Patriots “That Guy” 2017 Draft Review

Well, here comes the shortest Patriots draft story ever. After an active off-season that saw New England bolster its roster before the draft, Bill Belichick didn’t have a ton of holes to fill going into last weekend. The team had traded their first-round pick to New Orleans for receiver Brandin Cooks and had swapped their second-rounder with Carolina for pass-rusher Kony Ealy and a third-rounder. They’d also obtained tight end Dwayne Allen and a sixth-rounder from the Colts for a fourth, and signed away running back Mike Gillislee from the Bills for a fifth.

This, of course, made the first two rounds of the NFL Draft pretty boring for Patriots watchers. I’d compare it to watching grass grow, but at least in that case you can a) see some kind of change, and b) get reminded of a wonderful, haunting Peter Gabriel video.

The Patriots got active later on Friday, picking up a couple of players in Round Three who could become a productive part of New England’s future. In all, the team drafted four players, the lowest amount not only in Belichick’s tenure but in franchise history.

For a look at the categories I missed before the draft (and with only four picks, there are quite a few), have a gander at my final pre-draft “That Guy” column. You know what? I’m not ashamed. Not all that proud, sure, but still: not ashamed.

By the way, that Peter Gabriel video is from 1992. The Patriots’ first draft selection was born two years after that. Just reading the previous sentence makes all my joints feel sore. Oof, my hip!

Here are New England’s 2017 draft picks, listed by round and overall number:

Round Three (83): DE Derek Rivers (6-4, 248), Youngstown State

Round Three (85): OT Antonio Garcia (6-6, 302), Troy

Round Four (131): DE Deatrich Wise (6-5, 274), Arkansas

Round Six (211): OT Conor McDermott (6-8, 307), UCLA

The Trades: Ah, yes. As with most years, Belichick and Co. had more moving picks than an NBA center. They opened Day Two with two selections in the third (72 and 96). First they moved back, giving up 72 for Tennessee’s third- (83) and fourth-rounder (124). After picking Rivers with 83, they moved back up to 85, giving Detroit a third (96) and their newly-obtained fourth (124). So, essentially, the Patriots swapped 72 and 96 for the 83rd and 85th selections.

Like most, I figured the Patriots would look for a Backup Tight End in the draft, and they did, sort of. On Day Three, they traded their fifth-rounder (183) to Kansas City for tight end James O’Shaughnessy and a sixth-rounder (216). To cap off the draft, New England moved up in the sixth by switching their slot (216) and throwing in their seventh-rounder (239) with Dallas’ sixth (211). They used that final pick on McDermott.

On to the picks and the New England draft tendencies they fit (sometimes):

The Long-Limbed Defensive End: Now referred to as the Trey Flowers category, Rivers will look to get into the pass-rushing rotation and – if all goes well – become a bigger part of the defense by his sophomore year, much like Flowers did. Rivers has great athleticism, as his 4.61-second 40, 30 bench reps, 35-inch vertical jump, and 6.94-second 3-cone time all made top five for defensive linemen at the NFL combine. At Youngstown State (which would have also qualified him for our Small-School Defender category), Rivers absolutely Godzilla’d the joint, making All-Missouri Valley First Team with 15 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss, along with three fumble recoveries.

Fun Fact: The Youngstown State team nickname is the Penguins. They are the only four-year college in the country with that nickname. Check out mascots Pete and Penny!

Offensive Line Double-Dip Guys: New England drafted zero offensive linemen in 2013. Since then, they’ve taken no fewer than two per year, starting with Bryan Stork (Florida State) and Cameron Fleming (Stanford) in 2014. Garcia had a great senior year, making All-Sun Belt First Team while preventing any sacks against him personally on a line that allowed the fewest sacks in the country (nine). He had a notable performance against Clemson that included six knockdown blocks. Athletically, he has shown good speed (5.15 40) and quickness (7.70 3-cone), and his 31-inch vertical jump was the second-highest for offensive linemen at the combine. The latter half of the double dip, McDermott, has a few similar qualities to current Pats left tackle Nate Solder, who’s also 6-foot-8 and also a former tight end. McDermott ran a 5.18 40 and jumped 28.5 inches, the latter of which is a top-eight combine score. At UCLA, McDermott made All-Pac-12 Conference Second Team. Though both players are lighter at 302 and 307 pounds, respectively (yes, say hi to football and sumo wrestling, where over 300 pounds makes you “light”), they can use their rookie years to develop within New England’s system. Strong picks for the future.

Fun Facts: Garcia averaged 12 points per game and was named all region honorable mention as a basketball player at Charles R. Drew High in Riverdale, Georgia. McDermott averaged 15.2 points and 8.5 rebounds as a senior at Ensworth High in Tennessee and was named the state’s Mr. Basketball in his division.

