Well, it’s official. When it comes to most of 2018, Patriots’ first quarters resemble my daughter’s tantrums: I watch because I have to; I can do nothing to affect it as it happens; only as it’s ending might something get accomplished.
New England trailed New York 7-0 early before tying it up with 1:18 left in the first quarter. Though the Patriots allowed the Jets to play catch-up via ties of 10-10 and 13-13, the visitors wrapped up the game with two unanswered touchdowns and a staunch goal-line stand for a much-needed 27-13 win.
With that victory, plus losses by the Chiefs and Steelers, the Patriots find themselves in second place for the top seed behind Kansas City, with a head-to-head tiebreaker in their back pockets.
Perhaps we can summarize the up-and-down nature of the game in back-to-back plays by the New England defense. At 7:27 of the first, linebacker Kyle Van Noy did yeoman-like work stopping a sweep. He fought off the block of tight end Jordan Leggett, kept his outside shoulder clear, and wrapped up running back Elijah McGuire for a two-yard loss. A heady, athletic play. On second and 12, Josh McCown dumped off a three-yard pass to back Isaiah Crowell, who proceeded to commit atrocities on linebacker Elandon Roberts’ ankles, clearing the way for a 15-yard gain.
I know, I know. That’s how NFL games go. Boston.com’s Chad Finn sums it up well in his post-game column, pointing out that the Patriots always have a tough time down in New York (bonus 1984 Celtics-Lakers NBA Finals reference!). Hey, if New England can play better fundamental football on both sides of the ball, they can keep that first-round bye well within reach.
Some other notes on the day…
Put Michel In, Man: When running back Sony Michel got twisted around like a rope in a knot-tying seminar, you could hear New England fandom’s collective groan. (Maybe he should wrap himself up in whatever this guy’s wearing.) Michel made a huge difference in this offense, rushing 21 times for 133 yards and a touchdown. Just as importantly, the threat of the run kept New York’s defense off-balance, opening up the passing game for Tom Brady on early downs. The Patriots quarterback hit on 77 percent of his first-down passes (10 of 13), and 64 percent of his second-down attempts (seven of 11), while struggling a bit more on the most obvious passing down (three of seven for 43 percent). As NBC Sports Boston’s Phil Perry wrote, Brady went 10 of 11 for 123 yards on play-action passes.
Michel would have had more yards – and his offense could have scored more points – if not for a nagging team tendency for holding calls. Though Trent Brown was guilty of a couple of those calls, we’ll give him credit for his hustle on Michel’s 33-yard run near the beginning of the fourth quarter. Brown first blocked down on defensive lineman Steve McLendon, then thundered six yards downfield to erase linebacker Avery Williamson from the picture. As guard Shaq Mason says in this well-done piece by ESPN.com’s Mike Reiss on Michel’s affect on the offense, the back is fun to block for. It’s easy to get that sense while watching these games.
Brady’s Choice: So, you’re a defense facing the Patriots. Whom do you cover? Brady had myriad selections to make on Sunday. Julian Edelman caught four passes for 84 yards. Josh Gordon, five for 70. Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, and Michel each had a pair of catches. Tight end Rob Gronkowski hauled in three passes, including this beauty for a 34-yard touchdown where he shrugged off a timely Morris Claiborne hit like a pit bull would a squirt gun. Gronk makes everyone better, creating double-teams and a general defensive-minded awareness of his whereabouts to open up passing lanes for his teammates. Gordon made a meal out of intermediate routes, snaring all five passes meant for him, including a crucial 17-yard sliding sideline grab to convert a third and 10 on their game-clinching final TD drive. Brady got rushed a bit and missed a target here and there, but going 20 of 31 (65 percent) for 283 yards and two touchdowns while avoiding turnovers seems like the right way to start the second part of New England’s season.
Evan Lazar of CLNS media shows examples of Brady’s post-bye-week improvement in this column. Some nice film work there.
