Patriots Thursday Observations, “It’s Not Over Yet” Review

While I’m sure the frequency will dissipate with time, every few hours or so I begin chuckling to myself. I can’t help it. New England won their fifth Super Bowl in the game’s first-ever overtime, 34-28, after trailing 28-3 with 8:31 left in the third quarter. Even after the confetti, the parade, and the trophies (Careful, Gronk!) it’s still difficult to believe.

Here’s the lede I had lined up after Atlanta’s Robert Alford returned a Tom Brady interception for a touchdown to push the Falcons ahead, 21-0. “No heart-stopper tonight. No, ‘Well, if this didn’t happen, or this.’ Atlanta is just better.”

Well, in my defense, they were better, at least until midway through the third. After settling for what seemed like a useless field goal at the end of the first half, the Patriots offense began the second half by going three-and-out, in part due to drops by Chris Hogan and Julian Edelman. The Falcons stormed down the field and scored yet again to go ahead 28-3. No one could have guessed that those would be their final points of the night.

An historical note amidst an historical week: In 2001, Coach Bill Belichick brought his team to see a special screening of Shackleton’s Antarctic Adventure, a documentary about Sir Ernest Shackleton and his crew, whose 1914 journey to the South Pole was thwarted by ice crushing their ship. After almost two years of struggle and perseverance, all 28 men returned to civilization. WGBH’s website posted the story. Many of the themes Brady and Belichick discussed came up 15 years later.

One tell-tale quote about the documentary, from Brady: “It told you that there are always going to be obstacles along the way. You have to keep your faith, keep believing in each other, keep working together, even if you think you’re never going to make it.”

Fitting that a season that began with so many unknowns had its ending in doubt until the last minute. What a game. What a ride.

Patriots fans can link to an entertaining collection of TV and radio calls of James White’s winning touchdown here (Kevin Harlan for Westwood One is a favorite.) Proof that, yes, it really did happen.

Team/Player Observations

Four Scores And Several Fears Ago: A quick rundown of The Comeback, just to refresh our memories of how to erase a 28-3 deficit in the final 17-plus minutes of regulation. (Highlights of New England’s overtime drive can be seen here.)

TOUCHDOWN, five-yard pass to White, at 2:12 of third Q. 28-9.
Big Plays: 17-yard pass to Danny Amendola on fourth and three; 15-yard scramble by Brady on third down and eight.

SACK of Matt Ryan by Kyle Van Noy and Trey Flowers at 0:52 of third Q on third and 11.

FIELD GOAL, Stephen Gostkowski, at 9:48 of fourth Q. 28-12.
Big Plays: Passes of 15, seven, and 18 yards to Malcolm Mitchell; 25-yard pass to Martellus Bennett.

SACK by Dont’a Hightower, forcing Ryan to fumble, recovered by defensive tackle Alan Branch at 8:31 of fourth.

TOUCHDOWN, six-yard pass to Amendola, at 6:00. (White with the Kevin Faulk-ish two-point conversion rush.) 28-20.
Big Play: Pass to Mitchell for 12 yards on third and 11.

SACK by Flowers on second and 11, pushing Atlanta back to New England’s 35. (3:56 left.)

TOUCHDOWN, one-yard run for White, at 1:00. (Amendola quick screen two-point conversion.) 28-28.
Big Play: 23-yard pass tipped by Alford, gathered up by Edelman (more on this below).

I don’t know. Seems so straightforward when you spell it all out in print. But I suppose that’s how the Patriots did it: not looking for amazing plays, just trying to do enough on every down to keep the game within reach.

Brady Four-ever: Let us peruse some of the numbers, shall we? After going 16 for 26 in the first half (62 percent) for 184 yards and an avert-your-eyes interception, Our Tom hunkered down in the quest for four Super Bowl MVP Awards (I know, he wasn’t thinking about that, but just go with it) and completed 27 of 36 passes (75 percent) in the second half-plus for 282 yards and two touchdowns. This included going 16 of 21 in the fourth quarter (76 percent). He ended up completing 43 of 62 throws (a percentage of 69 – Go, Gronk!) for 466 yards. Brady broke more records than Disco Demolition Night, including but not limited to passes, completions, and yardage, on his way to (another record-breaking) fourth MVP.

I have a buddy who is not a Patriots fan, and he texted me to point out how much fun he had watching this Super Bowl as a part of history. Maybe it will take some time, but New England fans can spend the next month or so wearing out their DVRs the same way I wore out Side One of my Combat Rock cassette. Rewind, Play. Rewind, Play.

At this point, if you refuse to see that Brady is one of the best quarterbacks ever, that’s on you. It’s like refusing to believe the Earth is round. Fine. Just keep your own misinformation to yourself.

King James: A running back, receiver, and possible android, White deserved a serious look at Co-MVP, catching a (yet another record-breaking) 14 passes for 110 yards and one touchdown, while running for two more (including the sudden-death dagger in overtime), and bolting up the middle for a two-point conversion. On the Patriots’ first touchdown, White caught the ball near the left sideline and spun back toward the middle, cutting free for a five-yard score. With two minutes left, White got all three touches from the 21, toting a 13-yard pass to the eight, then snatching Brady’s next throw and scuttling under the defense for a seven-yard gain to the one. White then sliced through the middle of the line to get New England within two points.

No eye-popping, spectacular plays from White, just a stream of steady contributions that set his team in the proper direction. Great overall game by him. (You can watch his remarkably workmanlike highlight reel here.)

The one argument against White as MVP? While his 14 receptions are a record, they’re a lower percentage of completions than what SB 39 MVP Deion Branch had. White caught 14 of Brady’s 43 completions, an impressive 33 percent, with his 110 yards receiving accounting for 24 percent of Brady’s 466 total. Branch, however, caught 11 passes for 133 yards, making up almost half of Brady’s 23 completions (one-third of his 33 total passes) and over half of the QB’s 236 yards through the air. So, while I’m on board for White as Co-MVP, I just don’t think you can take the trophy away from Brady.

Would the Patriots have won without White? Probably not. But you can say the same about a half-dozen other players who rose to the occasion. Speaking of whom…

Jugglin’ Edelman: While Edelman caught five passes for 87 yards, his 23-yard falling-Plinko-disk catch will be analyzed only slightly less than the Zapruder film. (ESPN shows it from just about every angle.) Alford did a good job to tip the pass, and for a moment the cornerback actually had the ball between his feet as Edelman jockeyed with two oncoming defensive backs to try to secure it. Amidst a collection of arms and legs reminiscent of a cluster of Pop-Rocks-fueled fourth-graders playing ultra-competitive Twister, Edelman managed to clear the football of the fray and – after losing contact for an angina-laden heartbeat – scooped the ball out of the air to prevent it from touching the ground.

An overlooked aspect of the unbelievable nature of the catch was that the Falcons had to challenge that thing. The call was upheld, which took away their final timeout. Hard to blame Atlanta, though: my first thought upon watching this in real time was that it had to be overturned. An amazing call by the referee.

‘Tis I’ll Be Here, In Sunshine Or In Shadow: Oh, Danny Boy. Looking at the rundown of New England’s tying drive in regulation, we get a sense of every receiver’s importance. From their own nine-yard line, Brady hit Hogan for 15 yards on third and 10. The QB then found rookie/second-half phenom Mitchell for 11 on second and 10. From the 36, the aforementioned Edelman Catch netted 23 yards to Atlanta’s 41. Amendola bolted open to gather in a 20-yarder to the 21, whereupon White took over.

Earlier, Amendola’s TD with six minutes left resulted from a six-yard out where his knife-sharp pattern got him clear toward the left sideline. On the night, he had eight catches for 78 yards, Mitchell had six for 70, Hogan had four for 57, and tight end Bennett had five for 62 and forced linebacker De’Vondre Campbell to commit a neck-hug-from-a-drunk-girl-who-doesn’t-really-like-you-that-way pass interference penalty in overtime that gained 13 yards to the Falcons’ two.

Overtime had more featured players than a Christopher Guest movie.  Brady to White for six. To Amendola for a 14-yard catch-and-run. To Hogan for 18, then Edelman for 15, then the attempt to Bennett for 13 penalty yards. It was overwhelming to watch, much less try to defend.

Ooh, that reminds me…

Hotlanta: How overheated was Atlanta’s defense? New England had possession for more than 40 minutes with 93 offensive plays, over twice as many as the Falcons (46). Of those 93, 63 were pass plays (Edelman had one attempt). Let’s consider the kind of effort it takes to rush the passer. You must move, push over, or get around a 300-pound man, whose sole purpose is to prevent you from doing so. You yourself must propel your not-diminutive frame out of a three- or four-point stance at great speed, keeping said 300-pound obstacle at bay as you seek to grab the professional athlete behind him. So, essentially, a series of squat thrusts with added heavy bench press reps, to be continued after a half-hour intermission when adrenaline has subsided.

No wonder Brady started having success in the third quarter. The QB had gotten smacked around like an effigy of Roger Goodell in a Cumberland Farms parking lot, but after, what, forty passes? Fifty? Those dudes must have been more used up than a gift certificate for a Chadwick’s Belly Buster. According to Pro Football Focus, the Falcons’ pressure declined steadily over the course of the game. The percentage of pressured pass attempts dipped from a high of 60 in the first to a mere 13 percent in the fourth and overtime. Oh, you Patriots. Playing the long game again.

Trey Magnifique: In 2015, New England chose Arkansas defensive end Flowers in the fourth round. He ended up on IR that December after an injury-plagued rookie year, playing in only one game. Suffice to say, 2016 has been a little different. Flowers became the team’s top pass-rusher by season’s end, totaling 45 tackles and seven sacks on the year. Flowers had a great night, hassling Ryan with 2.5 sacks, one hit, and one hurry. The end’s best-timed tackle came with four minutes left in the fourth, when he engulfed Ryan on second down. The QB lost 12 yards on the play, putting Atlanta on the edge of field goal range at the Patriot 35. Chris Long forced a holding call on the next snap, pushing the Falcons back to New England’s 45. One, two, punt-a-roo.

High There: Of course, we can’t mention sacks without talking about the big-time play of Hightower. The Patriots had just spent the first five minutes of the fourth quarter on offense, coming away with a mere three points for their effort to close the gap to 16. This felt like watching a conversational foreign-language film when you’re tired: something needed to happen to get back into it. With 8:31 on the clock, Ryan attempted a pass from his own 36, but Hightower brushed past running back Devonta Freeman like a bull through a blueberry thicket, smacking the ball out of Ryan’s cocked arm for a strip sack. Five plays later, Amendola was cradling the football in the end zone like it was a vintage Beanie Baby, the comeback gaining mind-changing momentum.

Fill Collins: Remember that weird feeling when linebacker Jamie Collins got traded for a juice box and a bag of Cheez-Its? (Actually, it was a compensatory third-round pick, but you get the picture.) Well, while no single player could replace Collins, a single-minded effort emerged in his absence. Sunday, rookie Elandon Roberts had two tackles. Van Noy had a half-sack. Shea McClellin exhibited a Collins-like leap to prevent an extra-point attempt, but it was nullified due to the officials calling “illegal formation,” which didn’t make sense. In any case, solid contributions throughout the lineup.

Look, Collins got paid mucho bucks by Cleveland. He’s happy. The Patriots assembled a classic, better-than-the-sum-of-its-parts linebacker ensemble to complement Hightower. They’re happy. Sometimes when it happens, no matter how many times we see it happen, we outside of Gillette initially fail to grasp the potential benefits of trades like this.

Ball Hawks, Ball Falcons: Speaking of linebackers, the Falcons looked impressive on defense before their tires started to wear out. Both of New England’s turnovers were strong plays by Atlanta’s defense, a topic that was also part of my deleted lede, which is starting to resemble the second act of It’s a Wonderful Life. (But there is no fifth Lombardi, George: the Falcons ran the football in the second half.) Linebacker Deion Jones basically gave the weight-room version of the jaws of life to LeGarrette Blount’s football, setting it free at the Atlanta 29. This took away the Patriots’ best chance to score at that point and gave the Falcon’s offense serious momentum, as five plays later Devonta Freeman ran around left end for a five-yard touchdown.

The second turnover was just a strong read by Alford, who cut in front of Amendola and rode into Valhalla, all shiny and chrome. Excruciating for the Patriots, who had taken 14 plays (including two defensive holding penalties) to drive 52 yards to Atlanta’s 23. Just an absolute killer to go down 21-0 with 2:21 left in the half.

Seriously, how in the hell did New England win this game?

Jones’ Down Massacre: Seeing receiver Julio Jones toe-tapping along the sideline for remarkable catches was like watching a bird demon dancing on the Patriots’ grave. Still, if Jones wanted to start a cult, I just might join him. His 27-yard catch over lanky cornerback Eric Rowe along the right sideline looked like the reception of the night (pre-Edelman), considering how high he had to jump and how nimble he had to be to get his feet inbounds. Just an amazing athlete. Surprised the Patriots held him to four receptions for 87 yards. Every catch belonged on a highlight reel.

Ryan’s Hope: Oh my gosh, Matt Ryan. My respect for him grew watching his post-game press conference. Can’t imagine sitting down and acting cordial after that emotional meteorite. (I’m in space! I’m flying! Oh God now I’m on fire and crashing to Earth!) Ryan completed 17 of 23 passes (74 percent) for 284 yards (17 yards per completion, 12 yards per attempt) and two touchdowns. One issue? The Falcons only converted one of eight third-down attempts. Allowing five sacks probably didn’t help, either, especially one late in the fourth quarter when a field goal could have iced the game.

Heh. Iced.

Random Observations

FOX And Trends: Usually, this space is devoted to the replays that CBS broadcasts missed. I have no such complaints for FOX’s Super Bowl broadcast, quite possibly because I watched the first half in the same way I would witness a mugging. (What is happening over there? Is that – ? Should I do something? What can I do?) Anyway, solid job overall by Le Renard, with a few tidbits that could have used improvement.

• Joe Buck confused Amendola for Edelman with 9:42 to go in the first quarter, which, you know, fine. But with 5:45 to go in the third quarter, after Amendola’s 17-yard grab on fourth and three, Buck identified Amendola correctly yet felt the need to say, “Not Edelman.” Yeah, we get it, Rain Man: we can see the jersey numbers.

• Troy Aikman’s tone-setting remarks at the start of the second half: “This opening possession, for both teams, I think, is big.” Wow. “Big.” Someone got a word-a-day calendar for Christmas.

• Showing a replay of the Tyree catch right after the Edelman play seemed a little forced, kind of like when the pre-2004 Red Sox made an error in the playoffs and the networks would break out scenes from Game Six (you know which one). It was hard not to think of the broadcast crew getting all excited at the opportunity to use the clip, celebrating like NASA scientists at the end of Apollo 13. Of course both Super Bowl receptions defied probability, but there are differences. For example, Edelman made his catch on first down, while Tyree made his on third down, right after he signed his name in blood on a contract made from the skin of harp seal pups.

• I personally enjoyed this, in part because my daughter was fast asleep. When Willie McGinest presented the trophy to the team, he barked out more than one (non-PG) variation of “Kiss that mothereffer!” After the first one, maybe FOX could’ve turned down the volume? No one in that gauntlet of spent, elated, testosterone-fueled humanity was going to censor his own words. Plan ahead, FOX.

• One complaint about the halftime report: if you’re going to showcase a gem like Katie Nolan, you have to do so for more than one minute. She read a couple of unremarkable tweets, and did little after that. More of her next time, please.

• After the game, fun to hear Curt Menefee proclaim, “The New England Patriots 2016-2017 Revenge Tour is complete.” I mean, somebody had to say it.

• Nice work on FS1 after FOX went to their “24” spinoff (possibly named “24: Why Not?”). Charissa Thompson chaired an entertaining-if-not-awe-inspiring panel including Peanut Tillman, Greg Jennings, and Dave Wannstedt. The latter figured prominently in the interview with Dion Lewis, as he recruited Lewis at the University of Pittsburgh. Fun table.

Two notes on the NFL Network, one good, one not as good:

• Deion Sanders said this about Atlanta’s response to pressure: “Everybody’s aggressive when you’re up, but when that thing gets tight, everything gets tight.” He based this on his experience as a corner playing with the Niners and how, once they got a big lead, he’d try to pick off shorter routes. If he got beat, no big deal. Strong mix of observation and experience from him.

• LaDainian Tomlinson analyzed the Edelman catch, which was fun to watch. He then analyzed the Lady Gaga catch (a football was tossed to her while she leapt off the stage), which was less fun and more – oh, what’s that word? – Rough. That’s it. I think every studio should hire a producer specifically to alert on-air talent when their goofing around fails to translate. Just because your buddy at the desk is laughing doesn’t mean anyone else is.

Tomlinson still earns points after calling out Sanders and even throwing to footage of him making two different predictions on pre-game shows. Apparently, Sanders liked Atlanta in the morning and New England in the afternoon. (I guess the Patriots do tend to look better later.)

Golden Belichick! What a world of happiness their harmony foretells! Speaking of Prime Time, kudos to ESPN’s NFL Primetime for appreciating the moment and for getting Coach Belichick to sit down for a quick interview after the game. Quite an experienced panel, with Chris Berman, Steve Young, and Randy Moss opening the segment trying to verbalize their disbelief. Moss coaxed the coach to say a few words, an appealingly impromptu moment emphasized by Berman’s less-than-smooth attempt to hand over his own headset.

Amazing how Belichick could break down what happened during the game: how much time was left after the Patriots scored, what Atlanta did in response, defensive schemes, specific plays, etc. I have a hard enough time figuring out the chronology of college games I’ve just watched from my couch, much less the most dramatic Super Bowl comeback ever. Belichick seems to be loosening up in some regards, making him a lot of fun to watch and listen to this season.

Blank Stare: As a lifelong fan of the Celtics, I know a thing or two about celebrating victory in the other team’s face (RIP, Red Auerbach and his cigars).  This helps me understand why Falcons owner Arthur Blank would walk down to the sideline to be with his team during an apparently imminent victory. I feel bad for the guy, but after watching him dancing around at halftime, that feeling dissipates a bit. Interesting that, in the previous link, it says, “As of halftime, (Blank’s) team is beating the New England Patriots, 21-0.” Guess those writers neglected to see the field goal with five seconds left. Amazing how important that became.

Oh, commercials? There were some? Of course. I’m just going to mention a few that stuck with me for more positive reasons.

Misleading Weapon: A promo for the show “Lethal Weapon” said they had 50 million viewers. How is that possible? What does that mean? Fifty million total? Ever? Besides my mother, I don’t know anyone who watches that show. Not saying it’s bad – heck, my mom loves it – but I think it tickles the boundaries of belief that “Weapon” has almost half as many viewers as the Super Bowl.

Ghost In The Hellloooo: Watching the preview for Ghost In The Shell, I just had to wonder what parents were telling their children across the country. Scarlett Johansson seems to be nude (it’s a skin-tight, flesh-colored body suit), and starts punching and kicking everything, all to that overused, overloud, BWAAHHH movie score noise. Again, in consideration of children in the room, maybe that’s a third-quarter ad instead of first quarter? Not sure the younger kids want to catch up on an updated 20-year-old manga film.

Drop Me In The Water: Enjoyed the Life Water ad, where raindrops result in multi-colored designs on sidewalks and buildings. A nice break from some of the louder, more intense commercials. (I’m looking at you, Ghost In The Shell.)

Class of 84: The “Journey” ad for 84 Lumber rates highly because a) I had never heard of 84 Lumber before Sunday night; and b) it tells the most compelling story of any commercial. (You can see the nearly six-minute short film of “The Entire Journey” here.)

Some were upset by the story of a mother and daughter trying to cross the border from Mexico (just search for “84 Lumber protest” and see for yourself). I’ll just say that I, personally, consider my hard-fought struggle to become an American – a tale that involves my mother going to a Boston hospital and me managing to survive birth under the best medical care the world has to offer – and I can see why people get upset.

Just kidding. It’s a lumber company commercial. You should be more riled up about that Ghost In The Shell ridiculousness. Since when is Johansson Japanese?

Just What I Needed: A Cars song for some car commercials that hit on different levels. First, we had the Honda CR-V ad featuring CGI’d celebrity yearbook photos. The talking portraits are a distraction from the fact that the ad makes no sense. “Follow your dreams; see where they may lead.” Not sure where a Honda CR-V fits in here. I don’t figure that many high school students would vote for a Honda as their dream car, but, hell, I don’t know. The Civic gets really good mileage.