Fun, Kinda Freaky fact: McDermott has 11-inch hands. Go grab a ruler, put your hand at the base of it, and see how much bigger Fryin’ Pan Hands McDermott’s mitts are.

The Back-To-The-Well Guy: When the coach finds a player he likes and/or a college system he appreciates, he has a tendency to return to that school for the draft (think: Rutgers). With Flowers contributing at such a high level in 2016, the Wise pick is no surprise. He got a mention in our “That Guy” Senior Bowl column as a Long-Limbed Defensive End after standing out in the East-West Shrine Game (his 36-inch tentacles helped). Wise showed decent speed with a 4.92 40, a strong broad jump (10-foot-4) and a solid vertical (33 inches), but he stood out in the 3-cone with a 7.07-second time. A team captain at Arkansas, Wise had 49 tackles (5.5 for loss) and 3.5 sacks. If he can go after the game with a similar approach to his former college teammate, he could develop into a strong, consistent contributor.

Fun Fact: Wise earned his district’s Defensive Player of the Year honors at Hebron High in Carrollton, Texas after racking up a whopping 113 tackles and 10 sacks.

Coming up later this week, an in-depth look at the many undrafted players New England will bring in to camp. Is it odd that I’m excited about this? Maybe a little, right?

Thanks for reading, and see you soon.

Chris Warner still gets a little freaked out by the “Shock the Monkey” video. He can be emailed at chris.warner@patriotsdaily.com and tweeted at @cwarn89.

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Patriots Thursday Observations, AFC Championship Review

If you could summarize New England quarterback Tom Brady’s career in one sentence, this might be it: he has reached the Super Bowl in seven of his 15 seasons as a starter. (Thanks to Rich Hill of PatsPulpit.com for that reminder.)

New England handled Pittsburgh from start to finish, bolting out to a 10-0 lead and never letting up in a 36-17 win. Viewers got a solid idea of how this game would go on the Patriots’ first possession. First, New England won the coin toss and chose to receive the kickoff, which they almost never do. This spoke to the confidence Coach Bill Belichick had in getting off to a fast start. Secondly, Brady completed his first four passes to four different receivers. Tight end Martellus Bennett gathered in a 12-yarder over the middle. Julian Edelman took a seven-yard crosser and kept going, zipping up the sideline and dance-cutting to the middle for 41 yards. Rookie Malcolm Mitchell caught a five-yard out. Danny Amendola got four yards by the left hash mark. After an uncharacteristic drop by Mitchell, New England had to settle for a Stephen Gostkowski field goal, but the tempo and the tenor of the game were set.

Brady ended up completing 32 of 42 passes (76 percent) for 384 yards (personal playoff best) and three touchdowns, pushing the Patriots to a commanding victory over the Steelers for their second AFC Championship in three years. New England held the visitors to nine points until late in the fourth quarter, dominating the game after halftime with a 16-point third quarter that stretched the lead to 33-9.

In last week’s column, I was, one could say, one-third prescient: “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).” Hey, 34-6, 36-17. Who’s keeping track, really? The Patriots found a best-case scenario against a team that Brady typically handles well. In fact, since Coach Mike Tomlin took over the Steelers in 2007, Brady has zero interceptions vs. Pittsburgh.

That begs the question, why did so many commentators pick the Steelers? Was it due to New England’s lackluster performance vs. the Texans? Was it the argument that the home team hadn’t played any great quarterbacks? Not sure, but it’s safe to say that the two best remaining teams made it to the finals.

The Drive for Five continues vs. Atlanta, with what could be a record-breaking point total for a Super Bowl. Should be a fun one.

Team/Player Observations

Hogan Zeroes In: If anyone thought Chris Hogan would lead the Patriots in receiving, raise your hand and don’t you raise your hand you liar. Hogan ended up with nine catches for 180 yards and two touchdowns. Throughout the night, he received about as much coverage as your average Sports Illustrated swimsuit model. (I promise to cancel that issue, as I’ve gotten old enough where it makes me uncomfortable.) At times, it seemed like either the Steelers underestimated Hogan’s speed or figured someone else would pick him up in their zone. Whatever they were doing, it didn’t work.

The most concise summary of Hogan’s night happened on New England’s second scoring drive, their third possession of the game. Brady found Hogan for four yards at the home team’s 43 on third and one. Next play, Brady audibled, coaxing running back LeGarrette Blount and fullback James Develin to split out, which caused more confusion than a foreign-language version of Inception. Hogan for 26 yards up the left seam. Next play, Hogan for 11 on a curl route. After two Blount runs for four yards total, Brady took the snap, did a couple of Dance Dance Revolution steps to his left, and threw to Hogan in the back of the end zone, wide open as a prairie. That made four catches for 57 yards for the receiver on that drive alone, staking the home team to a 10-0 first-quarter lead. Hogan’s second TD came midway through the second quarter on a flea-flicker for a 17-6 advantage.

