A quick note before we begin: I was listening to a New-York-based radio station Wednesday morning (WFUV), and in a very professional news voice, the young woman spoke briefly of the Red Sox holding their victory parade, noting, “As is tradition, the team will ride in duck boats.”
As is tradition. Really struck me, there, to hear someone outside of Boston talking about a championship tradition, especially involving the Red Sox. Anyway, on to a separate notch in the ol’ W column …
Even though the Patriots started the night with all the energy of an LED reading lamp, they played with enough focus into the fourth quarter to outlast the Bills and ride offensive and defensive scores for a 25-6, “a-win-is-a-win” type of victory. This contest in Buffalo qualified as a rock fight, a slugfest, a swamp slog, a shin-kicking contest (a medieval sport that, believe it or not, still exists).
Yup, if the NFL ran an ugliest dog pageant, this one could qualify as its Zsa Zsa, at least until the fourth quarter. At that point, New England’s offense overcame Buffalo’s rapacious defense, putting together a scoring drive for the lone offensive touchdown of the game. Their defense followed suit, capitalizing on a back-breaking interception TD by Devin McCourty with under five minutes left to send the Bills mafia packing up their tables.
In many ways, not the best game. Maybe the New England faithful watched Monday Night Football with visions of dancing Red Sox in their heads and figured the Patriots would dispatch their foe with similar efficiency. Though that wasn’t the case, the Pats still emerged from the game with a bulked-up divisional lead at 6-2 as they return home to face the Packers next Sunday night.
Trying To Remain Tom: Did you guys realize Tom Brady was 41 years old? Apparently, that’s a thing. With so many promising scoring drives ending in field goals, we have to try to relax and realize that the QB did a thoroughly decent job. Brady completed 29 of 45 passes for 324 yards vs. a strong defense in a cuckoo-bananas environment. Due to the sitting of hurt players (running back Sony Michel, starting right tackle Marcus Cannon), plus a leg injury to right guard Shaq Mason Monday night, the Patriots rushing game became about as complementary to Brady’s passing as Andrew Ridgeley’s dancing was to George Michael’s songwriting. (Jitterbug!)
New England’s leading rusher – and I know you didn’t have him on your dance card – was receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, who ran 10 times for 38 yards. James White ran eight times for 15 yards, averaging about two strides at 1.9 yards per carry. Julian Edelman ran twice for 13 yards. Backup running back (for now) Kenjon Barner? Two for four, or half of Brady’s eight on a third-down scramble. Buffalo got their guests into long-yardage situations on third down, enabling the home team to ratchet up blitzes or just bring four of their prolific pass-rushers and drop seven. This threw Brady off a bit because he is in fact a humanoid creature, leading to missed opportunities (an errant pass to a space Edelman vacated; a throw to an open White at the goal line that skipped off the turf).
The Patriots’ best touchdown drive of the night (fact, not opinion) started with 14:48 left in the fourth. It displayed accuracy and vision by Brady, as well as some resourcefulness from coordinator Josh McDaniel. The QB converted a third and five pass to Edelman along the left sideline for 26 yards, getting the ball out to the 43. On the next third down, Brady tossed to White, who left linebacker Julian Stanford in the dust as if he were the Joads’ farm, getting the extra yards for the first. Patterson swept right and sliced through a crease in the defense for 22 yards down to the Buffalo 22. Brady followed that with a terrific back-shoulder throw to Chris Hogan, tossing the ball with William-Tell-level accuracy as Hogan spun back with feet inbounds to get the Patriots to the one-yard line. White plunged forward for the final yard and an 18-6 lead.
Everyone seemed to do something on this drive, helping to get past a defense that had kept them off of hallowed end zone ground for the previous three quarters. The blocking and execution and overall level of urgency seemed to rise at the correct time. Their quarterback had a lot to do with that.
High Above Me, He’s So Lovely: Sure, Buffalo’s offense might be threatening NFL record books in the wrong direction, but the Patriots still deserve some praise for containing the Bills without their defensive leader, linebacker Dont’a Hightower, who sat out with a nagging knee issue. Kyle Van Noy stepped up with eight tackles (one for loss) and two sacks, including a strip-sack that set up the Patriots for a field goal near the end of the third quarter. Elandon Roberts had six tackles and a pass break-up/almost-interception to force a Bills punt. Lineman Trey Flowers showed his typical terrorizing skills (six tackles, two for loss), while safety Patrick Chung flew around like a crazed honeybee, buzzing and sticking his proboscis everywhere.
