So, I guess the Patriots are a fourth-quarter team now. In both Sunday’s 24-10 defeat of the Vikings and their 27-13 win over the Jets the previous week, New England found themselves tied in the third quarter, only to score two touchdowns while holding opponents scoreless the rest of the way. Once again, an imperfect-yet-satisfying win.
On to the notes!
The Develin Side: Every single one of us, the Develin side. I mean, how can you not be? Fullback James Develin, who spends most of his time at work imitating a battering ram, got to carry the ball four times Sunday, reaching the end zone twice. Those two scores doubled the output of his six-year career. Impressive work by the Patriots O-line against the Vikings’ vaunted front, as the home team rushed for 160 yards total, averaging 4.1 per tote. No, Sony Michel didn’t gain much more ground than a rising tide over a couple of hours (17 rushes, 63 yards, 3.7 avg.), but New England’s insistence on running the football and its moderate success opened up play-action passes for Tom Brady. Gaining 471 total yards against a team known for its defense bodes well for the rest of December and beyond.
Flash Forward: Despite an opening scoring drive that looked like a Gladiator-style onslaught, it took a couple of quarters for the
Visigoths Vikings to know they were conquered. Then Josh Gordon got involved. He started a late third-quarter drive with a catch-and-run where he yanked the ball out of the air like he was prying a chunk of ice off a railing and coasted along the left sideline for 24 total yards. Gordon wrapped up that same drive with a casual, guess-I’ll-just-stay-here-a-sec read of Minnesota’s zone, gathering in Brady’s pass at the 10 and loping into the end zone for a 17-10 lead. Brady went 24 of 32 (75 percent) for 311 yards and that one touchdown (plus an interception that we need not mention again). Most impressive for the QB? His use of nine different receivers, Including the usual crew, plus a “welcome back” pair of tosses to running back Rex Burkhead, as well as short completions to Develin and Michel.
I had low expectations of Gordon. He surpassed those after his first game in Foxboro where he had two catches for 32 yards vs. Miami. Potential for a bit more production for him against the Dolphins this week.
Gronk-OW-ski: Spreading around passes will help the team going forward, because it seems as though every step tight end Rob Gronkowski takes puts him in sheer agony. On the aforementioned TD drive to Gordon, Gronkowski caught a pass in the middle of the field for a first down. He got belted, got up more gingerly than if he were barefoot in an abandoned LEGO factory, and proceeded to non-block on a White run that, thankfully, went to the opposite side of the line. He then left the field for a few plays. Having Gronk playing matters, and not always because of his numbers (three catches, 26 yards). He widens the field for his teammates (that Gordon TD a great example) and forces a defense to declare itself earlier. Here’s hoping he gets more time on the sideline Sunday, getting the rest he needs to become Gronk-aah-ski. Right? Sure.
Order In McCourty: Minnesota’s Adam Thielen came into this contest averaging over 100 yards receiving. Cornerback Jason McCourty, with help from his brother, safety Devin McCourty, as well as rookie JC Jackson, limited Thielen to 28 yards on five completions. After a rough patch of games where the looked about as communicative as angry teenagers, the defensive backfield – and specifically the McCourty duo – seem to have found the same wavelength, matching up well and knowing where the other would be (we will not overanalyze the overthrown pass by Kirk Cousins to Thielen, who broke through their double-team to find daylight). Jackson has been using his physicality (I’m sure a few Vikings fans would say a little too much of it in the end zone, where pass interference was not called on Jackson nudging Thielen.) A darn good day vs. a pretty darn good passer.
It says something that Stephon Gilmore doesn’t even get his own sub-headline, despite holding Stefon Diggs to 49 yards on five catches. It’s expected now. I always knew he’d be great with the Patriots! (Note: As you can see in this column after the 2017 loss to the Panthers, I did not know he’d be great with the Patriots.)