By the way, you can watch all game highlights here.

The Un-synch-able Maudlin Brown: Safe to say that Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown wasn’t happy Sunday night. The Patriots focused on shutting down Brown and keeping him out of rhythm. They did a solid job of it, holding the best receiver in the AFC to seven receptions for 77 yards and zero touchdowns. The attention that cornerback Malcolm Butler and safety Devin McCourty paid Brown forced Ben Roethlisberger to seek out other pass-catchers, none of whom seemed up to the task for four full quarters. Eli Rogers did some damage underneath, hauling in six passes for 66 yards, but others seemed to wilt like those flowers that you bought for that thing but of course you forgot them in the car. Sammie Coates missed a bomb down the left sideline on Pittsburgh’s opening drive, then failed to gather in a would-be diving touchdown catch at the end of the third. Cobi Hamilton’s presumed touchdown catch was called back because he accidentally went out of bounds. He also missed a pass in the end zone at the end of the first half. Even Rogers himself fumbled when stripped of the ball by linebacker Kyle Van Noy near the end of the third quarter. Rough day for the young receivers.

Not A “Drop The Mike” Moment: Listen, Tomlin has earned the respect of the league with his coaching. In 10 years in Pittsburgh, he has a 103-57 record and a Super Bowl win. So, I guess the question is, why couldn’t he get his team in a better position to beat New England? Brady has a record of high production vs. the Steelers (6-1 since 2007; 22 TDs, zero INTs); it’s apparent that their zone schemes do not work against him. Afterward, Tomlin got asked a specific question about 2012, where Pittsburgh’s press man coverage seemed to give him trouble. (You can read transcripts of post-game interviews here, courtesy of patriots.com.) The reporter was probably referring to 2011, when New England lost at Pittsburgh, 25-17. Tomlin responded, “We stand by what we did in the game. We just didn’t do it well enough.”

Didn’t do what well enough? Execute a flawed game plan? Seems like a weird, overly political response. Doesn’t seem too tough to say, Yeah, if we could do it over again, we’d probably try to play more press man and blitz their QB up the middle. It’s been talked about in the media this week, but the mantra of “We do what we do” only works if what you do is effective. Otherwise, you’re just Wile E. Coyote convincing yourself that, despite results, you’re a super genius.

The other quote of note on this topic arose from safety Mike Mitchell’s reply to a question about the flea-flicker that Brady converted for Hogan’s second TD. Mitchell said, “It’s a good play. We hadn’t seen it.” Whoa, whoa, whoa. Hadn’t seen it? What about on “Monday Night Football” vs. the Ravens last month? Mitchell added, “We were expecting some type of trick plays,” but he hadn’t seen a flea-flicker? That wasn’t on the docket? Linebacker Bud Dupree said that the home team’s use of no-huddle on offense “caught us off guard” (courtesy Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.) The Pats also used a lot of hurry-up offense vs. Baltimore. In terms of film study, we’re talking about going back a little over a month to watch a game featuring an AFC North Division opponent. They wouldn’t even have to fast-forward through commercials. That apparent lack of preparation just seems odd.

A Run ‘N’ They’re Stalking: The Steelers do deserve praise for their run defense through most of three quarters (a little like fixing a window when your house is underwater, but still). New England did less on the ground than a helium balloon, failing to produce much until they had a comfortable lead. At one point in the third quarter, Blount had carried seven times for three yards. Pittsburgh shot linebackers up the middle, with human ninja star Ryan Shazier compiling seven tackles and loping scythe Lawrence Timmons wreaking his share of havoc with 14 stops. They also did a solid job with one-on-one battles along the line, as avalanche Stephon Tuitt and tsunami Jason Hargrave (five tackles) dropped Blount and Dion Lewis for losses.

That Rush Was Scrum-ptious: With the above paragraph in mind, Blount’s 18-yard run with 3:21 remaining in the third quarter provided the largest surprise of the night and put its signature on the back of this game’s envelope. From the 19, Blount scooted left and fired forward, first making contact with Mitchell at the nine-yard line. He stopped for half a second, seeming to re-adjust his pad level, and started grinding out yards (replay here). No fewer than four Steelers joined the fray at the six, but Blount kept his legs churning. New England’s Mitchell started to push the pile forward from the left side; he was joined by most of the offensive line and a few receivers as two more Steelers stuck their heads into the scrum. This massive man-amoeba undulated to the one-yard line. On the next play, a fired-up Blount went over the goal line, making it 27-9, home team, with 2:44 left in the third.