Bills running backs Chris Ivory and LeSean McCoy totaled 47 yards rushing on 18 carries, a mere 2.6 yards per tote. McCoy gained 13 yards on 12 carries for a dust-speck 1.1-yard average. That stat gets crazier when you consider McCoy’s first rush went for 12 yards.
New England left the game in the hands of Derek Anderson, who completed 22 of 39 passes (a meh 56 percent) for 290 yards and one interception. Oh, oh: interception, you say?
Devin, I’m In, Devin, And My Heart Beats So That I Can Hardly Speak: Safety Devin McCourty’s 84-yard interception return for a touchdown sealed this deal. McCourty (two tackles) lay in wait for Anderson’s pass toward Charles Clay, zipping in front of Clay and plucking the pass like an osprey snatching up dinner. The safety then flew (and if I were the type of guy to misuse the word “literally,” I would do so here), gliding down the left sideline untouched for the Bills fans’ RSVP to return to their tailgates. A large punctuation mark on a Patriots story that got much more coherent near the end.
All White All Ready: Once again, White proved indispensable, catching a team-leading 10 passes for 79 yards, blocking on blitz pickups, and gaining the aforementioned yards after catch when needed. He leads all NFL running backs with six TD receptions, and he could have had another when he broke open at the goal line but Brady threw too low. White’s such an important guy to have, especially while Michel heals.
A Real Burn Barner? Last week I sung the praises of backup running back Kenjon Barner, but this week he seemed to demonstrate why the Patriots used a career receiver in the backfield over him. On one run in particular, it looked like fullback James Develin pasted a defender to the turf, opening up an alley to the inside through which Barner could cut. Instead, the back ran parallel to the block, allowing pursuing defenders an easier angle to tackle him after a meager gain. Not saying it was a particularly important play, or that, had he cut, he would have broken it big, but the fact that cameras caught running backs coach Ivan Fears instructing Barner on the sideline right afterward seemed to show that he’s not in synch with his blocking.
Disappointing, especially after a promising performance in Chicago. ESPN.com’s Mike Reiss addressed the Michel situation in his Sunday notes. Depending on Michel’s timetable, I’d expect the Patriots to have another back in for practice some time this week.
I Think I Pulled My Gronk: Tight end Rob Gronkowski caught three passes for 43 yards, none more spectacular than his 22-yard haul-in along the left sideline with defensive back Phillip Gaines on him like an undersized sweatshirt. The reception looked so tough that Buffalo didn’t believe their own eyes, but the challenge stood, as Gronk managed to keep his flippers on the field. Even if we had not heard reports of the tight end’s myriad maladies (his injury report has started to sound like “Dem Bones”), he looks a half-step behind what he can normally do. Tough to recover during the season, especially in a short week, but here’s hoping he can get some rest and get a little more comfortable in his prep for the Packers.
New Era Field Has Everything: Signs printed on office paper, boneless wings from Applebee’s, unidentified flying objects hitting the field (that were, in fact, fully identified). Oh, Stephon. Just wanted to check in with New England’s best defensive back, corner Stephon Gilmore, who had three tackles and two pass break-ups while holding receiver/Sequoia Kelvin Benjamin to two receptions on seven targets.
The Patriots have switched up some defensive backs on the roster, putting Eric Rowe on injured reserve just as Duke Dawson has come off of IR to practice.
You’re Killing Me, Jerry: Back in 2010, I wanted New England to consider drafting pass rusher Jerry Hughes out of Texas Christian. Here’s the Q&A with the Mountain West defensive player of the year from that February. Not proud to admit I opened with a “talk about” question, but overall it’s an entertaining read. Indianapolis took Hughes at 31st overall. (New England had taken McCourty at 27 and next took Gronk at 42 overall, so it’s probably best I wasn’t in that draft room.)