Wise And Shine: Noteworthy performances by defensive linemen (and Arkansas alums) Trey Flowers and Deatrich Wise against the Jets, with each getting a sack. Flowers had four quarterback hits, with Wise adding three to the team’s 13 total. McCown started to feel the pressure in the second half, including early in the fourth quarter when Wise corralled him on third and 14 to force a punt. About ten minutes later, Flowers spun him to the ground at midfield to prolong a late Jets drive that proved fruitless. McCown wrapped up the day hitting 26 of 45 passes (58 percent) with one touchdown and one interception. New York gained only 74 yards on the ground, with 25 of those coming from McCown scrambles. A solid day for a solid duo.
Mark Daniels of the Providence Journal has an informative piece on those two here.
The Yellow Throws Of Reckless: I’ve said this before and it’s worth repeating – the Patriots saw more yellow flags than the New Mexico State Capitol Building. New England had a whopping 11 penalties for 105 yards go against them on Sunday, four more penalties than their previous highs (tied at seven vs. Colts and Bears), with 41 more yards than the 64 at Chicago. Much of it looks correctable, with three penalties called on special teams for 30 yards seeming especially heinous. Get your stuff together, Danny Shelton!
New York’s Hottest Club Has Everything: Green Santa hats, looks of despair, paper bags. Just checking in on Stephon Gilmore, who held receivers he covered to one reception out of five attempts. Gilmore also gathered in an interception and punched a football away from a receiver, with both plays happening at the goal line. An excellent day for him.
Obi Melifonwu, Makes Me Happy: Sometimes Obi Melifonwu can make me cry. Limited to eight plays on defense, the new Patriot made his marks on special teams, both bad (block in the back on a punt return) and good (kickoff team tackle in the first that saved a ton of field position). A player we’ve kept an eye on since his gah-inducing combine performance made him our “Freakishly Athletic Guy” for the 2017 draft, the 6-4, 224-pound Melifonwu certainly has the physical ability to help out as a strong safety who can support run defense and cover tight ends. Next week’s tilt vs. the Vikings could provide a platform for his talents. New England could use another guy with few expectations to step up.
Speaking of whom…
Little Feet Going Pitter-Patterson: Man, watching Cordarelle Patterson is really entertaining, and not always in the way it’s intended. He can return kicks. He can make something out of short passes when given the space (note: with one catch for minus-one yard, he was not given much space). He can run the football (sometimes jump with it into the waiting arms of a defender, as he did on the goal line). With five rushes for 10 yards, no one is saying Patterson’s going to threaten Corey Dillon’s Patriots rushing stats (or Brandon Bolden’s, for that matter). But to have that extra piece on the roster, that one guy who can score on any play from anywhere on the field, can give the offense a slight edge in terms of preparation and potential. Defenses have to know where he lines up, and that can dictate how teams play the Patriots with Patterson on the field. As Vikings coach Mike Zimmer noted this week, the Patriots might be using the multi-talented athlete better than Zimmer and his staff did.
New England hosts Minnesota, the team that drafted Patterson, next week. Let’s see if offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels has any special plans for him.
Ian Eagle, Hear Me Roar: Again, as I have said all season, I got no problems with the Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts announcing combo. Eagle gets excited at the right times and rarely makes mistakes in his calls. Fouts does a thoroughly decent job of telling us what we just saw. I mean, I don’t feel like I learn anything, but I appreciate their consistency and enthusiasm. And, overall, I thought CBS had a solid performance on camera coverage, getting good views of plays and putting up appropriate graphics at the proper times.
Oh, questions and comments on the broadcast? I can think of a few.
Replays I’d Like To See included the following:
• At 6:46 of the second quarter, Patterson got called for illegal motion, but we never saw it. Always good to review official calls, no matter how inconsequential they might seem. Sometimes illegal motion looks as undetectable as a balk to me. Did it happen? What’s that call, exactly? I’ll understand icing before I figure out what a balk looks like, and I will never understand icing.