Anyway, I loved the KIA Niro ad with Melissa McCarthy. A funny, slapsticky short about a self-perceived “Eco Warrior” and the difficulties her efforts can entail. The Niro gets 51 miles per gallon on the highway, which they probably should have mentioned in the ad.

I really enjoyed the Alfa Romeo commercial, not so much for its “Ride on the backs of dragons” theme (taken in part from the Alfa Romeo symbol, based on the symbol for the City of Milan), but simply for the idea that someone is going to see it and think, “You know what? I could use a sports car around the house.” In their defense, the Giulia comes in at under $40,000, far less than I figured upon seeing the ad. Shoot: buy two!

In Your Head, In Your Head: Zombie! Amazing timing regarding the extra-point miss by Gostkowski (whose name may or may not translate from Polish as “For the love of Christ!”). The commercial right afterward was for “The Walking Dead.” I don’t consider myself superstitious, but down 28-9, that coincidence was difficult to ignore.

Rise Up? Wise Up: As I’ve said before in this space, I’m not a fan of sports schadenfreude. It bothers me when cameras show the offensive player who committed the turnover as the other team scores, or when they zoom in on the losing coach as he realizes he’s losing. So what I’m about to say isn’t in regards to Falcons fans as much as some pot-stirring media. The USA Today Falcons blog The Falcons Wire posted a piece with video on Sunday night with the headline: “WATCH: Was James White’s knee down before ball crossed goal line?”  To this, I give my standard answer for every headline in the form of a question: Nope.

The irresponsibility of this click bait rises up (ha!) when, while discussing the embedded video, blogger Tim Weaver writes, “At the very least, the game’s most important play should have been reviewed as all scoring plays usually are in the NFL.” This insinuates that, due to the immediate, confetti-blitzed reaction, the officials neglected to take another look at the replay, and the Falcons might have gotten the shaft. Of course, every scoring play is reviewed (one NFL policy I have always agreed with), making Weaver’s statement either ignorant or inflammatory.

I believe it was the former, as the above quote was removed by Tuesday afternoon (I have a screen shot of it from that morning). The new wording says, “Again, this angle is hardly definitive but it certainly appears that White’s knee hit the turf before any part of the ball crossed over the white line.” I mean, sure, if your brain hasn’t yet developed a sense of object permanence.  The football is hidden from view by a Falcon’s knee when – barring some bizarre outlier in physics – it crosses the plane of the line. We clearly saw it do so from the opposite angle shown during the broadcast.

Maybe it’s time to spice up my internal monologue a bit. I might steal this mode of presentation.

WATCH: Is Chris Warner about to eat a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Karamel Sutra all by himself and hide the empty container deep in the trash where his wife can’t find it?

Yeesh. That got sad. That got sad real quick.

So Just Let Me Introduce Myself: The 2001 Patriots were the first Super Bowl squad to be introduced together as a team. Who will be the team to go back to the way it used to be, with individual player intros? I think that would be awesome to see, because it would take a certain amount of, shall we say, confidence? “Ladies and gentlemen, choosing to be introduced separately …

I would love that. An ultimate, I-don’t-care-what-you-think moment. Hell, the Patriots should do it. I can hear Belichick at the podium now. “The individual introductions, I mean, it was good enough for Terry Bradshaw. Good enough for Joe Montana, Jerry Rice.The Cowboys in the ’90s? You know, that team, you’ve got – you’ve got some pretty good players on that team. Giants, when I was there. The 1985 Bears. They did it, too.”

They Want FX: Waiting for the “Sound FX” mic’d up version of this game to appear on NFL Network. In the meantime, ESPN put together a solid package of game highlights and post-game interviews.

I Want Your Six: Really? A “We want six!” chant breaking out at the parade? Good God, people. Live in the now! Let’s savor the moment and, at the very least, wait for the “Three Games To Glory V” DVD  to come out before making plans for Minneapolis.

As an aside, “Making Plans For Minneapolis” sounds like the name of an early Replacements EP.

Plead The Fifth: Was this the least important Super Bowl in New England’s history? Okay, according to my previously stated standard response to headline questions, no. But bear with me. I’m not talking about the quality of the game itself, and I’m not referring to Brady’s desire to win this specific one. I mean, in terms of the Patriots since 2000, where did each game rank in importance heading into it?

In 2001, they broke through, taking the trophy for the first time in the franchise’s crazy, oft-comical history. (Chronicled by Jerry Thornton in his book.) The 2003 season proved 2001 was no fluke, while 2004’s encore cemented their standing as a short-term, Dallas-like dynasty. (A nice rundown of the early championship years here in this book by Chris Price.) In 2007, a chance at 19-0. In 2011, a chance at some form of redemption. Two years ago, a confirmation of greatness in the face of tyrannical obstacles. Where does 2016’s championship rate? Hypothetically speaking, where might the next one?

I don’t know, but I’m hoping for a chance to find out.

That’s all for this week, and for the season. See you in this space over the next couple of months as I offer up some Pats-centric views on the NFL draft. Time to go: better start that long walk to the bus.

Chris Warner is willing to sell the slogan “In The Mix For Six” to the Patriots for a juice box and a bag of Cheez-Its. He also hasn’t gotten enough sleep this week. His email:, Twitter: @cwarn89.


Patriots Thursday Observations, “That Guy” (Senior Bowl)

Sorry you won’t read many observations about the Super Bowl here. I’m loathe to watch the Sunday pre-game stuff for a couple of hours, much less two weeks. I’m thinking it should be close, like all New England Super Bowls this millennium, and high-scoring. So… go ahead and place your bets, I guess?

Spent the past couple of weekends watching college football players at the Senior Bowl and East-West Shrine Game in preparation for this, our first draft column of the season. After covering the Patriots’ draft for several years, I came to the conclusion that, as difficult as it could be to predict the specific names of players New England would choose, we could start to predict the general types of players they tend to select at certain points of the draft.

With only a few days of practice, Senior Bowl offenses inspired about as much confidence as a pufferfish platter at Red Lobster. Still, it was a decent demonstration of athleticism and how players perform under pressure knowing their future bosses are watching. The South held on to beat the North, 16-15. (I knew you were on the edge of your seat, there.)

For a more extensive rundown of past Patriots picks who fit these categories, please take a look at our Senior Bowl “That Guy” column from last year. Also, for a slightly different perspective on Coach Bill Belichick’s drafts, you can take a peek at our annual Round-by-Round Review from 2016. (We should have an updated one later this month.)

Quick rundown of Guys To Be Named Later, i.e. we’ll get a better idea after the NFL Combine:

The 3-Cone Guy: The Patriots seem to appreciate quickness measured by 3-cone drills more than straight-line speed measured by 40-yard dashes. (On this point,’s Chris Price and I agree.) Seventh-rounders Julian Edelman (6.62-second 3-cone) in 2009 and Darryl Roberts (6.66) in 2015 fit this description. We’ll see all the relevant times after the combine concludes March 6.

Best Guess If I Had To: Back-of-all-trades Donnel Pumphrey out of San Diego State, who, at 169 pounds, weighs almost enough to break the surface tension of water.

The Freakishly Athletic Guy: You can call this the Jamie Collins pick. Once in a while the Patriots will go after a guy who makes the combine crowd react like they’re watching a rim-shaking dunk by a high schooler. Some nice feats of derring-do at the all-star tilts, but we’ll have to wait for the numbers.

On to the Guys!

The Solid First-Rounder: The Patriots have a high rate of success in the first round, with Richard Seymour (2001), Vince Wilfork (2004), Nate Solder (2011) and Dont’a Hightower (2012) just a few examples of high-end, long-term starters culled from their top selections. Defensive tackle Montravius Adams out of Clemson (6-3, 308) had a strong game for the South and seemed to have the flexibility along the line that New England craves. Last season, Adams made All-SEC Second Team with 39 stops (8.5 for loss) and 4.5 sacks.

The “Who’s That Guy?” Guy: Using second-round picks on unheralded names like Sebastian Vollmer (2009), Tavon Wilson (2012), and Jordan Richards (2015) demonstrated how the Patriots value players differently than many draftniks. If Bill and Co. like what they see in a guy, they go get him. Not a lot of unknowns at the Senior Bowl, so we went with…

East-West Shrine Guy: Temple cornerback Nate Hairston (6-0, 192) showed sound defense on an end zone fade route and made a great punt team tackle. For the Owls, Hairston had 27 stops (including three for loss), two interceptions and three pass break-ups in 2016.

The Small-School Defender: New England drafted Zach Moore (Concordia) in 2014 and Markell Carter (Central Arkansas) in 2011, both in the sixth round. At the Senior Bowl, safety Lorenzo Jerome (6-0, 192) out of adorable St. Francis University had the kind of day that would put him on the front page in Loretto, Pennsylvania (population: 1,341). Jerome opened some eyes in this game with two interceptions, a well-played tackle for loss on a reverse, and a forced fumble. As a senior, Jerome totaled 59 tackles (5.5 for loss), 2.5 sacks, six interceptions, and five pass break-ups for the Red Flash.

Note: if you begin to experience Red Flash, please consult your physician.

Offensive Line Double-Dips: As shown with Joe Thuney and Ted Karras last year, Tré Jackson and Shaq Mason in 2015, and Bryan Stork and Cameron Fleming in 2014, the Patriots have been on a recent streak of nabbing at least two O-linemen per draft (they also took guard Jon Halapio in 2014). Taking a couple of well-aimed shots in the dark here, I’ll go with Dion Dawkins (6-4, 317) out of Temple and Justin Senior (6-5, 322) from Mississippi State. Both had solid games last Saturday. This past season, Dawkins was named All-American Athletic Conference First Team by league coaches. Senior made Second-Team All-SEC and was awarded the Kent Hull Trophy this year for having his foot in the crease. What? Hold on…

Nope, my mix-up. The Kent Hull Trophy is awarded to the best collegiate O-lineman in Mississippi, in honor of the late MSU center and NFL Pro Bowler who played for the Buffalo Bills from 1986-1996.

The Long-Limbed Defensive End: New England often seeks out a lanky pass-rusher, as seen with Trey Flowers and Geneo Grissom in 2015 and Michael Buchanan in 2013. While they had depth at the position this season (enough where the trading of Chandler Jones seemed not-quite-seppuku-like), Rob Ninkovich and Chris Long are in the teenage vampire movie of their careers.

Sorry: Twilight. That’s what I meant. Anyhoo, you can’t get much longer-limbed than Villanova phenom/potential-Game-of-Thrones-character-name Tanoh Kpassagnon, whose 6-foot-7, 280-pound build had Senior Bowl scouts all agog. In Mobile, Kpassagnon (which may be pronounced pass-EN-yo, but good luck with that) had a hurry and a sack and made himself a general nuisance for most of the game. Last season, Kpassagnon made All-Colonial Athletic Association First Team, leading the conference with 21.5 tackles for loss, including 11 sacks.

The only reason the Pats won’t draft him is that he’s getting a little too much attention from scouts. (The quote from a Philly scout made him sound like a GQ cover model.) Interesting to see how highly New England values him.

East-West Shrine Guy: With Flowers’ success coming out of Arkansas, maybe Deatrich Wise will get a look? The 6-5, 275-pounder looked strong against the run, using his long arms to shed blockers. For the Razorbacks, Wise had 49 tackles, 3.5 sacks, a forced fumble, and seven QB hurries.

The Alabama Guy: The connections between Bill Belichick and Coach Nick Saban of Alabama go back about 25 years, making the Tide a constant target of Pats’ draft speculation. Last season, they used their top pick in the second round on slot cornerback/serial punt mishandler Cyrus Jones. In 2015, New England drafted outside linebacker Xzavier Dickson. In 2012, they spent the aforementioned first-round pick on Hightower.

As much as we love tight end O. J. Howard, the Pats will draft after pick 30, and they know Howard will stick around about as long as the cool kid after CCD class. (Hey, you want to go to the spa, or you want to talk more Beatitudes?) With this in mind, keep an eye out for linebacker Ryan Anderson (6-2, 258) at the end of the first round. Anderson did not play in the Senior Bowl due to a thumb injury suffered during practice, but his 61 tackles, 19 tackles for loss (nine sacks) and four forced fumbles in 2016 (All-SEC honors) will probably suffice. I mean, if they can get a player similar to Hightower, I assume they’ll do that.

The Rutgers Guy: Well, it’s time to retire this category. Coach Belichick and former Rutgers head Greg Schiano had such a high level of respect for each other that the Raritan used to have a steady flow north, but that has become a trickle since Schiano has been out of New Jersey. New England drafted Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon, and Logan Ryan, and could look to take more defensive backs under Schiano’s tutelage as he continues as associate head coach and defensive coordinator at Ohio State. Therefore…

The Ohio State Guy: Ol’ Belichick pal and current Ohio State coach Urban Meyer unintentionally screwed the Pats with most of Meyer’s Florida players New England selected. Chad Jackson in 2006 remains the team’s biggest second-round misfire, while a certain Tight End Who Shall Not Be Named still casts a shadow over Foxboro. So, to be more specific…

The Ohio State Defensive Back: There we go! New category! Looks like Malik Hooker (leave it alone, Chris, just … leave it) is the number-one ranked corner in the draft, so we’ll go with Gareon Conley, a junior who declared for the draft but did not play in the Senior Bowl. Conley had 26 tackles, four interceptions, and eight pass break-ups. We’ll be keeping an eye on him during the combine.

The Injured Guy: New England tends to take chances with college players who missed time due to injury. Sometimes this gamble works (Rob Gronkowski, 2010), sometimes not (Ras-I Dowling, 2011). Well, despite our past misgivings about Florida, we’re taking a shot with linebacker Alex Anzalone (6-3, 240). The declared junior looked fast afoot and quicker with a diagnosis than a surly-yet-misunderstood TV doctor. In 2016, he broke his arm after only eight games, missing the rest of the season. In 2015, a shoulder injury forced him out of all but two contests. Though missing out on five games this season, he still had the third-highest tackle total with 53 for the Gators, including four for loss and three sacks. He also had two pass break-ups and six QB hits.

The Backup Quarterback: When Tom Brady starts for your team, it causes some head-scratching when you pick a QB closer to the beginning of the draft than the end. (Have the Pats lost faith in Brady? What else can be inferred from this? Do I have too much time on my hands? To whom am I speaking right now?) Still, it’s hard to argue that selecting Jimmy Garoppolo in the second round in 2014 didn’t reap benefits, or that taking rookie Jacoby Brissett in the fourth doesn’t have potential. With that in mind, Cal QB Davis Webb (6-5, 229) seemed to have the most control over his South team. He went seven of 10 for 116 yards and a touchdown in the first half, finishing 11 of 16 for 165 yards to earn Most Outstanding Player honors. He executed some delicious touch throws, including a moonshot dropped in the bucket on a 2-point conversion attempt.

Last season, Webb completed 62 percent of his passes, with 37 TDs and 12 INTs.

The Backup Tight End: Going all the way back to 2000 with fifth-rounder Dave Stachelski, the Patriots have consistently added to the tight end position as if they were grandma’s figurines (“Oh, just one Andy Stokes for the sun room. Isn’t he precious?”). First-rounders Daniel Graham (2002) and Benjamin Watson (2004) started in the early years, while second-rounder Gronkowski (2010) has performed a key role in recent seasons but could use some young depth behind him and Martellus Bennett, Northeastern University’s finest notwithstanding.

We mentioned Howard out of Alabama and his unavailability before, so let’s discuss Michael Roberts from Toledo (6-4, 261). A participant in both the Senior Bowl and the Shrine Game, Roberts has the size and quickness to contribute. He only caught one pass in Mobile, but he showed tenacious blocking in the Shrine Game and made a couple of nice catches-and-runs, including one where he shrugged off two would-be tacklers. Last year, Roberts had 15 touchdown receptions, the best for a tight end in the nation.

Fun Fact: Roberts’ hands measured 11 and 5/8 inches, over one inch bigger than receiver Malcolm Mitchell’s mitts, each of which resembles two ptarmigans colliding.

The Take-A-Shot-On-This-Receiver Guy: The trick of drafting involves understanding how a player can fit in one’s system. The receiver position has the most pitfalls for Foxboroites, because they’re not just learning an offense, they’re trying to mesh with a QB who also happens to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Too bad Tom Brady can’t got along on scouting trips to play catch.

Watching the Senior Bowl, it was hard not to fall in love with Zay Jones (6-2, 202) out of East Carolina, who broke open more often than that plastic baggie containing all your child’s god damn Calico Critter accessories that you are guaranteed to step on barefoot later tonight. Jones finished with one touchdown catch but could have had as many as three more if not for a holding penalty, an overthrow, and a lack of official review on a toe-tap at the back of the end zone that would have inspired Degas. At ECU this past season, the two-time captain made All-American Athletic Conference First Team with 158 receptions (wha-?) for 1,746 yards (yikes!) and eight TDs.

The Special Teams Guy: The Pats consistently pick guys with a special teams focus. Perennial Pro-Bowler Matthew Slater came to Gillette via 2008’s fifth round. New England selected punter Zoltan Mesko in 2010, Nate Ebner in 2012, and long snapper Joe Cardona in 2015. This year, we like the look of a local, with Boston College safety John Johnson (6-1, 205) showing up in Mobile on a solid punt return tackle. Johnson, a captain for the Eagles, ranked second on the team with 77 tackles (a team-leading 56 unassisted). He also had three interceptions, nine pass breakups, a forced fumble, and a sack on BC’s top-10-ranked defense.

The Navy Guy: Cardona remains the only Navy Academy grad drafted by Belichick, though Fullbacks Kyle Eckel (scored two TDs in 2007) and Eric Kettani spent some time in New England, while others have been on the Patriots’ roster under reserve/military exemption (slotback Shun White, for example). This year featured no Navy players in Mobile, but we’re going to offer up East-West Shrine attendee Will Worth (6-1, 205) as someone with whom Belichick has become familiar. Starting the season as a backup quarterback, the senior was pressed into action in Week One when sophomore starter Tago Smith injured his knee. Worth himself had his season ended by a foot injury, but not before rushing for 1,128 yards and 25 touchdowns, while completing 72 of 117 passes (62 percent) for 1,397 yards and eight TDs.

Worth could be healthy in time to participate in the NFL Combine, if he’s invited. Hey, if he gets a solid 3-cone time, maybe the Pats will consider converting him to receiver.

What?!? A college quarterback playing receiver? Do tell…

The Seventh-Round Slot Receiver: Northwestern’s Jeremy Ebert (2012) and Michigan’s Jeremy Gallon (2014) fit here, but none could live up to the growing legend of Julian Edelman (2009), who – get ready for this – played QB at Kent State. It’s true. The most promising slot guy at the Senior Bowl seemed to be Mississippi State’s Fred Ross (6-1, 203), who made a couple of nice catches on slants and crossers and had a sweet back-shoulder grab in the third quarter. Ross earned First-Team All-SEC honors for the second year in a row this past season, totaling 72 catches for 917 yards (12.7 avg.) and 12 touchdowns. He played every receiver position (ooh, versatility, you seductive minx) and returned punts.

So, why only a seventh-round prediction? State went 3-5 in the SEC, 6-7 overall.

East-West Shrine Guys: Fun to watch Kermit Whitfield out of Florida State (5-8, 183), who became a go-to guy for the East Team as the Shrine Game progressed. Whitfield had one drop but overcame that with some nice receptions, slipperiness in space, and a solid punt return. At FSU, Whitfield spent more time on the field than sunlight, catching 34 passes for 395 yards (one touchdown), rushing eight times for 79 yards (one TD), and returning 26 kicks for 595 yards (22.9 avg.). Another player worth mentioning in light of the previous Ebert pick is Austin Carr (6-0, 201), also out of Northwestern. Carr set a school record by catching a TD in six consecutive games. The former walk-on finished with 90 receptions, 1,247 yards, and 12 touchdowns, leading the Big Ten in all three categories to be named the conference’s Receiver of the Year.

Fun Fact: Carr attended Benicia High School in California, only about an hour’s drive from Edelman’s alma mater, Woodside High.

Another Fun Fact: The Big Ten Receiver of the Year Award was named the Richter-Howard Receiver of the Year Award, after German painter Hans Richter and American director Ron Howard.

Fun Fact-checked Fact: Actually, it’s named after Pat Richter of Wisconsin and Desmond Howard of Michigan. So, close?

Hey, how’s about some more new categories while we’re at it?