It’s tough to point to any one play and say, that’s the one that settled this thing, but New England gained palpable momentum out of this run. Van Noy stripped Rogers on Pittsburgh’s next offensive play, leading to the Patriots’ second TD in just over one minute of playing time, a touchdown pass to Edelman.

Finding A Julian The Rough: If not for Hogan’s Model-T-level production, Edelman would be getting a lot more notice. Tom’s typical go-to guy tallied eight catches for 118 yards and one touchdown. He converted a third-and-10 on the flea-flicker drive. (FleaFlicker Drive, by the way, a great title for an independent film about an eccentric Southern woman who swears she has hundreds of hand-written letters from William Faulkner. Will the rest of the town believe her? And, in the end, does that really matter?) He notched about 10 yards-after-catch (YAC) near the sideline in the fourth, on the drive that resulted in his own TD. It was a better-than-average day for a better-than-average receiver.

Valentine Delivered: No bigger series in the game than New England’s goal-line stand at the end of the first half, the home team leading 17-6. Steelers tight end Jesse James appeared to shoot his way in (ugh) for a 20-yard touchdown catch-and-run, but replay showed that safeties Patrick Chung and Duron Harmon got him down at about the half-foot line. No score, but first and goal for Pittsburgh with 1:53 to play in the first half.

On first down, the D-line did their job, with Jabaal Sheard and Trey Flowers slicing in from their right side toward the center. This slant freed up space for linebackers Shea McClellin, Elandon Roberts, and Dont’a Hightower to fill the gaps. (Amazing to watch Roberts and Hightower start the play seven yards deep in the end zone. Dudes built up more momentum than otters down a ski jump.) Chung sprinted in from the defensive left and hustled down the line to help wrap up DeAngelo Williams for a one-yard loss.

Second down and goal from the two. This time, linebacker Roberts hurried up to the line pre-snap and blitzed the offensive left A gap (between the center  and guard). A second handoff to Williams. Roberts’ presence seemed to pull some attention from the right side of the O-line. This in turn appeared to force a one-on-one matchup with Patriots tackle Alan Branch, who swatted aside his  blocker. Meanwhile, rookie Vincent Valentine catapulted himself through the hole left by the pulling guard and smothered Williams like mole sauce on chicken flautas. Minus-three yards.

Third and goal from the five, a weakly executed pick play to Rogers resulted in an incompletion. The pass had little chance of scoring anyway, as cornerback Eric Rowe was in position to tackle him at the three. Pittsburgh settled for a field goal, leaving New England with a 17-9 lead at the half.

Stand In The Place Where You Live: The Pats had another strong stand early in the fourth, keeping the Steelers out of the end zone on four tries (though they got help from Hamilton’s poorly-placed feet going out of bounds before a would-be TD catch). This didn’t get as much attention because the score was 33-9, but it showed the team’s ability to stay focused throughout the contest. On fourth and goal from the two, Pittsburgh went back to Hamilton on a fade that was broken up by Logan Ryan. Here’s where the injury to running back Le’Veon Bell made a difference, as Williams’ previous two rushes had only netted four yards, making it preferable to try a pass play on fourth down.

Random Observations

The Quick Frown Fox: Just one note on the Fox broadcast of the NFC title game between the Packers and the Falcons. They had comedians Jeff Ross and Rob Riggle face off in a so-called “Roast Battle,” with each representing a team (it really doesn’t matter who roasted whom). This two minutes of screen time contained about as much humor as the beginning of Nirvana’s “Heart Shaped Box” video. I found it disconcerting that these two performers – whose work I typically enjoy, by the way – could feel confident in that material. It said a lot that they had to hire actors to dress up like an engaged crowd. I would have had more fun at the State Department of Health getting a death certificate. I’m linking to the video here.  If you can get through it without pausing, groaning, or wincing, you’re a stronger person than I.

Could Be Sharper: Not a bad broadcast by CBS, but, as always, we have a few nits to pick. Let’s start with some replays we would have liked to see.

• With 13:10 left in the second quarter, trainers started looking at Patriots defender Flowers. CBS went straight to commercial and never showed us a replay of what happened to him.

• At the 2:15 mark of the second, Hamilton seemed to mishandle what looked like an easy six points on a 21-yard pass into the end zone with Rowe in coverage. Phil Simms and Jim Nantz called it a drop on the replay, but both camera angles showed the attempted catch from behind, concealing the football from view. These perspectives meant that Hamilton’s torso shielded what, if anything, Rowe’s hand may have done to break up the pass. An end zone shot would have cleared that up.

• Surprising that CBS decided not to replay the first rush attempt of New England’s goal-line stand at the end of the first half. Stopping the Steelers cold on the one-foot line deserved a second look (and third, from the end zone cameras, say).

• Late in the third quarter, Coates dove for a potential touchdown reception but came up empty. As with the Hamilton incompletion, we got replays from basically the same angle as the live shot. The lack of a view from the end zone made it difficult to tell how close Coates came to getting his hands around the football.