• No replay after the Patriots’ third down attempt near the end of the first half, which felt like a shame because I would have liked to see if Michel took the wrong angle off of his block. A first down there would have prevented the Jets from scoring a late field goal.
• At 13:40 of the third quarter, Michel popped up the middle for two yards, but by the way he slapped the football after the tackle he seemed frustrated he didn’t get more. No replay to possibly see what he saw, though.
• Around the 5:46 mark of the third, Gilmore got called for holding on Quincy Enunwa. Again, with regard to penalties, always the right move to replay them so we can either a) nod in firm agreement, or b) lament the myopia of NFL refs, depending on our team allegiances.
• Edelman made a sweet catch with about 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter to set up New England with first and goal for their final TD of the day. We didn’t see a replay in part because defensive end Leonard Williams hit Brady late (like, beyond socially-acceptable-late), so we had to view that. Still, plenty of time before the next snap to fit in another look at what appeared to be a nifty grab.
CBS also replayed the incorrect down after Michel’s third-down run with 10:26 left in the first, instead showing his second-down run (both for two yards).
Midway through the third quarter, CBS reacted to a Shelton (number 71) contact-with-the-snapper penalty by showing Brown (number 77). Two very large men with two very different jobs.
I do give Fouts praise for his call on Michel’s first TD/not TD run that got changed upon review in the fourth quarter. Fouts noted Michel’s knee hit the ground before I did (or before I felt willing to accept it. Yeah, probably that). Yup. No problems with the Eagle/Fouts pairing. It’s fine, you know? Just … fine.
I Wanted To Be A Part Of It: Man, those crowd shots of MetLife Stadium make Jets fandom look miserable. So many frowns and shrugs. What has happened to this franchise? I used to want to be a Jets fan. It’s true. They took Coach Bill Parcells. He, in turn, took Curtis Martin. The Patriots played like nitwits against them for years, committing all kinds of dipturd penalties because they wanted to get back at the Tuna. I will never forget the Jets – using Bill Belichick’s defensive game plan – beating the Drew-Bledsoe-led Patriots in 1999 with Ray Lucas at QB. Sweet revenge for New York after they’d lost to New England in the season opener while also losing QB Vinny Testaverde to injury. Great summary of that opening game and its affect on both franchises in this video. On top of all that, the Jets had a legendary Super Bowl win, something that seemed unattainable for New England given the team’s history. (Nice opportunity here to shill for Jerry Thornton’s book From Darkness To Dynasty.) What a weird turn of events this century has given us.
Also, to the fan with the JETMAN license plate, I’ll say this: you’re from New Hampshire. Get a hold of yourself.
What Am I, A McCown To You? I’ve written about backup quarterbacks before (included in this column on Patriots/Browns 2016 is a bit about Charlie Whitehurst), so I won’t dwell on it for too long here. Still, for all the guff that McCown takes as a backup, we need to remember that a) he started playing professional football in 2002, b) he is 39 years old, and c) he is making $10 million this year. On top of that, he brings few expectations with him as he keeps the QB post warm for rookie Sam Darnold. Good gig, Josh.
I Didn’t Mean To Turn You Onside: What has gotten so difficult about executing an onside kick? I mean, this Nebraska attempt vs. Ohio State? Good Lord.The NFL success rate has declined from 15 percent to about eight percent this year. According to this AP article, that’s due to the new required formations of kickoff teams. I blame lousy attempts, too. Kickers go for a pop-up all the time now, even though a football is a lot easier to pluck out of the air than it is to wrangle off the ground. Not sure why more kicks don’t happen along the turf toward the sideline, the Nebraska kick notwithstanding. The recovery rate is so low, you’ve at least got to give your team a chance.
Was that an old man rant? That sounded like an old man rant.
Something To Ad: A few commercials caught my eye for various reasons.