First Cousins, Twice Removed: Though Cousins completed 32 of 44 passes (73 percent), the Patriots held him to 201 yards with one touchdown and two picks. The most important interception happened with 4:50 remaining. With Minnesota on New England’s side of the field, Cousins tested the rookie deep. Jackson reached between Aldrick Robinson’s hands and tipped the ball to Harmon on a deep attempt into the end zone (clip here). With about a minute left, Jonathan Jones wrapped up the day with a seeing-eye pickoff of Cousins’ throw down the middle of the field, an appropriate way to end a day where the visiting QB seemed outmatched and overwhelmed at times when trying to decipher New England’s defensive looks.
Tackling The Issue: The Vikings may not possess the greatest offensive attack since, say, the aliens in War of the Worlds, but holding a respectable O to 10 points deserves respect. Minnesota converted only three of 12 third-down attempts, and one fourth-down attempt they did convert looked questionable at best. One of the biggest reasons the Patriots got off the field involved tackling and how well they did it on Sunday.
A fourth-quarter series brings this tendency to light. Starting with 7:35 left, with Minnesota down by two scores on second and 20 after a holding call, Cousins darted a pass to Thielen, tackled by Jason McCourty for a four-yard gain. Third down, Thielen for five, McCourty on the stop. Fourth down, Cousins to Laquon Treadwell for four yards, Patriots ball. New England sent pressure to speed up Cousins’ decision-making, forcing him to settle for short passes. One-on-one tackling remained key. The secondary did a great job limiting yardage after catches, along with linebackers Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts, and Dont’a Hightower.
The Patriots travel to Miami this week, a place where at times they have looked about as comfortable as a vampire in the sun. If they can stop and pressure the Dolphins like they did this past Sunday, New England could once again be looking at double-digit wins.
Fox-y Lazy: No real issues with the FOX broadcast. I like Joe Buck and Troy Aikman, though I wish each brought a bit more to the table. Buck seems to get excited on most big plays, but then there seem to be moments when he’s trying to act like everything’s cool. Overall, though, they have a reputation as one of the best tandems, and they deserve that rep.
A couple of notes on the broadcast. At one point, Aikman said of the Vikings, “Outside of their last two defeats to the Saints and Bears, nobody has had that much success on (third) down against them.” Seems like an odd thing to say, one of those stats that doesn’t really tell us anything. It’s like, they’re an awesome defense when they avoid playing good offenses. “Hey, except for those two times I went to Foxwoods this year, I almost always win at poker!” Aikman also called D-lineman Malcom Brown D-back (and former Patriot) Malcolm Butler at the 4:19 mark of the second quarter, then went out of his way to correct himself a few plays later. So, as I said, no big problems.
Well, except one or two.
When will announcers – specifically, retired referees – get on the officials when they screw up? Between the pass interference on Julian Edelman not called at the goal line, the pass to tight end Kyle Rudolph broken up by Obi Melifonwu called a catch, and the potential PIs not called on Jackson in the end zone, booth ref Mike Pereira said things like, “Yes, it’s close, but good job by the officials there.” Was it? I’m not so sure, Mike.
You know what we need? A former ref with a grudge. Someone who knows the rules and who can say, without pause, whether the call makes sense or diddles the dog. Maybe give him a few beers before the game. “You know that guy who made that call? I worked with that guy. You know what? That guy’s a jackass!” That’s entertainment, right there.
Another quick negative (and this is for all networks): stop showering us with schadenfreude. No need to look at a kicker after he misses a field goal. Are we supposed to root for him to flip out? It’s a weird broadcasting habit that needs to stop. If you have to, show the happy team.