• At 10:36 of the fourth quarter, Edelman complained about getting held after a third-down incompletion (the pass was just out of his reach). Did he have a legitimate argument? Sure. Or not. We don’t know.

• With 7:18 remaining in the game, Steelers defender James Harrison was called offsides, with the referee adding that he didn’t get off the field in time. Note to CBS and all NFL broadcasters: few things in football are more entertaining than watching replay of a 12th defender failing to get to the sideline before the snap. It is to an NFL game what a “Yakety Sax” chase sequence was to “Benny Hill.”

Now, for the commentator-based miscues…

• On the replay of Williams’ rushing TD, Simms said, “It’s gonna be close.” I couldn’t see anything close about the play. Williams may have lost control of the ball after it was already halfway across the end line. This seemed like a situation where the commercial was coming up and Simms felt like he had to say something. He would have been better off with “Football’s neat-o. We’ll be right back!”

• Nantz said that Chris Boswell’s PAT miss was his first of the year, then did that thing when you know someone is yelling into his earpiece, correcting himself with a hurried, “Second time this post-season!”

• During Coates’ diving reception attempt mentioned above, Simms was talking about the Rutgers-Foxboro connection and didn’t really discuss the replay. Would have helped if he could have put the Scarlet Knights aside for 10 seconds to comment on how close Coates came to six points.

• Before the half, Simms said that the story of the game was Brady’s third-down conversion rate, completely ignoring the fact that Roethlisberger (16 of 22, 136 yards) wasn’t exactly soiling the sheets.

• Way, way too much confusion on the challenge to the Brady fumble early in the third quarter. Nothing in the replay was going to overturn the call of no clear recovery by Pittsburgh. Instead, Simms and Nantz went back and forth, at first not even sure if Tomlin could challenge it. A straightforward play that became much less so. Might have helped to put Tracy Wolfson on the case. Not always sure if sideline reporters are necessary, but Wolfson makes a solid case for their existence.

And, as always, a couple of kudos: After Brady opened the game four-for-four, Simms said, “I’m not surprised by this at all,” and he had earned that comment in his pre-game preview, pointing out that Brady loved to face the Steelers’ defense, hit short passes against zone, and let his receivers pile up YAC. Also, kudos to CBS for staying in Foxboro and avoiding going to commercial during the home team’s goal-line stand at the end of the first half. That decision really helped viewers monitor the pulse of the game and made for a better home experience.

On The Hunt: I miss the old Lamar Hunt Trophy for the AFC Championship, and I don’t believe I’m alone. Take a look at this photo of Coach Belichick holding the trophy in 2005. He’s carrying it the way a librarian would handle the Gutenberg Bible. (Keep your Police Academy jokes to yourself.) Compare that to his actions at the post-game ceremony Sunday night, where Belichick grabbed the new trophy with all the reverence of swiping a six-pack of ‘Gansett off a shelf. The old one had heft and a sense of significance. The new one has a Christmas ornament vibe. Like, a nice ornament that your cousin’s second wife got you because she didn’t really know you yet, but you know what I mean.

Jones Jet: Great special teams day from Jonathan Jones. He made the tackle on New England’s first kickoff. He had a gasp-inducing hit at the 15-yard line on a kickoff later in the first quarter (with help from Nate Ebner). He also made a shoestring tackle with 10:30 remaining in the game, helping punter Ryan Allen net 58 yards. The undrafted rookie has continued to make his case for permanent status on the game-day roster.

You Goth To Be Kidding: People should know when they are conquered. Look, I get the whole “never give up” ideal, but Tomlin calling a timeout with 2:44 left in the game accomplished what, exactly? They were down four scores. They didn’t have the ball. All they did was buy more time for their offense to sit on the bench and stare into the void, as if they were auditioning for a community theater version of Christopher Walken’s role in The Deer Hunter. Again, I get it: keep fighting. But also, figure out when to call it a day.

King Kong Doesn’t Have A Darn Thing On This Guy Right Here: Okay, so CBS is going to take a shot at “Training Day,” with Bill Paxton in the Denzel Washington role. Hmph. Mixed reaction to this. While it seems like a solid idea to bring a gritty cop drama to the small screen, the trailer shows us the shortcomings of this venture. I enjoy Paxton as an actor, and highly recommend watching his turn as a small town police chief in One False Move. Still, when he’s stuck with lines like “You wanna fight monsters, Kyle? Then you sure as hell better be willing to become one yourself,” a Nietzschean reference for prime time that he makes right after a Wizard of Oz allusion, it’s hard to take what’s supposed to be a serious role all that seriously.