The Pedigree Pick Guy: Relatively rare (get it? Relatively? Amazing you get to read this stuff for free), this group will grow as former NFLers get older and more of their offspring develop into prominent college players. While watching the Shrine Game, it was hard to miss defensive end Bryan Cox (6-3, 264) out of Florida. Cox showed great change-of-direction and play-deciphering skills when he rushed the passer, stopped, and chased down a receiver on a bubble screen. He seemed difficult to block all day, beating different O-linemen one-on-one to harass West team QBs. Last year for the Gators, Cox fought through various injuries (including a broken hand) and managed 19 tackles, 2.5 for loss, half a sack, six QB hits, and a forced fumble.

His father had 49 tackles in 11 games for the Patriots, but his time in Foxboro is nicely summed up in this piece by Mike Reiss on

The Back-To-The-Well Guy: The Patriots got a solid linebacker from Houston in last year’s draft (hey there, Elandon Roberts), so maybe they’ll take a long gander at Tyus Bowser (6-3, 244). Bowser looked fast and seemed to get himself in good position at the Senior Bowl. Last season, Bowser missed five games due to injury, yet still managed to tie for a team-best 8.5 sacks. He totaled 12 tackles for loss and notched a forced fumble and a safety.

Random Observations

Hey, You Got Peanut Butter In My Public Relations: Watching the Reese’s Senior Bowl – or any bowl game, for that matter – means checking out the company flack at halftime trying to connect football to her corporation. Anna Lingeris did a fine job (and that’s not sarcasm), talking about a player field trip to see kids and wrapping up with this nugget:

“From the brand perspective, from the Reese’s team and the Hershey company, that is what we’re about, being able to touch the community.”

You know what’s great about this? While you read it, Reese’s could be anything. They could make beer; they could sell garden hoses. PR is about promoting an emotion. Here, Ms. Lingeris has to convince us that a major corporation doesn’t just want to shovel limitless dollops of goober sluice down our expectant gullets, they want to connect with us and help us connect with each other. You think of it that way, and it’s almost like charity.

I have to admit, I’m a little jealous, because I think I would have crushed this if I’d followed that path out of college. Coming up with catchy slogans? Giving concise presentations? Promoting candy, for the love of God? Another professional opportunity missed.

In any case, see you next week. Not sure who will win, but I hope it’s the Patriots, because that’s what they’re about: being able to touch the community.

Chris Warner could also have been a pretty decent meteorologist and would have tried to crack up the anchor desk with his shenanigans. You can email him at or tweet @cwarn89.

Patriots Thursday Observations, Texans Review

Though they did it with more difficulty than most foresaw, the Patriots defeated the Texans, 34-16, in a hard-fought divisional playoff match. New England advances to the AFC Championship for a record sixth year in a row, taking on Pittsburgh Sunday evening at 6:40.

As someone who predicts these games with all the assurance of a turkey forecasting the weather, forgive me for pointing out that I actually made a decent call on this one in my previous column: “All in all, I would not be shocked at the Patriots grabbing an early lead, then coasting a bit before finishing up strong, much like they did down in Miami.” Pats led 14-3, committed two costly turnovers, and allowed the lead to slip to 14-13. They then nabbed a bunch of turnovers themselves to lead by three scores midway through the fourth quarter.

Isn’t it funny how New England played so hard to get the bye week, yet they came off of that week seeming flat? (Note: the “isn’t it funny?” is from my grandmother, who used to ask that regarding unsettling topics. “Isn’t it funny, Chris, how you never call me?”) Some of the uncharacteristic gaffes included receiver Michael Floyd tipping a pass that was intercepted. Quarterback Tom Brady took the blame on the off-target-yet-catchable throw. The two just looked out-of-synch. Running back Dion Lewis left more balls on the ground than a lazy tennis instructor. And one could argue that defensive back Eric Rowe opened the Pandora’s Box of foolishness by committing an unsportsmanlike penalty midway through the first quarter, ruining what would have been the defense’s third consecutive three-and-out.

After watching the play a couple of times, my opinion wavers. Yes, Rowe pulling someone off the pile qualifies as dumb, but replay showed Texans tight end Ryan Griffin jumping on the pile right in front of Rowe, who seemed like he instinctually reacted. So, dumb, but understandable, kind of like reading an US Weekly when you’re bored. In any case, they got through the ridiculous to reach the sublime.

(I’m just happy it was Griffin and not tight end C. J. Fiedorowicz, because I can not spell that guy’s name.)

Oh, so many numbers surrounding this win. Here’s a favorite: Brady is now 16-3 at home in the playoffs. For comparison, the Kansas City Chiefs have two home playoff wins in franchise history.

Here’s another: Brady’s 22 post-season wins are more than 22 current NFL teams. Another column, another reminder that we should all savor these days with the Patriots. You can believe that, when the time comes, they’ll find another quarterback who can win games, but they will never have another Brady.

This Sunday, anything could happen. It could be a 44-43 barnburner, a 16-15 defensive struggle, or a 34-6 blowout (though my money would lay with the first option). Look for the Steelers to score some points, but expect the Patriots to score just a few more.

Team/Player Observations

If You Can Keep Your Edelman When All About You Are Losing Theirs: Okay, yes, Brady had fewer successful passes than the U.S. Olympic men’s 4X100 relay team (uncanny at this point), but unlike that squad, the quarterback kept getting himself second chances. (Much like the women’s team, one could say.) His first pass of the day went to Julian Edelman for five yards, but give credit to the Texans for shutting down the short stuff faster than a supermodel getting hit on by the Lollipop Guild. (Was that too much? That seemed like too much.) Edelman ended up with eight receptions (expected) for 137 yards (less expected). His 48-yarder at 2:34 of the second quarter marked 70 post-season receptions, setting a Patriots record. He did a great job to help swing momentum in the third, hauling in consecutive 26- and 14-yard passes around the 12-minute mark to add a necessary jolt to New England’s nine-play, 90-yard TD drive and a 24-13 lead.

Brady actually completed six of seven passes for 94 yards on said drive, the extra yardage due to a holding call on tackle Nate Solder that involved about as much contact as my first date. (I took her to see Doctor Detroit. I wish I were making that up.) Edelman even added a run in the fourth quarter, a 12-yard jaunt that qualified as the longest one of the night to that point (Danny Amendola and then LeGarrette Blount would best it with 15- and 18-yard rushes, respectively.) Edelman’s run found success in large part due to tight end Martellus Bennett, who had more blocks than Beacon Street.

Special mention here of Chris Hogan, who tallied 95 yards on just four catches. His early work helped get New England on the board, eliciting a pass interference call from A. J. Bouye for a 30-yard gain, and following that up immediately by gathering in Brady’s 22-yard lofter along the right sideline.

Houston, We Have A Cliché: Against Houston they had a…an issue, we can say, but the idea of a “blueprint” to stop the Patriots’ offense deserves to get thrown out like yesterday’s news. I mean, sure, the Texans played like a house on fire, but in the end, New England stayed as cool as a cucumber, and eventually the cream rose to the top.

My God, that is exhausting. Anyhoo, if your team can rush Brady up the middle with players like Whitney Mercilus and JaDeveon Clowney, drop back seven defenders, and avoid missing tackles in the open field, then, yes, you’re going to do more damage than a bull in a china sh – goddammit.

Put Houston’s Dion Notice: Up-and-down day for Lewis. We’ll focus on a few of the “ups” (and you can watch his highlights here), as his 13-yard catch-and-run TD and kickoff return in the first staked the home team to a 14-3 lead that – as close as it got – made Houston play catch-up for the rest of the night. His one-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter raised the lead to 15 and gave the Pats a little breathing room. On that play, Lewis got popped by Mercilus but managed to slide past him with Vince Wilfork on his back. Lewis gave even better effort on his previous run, a five-yard carry at 12:44 of the fourth. On that play, he managed to slip through two defenders on the left side with all the sneakiness of a pearl earring finding that space between your dresser and the wall.

Also, keep in mind regarding the reception TD that McKinney ran a 4.66 40-yard dash and had a 40.5-inch vertical leap at the 2015 combine. He’s not exactly an old man sporting a hip replacement, there. What’s most impressive is that fullback James Develin’s motion causes the linebackers to shift in the direction of the play, but Lewis’ time-bending hesitation dip-and-dart left McKinney diving for air.

Fun Fact: Lewis became the 25th different receiver of a Brady post-season TD pass. Brady has now played in 32 playoff games. That stat alone contains enough potassium to tide you over for a month, it is so bananas.

Something Of A Phenomenon: Running back James White had a simple stat line with exactly one catch, but he made it count. At 9:09 of the third, White looked to blow away any linebacker in coverage, and McKinney stepped up once again (Don’t do it!), falling behind White as Brady lofted a beaut into the right corner of the end zone. White had zero carries in the game, but he executed well on his one big chance.

David And Goliaths: I don’t know, Davey. Rough day from center David Andrews. He seemed out-matched on a few occasions, surrendering a sack on a spin move from Mercilus and getting absolutely murdered by defensive tackle/shipping container D. J. Reader on the Texans’ goal-line stand at the end of the first half. Andrews looked like a sand pail caught in an ocean wave on the play, as Reader’s backfield disruption stopped a touchdown. While Develin had a block on Clowney and Bennett had Mercilus sealed to the outside, the big tackle forced Blount away from the crease in the defense, forcing him toward Mercilus and safety Eddie Pleasant for no gain. Definitely an area to improve on, execution-wise.

Knights To Remember: Early on, Logan Ryan broke up a third-down pass to Keith Mumphrey to force Houston’s second consecutive three-and-out, setting the tone for New England’s trio of former Rutgers Scarlet Knights to have themselves an impressive playoff game. Midway through the first, Ryan had a sack blitzing from the Texan’s left side that was so well-executed he himself had to take a bow. Devin McCourty broke up a pass in the end zone with such efficiency that he forced a Freaky Friday, making the tight end  go into defensive mode as McCourty went up for a sure catch. (That tight end’s name? C. J. Fedorawitch. Sort of.) Each of the three Rutgers alums notched an interception, with Duron Harmon’s sealing the win with 3:13 to go.

The Third Degree: Besides the alums from the Banks of the Raritan, it’s tough to pick out defensive stars in this game because so many seemed to contribute and execute well. One strong indicator of this is Houston’s miserable third-down conversion rate of 18 percent (three of 16). Blame quarterback Brock Osweiler for some of this inefficiency (23 of 40 for 197 yards, one TD, three INT), but certainly the defense deserves some credit here, too. Holding the visitors to field goals after a couple of ugly turnovers made sure the Patriots had the lead at halftime.

Random Observations

Can’t Be Saved: Well, CBS’ broadcast was pretty good overall, capturing the excitement of the crowd, the intensity on the sidelines, and the tension in the game. But do we have some complaints? Heck yes. We’ll begin, as usual, with our list of missed and/or inefficient replays.

• We got a side view, but would have loved an end zone view of Houston’s third-and-one stop on New England’s first possession. Clowney made the hit in the backfield, but how did he get there? Phil Simms credited Wilfork, but trying to tell from the sideline was like trying to read a poster on the opposite subway tracks as the train goes by: wayy too much happening in front of it.

• Like above, we got a full-field, sideline view of the aforementioned first-quarter pass interference call on Bouye grabbing Hogan. That made it tough to discern exactly where the penalty occurred. Again, Simms described it, noting that Bouye put his arm in front of Hogan, but a close-up replay of the two from the end zone would have confirmed it. Makes me wonder what different replays, if any, Simms and Nantz are watching, and if they’re more distinct than what the home viewer gets.

• At 11:49 of the second quarter, defender Jabaal Sheard walked off the field as gingerly as a Schweppes. We never saw what happened.

• After an incomplete pass at 6:43 of the second, Jim Nantz wondered aloud if Texans safety Corey Moore had interfered with Bennett on the play. We were left wondering that, too.

• With about two-and-a-half minutes remaining in the first half, Edelman had a 48-yard reception. While Nantz mentioned a potential push-off by Edelman, on the distant, full-field replay it was difficult to see that. Plus, we missed what may have been a facemask penalty, never getting a closer look.

• At 6:18 of the third quarter, Brady threw a deep incompletion along the left sideline for Edelman, who seemed to get to the ball late. The receiver immediately turned to the refs. Nantz said, “Edelman this time, looking around, to no avail.” Why was he looking? Simms added that the refs were getting a “verbal beating,” yet we never got the opportunity to discern whether or not Edelman had a legitimate gripe.

On a positive note, the end-zone-view replay of Lewis’ kickoff return TD deserves praise. On it, we see Develin and Geneo Grissom push their men to the outside, allowing Lewis more space than you’d give a flighty co-worker right after her boyfriend decided to take that job in Saskatchewan.

Oh, Christ, Janice. I am so sorry. Why not take the rest of the day?

Now, the production/commentator-based mediocrity.

• On-field reporter/Exasperated-Dad-Trying-To-Get-Directions-From-Siri Jay Feely opened his comments with “Special teams played a pivotal role here in Week Three: two kickoff returns for touchdowns, for the Patriots.” Seeming to catch himself (because no one returned a kick for a touchdown in that game) but wanting to gloss over his mistake, he stumbled through, “They caused fumbles, scored 14 points off those fumbles.” Nantz could have corrected Feely, but only said “That (special teams) was a big story here in the Thursday night game, September the 22nd.”

Listen, like a lot of occupations, reporting from the sideline is tougher than it looks. I’m not saying just anyone could do it; all I’m saying is that if you’re going to do it, at least get your opening statement on point.

• Two good grades for sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson. She gave a solid report on Clowney’s post-kickoff-return rant, adding details regarding team-wide reaction. Her best moment of the night happened during one of my least favorite rituals, the grab-the-coach-rushing-to-the-locker-room-at-halftime interview. She asked Coach Bill O’Brien, “What has impressed you most about what you’ve seen here?” an open-ended, more inviting alternative to, “What do you need to see in the second half?”

Of course, after O’Brien answered the first question, Wolfson followed up with, “What do you need to see in the second half?” Ah. So close, Wolfson. Sooo close.

• On Lewis’ kickoff return fumble, Simms obsessed over the idea that Texan Tyler Ervin caused the miscue with a “hard hit,” a phrase Simms repeated three times. On the replay, we can clearly see linebacker Akeem Dent punching the ball out of Lewis’ grip, but Simms remained focused on the hit. Giving Ervin most of the credit was like saying Dereck Whittenburg’s shot won the championship.

• With 19 seconds left in the half, it was third down New England at the one-yard line. When the home team called a timeout, Simms said, “I’m pretty sure they’re going to go for a touchdown here.” He then corrected himself, “Well, it’s third down. Of course they’ll go.”

Janice? Seriously? Just go home.

• During a replay of the rush on Osweiler that forced an incomplete pass at 6:01 of the fourth quarter, Simms talked up defender Chris Long’s hit on the QB. As we watched, we could see linebacker Kyle Van Noy swatting the pass as Osweiler released it.

Mentions of Long: Five. Mentions of Van Noy: Zero.

• Maybe the least efficient work of the night occurred during some odd officiating with a little over two minutes left in the third quarter. Linebacker Shea McClellin smacked Osweiler on the arm, causing an incomplete pass that rolled several yards downfield. For whatever reason, the referees failed to blow the play dead, resulting in an alert Patrick Chung recovering the “fumble” and returning it for a let’s-enjoy-this-before-it’s-overturned TD. CBS cameras went away from field action for a few seconds, forcing them to hurry back once Chung neared the goal line. Neither Nantz nor Simms did a great job explaining what had happened; viewers were left to piece the action together via replays on the hit itself. The announcers should have been more on top of that one from the start, especially considering a) the lack of a whistle, and b) Chung’s immediate reaction to pounce on the football. As both Nantz and Simms noted after the play, “Chaos.”

• After Osweiler’s final interception (the one to Harmon), the QB seemed to lose his cool, gesticulating downfield, protesting like I do when I watch Negan on “The Walking Dead.” If you’re going to bring in this awful character, act least diverge from the plot of the comic!

Though the play looked like an overthrow to his tight end (Griffin, not the other one), Osweiler seemed less mad at himself than a physical mistake would warrant. Was he upset with Griffin, or did he feel like safety Chung interfered on the play? CBS showed replays, but nothing from the end zone to get a solid review of any contact. No one in the booth commented on Osweiler’s reaction or what could have instigated it. A few plays later, a sideline shot revealed him still steaming.

(By the way, Safety Chung might be the best name for an ’80s cover band, ever.)

• This isn’t a CBS thing as much as an all-out football coverage deal, but I for one don’t care to see the opposing team’s player responsible for turnovers or extended drives after a score. For example, when Houston cut the lead to 7-3 on a Nick Novak field goal, the ball had barely dropped out of the net when the producers went to Rowe sitting on the sideline, talking with Harmon. My appetite for schadenfreude has some heft, but even I don’t enjoy watching, say, Osweiler after New England’s final TD (set up by his second interception).

I mean, what if we cut to that guy and he’s beating the hell out of himself like the protagonist from Fight Club? It could happen.

The exception to the No Schadenfreude Rule? Coaches. I’m a Larry Izzo fan, but the look on the special teams coach’s face following Lewis’ kickoff return had to be shared.

Ain’t That A Shane: Kudos to CBS for the fun fact that Texans punter Shane Lechler got drafted in the fifth round in 2000, the same year Brady got drafted in the sixth. Selected by the Raiders, by the way. Solid pick. Lechler is the Tom Brady of punters.

Can You Please Spell Out Which Night It Is? Really, CBS? Going into commercial playing the Bay City Rollers’ “Saturday Night?” That’s good enough for me and my lame references, but you guys have got to come up with a more recent song describing one of the most fun nights of the week. Have you called Yusuf Islam?

Brock Of Ages: So, um, based on his four-year, $72 million contract with $37 million guaranteed, the Texans have quarterback Osweiler on the roster for a bit. Is he salvageable? I’d say so. I mean, New England made some solid plays on defense, and Osweiler’s receivers didn’t always provide the most help. On McCourty’s interception, the safety showed the range and honing-in skills of an orca, traveling several yards to cut in front of the pass. Granted, with Osweiler’s wind-up, his throws take about as long to develop as the Basilica de la Sagrada Familia, so he’s still a work in progress in some ways. Should be interesting to see what Coach O’Brien does with him next year.

Where There’s A Will There’s A Whoa! Okay, Osweiler performed about as well as a wet cell phone inside a bank vault, but that drop by receiver Will Fuller did a lot of damage. The QB missed Fuller on a slant with 10:21 to go in the first that could have gotten several yards, if not a first down. Between that drop and the mishandling of a catchable pass by tight end C. J. Fetasandwich (oh God it’s getting worse), Osweiler’s numbers could have looked a lot better.

Maybe Not Great, But Good Scott: Not always a fan of Bart Scott on the CBS football panel, but I enjoyed his intro to his pre-game prediction. Being a former Jet, he had to bring up their 2010 playoff upset of the Patriots and how the regular season means nothing. He hit the landing, however, by adding, “that being said, Patriots, 42-17.”

Psycho Killer: As much as I enjoy the references from AT&T’s data free phone ad, I can’t help thinking that this guy galumphing around the city watching shows on his phone is a bit of a tool. I mean, can’t we just walk down the street for one minute without escaping into whatever world is portrayed on our tiny screens? Also, do we need a Psycho reference? Are we watching this guy have some kind of a breakdown? I’d rather see him passing his time checking his shows while sitting on the bus, then watching where he’s going strolling around NYC. People get hurt that way.

Dancing On The Ceiling: I’m a fan of the new Airpods on iPhone 7 ad with the protagonist dancing on walls and ceilings to a song called “Down” by Marian Hill. Though I have to say I hate earbuds because my ear canals are too small for them. It’s like trying to fit a football inside a Funyun.

Is that too personal? I feel like that got wicked personal all of a sudden.

But Someone Might Out-Good Them: As addressed in previous columns, I’m a pizza snob. Living not too far from New York City and within driving distance of one of the most highly-acclaimed pizza restaurants in the country has made me that way. Well, maybe it’s time for a change, because apparently, “No one out-pizzas the Hut.” It’s only a mildly annoying slogan that jumps on the tired premise of turning a noun into a verb. Sure, it looks just like frozen pizza, but it has, apparently, out-pizza’d everybody else.

I will start using versions of that slogan in my everyday life, though: “This morning, no one shall out-oatmeal me!” “I’m gonna sandwich the hell out of this lunch!”