One other thing I’d change about all broadcasts: engineer a couple of overhead cameras to seek out better looks at ball placement. That stop of running back Latavius Murray on fourth down with nine minutes left in the game should have made the highlight reel; instead, it remains an afterthought. A shame, because Lawrence Guy and Trey Flowers did everything right on that play, pushing back the line and stopping Murray as if he were Wile E. Coyote trying to run through a fake tunnel entrance. The accepted language after the challenge was that there was “no definitive look.” Well, 1) there was (thank you, CBS Boston’s Michael Hurley); 2) Why not have a camera lined up on the first-down line – hell, on the sticks themselves – to get a proper look? This is a multi-billion-dollar business that depends wholly on the rooting interests of fans. Each week’s outcome can literally be decided by an inch. Yet we trust officials to run from 10 yards away, take the ball from an offensive player who has been pushed back or has rolled forward after the whistle, and definitively determine where that ball belongs? Nope.
FOX’s best move of the day? Using that overhead camera on kickoffs. Until helmet cams equal those overheads in quality, it’s tough to think of a way to get a better look at the middle of the action.
Ending on a good note, I loved hearing “Just What I Needed” heading into the commercial break between the first and second quarters. Not sure how to put it, but that was, to me, the thing that I thought perfectly necessary right then.
Replays I’d Like To See: Just a couple from FOX this week. At 3:16 of the third quarter, Vikings guard Tom Compton got called for holding, negating a long run by Dalvin Cook. Always enjoy watching holding, if only to try to figure out why it isn’t called on every play. Also, when Gronk took that awkward hit at 1:16 of the third, I wanted to watch it again. Aikman commented on how carefully Gronk was walking, which should have signaled to the crew to search for a replay of when he may have gotten dinged. Give me another look, FOX. I need to play Couch Orthopedist, for goodness’ sake. “Looks like he may have ostracized his outer tibula.”
Two commercials that caught my eye…
A Touch Of Snow In The Aaron: Kind of ironic that FOX ran a State Farm commercial with Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers in the snow on the same day the Packers lost to freaking Arizona at home on a freezing, flurry-filled day. The last time I saw Arizona play in the snow, Matt Cassel passed for 345 yards and three TDs at Gillette (highlights – or if you’re a Cards fan, lowlights – here). Arizona was picked to lose by two touchdowns. What a Lambeau Lapse.
IBM, And So Is This Ad: Why show a minivan on a raceway? I don’t get agencies’ enthusiasm for concept commercials during football games. We’re not really paying attention. Keep it simple and/or do something unusual to get us there. As much as I’m tired of them, this is why the Bud Light ads work: a simple idea repeated and executed in a straightforward way. Drink our beer and be a part of the cool crowd. I’ve watched a couple of IBM ads and I still don’t really get what they’re selling. I always feel like computer commercials get filled with made-up language. “Now you can hyperdrive your speed data with doolibytes of GundFlerg 7.0. So easy, even you can do it, you couch-ridden, semi-sentient SPAM loaf.”
Christ, take it easy, IBM.
Netflix Note Of The Week: This SNL parody commercial did solid work summarizing the dilemma of Netflix users: thousands of movies, of which you want to watch 12. I did enjoy a French heist flick called The Crew (originally Braqueurs, or “robbers”). It’s dubbed in English, which takes some getting used to (a scene where they play soccer sounds awkward as hell), but it’s well-paced and well-acted. You can see the trailer here in its original French (you’ll understand what they’re talking about, even if you don’t know what they’re saying). Bonus? Even if you don’t like the movie, it only takes up 81 minutes of your time.
Also on Netflix, a remake of “She-Ra: Princess of Power” called “She-Ra and the Princesses of Power.” I’m always seeking out shows I can watch with my daughter, and this one works. I appreciate that it’s aimed at children and also has a sense of humor and/or references to keep parents’ attention.
Not A Hog or B Hog: While the word “dolphin” is derived from the Greek word “delphys,” or “womb” (because they’re shaped like a womb, maybe?), the word “porpoise” comes from the Latin “porcus marinus,” or “sea hog.”
The Patriots take on the Sea Hogs Sunday at 1 p.m. Wear your sunscreen.
Chris Warner’s refrigerator sounds like a bushel of crickets trapped in a salad spinner. He may ask Santa for a new one. In the meantime, email him (Chris, not Santa) at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet @cwarn89.