• Anyone see that Prevnar 13 ad? Holy Christ. It’s for a medication that fights pneumococcal pneumonia, a sickness that apparently can send senior citizens to bed looking sweaty and untouchable. It’s meant for people 65 and older, but it freaks me out so much that I want to take it, despite the fact that this certain type of pneumonia sounds like a vacation resort in Greece.
“Aunt Gladys is going back to Pneumococcal this year. She loves it there!”
• Listen, I was a simple-minded English major, but even I know that if you’re trying to get people to buy a Facebook Portal, you shouldn’t produce a commercial centered around head lice. New slogan could be, “Portal: if our eavesdropping on your every word doesn’t give you the skeevies, our commercial will.”
• Saw Taco Bell’s rolled chicken taco commercial and it reminded me of this little-seen gem from “Saturday Night Live.” Especially helpful if you overdid it with the stuffing, potatoes, and turkey last week. I just realized that, over the course of five days, I consumed a full pecan pie by myself. (In my defense, it was delicious with coffee).
In any case, I watched The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, which is also playing in select theaters. I recommend it, with two warnings I wish I’d had: one, it’s an anthology, so the opening Buster Scruggs story wraps up after about 10 minutes; two, its lush cinematography and the cheery nature of its title character (see Tim Blake Nelson in the trailer) make the violence visceral and shocking. Very well-acted and wonderfully shot, it’s worth watching; just don’t expect a gleeful romp through the Old West.
Speaking of uneven acting, I saw The Godfather over Thanksgiving weekend for the first time in a while, and I couldn’t help but imagine 2000s Al Pacino in that role. “It’s not PERSONAL, Sonny! It’s strictly … BUSINESS!”
The Flick And The Dead: Watched a 1990s western last week called The Quick and the Dead, starring Sharon Stone and Russell Crowe. It’s about an old-fashioned shooting contest, complete with brackets. Leonardo DiCaprio is in it (character name: Kid) and he’s a gorgeous 21-year-old. The face of an angel, that young man. Gene Hackman plays the town ruler/bad guy (character name: Herod. Seriously) as if the sheriff from Unforgiven grew up rich. With Sam Raimi at the helm, some ’90s affectations exist, including close-ups of bullets in flight and hyper-real sound effects akin to a martial arts film. Entertaining to watch with friends who feel free to comment.
Alliance AF: The Alliance of American Football (AAF) announced its rosters this week, and a few former Patriots showed up. The biggest name was guard Tré Jackson, a 2015 Pats draftee who started nine games his rookie year but couldn’t get past nagging knee issues. Jackson is listed on the Orlando Apollos roster. Other former players who spent time in New England include linebacker Deontae Skinner (Birmingham Iron), defensive end Corey Vereen (Memphis Express), and linebacker Steve Beauharnais (Arizona Hotshots).
According to the website, the league gets going in February. I’ve decided to root for Orlando, in part for my East Coast locale, but also because I look forward to seeing what Steve Spurrier can do with an offense in this league. If I had to pick a starting QB from their current roster, I’d go with Miami product Stephen Morris, who’s been kicking around the NFL as a backup since 2014. Not sure I’m too keen on the mascot (whether it’s the sun god or the theater, is there more than one Appollo?). While I do appreciate breaking free from the Florida pro team habit of animal names (Dolphins, Jaguars, Rays, Marlins, Panthers), that area does have a lot of wildlife as inspiration. How about the Orlando Racers?
I hope the AAF has a positive influence on the NFL. This could be fun. Football in February!
The Vikings seek to take over Foxboro next Sunday at 4:25 p.m. To prep, please take a gander at a couple of current Vikings in my old Patriots Daily interviews, both of which featured uncomfortable/unprofessional moments provided by me. I asked USC pass-rusher Everson Griffen about a scuffle at a Nantucket bar. I also inquired defensive lineman Linval Joseph how he felt about coming to America, when he grew up in America. Amazing I haven’t become a more popular sports writer.
Hope to see you next Thursday.
Chris Warner wants to be an AAF announcer. Go Apollos! He’s on Twitter @cwarn89.