A Light At The End Of The Tumble: Those Michelob Ultra ads are hilarious. Working out like a crazy person so you can enjoy a 95-calorie beer? At that point, how’s about a little seltzer with a splash of cran and a lime? Is drinking Pink Floyd Tribute Band Beer (an ode to Waters) really worth it? Hard to say. Also, considering the fact “ultra” means “extreme,” I’m not sure how that name fits. It seems like true “ultra” beer would just be a jagged tin can full of grain alcohol.

Michelob Ultra: Now punch me in the face!

The Patriots’ extreme journey to Super Bowl 51 continues. See you next week.

Chris Warner believes that a football-based version of Utimate would attract millions of fans. His email is; Twitter: @cwarn89

Patriots Thursday Observations, Playoff Bye Week

The lack of excitement surrounding New England’s playoff premiere seems a little … weird? Looking at both teams, the Patriots should win their tilt with Houston Saturday night. Plenty of statistical evidence backs them up, from their win over the Texans in Week Three, to the addition of Tom Brady since then, to the Space City’s winless record in Foxboro.

You know, if Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola had flown down to Miami during the bye week, there would be more to talk about. But there’s no reason to think that the Patriots are looking past Saturday.

That said, a certain Boston writer (whose name sounds a lot like “Man? Honestly”) insists the Patriots are not legitimately good because they have played a series of tomato cans. First off, I think the use of that reference speaks to the relative freshness of this writer’s work. Secondly – and those five or six of you who read this column on a regular basis might be sick of this, but it’s worth repeating – this is the Platinum Patriots Era. With everything that is geared toward making top teams fade in the NFL, from last draft pick to last waiver-wire choice to toughest opponents filling out schedules, the fact that the Patriots have won at least nine games every year since 2001 deserves respect.

The most bothersome aspect about this negative line of thinking is that we didn’t use to feel this way. Back in 1986, the Celtics were on the verge of winning their third championship in six seasons. Michael Madden of The Boston Globe described the team this way (note the 1980s-appropriate Spenser reference):

“Simply, these Celtics are a whole level above their opponents. You have to search diligently to find a loss, but, just as important, Spenser would have to be hired to turn up even a close game, the Celtics’ dominance is so total. These Celtics are winning but they are also winning completely, more so than any of their predecessors. Havlicek may have stolen the ball, Don Nelson may have bounced a jumper in off the back rim and Sam Jones skimmed one off the glass, but all those were in the final seconds — the games these Celtics play are over in the third quarter.”

Madden continued, pointing out two specific players:

“Boston has two offensive players – Larry Bird and Kevin McHale – who are nigh unstoppable, and no Celtic team of the ’50s or ’60s had even one unstoppable offensive player. The Celtics of the first glory years had one totally dominant defensive player in Russell, but these Celtics, despite Bird’s defensive shortcomings, may play the best team defense of all Boston teams. This Celtic team is without a weakness, a complete team.”

Keep in mind, this was printed on May 31, 1986, when the Celtics led the Rockets two games to none in the NBA Finals. Boston wouldn’t wrap it up until running away with Game Six on June 8, but, over a week earlier, Madden had no hesitation calling Boston the best basketball team.

The Celtics won three championships during Larry Bird’s 13-year tenure. The Patriots have won four titles in Tom Brady’s 17-year career. Is it too much to ask that the Patriots get their due respect? I’m not demanding any fawning or proclamations of infallibility. Just show me that you understand this is an exceptional team on a remarkable run. Start there, then nitpick all you want. And for God’s sake, think up another phrase. “Tomato can” isn’t even correct: football isn’t like boxing, where the best fighters can choose to take on inferior opponents. Work a little.

Some notes on last weekend’s games and other events:

Team/Player Observations

Houston, We Have No Problem: The Texans looked solid taking on the Raiders, but level of stability could change with a little snow on the ground and a lot of Brady in the air. Houston held rookie QB Connor Cook to 18 of 45 passing for 161 yards and one TD, while also limiting Oakland to 64 yards rushing as a team. In the regular season, Houston had the number-one ranked defense in terms of yards allowed, giving up a mere 301 per contest. Should be interesting, especially because of the below observation.

We’re Number One, I Guess? Houston’s defense is ranked number one. So is New England’s. So is Denver’s. Defensive rankings are like TV ratings: find the right category (or demographic), and you can rule the day. Houston gives up the fewest yards; New England gives up the fewest points (15.6 per game); Denver gives up the fewest yards per play (4.7). If “wings eaten during a game” were a defensive stat, I’d have a chance to get on there.

Positive for the Texans? They limit their opponents, yards-wise. Negative? Opponents generally had fewer yards to cover due to great field position that Houston’s mediocre special teams afforded them.

All in all, I would not be shocked at the Patriots grabbing an early lead, then coasting a bit before finishing up strong, much like they did down in Miami. We shall see.

Going To Brown Town: Am I using that phrase right? I don’t think I’m using that phrase right. Anyway, Miami had no answer for Pittsburgh receiver Antonio Brown, who scored on a 50-yard catch-and-run within the first four minutes and added a 62-yard beauty under six minutes later. At that point, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had completed all seven of his passes for 162 yards and two touchdowns. The Dolphins tried to make a go of it, but costly turnovers by QB Matt Moore kept the visitors from getting any closer than 20-6 at the half, eventually falling 30-12. (Moore gets credit for playing through what was either a concussion or an out-of-body experience after this how-ya-doin’ from linebacker/Lennie from Of Mice And Men “I didn’t mean no harm, George” Al Dupree).

Go Fourth And Prosper: Trailing 20-3 with 11 minutes left in the first half, Miami got into punt formation on fourth and one from their own 41. This seemed like an overly conservative choice, until Coach Adam Gase called for a fake punt and converted on a direct snap up the middle. Ten plays later, Miami scored a field goal. Not the greatest payoff, but keeping the drive going kept Pittsburgh off the field and finally got the visitors within two scores.

This is a roundabout way of saying that I like Gase as a coach. Seems to adjust well during games and get the most out of his players. And, unlike a former AFC East coach whose name rhymes with Tex Mayan, he doesn’t seem to talk himself up too much. This one might be around for a while.

Go Fourth And Prosper? Hey, Coach Mike McCarthy? You’ve got to pick your battles. In the third quarter, if you’re up 14-6 at your own 42-yard line, and you just got stopped for no gain on third and one, maybe don’t try another run into the teeth of the Giants’ defense? Because then you’ll lose a yard, fire up the Giants, and watch Eli Manning chuck a 41-yard scoring pass to diminish your lead to 14-13.

I mean, I understand that at that juncture, scoring points was only slightly less arduous than doggy-paddling through a pool of lukewarm jell-o; still, know where you are on the field and do a quick cost-benefit analysis, there.

Aaron It Out: Of course, thanks to Aaron Rodgers, the Packers managed to pull away in the second half and win 38-13. This was due in part to the Green Bay offensive line, and to Rodger’s innate ability to buy himself extra time in the pocket. In certain moments he looked like one of those fictional characters who can move so fast everyone else freezes, like Marvel’s Yo-Yo Rodriguez or Hammy the Squirrel from “Over the Hedge.” (Sometimes the unrepentant vagueness of my own references saddens me.) So, yeah, the Hail Mary was pretty cool for the Pack going into halftime, but Rodgers’ second-half prowess made the difference.

Feat Of Clay: Packers linebacker Clay Matthews had himself a stud-worthy play in the fourth quarter, sacking Manning for a seven-yard loss, causing a fumble, and chasing the rolling football 15 yards down the field to recover it while 20 other players stood and watched (teammate Julius Peppers gave chase, as you can see in this replay).

The Lions Share: I guess the Lions played the Seahawks, and the Seahawks looked good? That happened? Hard to remember at this point. Kudos to the Seahawks front office for their ability to find quality rookie free agents. They actually opened the 2016 season with 24 UDFAs on their 53-man roster. And I thought the Patriots were rocking it with eight. Seattle appears to have reached their “playing well at the right moment” phase of the season. That defense against the Falcons’ offense in Atlanta should be fun to watch.

Random Observations

Simm-er Down: Focusing on the CBS broadcast of the Miami-Pittsburgh game, let’s review a trifecta of gems from color analyst Phil Simms.

• On Miami receiver Kenny Stills’ 36-yard reception: “It was a out-and-up by Stills, and it catches them off-guard. It didn’t catch them off-guard, but you’re thinking, ‘Oh, they’re going to throw something short.'”

So, it kinda caught them off-guard, then, Phil?

• On a crowd shot in Heinz Field: “Those Miami fans, they’re more buttoned up than the Steelers fans, I think.”

Nope. Without various hats, scarves, and coats in team colors, it would have been impossible to tell who was who. Everyone is equally miserable in 17-degree, my-skin-feels-like-turkey-jerky weather. (Except for Wim Hof, aka “The Ice Man,” aka “What In The Hell Is This Guy Thinking?“)

• On Lippett jumping over the top of the center, committing encroachment on a Steelers field goal attempt near the end of the third quarter: “Could be a game-breaker.”

That was the game-breaker? Pittsburgh led 23-6. I thought Brown’s second TD of the first quarter was the game-breaker.

For more of Simms and Jim Nantz, tune in to see the Patriots host the Texans at 8:15 p.m. Saturday. Feel free to compile your own list of Simmsisms at home.

Fret-A-Porter: Imagine being Pittsburgh outside linebackers coach Joey Porter. Your team wins a wild card game over Miami. You go out to celebrate. Then you get into a drunken, physical altercation with a bouncer and an off-duty police officer, get charged with aggravated assault (among other things), and go to jail until you get released on bail the next morning.

I mean, Porter played for the Steelers for seven seasons (1999-2006). As a coach during last year’s playoffs, he made a sneaky-savvy move of going onto the field and eliciting a reaction from Bengals cornerback Pacman Jones, who committed a penalty that swung the game in Pittsburgh’s favor. (Funny how I remember the offending Bengal as looney linebacker – loonbacker? – Vontaze Burfict). Any Steeler with a semi-normal temperament would feel welcome at any bar in the area, but Porter’s such a huge hump that he was denied entry and, instead of just walking away, tried to lay hands on the bouncer. It really says something when your hometown fans aren’t willing to sweep your stupidity under the rug.

A Giant Rumor: From a boat ride in Miami to a plane ride from Green Bay. Did the Giants force a plane delay when their aircraft required two extra hours of cleaning, according to multiple reports? Team commentator and former player Carl Banks refuted the rumors on Twitter, but United Airlines has yet to confirm the story either way.

One quick question: Doesn’t Giants owner John Mara have his own plane? He must, right? Isn’t that, like, the NFL owners’ equivalent of a membership card? Seems like he could fly his team to Wisconsin if he wanted. In any case, with boats and planes checked off, the New York media has an ongoing off-season transportation topic to tackle whenever they feel like it: “What’s Next? A Rickshaw?”

No Fees On Me: There is no more disconcerting ad on television than T-Mobile’s “You’ve Got Fees” campaign, where parents pick through their children’s hair to find crawly text declaring certain phone fees. (Can’t find a link for it, and don’t really want to.) This kind of commercial can work, but only if you associate the bad, uncomfortable thing with other, specific companies that are not your own. Now, whenever I think of T-Mobile, I’m thinking of head lice. Probably not what they intended.

Stop Your Messing Around: I’ve reached an age where the music of my youth is seen as – what? Wistful? Comforting? Not sure, but I enjoyed listening to the Specials’ “A Message To Rudy” during a recent Fidelity ad. Why not? I appreciate my favorite bands holding out (Talking Heads reportedly refused to sell “Once In A Lifetime” to Rolling Rock beer, who had the slogan “Same as it ever was”), but after 30 years, hey, Bands of My Youth, go get yourselves some cash.

Hit The Road: Here’s a fact I learned today – the word “chevy” can mean “to nag or torment.” That’s about where we are with the recent Chevrolet ad campaign, where a snarky, bearded hipster in a suit (no tie, because he’s relaxed and approachable, folks!) talks about awards from something called J. D. Power (an outfit that wants to “amplify the voice of the consumer,” apparently). I wish I could experience half as much enjoyment out of small surprises as this group of non-actors does every time a new car gets revealed.

Guy: But guess what? In addition to this year, Chevy also won the J. D. Power award last year. (Wall slides back to show line of Chevrolets.)

People: What? Wow! That’s amazing!

Guy: Aaaaand the year before that! (More walls, more Chevy cars.)

People: Oh my God! A CHEVY?!? Why, it’s like I’ve never seen a car before!!

You know what, Chevy? Start advertising the Bolt. It’s an electric car with 238 miles of range. That should elicit some surprise.


Au Revoir, Detroit: The word “detroit” is apparently French for “strait” (I am learning all sorts of trivia today), and unfortunately Detroit went straight out of the playoffs after their loss to Seattle. I say “unfortunately” because the Lions have the largest collection  of players I interviewed before they were drafted (a whopping three). While writing for Patriots Daily in 2009 and 2010, I interviewed college players prepping for the NFL draft, all with the Patriots in mind. My record was shabby: out of about 50 players interviewed, none came to New England. However, some of them have done quite well, and I still believe at least a few should have ended up in Foxboro.

Here’s a list of the players on playoff teams who took the time to talk to me oh-so-many years ago:

Lions: Don Carey, Norfolk State DB (who spoke with the Pats before the 2009 draft); Andre Roberts, Citadel WR; Joique Bell, Wayne State RB (an endearing hometown story).

Dolphins: Koa Misi, Utah DE (between him and Paul Kruger the year before, I had a crush on Utah ends).

Steelers: Arthur Moats, James Madison OLB (One of my favorite Q&As. He met with New England staff, and also had a notable interview with the Redskins); Antonio Brown, Central Michigan WR (oh, if only, Patriots. If. Only.).

Vikings: (I know, I know, they didn’t make the playoffs. But I’m taking the liberty, here …) Everson Griffen, USC DE (where I clumsily bring up an unfortunate incident on Nantucket); Linval Joseph, East Carolina DL (where I make a hilarious mistake regarding his country of origin).

Atlas F*&kin’ Shrugged: Some beautiful soul took a promotional video of the Atlas Robot from Boston Dynamics and added a voice-over. I call the end result One Of The Best Things Of 2016.

Go. Sit. Stay: Your OK Go Video of the Week is for “White Knuckles,” which Patriots fans don’t expect to experience. Still, it features giant cups and cute dogs, so why not?

Up To The Highest Hype: Plenty of Patriots playoff hype videos to choose from online. This one works as well as any.

Enjoy the weekend, football fans. See you next week.

Chris Warner still has trouble differentiating between buffleheads and hooded mergansers. His life is too thrilling for words. Email:; Twitter: @cwarn89

Patriots Thursday Observations, Dolphins Review

We go into every season knowing that, some day, some year, another team in the AFC East will overtake the Patriots. That year was not 2016. As they have since 2009, Tom Brady and friends won the division, this year finishing atop the NFL standings with a win over a division rival. (For a fun look back, check out this video of the past eight division championship locker room celebrations, courtesy of

With a fast start and decisive finish, New England wrapped up the Dolphins on Sunday, 35-14, relegating the Miammals to sixth place in the playoffs while taking the top seed for themselves at 14-2 overall. The Patriots bolted out to a 17-0 lead after kicking a field goal on the first play of the second quarter. On their opening drive, Brady found Martellus Bennett for the tight end’s seventh touchdown of the season (career high). Brady then gave New England newbie Michael Floyd room to roam on an impressive score less than four minutes later. (You can see game highlights here.)

After the Floyd TD, the Patriots’ offense had 120 yards compared to Miami’s two. Give the Dolphins credit for a perfect, momentum-changing drive at the end of the first half where Matt Moore completed all seven passes, the last one to Landry Jones to make it 20-7. In the third, Moore found Kenny Stills open down the middle to close the lead to 20-14 and make things a little more interesting than the first quarter had forecasted.

Still, with a couple of big plays (one on offense, another on defense), New England ensured that Magic City would fail to work its voodoo on the visitors. They have also put themselves in a positive situation, playoff-wise, where they avoid the most formidable teams (Pittsburgh and Kansas City) in the divisional round and, if they beat Houston, Oakland, or Miami next Saturday night, host the AFC Championship.

Some stats worth revisiting: Brady was drafted in 2000. Since then, the Patriots have missed the playoffs three times: 2000 (rookie Brady did not play), 2002 (ended up 9-7), and 2008 (Brady injured for year, 11-5). So, New England has missed the playoffs once with Brady starting, not since the middle of George W. Bush’s first term.

Now, here’s a New Year’s resolution for Patriots fans: enjoy this while it’s happening. Instead of fretting over who’s coming to Gillette and how that team could topple the dream, stay in the moment and really think about 14-2. Think about the uncertainty surrounding the team in September as they started a backup, and then as the backup got hurt. Think about how three QBs combined to throw 32 TD passes against two interceptions this season, not a single one of those on the road (where the team went 8-0). For context, Derek Carr, a very good QB for the Raiders, threw six picks this year. Ryan Fitzpatrick, a not-very-good QB for the Jets, threw 17. Brady threw 18 interceptions in the past three regular seasons combined.

New England has a bye week. Let’s all take the time to savor it.

Team/Player Observations

No Sacks On Sunday: When we give credit to Brady, who completed 76 percent of his passes (25 of 33) for 276 yards and three touchdowns, we must also commend the Fab Five in front of him. The Patriots’ offensive line did great work, holding Dolphins’ pass rushers like Cameron Wake (11.5 sacks this year) to only one hurry and zero sacks on the day. It has been a hell of a turnaround for the crew, as last year Brady was running for his life more than the cast of Tidal Wave. Add to that a consistent running game (29 for 120, 4.1 avg.) and this offense looks to be in formidable shape heading into the postseason.

Stop Signs: We have to give this defense praise for holding opponents to just over two touchdowns per game (15.6 points). You can downplay the level of competition as much as you like, but if you contrast each game vs. the Dolphins, you can see improvement. While the Pats allowed 24 points during a furious second-half Miami comeback on September 18, holding on for a 31-24 win, this past Sunday they only let up 14 points to a hot playoff team at home (Miami had won nine of their previous 10).

New England held opponents under 20 points eleven times this season (hat tip to Ryan Hannable of WEEI). Your team’s going to win a lot of games that way.

Walkin’ Round Like You’re Pretty Boy Floyd: While we should never forget why Michael Floyd was available (hint: the letters rhyme with He Who High), we can take a moment to appreciate his effort in Miami. At 3:44 of the first quarter, from the 14-yard line, Floyd caught a pass at the nine, made contact at the three, and drove through four Dolphins for six points. (Sounds like a terribly disorganized math problem.) With 6:19 left in the second quarter, Floyd had a sweet-feet sideline grab for 13 yards that set up New England’s second field goal of the day. And, of course, he peeled back to provide Julian Edelman with a horizon’s worth of daylight after a gasp-inducing block on defensive back Tony Lippett that sprung Edelman for a 77-yard score.

We can only hope that, with support, Floyd can stay on track and help himself. His obvious willingness to work may help.

It Goes To 11: Edelman had a career day, earning AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors with help from his 77-yarder (the longest TD reception of his NFL tenure), totaling eight catches for 151 yards. This makes his unsportsmanlike conduct penalty all the more frustrating. With one minute left in the first quarter, Edelman got sandwiched between two Dolphins (soo much mercury in a Dolphin sandwich), took some verbal abuse, and head-butted a Miami defender. That made a second-and-10 situation at the 24 into a second-and-25 at the 39. New England gained 17 yards (four-yard Dion Lewis run, 13-yard Chris Hogan screen), but had to settle for the field goal.

Had the Patriots scored a TD on that drive, they would have led 21-0 on three possessions after a little over one quarter. To that point, the visitors had run 23 plays to the hosts’ five, out-gaining them 152 yards to four. Not that Miami would have given up at 21-0, but the penalty seemed to let them know that they could get to New England. Holding the Pats to a field goal seemed to give them a little hope. While I understand the idea of sticking up for oneself, maybe do it via the scoreboard? Any lack of discipline – no matter how minor it may seem in retrospect – can make a big difference in the playoffs.

Blue Jay: Miami had to have success rushing to give themselves the best chance, but New England did a solid job limiting Jay Ajayi (16 rushes, 59 yards, 3.7 avg.), a relentless power runner who received plenty of pre-game praise from Coach Bill Belichick. The Pats kept Ajayi from embarking on any game-changing runs, with his longest jaunt at 11 yards. Rookie linebacker Elandon Roberts (seven tackles) deserves special mention here, flying to the ball like a ravenous ferret after a stuffed squab. As a team, the Pats held the Dolphins to 3.3 per carry.

