you care what Dolphins fans think. Next Sunday afternoon, at Pittsburgh, means everything. Just have to hope New England’s ready for that one.
Sean-John: Another strong outing from the MNF pair of Sean McDonough and John Gruden, although I could have done without their pre- and early-game attitude that the Patriots would win with minimal effort. On the positive side, they cover replays as well as anyone. One example showcased Lewis’ 11-yard run to start the second quarter, where James Develin whammed D-lineman Davon Godchaux to open up a lane at the line of scrimmage. The best part, as always, was listening to Gruden’s level of excitement. Whenever he begins with, “Watch this,” you know he’s got something going.
Gruden also predicted the big completion to Drake vs. Roberts at the 5:14 mark of the second. Anytime a linebacker has to cover a running back in space, well… you know. Later, Gruden added the wise words, “It’s hard to beat a team twice in three weeks.” Yup.
A bit of comic relief near the end of the game, as what we thought was a review of a potential TD by Amendola was merely confirmed as a catch by the official. McDonough said, “We knew it was a catch,” as Gruden added, “Thanks for that review.” Sarcasm is best when its practitioners remain on the same page.
Some solid stats and graphics from the crew throughout, including…
• The Dolphins offense had totaled 10 points on their previous 16 opening drives. (That early field goal was a bad omen.)
• At 3:45 of the first quarter, this stunning graphic appeared: Miami 103 yards, New England 0.
• After Cam Fleming’s false start, a quick, timely readout at 8:34 of the second quarter indicating that the Patriots had four false starts the previous week at Buffalo, their most since 2014.
• At the end of the first half, Gruden confirmed our worst suspicions – that no Patriots wide receiver had a reception.
Three misfires by the group. I’ll start with the odd Robo-QB graphics at the 13-minute mark of the fourth quarter that showed Brady leading the NFL in pass yards as a 40-year-old. A weird, windmill-looking humanoid in a faux Patriots uni proceeded to fire out footballs. It was joined by a similar construct in a faux Vikings uniform, representing Fran Tarkenton. Wholly unnecessary. Take that graphics money and put it into a replay, ESPN, like when Mike Pouncey got called for holding with 1:54 left in the first but we didn’t get a second look at it.
Lastly, Gruden commented on the Patriots running back match ups with Dolphins linebackers but got mixed up, saying, “You’re going to see the Patriots do that (pause) to New England tonight.” Seems like that was a train of thought that left the station early.
Overall, though, another impressive broadcast from the announcers and crew.
And now for these commercial messages…
Calling Plays In The Courtyard: An entertaining ad from Courtyard Marriott called “Backseat QB” features a fan yelling at her team from the stands while sports media guy Rich Eisen commentates. I love this commercial because I do this all the time. (Let’s just say that the noises I uttered Monday night mostly consisted of helpless sighs.) For whatever reason, “Fifty-four is the Mike!” never fails to crack me up.
This Is Not A Toy: The Mercedes commercial “One Wish” with a boy waking up on Christmas morning hoping for a car seems a little weird. The song “Toyland” plays as we watch this child grow into a man and finally get what he has always wanted, a Mercedes. I don’t know, man. I wanted certain things when I was a teenager, but this Christmas I’m not sure how I’d feel about Brigitte Nielsen delivering a Firebird to my front door.
Eh. Tastes change.
Walking Dead Man Walking: Not a bad wrap-up to the season (mid-season? I’m never sure with cable series these days) to “The Walking Dead,” though I wish the writers had included a few more definitive endings to some characters’ stories. A solid cliff-hanger where I want to know what happens to one particular character, though a potential demise seems rather drawn out.
I mean, how much time passed in that season? Two days? Three? Seems like the writers took on a little more than they could handle, plot- and character-wise. Just keep killing zombies, guys. Let’s not overcomplicate things. It’s like having a love story in the middle of a Marvel movie: focus on flying around and blowing things up, and you can fit in something else to work as a brief distraction.
Upcoming Opponent Mascot Etymology: A Steeler is, of course, someone who works in a steel mill. The word “steel” stems from the Germanic word “stahal,” which could come from the work “stakhla” for “standing fast.”
Upcoming Opponent Site Etymology: In 1758, Pittsburgh was named by General John Forbes after William Pitt, the first Earl of Chatham. The location had previously been known as Fort Duquesne.
Tom Brady Has Been Pretty Good, You Know: I won’t say his name, but a particular cable sports personality (for lack of a better word, because this guy seems to have about as much personality as a paper napkin) has gotten a lot of publicity this week for pointing out Brady’s poor performance and warning of the end of the quarterback’s career. So annoying, and I don’t say that as a Patriots follower, I say that as someone opposed to laziness.
If you were a meteorologist in Arizona, and every day you gave the morning report that today could be the day it rains, because eventually, folks, it always ends up raining, then you would not be a very trustworthy meteorologist. One could even say that you were not competent at your job. So let’s ignore that talking cable-channel lump of used Kleenex and instead focus on a few of the locals who work hard to bring you Patriots coverage.
I’ll start with three Mikes and a Mark. The aforementioned Mike Reiss of ESPN.com, Mike Giardi of NBC Sports Boston, Michael Hurley of CBS Boston, and Mark Daniels of The Providence Journal. Also, Chad Finn of Boston.com, Christopher Price of Boston Sports Journal, former Patriot Matt Chatham of Footballbyfootball.com, and the other two-thirds of the NBC Sports Boston triumvirate, Tom E. Curran and Phil Perry. Each of their names has a link to his Twitter account. Considering following them if you aren’t already, or if you’re not on Twitter, keep their pages bookmarked.
If you find yourself listening to or reading a piece about sports that makes you feel frustrated, turn it off, put it down, take a breath, and check out one or more of those guys listed above.
New England at Fort Duquesne, Sunday at 4:25. The Patriots need a win, which they would have needed anyway. Let’s save the swooning until then.
Chris Warner listened to “Unsung“ by Helmet this morning and it has totally charged up his day. You can reach him via email at email@example.com or Twitter @cwarn89.