Three other aspects of the show won’t help: the lack of harsh language allowed (probably a few “Let’s get those motherflippers!” et al); the perceived glib manner with which Paxton’s character breaks the law (whereas Washington went about his tasks with steely determination); and the newcomer actor (Justin Cornwell) as trainee, who will have a tough time living up to the earnestness that Ethan Hawke displayed in the movie.

Sometimes casting doesn’t work. You’re not going to see Denzel Washington in a remake of the “Fish Heads” video.

Also on CBS? Apparently a show where someone asks, “You guys were aroused, right?” Seems unnecessary – even desperate – for a halftime sitcom promo, CBS. Maybe funny in context of the show (probably not), but not something I want my child – or, frankly, any child – to hear while watching a football game in early prime time. I know I sound prudish, but to hell with it: save your clumsy sex comments for your sitcoms and keep them away from football when a younger demographic might be watching.

Fields Of Fire: I touched upon this subject after viewing Rob Gronkowski ads post back injury. At what point do you pull an ad involving a player who’s not playing anymore? This must have been a tough call with Aaron Rodgers’ State Farm commercial, because before this past Sunday he was playing like a cartoon character, avoiding falling from great heights because he wasn’t bothering to look down and realize he was walking on air. When the ad in question has his receiver proclaiming his stuff is on fire, and it ends with everything he owns literally going up in flames, maybe it’s not a good look after a rough loss. Something to think about, State Farm people.

Have A Great Fall: That Turbotax Humpty Dumpty ad is a bit too realistic, no? When all the king’s men rush to Humpty’s aid, we see that he has giant, real human eyes searching frantically for help as he coughs up yolk blood. It’s like Mother Goose meets Reservoir Dogs. Plus, he falls because he’s doing his taxes on his phone. They should have an ad when a twenty-something does his taxes while driving. You can hurt yourself using our product! Try it!

The Rabid And The Hair: Boy, Duracell really went all-in on the ear hair ad. Their point is that, if you qualify as hirsute in the aural area, you can’t trust all of your friends and co-workers to avoid obsessing over it, but you can trust Duracell batteries to make sure your hair trimmer works. This is yet another commercial where I would have loved to attend the pitch meeting.

“Well, we’ve polled our customers, and an inordinate amount of them have disgusting amounts of ear hair. Like, freakish. So, let’s remind them of that and how they feel ostracized!”

The irony of this off-putting idea arises from the fact that my first thought for an alternative campaign was showing the importance of batteries in children’s toys. Hey, look: they’ve already done this. “Duracell Express Saves Christmas” is a 90-second mini-doc about a Christmas Eve service where Duracell employees hand-delivered “one ton” of batteries throughout the Midwest. How many batteries are in a ton? Who cares? This could have easily been cut up into a couple of 30-second spots, because no god damn ear hair.

Mother of Pearl. Do I have to do everything for you ad people?

Bah-Da-Bah-BAH-Bah, I’m Fine With It: Ending our ad criticism on a far sweeter note, I’m a fan of the young woman in the McCafé commercial, not just for the fact that she looks lovely, but because she’s a good enough actor to almost convince me she’s really drinking coffee and not just pretending to sip from an empty cup. The fact that actors drink air out of coffee cups – and, more often than not, look like it – is a slap in the face to viewers and to the precise object work of the late, great Jerry Orbach, who would actually take the lid off the cup and blow on phantom coffee before leaning in for a tentative sip. Dedication, my friends.

The Patriots joined the NFL in 1970 during the AFL/NFL merger. From 1970 to 2000, the franchise played in two Super Bowls, losing both. From 2001 to 2015, New England made six Super Bowls, winning four. Now they’re back in the big game. It’s a pretty good time to be a Patriots fan. Some local media don’t seem to appreciate this era. (I wouldn’t be surprised if, should New England beat Atlanta, The Boston Globe headline will read “Pats Win, But Repeat Unlikely”). Don’t click on them. Do not feed the bears, and maybe they’ll stop coming around and picking through the garbage.

In the meantime, some of the better stuff to review: I think Chad Finn is one of the best writers in sports right now. I haven’t subscribed to the Globe yet, but if I do, it will be because of him. Mike Reiss of ESPN.com is quintessential reading for his consistent, straightforward, up-to-the-minute info. I’m always intrigued with how Chris Price takes more obscure bits of information and provides original views of how the team works (like the obsession he and I share regarding the Patriots and 3-cone drill prowess). Speaking of angles, Mark Daniels of The Providence Journal deserves a look for the creative ways he gets stories out of subjects that are difficult to cover (he’s constantly talking to the people around those players whose one-on-one interviews can prove elusive). And hats off to the CSNNE.com triumvirate of Tom E. Curran, Mike Giardi, and Phil Perry for their insight and entertaining video posts, as well as their podcasts “Quick Slants” and “The Ex-Pats Podcast” that Giardi usually hosts with Dan Koppen and Jerod Mayo.