Come On Ride The Trey: One big reason for the defense’s success has been the play of Trey Flowers, who has managed to bother opposing offenses from every position along the line. Flowers had no sacks on the day, but he spent as much time in Moore’s face as eye black, in one first-quarter play swooping past the center as part of a three-man rush to cause an incompletion. Flowers had five tackles, including two that limited Ajayi to one yard each, and two quarterback hurries.

Phillips Drive-Screwer: Credit to Miami’s Jordan Phillips for messing up New England’s plans for an easy second half. The 6-foot-6, 335-pound D-lineman/geological mass became tough to traverse in the third and fourth quarters, limiting Lewis to negative yardage on one play, following that up with a tipped pass, and forcing Pats guard Joe Thuney to hold on another drive that negated a 12-yard completion to Hogan. In a game where Ndamukong Suh garnered a lot of attention for the wrong reasons, Phillips deserved note for the right ones. (Although, as’s Jerry Thornton pointed out in his “Knee Jerk Reactions,” Phillips seemed to dance after every play like he was working the day shift at the Golden Banana.)

Nothing You Could Say Could Tear Me Away From My Kyle: Okay, not the best game for linebacker Kyle Van Noy. In the first quarter, running back Damien Williams ran past Van Noy down the sideline, but the pass was overthrown (largely due to the aforementioned pressure by Flowers). In the third quarter, Van Noy played a little Birds Eye defense, getting frozen in the middle of the field as Stills loped past for a touchdown catch where he was only slightly less open than the fields atop the Cliffs of Moher. Neither play overburdened fans with confidence, but I still believe in Van Noy. He’ll never be a great coverage guy, so it’s a matter of putting him into position to rush the passer and support the run, while helping out with coverage in zone schemes.

Coach Belichick put the blame on himself, saying the defensive scheme “just wasn’t presented well enough” in practice. Seems like that’s fixable. In any case, Van Noy still has some positive plays left in him.

Moore, Moore, Moore, How Do You Like It? You could see New England’s team effort in the different ways they conspired to make Moore’s job tough. Chris Long and Alan Branch tipped passes. Jabaal Sheard flushed Moore out of the pocket, hurrying him into a Logan Ryan interception. Flowers and Rob Ninkovich hit Moore on the arm like they were siblings in a three-hour Punch Buggy contest. In a game where the Patriots tallied zero sacks, the front line still helped make a difference by finding alternative ways to force incompletions.

Shea, Rattle And Roll: Timely turnovers play a huge part in scoring defense, and nothing proved timelier than Shea McClellin’s scoop-and-scuttle of safety Devin McCourty’s forced fumble on Williams. Miami had reached New England’s nine-yard line and looked poised to make it a one-score difference with nine minute left, but McClellin (three tackles) wrangled the pigskin and rambled 69 yards (the longest fumble return in Patriots history), all the way to Miami’s 18. (Williams deserves recognition for his hustle in making the tackle.) Six plays later, LeGarrette Blount sliced through the line for a one-yard, game-icing plunge. (Blount wrapped up the regular season with 1,161 yards on 299 carries and a franchise-record 18 touchdowns.) With a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it two-point conversion bubble screen to Edelman, New England led 35-14 with 5:33 left, paving the way for the backups.

Random Observations

See B.S.: Actually not a bad week from the Tiffany network, replay-wise, as only three missed reviews seemed to come up during the broadcast.

• At 9:48 of the second quarter, Brady appeared to miss tight end Matt Lengel across the middle, though it would have been helpful to see the play again and check on how close Lengel came to catching it.

Malcolm Butler seemed to knock Stills out of bounds at 13:51 of the second on an incomplete pass, but it proved tough to discern from the far sideline and could have used another look-see (CBS instead went to graphics on Miami’s wacky season timeline. So fun!).

• On Edelman’s two-point conversion in the fourth quarter, Miami got called for a facemask penalty that we never saw again. The cameras isolated Chris Hogan jogging back to the sideline, so I assumed he got his mask tugged, but we didn’t get a chance to review it.

Would have liked to see that 2-point play one more time. Might come in handy at some point. (Note: upon the sixth or seventh DVR viewing, it became apparent that Lippett grabbed Edelman’s facemask in the end zone after the completion. Not a great day for Lippett chasing Edelman, it would seem.)

One incorrect call by Fouts of note. At 14:44 of the fourth, Brady threw incomplete after a rush by Suh and Wake. Fouts credited Phillips with the knockdown but we could see Wake on the replay.

And with the salty, a little sweet: kudos to CBS for their end zone camera angle on the kickoff after the two-pointer, as we could see the Patriots lose contain on the Dolphins’ left side, allowing the home team room along the sideline and a healthy return. If you get a chance to see this play, watch for special teams coach Joe Judge shaking his head afterward. An unusual, intriguing view.

Bye Product: No Patriots game this week, but you can keep up with all league happenings on WEEI’s NFL Sunday broadcast with Pete Sheppard and Christopher Price from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. I don’t usually promote particular radio shows, but these two have created an entertaining, informative, and – can it be? – eminently listenable program for your Sunday mornings. Shep praises the Pats (as he would say, how can you not when they’re 14-2?), while Price puts on the brakes a bit, but both give credit and criticism where it’s due across the league. It’s important to listen to shows like this when they come along and boost ratings, otherwise Boston sports radio will end up consisting of a dub mix featuring Scott Zolak’s color-commentator outbursts leading into a live studio filled with mic’d-up bonobos fighting over a kola nut.

We feel that the bonobos represent true, passionate Boston fans, and their disagreement over the kola nut depicts how the Boston fan is willing to campaign on behalf of –

Oh, for the love of Christ.

Straight To Health: No injuries. That was the real win, right there. The team managed Bennett, linebacker Dont’a Hightower and untold others, while giving necessary rest to receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Danny Amendola, both of whom may return January 14.

Just Four More To Make Gronk Giggle: Brady has thrown touchdown passes to 65 different receivers in his career, with Floyd becoming the latest on Sunday. The NFL record holder is Vinny Testaverde with 70 different TD pass-catchers. The big contrast? Testaverde played with seven different teams (eight if you include his two separate stints with the Jets). That shows Brady’s amazing ability to run the offense and adapt to new personnel. You can read about his first 55 different TD receivers in this piece from October 2015. Brady’s been a busy man since then. (Besides Floyd, can you name the four other players who have caught Brady scores for the first time in 2016? See below.)

The Hateful Eight: Again, 8-0 playing in front of hostile crowds on the road this season. Did not see that coming back in September.

Have Another Beard: I would sign on to Pay-Per-View or any website to figure out what New England defensive coach Matt Patricia and Miami head coach Adam Gase were talking about after the game. Patricia covered his mouth as he spoke like I do after eating a palm-sized broccoli floret dipped in garlic ranch. What were they talking about that required such lengths for privacy? Did Patricia just really, really like Gase’s t-shirt? This could be a mystery even the Internet can’t solve.

Coach Bag: Speaking of Patricia,’s Mike Reiss does a fine job breaking down New England’s most-sought-after assistants and exec, as interviews for head coaching and GM jobs have begun following the latest post-season purge. You can read up on who’s calling whom right here.

Personally? I’d go to Jacksonville. It’s Florida, it’s quiet, you can get yourself a small outboard fishing boat and some tackle and spend your offseason contemplating life in the safety of the shallows. Plus, pretty cool uniforms, if you ignore the horrendous Thursday Night Color Rush Condiment Debacle. What’s not to love?

Suh See Snowflake: I’d bet Blount wouldn’t mind seeing Suh up in Foxboro in January. The tackle certainly makes things interesting, to put it nicely. With five minutes left in the first half, Suh got called for an encroachment penalty. The fascinating part was listening to the home crowd boo the call. This was encroachment on the defense in the same way a 40-ounce Whitman’s Sampler is a nibble of chocolate. Suh knocked center David Andrews back two yards and was lucky to avoid an unnecessary roughness call. Strange play, and a reminder that great athleticism needs a complement of football awareness to be consistently effective.

Four Score And Seven Points To Go: Bennett, Hogan, Mitchell, and Lengel have all caught TD passes from Brady for the first time this year. Floyd makes five in the 2016 Brady Club.

A Hell Of A Racquet: Even though the David Ortiz Turbotax commercial is a ripoff of this scene from Bachelor Party, it’s a lot of fun. One question, though: what the hell are those tennis balls made of? No matter how far Ortiz launches one, it wouldn’t be able to go through a windshield, would it? I need answers.

Because that’s what I want in my tax software commercials: accountability.

When The Moon Hits Your Eye Like A Cheap Pizza Pie ‘Cause It’s Frozen: The only thing that bothers me about the Walmart “Overtime” commercial is that this dude got his pizza from Walmart. I mean, the game is on TV, you’re having friends over, and you can’t spring for fresh pizza? If it’s pizza bites or pizza rolls, fine. But if you’re serving a pie, don’t you owe it to your buddies, yourself and your local merchants to bring in the real thing?

This message brought to you by my pizza snobbery.

Live And Let Die: Since “Law & Order” was canceled, Ben Affleck movies have replaced the series on my on-screen-appearance bucket list. As much as I appreciate his work, I’m not so sure about Live By Night. The trailer looks great, visually. It’s just that the dialogue and human interaction seem a little forced. Right now it’s at 35 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, so it looks like I’ll be seeing it on cable. Just don’t tell Ben. I’m hoping to play a bouncer in The Town II: Whatchoo Doin’ Back Heeah?

It Ain’t Over ‘Til It Seems To Be Over: Unintentionally funny line by Glenn Ordway on the WEEI post-game show. He seemed reluctant to discuss the game itself, focusing more on potential playoff match ups. At one point he lamented, “We can talk about the game if you want, but it seemed to be over early even though Miami got within a score.”

Even though Miami got within a score. So, then, I guess it wasn’t over early?

Because there’s no game next week, we’ll have a shorter column, focusing more on what local and national media are saying about New England, as well as the team’s opponent for the evening of Saturday, January 14. Enjoy the bye, people.

Chris Warner loves pizza, New Year’s resolutions be damned. His email is and his twitter handle is @cwarn89.

Patriots Thursday Observations, Jets Review


In a game with about as much suspense as a first-grader’s knock-knock joke, New England stepped on New York early and kept the pressure on their foot, piling up both Patriots points and Jets turnovers in a 41-3 gift to Gillette fans. Or, as play-by-play announcer Ian Eagle put it at the two-minute warning, “Forty-one to three. It’s an annihilation.”

You could say this game ended three times. First, when tight end Martellus Bennett used some sugar-plum-fairy footwork to come down with Tom Brady’s first scoring pass of the day with 3:02 left in the first quarter. The Jets’ display of what they had for an offense made the Patriots’ 10-0 lead look Everest-like.

New York tried to make a go of things in the second quarter, which led to the second time this game made its end result clear. At New England’s 20-yard line with 7:40 left in the first half, with occasionally cagey, often erratic veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick taking the helm, Austin Seferian-Jenkins missed a potential scoring catch, and kicker Nick Folk followed suit by pulling a 34-yard field goal attempt wide with just under six minutes left.

The third and final down-for-the-count moment? Brady’s lovingly lofted 25-yard offering to running back James White along the right sideline that settled in White’s arms like a homesick child, making the halftime score 27-0. This TD came after the Patriots had attempted to run out the clock but were prevented by Jets coach Todd Bowles calling a timeout. After that timeout, it took one play – a pass interference call against the Jets on receiver Malcolm Mitchell – to gain 47 yards and get New England into position for the pass to White.

The Patriots play at Miami Sunday at 1 p.m. They need a win in order to secure home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Team/Player Observations

The Brady Brunch: After a tough (yet successful) outing in Denver, Brady did more than enough on Saturday to ensure a carefree Sunday for New England fans. Brady ended up hitting 17 of 27 for 214 yards, with touchdown passes to Bennett, White, and tight end Matt Lengel. Brady seemed to read the defense well and showed some serious spring in his step, making it that much more of a relief when backup Jimmy Garoppolo came in at the very end of the third quarter. It was like having to babysit a pack of five-year-old boys in the middle of an antique store, and the manager finally decided to put the expensive stuff away. Protect the merchandise.

More Than A Petty Problem: No matter what your rooting interest, you’ve got to have some empathy for Bryce Petty. As CBS noted, he was the ninth quarterback to start for the Jets since 2001. He spent last Saturday under siege like the castle in The Lord of the Rings. (That was for you, Jerry Thornton. And I’ll be damned if I can figure out the name of that castle. Minas Tirith, maybe? How do people keep track of that stuff? It’s like reading Japanese directions on how to use Merlin).

Anyway, Petty missed on all three of his pass attempts (with one interception to Malcolm Butler) before getting injured tackling Butler on a fumble return. He was replaced by old pal Fitzpatrick, who went eight for 21 for 136 yards and two interceptions. Rookie QB Christian Hackenberg had not been activated, so he got to watch this debacle from the safety of the sidelines. So, yeah, from the Jets POV, I’d classify that situation as Not Good.

Quick note: The Jets drafted Hackenberg in the second round. The Patriots drafted Jacoby Brissett in the third. Who knows what will happen with time, but right now Jets fans can’t be too happy about that choice.

Another quick note: Did you know Fitzpatrick went to Harvard? I’ll bet you did. I’ll bet you did, because announcers talk about him going to Harvard more than actual Harvard graduates talk about going to Harvard, and those Cantabs can not wait to leak that tidbit of info.

A Wrinkle In Tights By Matt “Align” Lengel: Losing Rob Gronkowski dealt a blow to New England’s offense. They’ve had to make do, and they’ve put former Bengals practice squadder Matt Lengel through the paces, lining him up as a traditional tight end, split wide, and even in the backfield (as seen on LeGarrette Blount’s TD in Denver). Lengel scored his first NFL touchdown on his first NFL pass, an 18-yard post where he got in front of the defender at the goal line. Most encouraging about the play was that, as Brady said later, it wasn’t the first option, which means Lengel took the time to get on the same page as his QB.

We can now add Lengel as number 64 to the list of players Brady has thrown a TD pass to in his career. That’s an impressive number, especially considering in October 2015 that number was 55. (Also noteworthy: Rich Hill of predicting Lengel would get a shot on the list back in November.)

The Marshall Plan: As much as the Patriots seemed to have this one in hand, they only held a 13-0 lead with less than five minutes left in the second quarter. After White couldn’t get his hands around a Brady toss that would have gone for a big gain, New England punted. Fitzpatrick (who, by the way, went to college in the Cambridge, Mass. area) went deep to Brandon Marshall but got intercepted by Eric Rowe where Rowe reached up with remarkable, Stretch-Armstrong-type extension to pick it off. Marshall, New York’s best receiver, ended up with two catches on the day (tied for the Jets lead) for 28 yards. Jets tight end Quincy Enunwa missed a few passes, one of which went off his hands and ended up in Butler’s. In fact, with his two interceptions, Butler caught as many passes from Jets QBs as any New York receiver.

In just over two minutes from Rowe’s INT, Brady found Lengel. A little over two minutes after that, Brady lofted that aforementioned beauty to White, putting the home team in front, 27-0.

The Jets suffered from a dire mix of bad day, good defense. With their QB situation, that might end up as their slogan for this year and beyond.

I’m Just A Bilal: You can argue that the Jets have quit for the season, but don’t tell running back Bilal Powell that. Powell rushed for 60 yards on 15 carries, a nifty 4.0-yard average where he was fighting for every foot like Rex Ryan at a fetishist auction. (Oof. Too soon.) Not easy to keep up that effort when your team is going down the toilet faster than my siblings’ toothbrushes when I was little. (What can I say? I thought it was funny.) When your team goes 4-11, you can go one of three ways: you can want to win and try your damnedest to make it happen, you can want to win but not put forth enough effort, or you can stop caring altogether. Put Powell in that first group.

Just A Sheldon Of Himself: With Powell as a notable exception, it must drive New York fans absolutely looney that their team has so much talent that seems to show up sporadically. The Jets did a solid job limiting the Patriots to 116 yards on 37 carries (not including Garoppolo’s kneel downs). That’s a mere 3.1 yards per tote, but with little pass rush and no turnovers, the Jets were doomed.

Defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson demonstrated his ability at 11:50 of the first quarter, when he threw down Blount like he was a big bag of leaves that Richardson’s mother had been nagging him to toss out for the previous hour-and-a-half. Richardson only used his left arm on the play, a testament to his strength and ability. The Jets’ first-rounder ended up with eight tackles on the day but didn’t make enough splash plays to keep this competitive. He was not alone.

Elandon Zone: If you play linebacker and a former Patriot who played the same position describes you as a “bouncing ball of butcher knives,” you can take that as a compliment. (And thank you, Matt Chatham.) Elandon Roberts ended up with 11 tackles and forced a fumble by Khiry Robinson with a head butt on the football that would have made this YouTube video montage. Roberts, who’s only a little bigger than a strong safety (5-11, 234), stepped in for injured and resting Dont’a Hightower to help stop the run. New York averaged 3.8 yards a carry, not enough to make a difference in this one.

An In-Nate Sense: Last week, Patriots special teams ace Matthew Slater was named a Pro Bowler. Before that result was announced, Slater said that Nate Ebner should be considered for the honor, and, in Slater’s absence, Ebner proved his point. He seemed to make every tackle on punts and kickoffs, and he probably knocked over a couple of random sideline people wearing Jets gear for good measure. Not every coach pays as close attention to special teams as Bill Belichick does. We saw it in the drafting of Slater in the fifth round in 2008, the drafting of Ebner in the sixth round in 2012, and long snapper Joe Cardona in the fifth last year. This attention to detail ensures that, even without their most-ballyhooed special teamer, the Patriots continue to do well in that area.

Wet Your Appetite: Just a quick mention that, besides the White drop, New England receivers did a notable job hanging on to the ball in adverse conditions. While Jets receivers muffed passes and, in the case of “Tip Drill” Enunwa, lofted up footballs for the opposition, the Patriots tended to take care of the ball. Commendable during a first half where it seemed like Noah might be gathering livestock.

Random Observations

Look! Up In The Sky! My favorite fact of the entire Saturday broadcast was that Petty, a product of Baylor and Midlothian (Texas) High, had never played in the rain before. Putting him up against a hungry defense and a hostile crowd in weather that felt like someone had opened up a fire hydrant may not have been the way to go.

Can’t Be Seen: Oh, CBS. Last week, I spelled out some of the replays I would have liked to see for the Denver game. That continues this week, beginning with the very first offensive play of the day.

• On the Jets’ (and the game’s) first offensive play, linebacker Shea McClellin did a tremendous job of stringing out the run, backing up guard Dozier Dakota and pushing through the attempted double-team of tight end Eric Tomlinson to keep Powell contained until help arrived in the form of Trey Flowers and Rowe. McClellin showed great technique and surprising strength on the play, which was worth a second (and possibly third) look, but instead CBS went to their starting lineup graphics. I disagree with this choice.

• With 30 seconds left in the first quarter, a Patriots blitz led to a Petty incompletion. McClellin stood at the line pre-snap, hesitated, then sprinted toward the QB, hitting him as he released the football. Was the linebacker in coverage and freed up when the running back stayed in to block? Was the pause planned, or reactive? A replay may have clarified that.

By the way, that McClellin had a pretty darn good game, didn’t he? Only two tackles in the books, but the dude showed up on film.

• On the last play of the first quarter, fullback James Develin cut-blocked linebacker Jordan Jenkins, springing Dion Lewis outside for five yards. Not a big play, but the block was so devastating it was worth reviewing. Develin got hurt in 2015 and he has made sure to prove himself as the difference-maker in the run game this year.

• Near the top of the second quarter, Brady attempted a long third-down pass along the left (Jets’) sideline to Julian Edelman that went incomplete. Edelman ended up amongst Jets players and coaches and even had a heated verbal exchange with a couple of their personnel. (You can see that conflict here for as long as it’s online.) Was he interfered with on the play? Impossible to tell without a second view, but viewers at home could actually hear the Gillette crowd reacting unfavorably to the in-stadium replay that CBS didn’t show in its broadcast.

• No replay of this – and for good reason – but Edelman dropped a crystalline F-bomb at 0:21 of the first. After last week’s bout of enthusiastic word play, you’d think the folks running CBS’ boom mics would be a little more shy.