Zay, Zay, Zay What You Want: Please, please, please, watch this music video. Anyway, just a quick note of appreciation for Buffalo receiver Zay Jones, who caught six passes for 55 yards and helped keep the Bills’ portable toilet of an offense viable for over three quarters. We mentioned Jones as a potential Patriots draft pick after his Senior Bowl performance in 2017 (see the “Take-A-Shot-On-This-Receiver Guy” in this column). The Bills drafted him early in the second round, too rich for New England, who did not draft until the third (Derek Rivers). Jones had 27 catches in 15 games as a rookie, with 25 in eight games this season. Both impressive considering the offal that has thrown him passes in Buffalo. A future in Foxboro for this East Carolina product? Maybe. Who’s to Zay?
(Thank you and goodnight!)
Monday Might Football: I don’t even know who’s doing what on MNF. Former tight end Jason Witten says some stuff, then the other guy in the booth describes what’s happening on the field, then they go to a guy in a duck blind or something, then a lady speaks.
I don’t know. Who cares?
Witten had a decent analysis on Buffalo’s defensive game plan, sticking with a bend-don’t-break philosophy of allowing the short pass. He then pointed out, rightly, that Brady can dink and dunk all day. MNF also had a good graphic at halftime showing Buffalo dropping seven defenders in a Tampa 2 scheme.
Another noteworthy graphic? Brady crashing a Bills’ tailgate table, although to stay true to the Bills Mafia tradition, digital Tom should land on his back. That was the best graphic they had (so good, they used it again after Brady had rung up his 29th win over Buffalo), though the Bills’ QBs getting washed over Niagara Falls was pretty entertaining.
Again, I don’t know. In this piece from December 2016 I praised the MNF crew of Sean McDonough and Jon Gruden because they matched up well: McDonough’s straightforward play calls and wry wit balanced out Gruden’s apoplectic analysis and self-aware befuddlement. It seems like the MNF honchos have tried something new with the current crew, but I can’t quite figure out what it is they’re going for, there.
Replays I’d Like To See: After a rough day by CBS pointed out in last week’s column, just a couple of missed replays by ESPN to note.
• An incompletion to Josh Gordon with 7:38 left in the first looked like a low pass, but it also seemed as though Gordon had a chance at it and dropped it. What happened, we shall never know.
• At 5:10 of the first, on second and goal, Brady was sacked and fumbled, recovered by center David Andrews. Was it a fumble? Because it looked like Brady’s arm may have been moving forward. Not sure why we never got to see a replay on that.
One play where MNF provided a replay but not enough commentary was with 4:39 left in the first, when Buffalo’s Marcus Murphy had the ball squirt out of his hands on a kick return. Refs ruled it a fumble, though even I could tell from home it decidedly was not. Wish the booth talked a little more about it when it happened, because it seemed obvious what the ruling was going to be.
Wrecks In Effect: Excited to see Wreck It Ralph 2 with our daughter this Thanksgiving. Really thought the original should have gotten the animation Oscar over Brave, which is a story about a Scottish girl whose mom turns into a bear. Yup. Sure. I mean, in the original Wreck It Ralph they made up four video games! Anyway, check out this trailer and tell me it doesn’t look like fun.
Scream Time: Speaking of making up your own video games – and juuust too late for Halloween – I’d like to recommend the indie thriller Livescream, a “found footage” film about a gamer who unwittingly puts his online audience in danger. You can see the trailer here.
Netflix Note Of The Week: Saw Bong Joon Ho’s Okja recently. It’s a low-key, quirky sci-fi film about a genetically engineered pig-like animal who becomes the object of a tug-of-war between a corporation, animal rights activists, and the girl who helped raise him. It’s thrilling, funny, and thought-provoking. And Tilda Swinton might be a genius.
Plus, it’s fascinating for me to listen to the different ways English-speakers and Korean-speakers pronounce “Okja.” I still can’t figure out the correct way.
Ah, well. Baseball is over, folks. While the Sox take a well-deserved nap on their laurels, get ready for New England to host Green Bay on Sunday night, where they try to make Aaron Rodgers look more like Derek Anderson.
Chris Warner still needs a half-second to differentiate between duck boats and swan boats. He’s not the brightest bulb. And he’s on Twitter @cwarn89.