For radio, it’s worth repeating that Price’s NFL Sunday on WEEI with Pete Shepphard and Jerry Thornton is the best program on that station. Informative, fast, and funny, while avoiding those brain-dead moments that can make your face scrunch up with exasperation. It’s on this week. Price is off to Houston, which will make for intriguing listening considering where the Shepphard/Thornton dynamic might travel.

Next week, some notes on this Saturday’s Senior Bowl and how it might apply to the Pats (the draft is a mere three months away, after all). In the meantime, you can check out last year’s column on how Super Bowl winners in this century have always needed some luck. Enjoy the bye week.

Chris Warner is fighting off what is apparently a lighter version of the flu, which is like having a first-grader instead of Stephen Gostkowski kicking you in the figs: brutally uncomfortable, yet escaping a much, much worse fate. You can email him at chris.warner@patriotsdaily.com or tweet @cwarn89.

Patriots Thursday Observations, Ravens Review

Okay, I’m pretty sure we can call the Patriots good now.

Oh, we had our reservations. Heading into the game vs. the Ravens, New England had beaten three also-rans, handling the California Cupcakes (Niners and Rams) without too much trouble, but needing some last-minute heroics by Tom Brady to get past the puttering Jets. How would our favorite Foxborovians handle the mighty Ravens, winners of four of their last five, speakers of confidence, giant-slayers in Gillette?

The Patriots would out-hit, out-scheme, and (eventually) out-execute their visitors, bolting out to a 23-3 lead and holding on for a (again, eventually) satisfying win.

And those mighty Ravens we spoke of? They’re 3-10 all-time vs. New England.

Team/Player Observations

Ah, Distinctly I Remember It Was In The Bleak December: Before Monday night, the Ravens had the best scoring defense in the league (tied with the Patriots). This was, clearly, the toughest test the Patriots offense was going to face up to this point in the season. Brady compiled 406 yards passing, completing 66 percent of his  attempts, scoring three touchdowns. Brady is now tied for all-time wins in December (52-10) with Brett Favre (52-25).

If not for his ugly interception in the end zone where he seemed to shot-put a dead goose into double coverage, Brady looked as efficient (and, to opponents, as scary) as he has all year. Working without tight end Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots were able to score 28 offensive points and compile almost 500 yards while converting 50 percent of their third down tries (eight of 16). Brady now has 22 touchdowns and two interceptions for the season.

Consider Brady’s three TD passes. The first was a six-yard dart to rookie Malcolm Mitchell where Brady’s passing window was roughly the size of the top of a Hi-C can. Second, a lofted beauty to tight end Martellus Bennett that rattled through the defender’s arms like a Plinko disk. Finally, Brady led Chris Hogan on this 79-yard bomberoo where Hogan bolted open like a cheetah racing a trio of disinterested gnu.

Short, medium, long. If someone’s open, Brady will give your team as good a chance as anyone to find him. Just like in the previous week, seven different receivers caught passes Monday night. The offense is better with Gronk, but, if a defense can’t focus on a monster tight end, who gets the attention?

It Takes Two To Make A Thing Go Right: Not sure anyone predicted the Patriots going up 2-0 in the first quarter, but a couple of things went right for that to happen. First, special teamer Jonathan Jones made sure Ryan Allen’s 56-yard punt stayed out of the end zone, swatting it backwards to Matthew Slater at the one. On the next play, defensive tackle Malcolm Brown surged through a fullback block (which, I assume, was a missed assignment somewhere), gobbling up running back Kenneth Dixon three yards in the end zone for the opening score.

If you watch the replay, you’ll see a D-line shift right before the snap that may have caused some confusion along the Ravens’ offensive line. In any case, an important play set up by key special teams work.

Shea? Like Butter: Linebacker Shea McClellin jumped over the Ravens’ long snapper and blocked Justin Tucker’s 34-yard field goal attempt, an act of athleticism that I had only seen once before when Pats linebacker Jamie Collins did it at Indianapolis last year. A huge play in terms of momentum shift, especially considering New England spent the better part of the next five minutes advancing 74 yards down the field to go up 9-0 on LeGarrette Blount’s franchise-record 14th TD of the season (tied with Curtis Martin).

In a similar way to Gronk, the Patriots won’t be able to replace Collins’ freakish abilities with one guy. They can, however, mix and match to certain situations and get solid, even spectacular plays out of multiple players, whether it’s McClellin’s nine tackles and blocked FG this past week or Kyle Van Noy’s interception the week before.