Off-The-Cliff Notes: If you want a summary of the Jets’ season, review the 3:09 mark of the third quarter. New England scored on a Blount TD (his 16th of the season and first of two on the day) to go up 34-0. They kicked off to Nick Marshall, who returned it to the 27. Fine, right? But no. Coach Bowles saw that the Patriots had gone offside, so he figured he’d make them kick again. Pats re-kick, Marshall muffs the catch at the 13 and recovers at the 14. The Jets lose 13 yards.

But that’s not all! New York gets a false start penalty on, and I quote, “Everyone but the center.” Minus-five yards, back to the nine. Fitzpatrick gets intercepted near midfield by Butler a couple of minutes later.

That’s All, Folk: I’m not even going to talk about Bowles sending Nick Folk out for a 29-yard field goal with 6:20 left. Like a precocious kindergartner, that speaks for itself.

On to some TV stuff…

I’m Sure Nothing Bad Will Happen: Let’s have a game show where regular people act like fugitives and get tracked by world-renowned experts. We’ll call it “Hunted.” Because there isn’t enough craziness in our everyday life without random people appearing to be wanted by authorities skulking about our cities and towns. Definitely none of these contestants will get assaulted and detained by people just trying to help.

I have an idea for a reality show: “Let’s Rob A Bodega!” Contestants wear ski masks and hold up a family-owned convenience store, waving knives and screaming as they do so. Here’s the kicker: the store owners don’t even know it’s fake!

Near, Fur, Wherever You Are: I might have remembered this wrong, but at any point was Ford’s slogan “Go Farther?” Now it’s “Go Further,” which may or may not be grammatically correct, but I have a distinct memory of the former. I recall it because the commercial spelled out the phrase in large letters that flashed across the screen, and at one point it spelled “G-O F-A-R-T.” If this is true, and they did change it, I would have loved to have been at the follow-up meeting amongst the ad execs.

“‘Go fart her?’ What the hell, Gary?”

Does anyone else know what I’m talking about, or am I alone on a park bench in my 20s babbling to myself again? (The 90s were pretty rough on me.)

Strike One: Watching the ad for Mobile Strike starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, I couldn’t help but wonder something that has been on many people’s minds for a while. Why doesn’t Arnold sound a lot more Californian at this point? It seems like it would be second nature by now.

When I was a senior in college, we went on spring break and met a fun group of women from the University of Kentucky. With their calls of “Yew Kay, weh-hew!” and knack for partying, we all had a fun time. Turned out, two of those women were from Swampscott. Apparently it had only taken a couple of weeks in the Bluegrass State for these Big Blue alums to sound like they were auditioning for “Hee Haw.”

But old Arnie manages to keep his accent about as smooth as a wagon ride over cobblestones. At this point, I have to admire it.

Lullabye And Goodnight, By German Composer Johannes Brahms, 1868: One comment about the Google ad where the father reads a bedtime story and his daughter keeps interrupting with questions only tangential to the tale. Although admittedly adorable, that kid needs to shut the hell up and listen to the god damn story. Seriously, does she have to know every single semi-related nature fact, or hear a whale song at that point? As a society, do we need to know everything right now?

I guess we do. But we probably need to listen a little more.

Well, They Will Be Playing In Mexico Next Year: If I had a nickel for every time I accidentally typed “Patritos,” I’d have enough nickels to run out of metaphors.

OK Go Ahead: Your OK Go video of the week is for “The Writing’s On The Wall,” a tromp l’oeil treat you’ll probably want to watch more than once.

An Appropriately Sad End Note To 2016: Just found out Carrie Fisher passed away. Actor, writer, and one hell of an interview. RIP.

What say we all try to have a Happy New Year, everyone? Be careful, watch out for others, and seek a wonderful 2017.

Chris Warner has a resolution to just, please, please, for the love of God, stop eating holiday cookies. His email is and he tweets from @cwarn89.

Patriots Thursday Observations, Broncos Review

This past Sunday, New England turned their perennial nightmare venue into a dream showcase, using all three facets of their game to beat conference rival Denver 16-3. In the process, they won the AFC East for the eighth year in a row and secured a first-round bye. (It says a lot about the expectations of this team that winning the division title has become as foregone a conclusion as Santa’s arrival in “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.”)

With Denver’s top passing defense, a rabid, hearty crowd, and temperatures in low double-digits, it proved a tough win. Once the Patriots got the lead for good, the clock moved so slowly that, when time ran out, it felt like a British judge would emerge from the stands to give Russia another chance to score.  

Did I say Russia? I meant Denver. Though both places are now freezing cold and just discovering rock music from the early 1990s.

Anyway, while most prognosticators had the Patriots winning the AFC East, few figured they would arrive at Christmas time with such a well-rounded squad that seemed able to take on anybody. The offense that was supposed to do the heavy lifting did just enough, working diligently and carefully against Denver’s D. Seriously, Brady (16 of 32, 188 yards, no TDs) had to pull an Andy Dufresne, crawling through 500 yards of smelly foulness, except in soul-crushing cold. Brady came out clean, though, with no interceptions, and with just enough completions to keep possession for crucial stretches.

He also – as seen in this 18-yard bulls-eye lawn dart to Chris Hogan – found some open windows barely big enough for a dollhouse. Not Brady’s greatest effort, but solid enough against one of the best defenses they’ll face.

Now 12-2, New England hosts the 4-10 Jets on Christmas Eve at 1 p.m. You know, those same Jets who had the best chance to knock off the Patriots this year. Will New York come to play, or have they already checked out for the season? More on that below.

Team/Player Observations

Logan’s Run: Going to start with the defense here, specifically cornerback Logan Ryan, because no single play had a bigger impact than his interception at his own eight-yard line that he ran back to Denver’s 46. This was the first play of the second quarter, and it worked like Lime-A-Way, making what had been a filthy-looking game seem sparkly and new. To that point, Brady had gone zero for six, with the Patriots netting 39 total yards. Meanwhile, Denver QB Trevor Siemian had gone 10 of 13 (77 percent) for 112 yards.  From then on, Siemian went 15 of 27 (56 percent), while Brady went 16 of 26 (62 percent), including four for four on the team’s ensuing touchdown drive. Ryan had seven tackles to go along with his interception.

Enter Sanders’ Man: Denver receiver Emmanuel Sanders had three catches for 48 yards, all of them coming in the fourth quarter, with two of them happening with New England leading by the final tally. For the first three quarters, Malcolm Butler, Ryan, and the Patriots’ safeties played a key role in keeping Sanders out of Siemian’s reach, forcing the QB to look elsewhere and giving the Patriots’ pass rush time to get home. A fine performance for the team’s number one corner, and it happened with a fair amount of help, as’s Doug Kyed pointed out in this well-scouted piece.

JE-epers Creepers: Receiver/Brady-binkie Julian Edelman had six catches for 75 yards, and he deserves praise for helping his QB find some rhythm during the all-important second quarter. Again, because Denver’s vaunted defense had so few busted plays, New England had to cut their way through their opponents like they were bushwhacking with clam knives. A short hook-up with Edelman that netted 17 yards. A beautiful 15-yard sideline pass with Edelman tip-toeing like a Wallenda. Edelman on a crossing route for another 17. Then, after a Brady scramble so smooth it belonged on the brunch menu at the Ritz, a sideline pass to fullback James Develin for 13, the last three of which he spent running over Aqib Talib.

Two plays later, after a Dion Lewis touchdown was called a fumble that Lewis himself recovered, LeGarrette Blount burrowed into the end zone for the game’s lone TD. This is the type of contest that makes it hard to pick an MVP, but no one did more to get the offense on track than Edelman.

One other awesome/typical Edelman moment? His fight for a first down right before the two-minute warning, gaining six yards by power-squeezing through two defenders on third and five. The Patriots didn’t score on that drive, but they held the ball for another 1:21 and ensured they’d go into the half with a 10-3 lead.

Edelman also made the airwaves at 13:33 of the third quarter as he was tackled near the sideline and let loose a premium cable version of “Motherflippers!” No idea why, but hilarious. Hard not to like that guy.

Let’s Talk About Sacks, Baby: The Patriots sacked Siemian four times, and edge defender Trey Flowers had a direct role in three of them. Flowers, whose arms are long enough to make Mr. Fantastic jealous, got through and around the line to take Siemian down twice. Jabaal Sheard sacked Siemian on the very first play of the second half, rolling offensive lineman Donald Stephenson back like he was a loaded IKEA shopping cart (not the easiest thing in the world, but you know, doable). Sheard’s sack helped begin a run of five straight three-and-outs by the Broncos. In the beginning of the fourth quarter, Flowers swam over lineman Max Garcia like Garcia was diving for coins in a motel pool, which hurried Siemian into a spin move where he was gobbled up by defensive tackle Malcolm Brown. This forced Denver to punt from their own seven-yard line. New England started their next drive on their own 47 and scored their final field goal of the day.

Sacks aren’t everything, but on Sunday they were indicative of – and a reward for – consistent pressure on the quarterback.

Draw Lines In The Dirt: Kudos to New England’s offensive and defensive lines for winning enough battles to push past the home team. For the offense, right tackle Marcus Cannon exorcised more demons than that wonderful character actor from the Poltergeist movies (Zelda Rubinstein, in case you were wondering). Cannon held living QB anxiety attack Von Miller to one hurry and zero sacks, a statistical opposite of Cannon’s previous visit to Denver where the tackle seemed lost and out of his depth. (Great rundown by’s Mike Reiss of Cannon casting aside last year’s burden here.) While rookie left guard Joe Thuney had some issues (two holding penalties, two sacks allowed), the rest of the O-line seemed to hold up well.

Rushing stats tell a tale this week. While a 3.5-yard average won’t wow the scouts, gaining 136 yards on 39 carries provides important context. New England’s primary ball carrier, Lewis, ran 18 times for 95 yards (5.3 avg.). This 5-foot-8 ice pick chip-chip-chipping away at the Mile-High glacier aided the overall offense in gaining 20 first downs and 73 plays total (compared to 15 and 61 for the home team). Lots of names to mention here, but Brown (four tackles) and Alan Branch (three tackles) get shout-outs for their work in limiting the Broncos’ rushing attack (17 for 58 yards, 3.4 avg.).

I’m Special, So Special: Let’s give the Patriots’ special teams some of our attention, shall we? Stephen Gostkowski made every kick he tried, nailing three field goals (including a 40- and 45-yarder). Punter Ryan Allen averaged 41 yards per boot, keeping New England on the positive side of field position with three of seven planted inside the 20-yard line. Most importantly, the visitors’ special teams units avoided big mistakes and took advantage of Denver’s, pouncing on a Jordan Norwood muffed punt to help post an early 3-0 lead when the Patriots’ offense was gaining only slightly more ground than the Jakobshavn glacier.

Few highlight reel plays to speak of, with no big returns or blocked kicks. Still, it was a well-executed, consistent day from the third team that helped make the difference.

Random Observations

I Think We’re Alone Now: Last column, I talked about how much I’d enjoyed the previous few weeks’ broadcasts, from ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” to Fox. Back to CBS this past Sunday, and – while I had no big complaints about Phil Simms and Jim Nantz – I had a few issues with the lack of replays from the Tiffany network. For a corporation with an eye for a logo, I found it surprising how often they seemed to overlook important (and often entertaining) plays. In fact, I compiled a list:

• With nine minutes left in the first quarter, Denver tight end Virgil Green suffered an injury. We see the play, we see him down on the ground, we see trainers run to his aid. No replay, so no analysis on what was later revealed to be a concussion. (For now, the replay is available online, and it looks as though linebacker Elandon Roberts hits Green on the helmet while assisting on the tackle.)

• On the same play, Simms and Nantz noted that the pass might have been tipped by Flowers. Well, was it, guys? WAS IT?

• At 11:18 of the first, Edelman went back to receive the punt. After Denver downed the ball, Edelman had a discussion with the referee and, I’m pretty sure, gave him a fist bump. Would have been fun to see again.

• Siemian missed tight end Jeff Heuerman in the right flat because of an onrushing Ryan, though I had to run back my DVR to make sure. Instead of a replay, we were treated to a useless graphic of the different teams Justin Forsett has played for this season. (It’s three. It’s the answer to the bar trivia question no one will ever ask.)

• At 10:19 of the second quarter, Branch absolutely smushed Forsett for a one-yard loss, setting up a third and three that Denver failed to convert. Did the O-line miss the block? Did Branch overpower his guy? Hard to tell without any replay.

• At 5:56 of the second quarter, sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson said that Brown had a stomach injury (praise to Wolfson for actually using the word “injury,” avoiding the silly-yet-prevalent lingo, “He’s out with a stomach”). Later, she reported that Broncos defensive lineman Derek Wolfe was out with a back injury. When did these happen? Can’t we see the last plays these guys participated in? I’m not a fan of watching players get hurt, but sometimes a replay can tell us a story and fill in some game information. Feel like CBS missed the ball, there.

• Brady’s pass to Edelman right after the two-minute warning in the first half went incomplete, but it was such a bang-bang play, we didn’t get to see whether the pass was off-target (maybe behind him) or if Edelman couldn’t corral a catchable ball. Every down felt big in this game; it would have been nice to review a few more of them.

• With just under six minutes left, Talib and Hogan received offsetting unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. What happened? How was this not on-camera? Who wouldn’t love to see Talib, that entertaining, gangly goofball, tussle a little? Another missed opportunity.

With that, some praise for their multiple replays on Devin McCourty’s hit on Demaryius Thomas with 6:04 left that jarred the ball out of Thomas’ hands on fourth down. A tough, well-timed play by McCourty that deserved – and got – viewings from different angles.

Double Your Pleasure: One critical note of Simms’ commentating. With 1:20 left in the second quarter, he gave Talib credit for sticking with Lewis on a “double move.” The main issue is that, as the replay showed, Lewis made a single move to sprint past Talib, who made contact and ended up behind Lewis by a yard. Brady overthrew the running back.

Also, a quick note on Nantz calling Blount’s touchdown on the back end of Ryan’s interception a “14-point swing.” We can’t call it that because we don’t know if Denver would have scored a TD. A 10-point swing? Sure.

Denigrate The Jets: As disappointing as last season was for the Jets – missing the playoffs due to a loss to rival Buffalo in Week 17 – this year’s fall must feel like a butt-naked slide down a sandpaper ski jump into a tire fire. A quick look at their schedule shows that they’ve competed well at times (24-16 win over the Ravens in October, a taut 22-17 loss to NE in November), but it looks as though they’ve started to look forward to some free time, as they sandwiched an overtime win at San Francisco with two disheartening losses (41-10 Colts, 34-13 Dolphins).

Can the Jets be competitive? Sure. They actually led Miami 7-6 with two minutes left in the first half, until Kenny Stills broke free for a long TD pass. A blocked punt return for a touchdown in the third sealed it for the Dolphins, who had three sacks and three interceptions on the day (the Jets had one of each). But will the Jets be competitive? If the Patriots can get an early lead and make a few stops on defense, it’s hard to figure New York will press the issue.

New York’s 4-10, man. No one predicted that.

Not The Bassist From The Muppets: Former Cardinal receiver Michael Floyd is now a Patriot, bringing some mixed feelings with him in terms of his DUI arrest and alleged lack of remorse. He traveled with the team to Denver, but will he make the game-day roster on Saturday? Probably. In front of a friendly Foxboro crowd, playing a Jets defense ranked 17th in passing yardage, 30th in passing TDs allowed, and 31st in sacks, might provide a good environment to try out the 6-2, 220-pound wideout.

On a personal note, I just hope he can get some help. Playing football must be great, but I’ll go with the words that Gayle Sayers once said, “As you practice to play, practice not to play.” Like all NFL players, Floyd’s only going to get league paychecks for so long. Simply shrugging off his DUI by saying, “Dude can afford Uber,” isn’t going to solve his problems, nor will finding another team willing to pay his salary. Whether he finds a home in Foxboro or no, I really hope he can find some peace.

On to lighter subjects, like the commercials.

Sriracha-Cha-Cha-Cha: When I was in my 20s, I’d go to a restaurant in my hometown, order the side dish of red beans and rice for five bucks, slather it in Sriracha, wash it all down with a beer, and call it a night. I liked that sauce so much I would’ve considered eating Sriracha-covered road kill (but only if it were really, really well-cooked. I mean, let’s be reasonable, here).

I still love the stuff, even though my stomach gives out plentiful warnings that I can not consume it like I could 20 years ago. Enter Wendy’s Spicy Sriracha Chicken Sandwich. The chicken, the sauce, the cheese, and – for the love of God – even the bun are “infused” with Sriracha.

The Wendy’s people have to know this is too much, right? At any point, I have to wonder if a Wendy’s recipe technician, all suited up in a lab coat in the super-secret Wendy’s testing center, tried to tone this thing down a little. Like, we’ll do the chicken and the cheese, but we should hold off on the sauce and the bun. The bun, for Christ’s sake!

My stomach is doing flips as I merely write about this. So, if you try this hot-trocity, please let me know what you think, i.e., how much this filled your being with regret.

Christmas Wrapping: Who’s this poor sap on the Verizon commercial who appears to have never wrapped a present before? The man has the spatial intelligence of a one-eyed scallop.

Listen, I understand the “Daddy’s a Dummy” theme of most commercials, as I’ve often typecast myself in that role, but this guy makes gift-wrapping seem like nuclear fusion. It’s fine if he’s inexperienced and/or bad at it, but he doesn’t have to look at tubes of paper like they’re the stones from The Fifth Element. Overall, this ad says, “Check out Verizon and be like this idiot!”

Wanna Get Away? I was totally on board (so to speak) with Southwest Airlines’ “Any Way You Want It” commercial, and I figured they had a solid campaign to build on. Since then, though, they’ve gone with more modern fare, like T.I.’s “Whatever” and the newest, “Pumped” by Jax Jones. (You can view a rundown of these ads here.) “Whatever” works, with the woman at the counter replying, “You can go wherever you like,” to every request, but I feel like these ads would have more effectiveness with a louder, more absurd 1980s vibe. Instead of replying, “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” from “Pumped,” would “Oh Yeah” work better? Should they promote red-eye flights with “All Night Long?”

You know what? I’m old. Let’s just move along.

Go Back Ta Stahbucks: There’s Oscar talk that Casey Affleck will be nominated for his work in Manchester By The Sea. The 2017 Emmys are a long way away, but he should also be nominated for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series after his work in this “Saturday Night Live” Dunkin’ Donuts ad parody. I feel like I get a more complete examination of a Boston character in this one-minute, 38-second gem than I do in most two-hour Hollywood movies.

But, seriously, this holiday season, keep an eye out for Dunkin’ Vanilla Nut Taps.

I’m On My Way, I’m Making It: I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry at the Movantik ad. It stars a construction foreman who takes time out from his busy schedule to break the fourth wall and tell us some, ah, personal stuff:

“My doctor prescribed opioids, which helped with the chronic pain, but backed me up. Big time. I tried prunes. Laxatives. I’m still constipated.”

Hmmm … Sorry to hear that, sir. Have you tried Wendy’s new chicken sandwich?

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, folks. Here’s hoping Santa puts some home-field advantage in New England’s stocking.

Chris Warner is contemplating whether to capture the opening of the Barbie Dream House on video or to simply experience it in the now. He can be reached by email at or Twitter: @cwarn89.

Patriots Thursday Observations, Jets Review

Amazing how much a late comeback can change one’s point of view. Trailing 17-16, the Patriots strode down the field with help from the arm and brain of quarterback Tom Brady, who needed all of three minutes, eight seconds to go 83 yards resulting in the winning TD pass to rookie Malcolm Mitchell. Defensive end Chris Long’s day-long efforts were rewarded with a forced fumble on Jets QB Ryan Fitzpatrick to give the Patriots possession with 1:43 left, effectively ending the game.

This marks Brady’s 200th overall win (regular season and playoffs), tying him for most all-time with Peyton Manning. Not too shabby.

The late-game wizardry became necessary after a first quarter that contained all the magic of a concrete brick. The fired-up home team bolted out to a 10-0 lead and, with Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski leaving the game with a back injury, looked poised to play rude hosts to New England. Brady tied it up with his first touchdown pass of the day to Mitchell, after the QB essentially made a bounce pass to himself to heighten the degree of difficulty. You can watch a highlight reel of Brady’s day here, including his inexplicable use of The Force as he kinda-sorta blocked for LeGarrette Blount around the left end without actually touching anyone. He simultaneously gets in the way while becoming a ghost. Weird play.

Now the Patriots sit alongside the Raiders atop the AFC with 9-2 records. New England hosts the Los Angeles Rams next Sunday at 1 p.m.

Player/Team Observations

Drawn And Quartered: This was the first time New England failed to score in the first quarter. Including the first four seconds of the second quarter, the visitors got outscored 10-0 and put themselves in a significant hole to start the game. It didn’t help that the Patriots came out with about as much enthusiasm as cats forced to wear reindeer antlers. They came back strong in the second quarter with 10 points, then put up another nine in the fourth. New England lost momentum at times, which partly could have been caused by Gronkowski’s absence, but the defense gave up some completions that did not bode well for future contests against better passing teams. In the end, though, the D kept the Jets off the scoreboard for the final 10 minutes as the Pats put up the points necessary to win.

Will they string together four full quarters of football this week, and maybe after that? We shall see.

Oh Brady, You, You Got What I Kneed: He would never tell (and during his weekly interview on WEEI, he pointed to other possible factors like overeagerness), but Brady seemed to be affected by his recent knee injury. Yes, the Jets defense deserves some credit, simply for the fact that they know the Patriots well and always seem to get up for these tilts. Still, for Brady to end up completing passes at a 60 percent rate, and to miss as many receivers as he did along the sideline, especially in the early going, it appeared that something physical must have been amiss. Something to keep an eye on for next week, including any limitations to Brady’s practice time.

Let’s Take Off Your Tights And See What Happens: The Patriots entered the game with two tight ends and ended the game with about half of one. Gronk had to leave in the first quarter with an apparent back injury that may have occurred diving for a football as a defender landed on him. Bennett tried to contribute after crawling off the field with his tweaked ankle, but he couldn’t do much as a receiver. He ended up with three catches for 22 yards, while Gronk left the game before catching a pass.

Without two tight ends, the Patriots had to switch up the offense. Eventually, they managed to do so. How, you may ask?

The Grateful Eight: In Gronk’s absence, New England had eight different players catch passes on Sunday. Five receivers got involved in the game’s final touchdown drive. Brady found Julian Edelman for 24 yards across the middle, Dion Lewis for 16 on a gentle floater toward the sideline, Edelman again for six, James White for a crucial four on fourth down, Chris Hogan for 25 down the seam, and Mitchell for eight yards at about the two-foot line before he wheeled into the end zone past cornerback/observer Darrelle Revis.

Add Bennett, Danny Amendola, and James Develin, and you’ve got your pass-catching crew. If you needed proof that Brady has a knack for finding the open guy, Sunday’s game provided it.

The Long And The Short Of It: Oh, thank you, Chris Long. Thank you for your constant hustle and for your veteran presence. Thank you for your tenacity. And thank you for making sure those characteristics paid off with a timely strip-sack that returned the football to your team so they could run out the clock. This provided a perfect example of what a turnover can do for a team. The Patriots have historically benefited from their positive turnover ratio. They need to get it going again to gain momentum and secure home field advantage in the playoffs.

Feeling Punchy: Kudos to Malcolm Butler for going after the football like he heard it make fun of his mom, punching it out of the grip of Robby Anderson for the Patriot defense’s first turnover in about four years. (Note: it was three weeks, but it seemed like a lot longer.) Butler didn’t have a great game: Jets’ receivers’ height became as much of an issue as an NBA center’s in a basement full of ceiling fans. Lateral position didn’t seem to matter as much as vertical position; Butler got out-jumped on a couple of big plays.

Lonely Island: Remember 2014 Revis? Remember when he could shut off half the field from opposing quarterbacks? I remember that guy, and I don’t think he’s shown up in Jersey this season. On their final drive, both Edelman and Mitchell seemed to get clear as effortlessly as penguins popping out of the water.

Watching Revis play reminds me of my senior year in college, after a few months of letting myself go. I went to play racquetball with my roommate, and I remember a specific moment when the ball bounced a few feet in front of me: my brain said, “Go,” and my feet said, “Wait: now?” Physically, I was a step behind what I wanted to do – what I had previously been able to do without thinking. Revis’ brain gets him in the right area, his body just fails him for that extra step or two. Strange to watch this decline in real time, while interesting to see if he can get that ability back.

Kick Out The Jams: Yup. Time to worry about kicker Stephen Gostkowski, who missed a 39-yarder on Sunday. The Patriots won, so this didn’t come into play as much as it could have, but Gostkowski has definitely been over-compensating his kicks depending on what hash mark he kicks from. It doesn’t seem like a coincidence that he missed from the right hash mark by pushing the ball too far to the left. It’s a weird time, especially now that we have grown to perceive his misses the same way we do hiccups: we all think we might have a cure for them, but none of us really knows.

We’ll just be holding our breath and hoping for the best.

Random Observations

Go Fourth And Prosper: Whether or not Gostkowski had made his kick, I appreciated the Patriots going for it on fourth down during their final scoring drive. Too much was made of the idea that Bill Belichick didn’t trust Gostkowski to attempt a 54-yarder down 17-16 with just under three minutes left. The way Brady was passing – especially on the underneath routes – four yards seemed easier to get than a long field goal, no matter how well their kicker was doing. More pressing would have been the amount of time the Jets would have had to play with, including two timeouts, needing only a field goal to win.

No, going for it remains the proper call. Even if they didn’t score a TD, the Patriots could have run down the clock and/or have made New York use up their timeouts and set up their kicker for a much more makable field goal. It was a nice play by running back White to stretch for enough yardage, and the right play call at the time regardless of the kicker.

Reach Out, Reach Out: And with praise comes a bit of prodding in our note to White (and to Blount re: a couple of weeks ago vs. Seattle), when you find yourself near the goal line with the ball – and I mean, like, close enough to slow dance with it – just reach the football toward it. All you have to do is break the plane, which means the tip of the ball just has to kiss the vertical wall that would rise from the goal line. That’s it. So, if you’re running toward the pylon, Mr. White, maybe shift the ball over to your inside arm so that the two-point conversion counts and your fans can go into the ensuing Jets’ possession knowing the worst they could do is tie.

Make sense? Good.

Pack O’ Bills Cannon: Strike up the music for right tackle Marcus Cannon, who signed a five-year contract extension with the Patriots. He has been appraised as the most consistent lineman in New England this season. Someday, someone (maybe line coach Dante Scarnecchia himself) will explain how the differences in coaching affected Cannon’s performance so sharply this season. This year he has seemed invisible, a positive trait for an offensive lineman. Last year, he seemed non-existent.

Seahawks. See Hawks Lose: As your weekly proof of the weirdness of the NFL, the Seattle Seahawks lost 14-5 to Tampa Bay, which sounds like a lopsided Red Sox score.

Me: The Red Sox lost 14-5? Who the hell pitched?

Sidekick: Everybody! (ba-da-BOOM!)

Ah, I’ve always wanted a sidekick. Anyway, the Seahawks got their safety from a holding call in the end zone, not a sack or tackle for loss, so even that wasn’t very cool. Just one of those things. Interesting read here in The Seattle Times by columnist Larry Stone re: was this just a fluke, or are there concerns? Stone says it’s probably the former.

Plain Brown Wrap-up: Oh, the poor, poor Cleveland Browns. At 0-12, it’s just not funny anymore. This is a team that has just enough talent to keep games close but not enough to actually win it. It also takes maximum effort from everyone, and for one play at least, former Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins seemed to escort Odell Beckham into the end zone rather than push him out of bounds, as Kevin Dillon on pointed out.

My heart goes out to those fans. A little over 20 years ago, the New England franchise freed itself from “perpetual punchline” status. Here’s hoping Browns fans can experience that soon.

Shaking Off The Rust: If you’re above a certain age, and you read the names Rod Rust, Zeke Mowatt, or Scott Sisson, specific scenarios come to mind, none of them good. Before the triumvirate of Robert Kraft, Bill Parcells, and Drew Bledsoe stuck roots in Foxboro (though, in Parcells’ case, they were characteristically short roots), New England fielded a quirky, erratic, funny-from-the-outside franchise. Most years, fans hoped for 9-7, a mere winning record, just to demonstrate signs of possible consistency. From The Electric Goal Post incident to a case of sexual harassment in the locker room, the Patriots franchise found ways to embarrass their fans off the field as often as they did on it.

This calls to mind something my father used to say about life: why practice misery? Why make it a habit? If the Patriots are good – and they have secured their 16th winning season in a row, so we can say that with confidence – so why obsess over what’s not so good?’s Mike Reiss called Sunday’s victory New England’s best of the year. Even if you disagree, it’s a topic worthy of discussion that shouldn’t be dismissed, right? The Patriots need improvement in a few areas, yet we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that, despite an eventful and strange season, they have a 9-2 record and play three of their last five games at home. What, exactly, are we worried about? Not winning the Super Bowl? That’s our biggest concern?

I direct you to our old pal Fitzy in this video from February 2015 (NSFW). Fans should enjoy this: enjoy watching the best coach and the best quarterback navigate a system that’s stacked against those who succeed. Appreciate what perpetual success feels like. New England has done more in 16 years than they did in their previous 40. Exponentially more. Of course we can make critical observations, but we should do so in context.

Just Desserts: A quick etiquette question here. When you bring dessert to a dinner party, what claims to you have on said dessert? If, for example, the hosts offer several courses so that very few guests want dessert – or maybe another one is available and captures more diners’ imaginations – is it then within your rights to take back at least some of said offering, or have you given it to the hosts for their safekeeping/consumption over the course of the coming week? Because, if it happens to be one of your favorite after-dinner foods, then maybe you should get some of it back?

Asking for a friend.

The Walking (And Walking And Walking) Dead: For years, “The Walking Dead” has focused on two characters, along with the three or four people with whom they’ve aligned themselves. Every once in a while, the writers try to branch out and follow one semi-regular character, often on a solo mission, and these episodes yield mixed results. Not sure what purpose this Tara episode served, other than to unnecessarily highlight a potential future plot point. But, we already know other colonies exist, right? Do we need details on another one? Also, exactly how far does Negan’s realm stretch? Have they traveled 50 miles? One hundred? Too bad that this episode served as a reminder of one of the dumbest plot choices of the past couple of seasons, when a character who had no business venturing outside of the walls did so for no apparent reason and, of course, suffered the consequences of seeming like a decent person and finding emotional growth in the zombie apocalypse. Death sentence.

One last note: I totally get the idea that zombie movies don’t exist in this world, so we get all sorts of nicknames for the dead, including walkers, biters, lurkers, and bobbers for those who live close to water. But the idea of zombies goes back hundreds of years. In the Kongo language of West Africa, “nzambi” means “spirit of a dead person.” Haitians practicing voodoo spoke of slaves coming back from the dead to work the fields. Now, writing a dead-come-to-life show without using the word “zombies” is like having a vampire show where Bram Stoker never wrote Dracula. It seems kind of strange and, again, unnecessary. Kind of like sticking to the “No Halloween Candy Before Dinner” rule no matter what. I mean, what’s left at this point, malted milk balls? A WarHeads hard candy? No need to be so stubborn.

I’m Pretty F**kin’ Far From Okay: Well, this should cheer you up. I figured it was time to start linking to an OK Go video each week. This week’s is their most recent, for a song called “The One Moment.” It took 4.2 seconds to film and is choreographed in slow motion over the course of a four-minute song. Pretty cool. You can see it here.

On to the Rams. Now that they’ve moved, we can break out the “This Is Boston, Not L.A.” theme.

Chris Warner attended the Electric Goalpost Game and remembers it being as crazy as it seemed. Email at or tweet: @cwarn89

Patriots Thursday Observations, Bills Review

“Well, that is how you go into a bye week.” 

That’s what I typed Sunday evening to begin my column. Just a simple, easy line marking the enthusiasm that abounded in New England after the Patriots smacked the Bills, 41-25, gaining a league-best 7-1 record and a three-game lead in the AFC East heading into their mid-season break.

Perfect. Easy.

Oh, a trade? Involving whom, you say?

Well, then. Goodbye, Jamie Collins, hello, speculation.

Has Belichick lost it, as Sports Illustrated’s Greg Bedard said? Was Collins a freelancing bum, as Fox’s Mike Lombardi said? Probably neither.

Two seemingly disparate thoughts can be true here. One, Collins was the most athletic, dynamic player on New England’s defense. Two, Bill Belichick had to trade him.

Collins was seeking a new contract. He also had a tendency to freelance, which sometimes made for a broken play, but other times resulted in a showcase for his tremendous athletic skills. Human nature being what it is, a player in that situation might try to freelance a little more often in an effort to make more “splash”-type plays, increasing his future contract value. The fewer reps the player is allowed on the field, the more this tendency may arise in a quest for that one highlight. This might be true, but again: this is human nature. We don’t need to trash Collins on his way out.

We also don’t need to ever utter the words, “If I were Belichick,” because none of us outside of Gillette Stadium (and, it appears, few of those inside of it) knows what the man sees or understands that helps him arrive at his conclusions. Again, human nature being what it is, the head coach might feel the need to ensure that every defensive player heeds the word of his coordinator. As he overlooks every aspect of the team, he might want to feel fully in charge of said team and subtract anything or anyone who he feels could impede that, even his most talented defensive player. This might be true, but we don’t need to trash Belichick.

In short, the coach made an impactful decision that seems rash, but it’s one that he felt he needed to make. We’ll see how it works out.

Anyway, the Patriots won! They’re 7-1! They have next week off!

Wait: we can’t even distract ourselves with a game this week? Good God.

Player/Game Observations

Third Degree Burns: The Patriots started out super hot on third down, as Tom Brady began the game five-for-five to convert all chances, eight for 10 passing overall, with 107 yards and two touchdowns. Most remarkable about Brady’s performance was his ability to use all of his receivers. On their opening TD drive, Brady shot a down-and-out to Julian Edelman for a first down. He completed a four-yarder to Martellus Bennett, followed by a pretty floater to James White in the left flat for a third-down conversion. Rob Gronkowski’s one-handed grab was out of bounds, but Chris Hogan’s 16-yard out converted the next set of downs. Edelman gained 10 after finding an opening against zone coverage. Gronk caught one, albeit for a three-yard loss after getting felled by the ant-like swarm of Bills. Then Danny Amendola gathered in a nine-yard touchdown pass. All told, Brady completed seven passes to six receivers on the first drive.

I mean, if you’re playing defense, who’s the guy to cover?

A Game Of Quarters: New England started out Mojave-like in the first quarter, burning the Bills for 120 yards and two touchdowns. They went Arctic in the second, frozen to minus-10 yards up to the 6:20 mark. Yes, the Bills’ defense deserves some credit, but penalties and missed blocks led to the kind of inconsistency that you’d hate to see show up at the wrong time. What gets so frustrating is that, as we see above, when the Pats get it going, they seem about as stoppable as that runaway train that picked up speed and kept going in that movie.

What the hell was the name of that movie again?

Anyway, maybe that’s the frightening aspect of this team: as good as they’ve looked overall, they still haven’t played a consistent four quarters yet.

Hold Your Head High: But be careful linebacker Dont’a Hightower doesn’t try to knock it off. His bone-jarring hit on running back Mike Gillislee in the first quarter set the tone for the day. Devin McCourty smacked Reggie Bush at the 13 on a kickoff return. McCourty had another noteworthy stop, mashing Brandon Tate like he was an Irish breakfast. And late in the fourth quarter, Malcolm Butler laid the wood on Robert Woods (ha! see what I did there?). Buffalo’s a team that wants to act like a bully, and they reacted like bullies tend to when New England stood up to them.

Will A Part Of Gronk Feel Sad When He Scores 70? Congratulations to Rob Gronkowski, scorer of 69 touchdowns in a Patriots uniform. Gronk set the New England career record on Sunday, passing receiver Stanley Morgan. Here’s what amazes me: Morgan took 13 seasons to notch that number; Gronk took seven. Even more incredible, Morgan played 180 games for New England, while Gronk has only played 86.

So … that’s pretty good.

From Glen To Glen And Down The Mountain Side: Oh, Danny Boy. Amendola’s rambling 73-yard kick return to start the third quarter deserves more attention, as it marked the first time since the Houston game in Week Four that a Patriots special teams play made had such a positive effect on the team. This replay shows the blocking alignment from the end zone, as well as a nifty move by Amendola as he spins out of a tackle at the 45-yard line and zips to his right for another 30 yards. That, plus three catches for 75 yards and a touchdown, demonstrated Amendola’s aptitude for key plays.

Christopher Cross? If Chris Hogan was angry at Buffalo, he got it out of his system after four receptions for 91 yards and a TD. Brady’s 53-yard parabolic touchdown pass graphed out how the rest of the day would go for the home team. Even more impressive was Hogan’s sideline catch in the second quarter where he leapt over cornerback Ronald Darby and latched onto the football for a 19-yard gain. That play brought New England out to its own 44-yard line and set up Brady’s 53-yarder to Gronk for a 21-10 lead.

Post Mortem: How about the goalposts killing the Bills’ hopes before halftime? With 4:18 remaining in the half, the home team drove from their own 25 to New England’s 31. With 32 seconds left, Dan Carpenter gave the 49-yard field goal a shot, but the kick sailed like an eephus pitch in the Western New York wind, going high and to the right before eventually boinking off the upright. In the remaining 27 seconds, Brady threw an incomplete pass, then found White for a six-yard gain where he shimmied out of bounds. A 15-yard gain to Amendola, followed by a 7-yard pickup to Gronk, set up the Pats at the 33. With three seconds remaining, Stephen Gostkowski hit a 51-yarder that moved like a knuckleball before it banked off the left post and through for three points.

A potential 21-13 lead quickly became a 24-10 advantage. Coupled with Amendola’s second-half kickoff return and Edelman’s touchdown off of a screen pass, New England scored 10 points in less than one minute of playing time to break out to a 31-10 lead early in the third.

Random Observations

Will Commish For Food: I know, we around New England have stopped talking about domestic assault in the NFL because a player got traded, but I’d like to add one more note before the post-bye week. Commissioner Roger Goodell makes over $30 million a year. The league should know that I am willing to do his job for less than half that. Shoot, one-tenth that. The first rule I’d like to enact involves the penalty for abuse. We can keep the automatic six-game suspension, but we will use those six games to run a thorough investigation from an unbiased third party. If the charges have merit, and if there is proof such abuse has occurred before, the player in question will be suspended for a year, with pay. The team will pay the salary, though they can work with the league to move the salary off the cap.

This does a few things, most notably remove conflict involving payment that can often prevent a victim of abuse from coming forward. The player must then attend a psychiatric health facility as an in-patient for anywhere from three months to the full year, depending on the extent of the abuse. No matter how long he attends, he is on probation for the extent of his employment by the NFL.

This would a) keep the abused party safe, b) ease the stresses of day-to-day life that become a factor with some professional athletes’ behavior, and c) encourage the athlete to focus on himself and do the work necessary to avoid becoming a repeat offender.

It’s an imperfect strategy that could withstand some tweaks, but it beats the “nothing to see here” m.o. of the NFL. Anything that would help someone come forward – victim or abuser – and get necessary help seems like a better idea than a blind eye and a cover-up. Or the owners could fire Goodell and hire Amy Trask. But they’d never do that.

Collins’ Worth: One issue I have with sports radio in general involves the amount of time taken on each topic. Take a look at the quote box below for a second.

Jamie Collins was the Patriots’ most talented defensive player. Bill Belichick traded him for what seemed like little value. This doesn’t make much sense.

Got it? Great. Now talk about this for four hours, and then four more hours, and four more on top of that, and you have the gist of every Boston sports radio station this week. Speculation combined with ignorance that often materializes in the form of rhetorical questions (“Did Collins do something? Is he hurt? Is Belichick mad at him?”) makes for tedious radio. It reminds me of when Princess Diana died in a car crash. The American cable news networks kept going overseas for updates.

Yes, updates. As if maybe she weren’t still dead.

The Collins trade is over. It’s unsettling and confusing. But we know for sure that Belichick didn’t do this on a whim. He has no other player who can fill the fast-moving, high-jumping shoes of his departed linebacker, so he’ll gather his forces and try to put everyone in the right spot for the next eight games and beyond. We’ll see how it works, and until then only speculate whether or not it will.

Not-So-Happy Gilmore: Man, the Bills will never learn. After the game, instead of talking about self-improvement or how the Patriots deserved credit, most Bills players refused to believe they’d faced a better team. Cornerback Stephon Gilmore said that the Patriots “didn’t ever beat us one-on-one, really. We just gave them everything.” This seems an odd thing to say, as on the Hogan TD it appeared that Gilmore himself was so thoroughly roasted he’s now featured in a Boston Market menu with two sides and a medium soft drink.

Let’s see, here … on New England’s first TD, Brady scrambled to his right, allowing Amendola to lose defensive back Jonathan Meeks in the end zone. Hogan then ran past the entire Buffalo defense for the next score. Then Gronk dusted Nickell Robey-Coleman for a TD. So that makes three instances where the Patriots seemed to get the better of the Bills in one-on-one match-ups.

Gilmore’s seemed an odd point of view to take, especially considering Coach Rex Ryan’s realistic, sportsmanlike press conference where he lauded the Patriots and seemed willing to concede the AFC East title to them. Not sure how Bills fans feel, but measured, contemplative Rex seems like a better bet for their future than fiery, trash-talking Rex.

I Have Osmosed The Basicalities: On CBS’ halftime show, after the panel lauded Brady’s efforts and execution, James Brown said, “He has internalized the fundamentals,” and then went to commercial break. Um, what?

In this situation, we see that part of Brown’s job involves getting the last word in before each break. This can lead to unusual utterances like the one above, where he had to say something, no matter what. Kind of like what the expert in the science-fiction movie does at the end of each scene: “I know one thing: we’ve never seen anything like this before.”

Oh, really? We’ve never seen a robot the size of a skyscraper destroying a city before? Thanks for the tip.

Farming Cumberlands: The Patriots tried out a number of special teams free agents recently, including old friend Tyler Ott, long snapper out of Harvard. (If he ever makes a mistake, Vegas won’t even carry the odds that the announcer will say, “Not the smartest move for a Harvard kid, eh?” Hilarious!) Also of note, Oregon punt returner Bralon Addison and Cumberlands kick returner Wendall Williams (not to be confused with Wendy O. Williams, late lead singer of the Plasmatics. Oh, you didn’t confuse them? Fine. Never mind.)

Addison (5-9, 197) returned this 81-yard beauty a year ago at Michigan State. He was signed by the Broncos as a rookie free agent, then released in August. Williams (5-11, 185) ran an alleged 4.19-second 40-yard dash, though at his pro day he was timed at 4.40. He also had a 6.64-second 3-cone drill, which is Edelmanesque. In 2015 at the University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg, Kentucky (Go Patriots!), Williams topped the nation in kickoff return yards per attempt (32.4). He spent some time with the Texans and the Jets this season. You can see some of his college highlights here.

Way too many column inches to spend on two fringe NFL guys, but it points to a desire to have consistency on kick returns. Before Amendola’s efforts Sunday, Matthew Slater brought back the Bills’ first kick and fumbled (though helpfully, harmlessly out of bounds). Edelman has brought stability to the punt return unit, but watching the Patriots’ two best wide receivers make themselves vulnerable to high-speed punishment doesn’t exactly soothe the nerves. Could be time for a regular return guy to take the hits. (Come on, Cyrus Jones. Pull it together.)

Send Me An AngleI have to wonder if the NFL really wants to do what’s best for the game, because they refuse to buy cameras for pylons. As Coach Belichick suggested, cameras placed on the goal line give the best angle for whether or not the ball crosses the plane. We saw a perfect example of this on Edelman’s touchdown, when he scooted past one defender (with help from a nifty cut block from Amendola) and scrambled over another to reach the ball toward the end zone.

Did he make it before his elbow touched? I assume most Patriots fans think so while most Bills fans would disagree. And we’ll never know, because the NFL has deemed it “too expensive” to equip each pylon with a camera. Really? A quick search for spy cameras shows that WalMart prices them at about $30 each. Maybe they’d require some higher-tech devices, but they can’t be that expensive.

Again, the NFL loses credibility here after spending $12 million on an investigation into alleged football deflation. If they wanted to improve this aspect of the game, they could do it, easily.

A Little Out Of Thuney: I’ve heard it’s good to read hard-copy print instead of pixels at some points during the day, so Sunday morning I skimmed the Lindy’s draft magazine for 2016 (and, if you’re going to buy a draft magazine, this is the one). Entertaining to read the pre-draft statuses of guard Joe Thuney out of N. C. State and linebacker Elandon Roberts from Houston, whom the Patriots grabbed in the third and sixth rounds, respectively.

Lindy’s listed both players as “Worth Watching,” meaning they deemed neither worthy of a draft pick. This puts Thuney in Sebastian Vollmer territory, as the Patriots turned a lot of heads using a 2009 second-rounder on the Houston product who was not ranked in most mock drafts. Like Vollmer, Thuney has started since the beginning of camp. Roberts, meanwhile, has tallied 20 tackles, almost all of which have come in the past four games in relief of Collins.

(I wrote that before the trade, I swear.)

Giving Up The Ghost: As a regular viewer of “Marvel’s Agents of Shield” (and, yes, I am a grown man), I have to wonder about the addition of humorless, joyless murderer Ghost Rider into the mix. His head flames up because he made a deal with the devil, apparently, and now he’s useful in eradicating ghosts. Seems like a lot to add to a show already dealing with super-powered inhumans and alien life forms. It’s like if “The X-Files” had a story arc that took place in Middle-earth. Way too much going on, there.

A Nice Departure: It’s probably due to Journey’s “Any Way You Want It” residing in my high school wheelhouse, but Southwest Airline’s lip synch commercial is one of the only ads this season that I actually look forward to seeing again.

Cold Front: When my sister and I were little, we had nicknames for the various cough syrups our mother gave us. Dimetapp was “Yummy,” Robitussin was “Yucky,” and the brown bottle of prescription antibiotics Mom kept around for the tough coughs was “Poison.” It amazes me that, 40 years later, Robitussin still hasn’t figured out how to make their product taste like something other than cherry-infused candle wax and despair.

Yes, we give our child Dimetapp. And I am jealous of her.

Rest easy this week, friends. The Pats host Seattle on November 13 at 8:30.

Chris Warner overbought candy for trick-or-treaters by a laughable amount, which wasn’t entirely by accident. He tweets: @cwarn89 

Patriots Thursday Observations, Steelers Review

A brief history seems in order here. In 1981, your New England Patriots went 2-14, earning the nickname “The Patsies.” They played the Baltimore “Dolts” in the season finale, with both teams ending the season at 2-14 (Baltimore’s two wins coming against New England). In the strike-shortened 1982 season, the Patriots went 5-4. They managed 8-8 in 1984, then 11-5 in 1985, leading to their enthralling playoff run, where they beat the Jets, Raiders, and Dolphins in their own houses.

Then, of course, they suffered what was at that time the worst Super Bowl loss in history, getting torn apart by the Bears, 46-10.

That was the team I grew up with. That was a team that, much like most franchises, saw its fortunes go up and down through each decade, without a championship.

I mention this because the Patriots beat the Steelers at Heinz field, 27-16, yet the listless atmosphere around New England suggested we had all just simultaneously finished The Friends of Eddie Coyle. Yes, the team has some issues to deal with, as we’ll discuss below. Still, considering how that game started – with one offensive play resulting in a turnover in their own half of the field – it’s a solid win overall.

The Patriots are now 6-1. With one more victory, defensive end Chris Long will have as many wins as he did in any full season over his eight years in St. Louis. Right now, the Cleveland Browns are 0-7. Speaking of the Browns, let’s recall this little ditty from way back on 2003, when the 5-2 Patriots hosted the 3-4 Browns and needed a Ty Law interception late to seal a 9-3 win. I don’t remember hearing too many complaints after that one.

So maybe we should all lighten up, look at New England’s record over the past 15 years (and contrast it with the 15 before that) and just relax a little. Every victory is sweet and should be savored.

On to Buffalo Sunday at 1 p.m. That’s good stuff, those 1 p.m. games. Win or lose, you can get things done on Sunday afternoon.

“Who wants to come out here and help Dad rake leaves? Sweetie?”

Sound of wind whistling through trees…

Player/Game Observations

Where The Heck You Ben? A couple of reasons why this game might not have been as easy as some expected. One, while Ben Roethlisberger’s inability to play may have helped overall, it could have messed with the Patriots’ psyche. Think about it: While Tom Brady sat out the first four games, a pattern seemed to develop with New England opponents regarding sluggish starts. The Cardinals, despite opening at home, looked lackadaisical. Miami got torched by Jimmy Garoppolo in the first half before making a rabid comeback in the second. And Houston, facing rookie Jacoby Brissett, never quite got off the plane, mentally.

I point these out because I have to think playing against the backup of a renowned QB has to take some momentum out of a defense. Instead of telling your grandkids that you got to tackle Brady, you’re explaining that Brisett was in for that game. Maybe the Pats experienced that against Landry Jones (29 of 47, 281 yards, one TD, one INT) and had trouble motivating for this one. I don’t know.

Two, after their one-play, turnover-stopped opening possession, the visitors scored on their next two drives and went up, 14-0, looking very tough to stop. Tom Brady completed his first nine passes for 90 yards and ended up completing 19 of 26 (73 percent) for 222 yards and two touchdowns. LeGarrette Blount looked tough early, gaining 28 yards on his first four carries during the Patriots’ early scoring drive. As humans with all the foibles of such, New England might have figured they had a win in their pockets after a two-score lead. Back to the previous point, the Steelers going Roethlisbergerless probably made it tempting for the visitors to start coasting.

Not saying taking a mental break was the right thing to do; the Patriots need to address playing four full quarters of football. We’ll see if they can sustain a lead and even increase it against a tough team.

For Whom The Bell Trolls: You know, considering the faux penalty on Dont’a Hightower for a perfectly legal hit on LeVeon Bell, which happened right after a woeful punt/shank by Ryan Allen, which succeeded a missed third-down conversion catch by Brandon Bolden, it’s amazing the Patriots held Pittsburgh to a field goal attempt on their ensuing drive (which was missed). The Steelers had more chances to gain momentum than an iceboat on a windy day. Commendable work by the defense to limit the damage.

Young Guns Having Some Fun: Oh, not big fans of Wham! you say? Well, you were on Sunday, as New England’s combination of blocking schemes – including tight end whams and wide receiver crack blocks – opened the way for Blount’s day. The burly-back finished with 127 yards on 24 carries (5.3 avg) and two touchdowns, the second of which featured him darting left, cutting right, and charging toward the end zone like a cartoon rhinoceros in ballet slippers. For a clip of that run, click here. For an image of a cartoon rhinoceros in ballet slippers, click here. (Ah, Internet. You can’t be stumped.)

Ghost Story: Okay, Stephen Gostkowski’s kicking problems are officially a thing. Not sure what else to say about it. On the one hand, it would seem prudent to bring in another kicker. On the other, that might mess with Gostkowski’s head. Maybe competition isn’t what he needs right now.

Not sure. But if I see another extra point attempt go wide, I will lose it to the point where my wife, once again, will have to call from the other room to see if I’m okay.

A Modern Day Warrior, Mean, Mean Stride: I know, I know, sacks are an overrated stat. Still, it would be amazing if the Patriots could get a super-nasty pass-rusher into their defensive mix (and, while Kyle Van Noy should prove a reliable complementary player, he is not the guy). Again (ad infinitum), holding the home team to 16 points mattered the most, but allowing some of those third-down conversions proved infuriating. For example, late in the third, Pittburgh got two successive third-and-10 conversions. They failed to convert a third third-and-10, however, and settled for a 44-yard field goal to make it 20-16 at the start of the fourth.

Yes, the Patriots held off on the blitz, usually sending just three or four defenders. But if their front line had more dynamism – if, for example, Jabaal Sheard could require more double-teams and Long and Rob Ninkovich could win more one-on-one battles – then your defense could start making things happen, getting the ball back to the offense more quickly.

(Fun note: As pointed out by Rich Hill of Pats Pulpit, the Patriots’ third-down defense at Pittsburgh was their best showing of the season, as they held the Steelers to a 31 percent conversion rate. Hunh. Funny how a couple of third-and-longs can fuzzy-up perception.)

Of course, when you get the ball back, you have to take care of it…

Ho-o-o-o-g-a-a-n! Two turnovers from Chris Hogan and Julian Edelman didn’t contribute to a winning formula, especially in an away game. Edelman’s was especially disappointing. He held that football like he was Jean Valjean trying to feed his family. At least it’s likely that two of the most capable receivers in Foxboro will work on avoiding such mishaps again anytime soon.

Sans Antonio: Saw a tweet by Steelers super-receiver Antonio Brown featuring a photo of him and Tom Brady with the hashtag #DontSleepOnThe6thRound, and it reminded me of my interview with Brown as a Central Michigan junior before the 2010 draft. I figured the Patriots could get some production out of a versatile receiver like him, but instead they used a third-round pick on receiver Taylor Price and a fourth-rounder on The Tight End Who Shall Not Be Named.

I’m usually not the best at scouting pre-draft talent, so forgive me as I cash in one of my few “I Told You So” chits here.

On a related note, you can also read this engaging Q&A with Steelers linebacker Arthur Moats from when he was prepping for the 2010 draft. As a senior defensive end at James Madison, Moats earned the Buck Buchanon Award for best defensive player in the FCS. He also had some noteworthy comments on his meetings with the Patriots and the Redskins. The Bills drafted Moats in the sixth round.

No, I Can’t Dig It: All-Pro receivers aside, I don’t like to nitpick on the draft. Results are still too early to call here, but I think we’re all disappointed in rookie cornerback Cyrus Jones’ “healthy scratch” (a journalistic way of saying “benching”) Sunday. Jones looked like a solid contributor as a slot corner in the preseason. He also did great work as a punt returner for Alabama in 2015, with four touchdown returns. In the first preseason game at Carolina, he had this nifty 60-yard take-back and seemed on his way to a regular gig. Hey, anything to keep Edelman and Danny Amendola out of harm’s way. But Jones’ recent ball-handling issues (e.g., the ball squirting loose on a kick return vs. Houston) have made him unreliable.

Here’s hoping Jones gets another chance and takes advantage of it.

Pat On The Back: Safety Patrick Chung hounded the Steelers, tallying 11 tackles and defending two passes. Chung did a little of everything and did it all well, covering tight ends and receivers all over the field while also providing stout run support. Sometimes when a defensive back piles up the stops, it’s a bad sign. Not so for Chung, who tackled runners like they were trying to steal the Olympic torch.

Random Observations

Giant Error In Judgment: Like adjusting their rearview mirror after the car crash, the Giants finally released kicker Josh Brown. The NFL had suspended him for one game for domestic assault. Of course, for months, the New York brass and NFL Commissioner/Owner’s Waterboy Roger Goodell had a decent idea of what had happened.  Apparently, knowledge of abuse wasn’t quite enough for Giants owner John Mara to suspend his kicker until public outrage grew. As Mara told WFAN in an interview a week ago:

“He certainly admitted to us that he abused his wife in the past. What’s a little unclear is the extent of that.”

So, here’s what’s been bothering me: after Brown’s admission, what, exactly, was Mara’s follow-up question? How is the “extent” of the abuse “a little unclear?” If someone says they’ve done something bad “in the past,” that connotes a repeated behavior. A proper investigation – and by no means am I giving Mara credit for anything proper here –  would have included the simple, direct inquiry, “How many times has this happened before?” Brown’s statement didn’t help much, especially considering he didn’t apologize to his ex-wife.

Keep in mind, the greatest quarterback of his generation served a four-game suspension after an 18-month odyssey that involved a $12 million investigation and multiple trips to court over alleged deflation of footballs that science has proven untrue. The Brown case tells us everything we need to know about a) Mara’s power among owners, b) Goodell’s arbitrary method of ruling, and c) the NFL’s callous disregard for the victims of domestic abuse in particular and, we have to assume, women in general.

Call It A Girlcott, Maybe: In light of the NFL’s mishandling of the Brown case and multiple other issues, let’s considering turning our televisions off when our favorite team isn’t playing. We can keep track of our fantasy team online (hell, we can keep track of everything online). Think about it. Sunday nights free. Monday nights getting to bed at a more reasonable hour. Thursday night games via Twitter for all the “color rush” jokes. This is the right time to make an impact and let the NFL know they have flaws that need to be changed.

Last year, I wrote a piece on The Unstoppable NFL, where I interviewed sports journalists to ask what, if anything, could derail the league. Most of us didn’t see a ratings decline anytime soon. I hate to admit this, but I didn’t include domestic violence as an issue, as I assumed Goodell had learned his lesson from the Ray Rice case. The league seemed to have established specific rules for such events. And, hey, the photos of Greg Hardy’s girlfriend’s bruises taken in 2014 didn’t reach the Internet until November of 2015, so I totally get a pass, right?

God damnit.

I said this about the problem of leadership within the NFL:

“It seems probable the commissioner will make more mistakes; therefore, it must be possible he makes one or two big enough to actually make an impact. But how big do those gaffes have to get?”

I guess we shall see.

The Catcher Kicker In The Rye Tie: What a bunch of phonies. Just when we thought the Gostkowski situation looked depressing, here comes last Sunday night’s game, featuring two missed field goals in overtime to ensure an oh-so-suitable 6-6 tie between Arizona and Seattle. (One more 6 would confirm our suspicions on who engineered this hellfest.) And these are, presumably, two of the best teams in the NFC.

I love great defensive plays as much as anyone, but I feel like people who enjoyed the Sunday night game as a “defensive battle” probably appreciate action movies for the exposition. (In seismology terms, what we’re experiencing is what we call ‘a swarm event.) I mean, yeah, it’s important, but it’s not the only reason to watch, you know?

Kind of like that 9-3 Pats win over Cleveland in 2003. Ugly. Frustrating. I was happy it was over. But at least it wasn’t a tie.

Not A Home Run, Derby: As much as I understood it, I was sorry to see the Patriots trade away tight end A. J. Derby to Denver. The second-year athlete had an eye-opening preseason, averaging 12.6 yards per catch (15 for 189), and seemed ready to contribute as a smaller, quicker, “move” tight end. But, with the multiple talents of Gronk and Martellus Bennett, Derby had no receptions. Seems risky to have only two tight ends on the roster, but if necessary, tackle Cameron Fleming can come in to block, while Edelman, Hogan, Amendola, and James White can handle the short passes.

W-E-E-Why Oh Why: Listening to the WEEI morning show hosts discuss (shout?) politics reminds me of when “Law & Order” features a case involving a rock band. They try to hit the right notes (literally, I guess), but it always seems forced and obvious. The name of the band is something like Slutty Sally and the Punky Girlz, and the suspects say things along the lines of, “Bummer, man. She just wanted to rock ‘n’ roll, you know?” The rudimentary, intentionally ignorant political talk on WEEI doesn’t seem to go anywhere. I hear about politics everywhere else in media; call me nuts, but I listen to sports radio to hear about sports-related topics.

By the way, no complaints here if they want to have Trenni Kusnierek on the show more often. Nice to have an informed voice amidst the same old noise. You can follow her on Twitter @trenni – worth it for her recent takedowns of the NFL botching the Brown case.

Walking Dead To Me: I have seen every episode of “The Walking Dead,” and this past Sunday I saw my last. No spoilers here, but it said a lot that Chris Hardwick, the host of the companion show “Talking Dead,” teased viewers by saying, “I’m here for you; let’s get through this together.” And it hit me: why on God’s Great Green Earth would I want to watch a TV show that I need help to “get through?” It wasn’t entertaining. It didn’t make me feel good; it didn’t make me look forward to the next show.

It actually reminded me of my last episode of “ER” (darkly titled, “Be Still My Heart“), where adorable intern Lucy Knight got stabbed. Just … why? I don’t want to go through that. Sure, it’s a hospital emergency room where characters are expected to die, but it made no sense to take out the adorably plucky intern, especially by having a psychologically disturbed patient murder her. In interviews, the “Walking Dead” writers constantly talk about how, as much as they don’t want to, they have to kill off characters to keep the stakes real. But, wait: No. No, they do not. It’s a show about a zombie apocalypse. Realism isn’t a huge requirement.

Also, if they cared about realism, why would they have seasoned, grizzled characters constantly doing stupid things? And how come the walkers can run and climb a fence in the season one episode “Guts” yet don’t do either action again for the rest of the series? Did they forget?

To hell with it. I’m done.

Chris Warner hated that goddam Elkton Hills. He can also be tweeted @cwarn89