Heaving A Cyrus: Get receiver Griff Whalen off the inactive list and onto the field on punt returns, now. Given Cyrus Jones’ baffling inability to secure punts this season (he has muffed or fumbled five punt returns), I would choose having no punt returner over the rookie. Just make sure the other team punts it, then run to the sideline. Job done, defense. Now Tom, go out and do your thing.

I said this last week, but it’s worth repeating: Jones was the best college punt returner in the nation last year. He brought four back for TDs. He played at Alabama, a school with a stadium that seats almost 102,000 people (that’s 35,000 more than Gillette). He was on TV just about every week, with millions  watching. Now, it’s like he looks up at the football and sees one of those crazy Phantasm knife spheres.

The play where he gave the ball back to Baltimore will be recorded as a muffed punt, but there was no attempted catch involved: he actually approached the rolling football and, while stepping toward it, had it bounce off his toe. (You can see the image here.) For anyone who has ever learned anything about football, his approach made no sense. And he knows it. Once the ball hits the punter’s foot and goes past the line of scrimmage, possession switches.

Besides the obvious pitfalls (like giving up the ball at your own 3-yard line), mistakes like Jones’ have a deleterious domino effect. His gaffe forced Slater back to return the Ravens’ kickoff. Now, Slater uses what I call the Proton Strategy on returns, where he seeks out the biggest cluster of activity and rams right into it. (If you watch the replay here, he seems to miss a wide-open lane to his right.) That resulted in a fumble, another Baltimore touchdown, and a reassessment of what had been a comfy 23-3 third-quarter lead.

Maybe, as Slater and others said, Jones can make his way out of this slump. We can only hope that, as he goes on that journey, he won’t lead the team astray.

Feeling Hunky-Dory ‘Bout This Thing That I Found: It seems like the defense has found its way, doesn’t it? (One might call it a Heavy D.) We had lots of complaints about a lack of pass rush and a certain tendency to surrender third-down conversions, but even against the hyper-efficient Joe Flacco, New England held tough. The Ravens converted 37 percent of their third downs, and most importantly, got held to a field goal on their final possession when Malcolm Butler shoved tight end Dennis Pitta out-of-bounds one yard short of the sticks on third down. On the possession before that, linebacker Rob Ninkovich sacked Flacco on third and four from the Patriots 12, limiting the Ravens to another field goal.

Baltimore scored two touchdowns on 25 yards of offense. Beyond that, they had three field goals and gave up a safety. That’s a solid defensive showing.

Just To Be The Man Who Walked 1,000 Yards: Congratulations and a job well done to Blount, who now has a career-best 1,029 yards on the year after carrying the ball 18 times for 72 yards vs. the Ravens (a clean 4.0 yards per carry). While Baltimore has become much more of a passing team (rushing 14 times, passing 52), New England appears to have become more balanced this season (25 rushes, 38 passes). Blount deserves credit for that, as does line coach Dante Scarnecchia. Some well-executed wham and pull blocks created creases in the Ravens front, giving Blount space to get moving and go forward.

Perhaps his best run of the night came right after the two-minute warning, on second down and two, when he flattened safety Eric Weddle like a Play-Doh pizza and rambled forward for five yards. He followed that up with the ultimate game-clincher, getting four yards on fourth and one to run out the clock. Nice to see that, when the Pats need a yard or two, they can run it and convert.

Random Observations

Sean John In Fashion: As Boston.com’s Chad Finn mentioned on Twitter, Pats fans have had a treat listening to the Fox and ESPN broadcasts over the past two weeks. You’ve got to feel awfully cynical about football if you refuse to get caught up in John Gruden’s and Sean McDonough’s enthusiasm. McDonough reacts to the plays with genuine excitement, as evidenced by his call of McClellin’s field goal block (“They jump the CENTER!”), yet he immediately follows up with accurate reporting (“And it’s blocked by Shea McClellin!”).

Gruden just loves football and makes solid points throughout. I especially enjoy when he gets so caught up in the action that McDonough has to finish his sentences. Two examples of this:

Gruden: “Julian Edelman has eight catches the last three weeks.”

McDonough: “Julian Edelman has eight catches in each of the last three games.”

Or this beauty:

Gruden: “(Blount’s) Fourteen touchdowns, he just tied Curtis Martin… (pause)”

McDonough: “For the single season Patriots record.”

I’ve always appreciated McDonough’s work, and he has found a knowledgable-yet-goofy (or is it goofy-yet-knowledgable?) partner in Gruden. Entertaining stuff.

O Steve Can You See? Teams must hate playing against receiver Steve Smith, but they have to respect him as a player. I also happen to get a kick out of him much of the time. He had a great moment during “The Star Spangled Banner,” sung by Fran Rogers. When Rogers went high on “Our flag was still THERE,” the camera caught Smith listening, nodding to a teammate, and saying, “All right” with appreciation. A fun pre-game moment, worth reviewing if you still have the game on DVR.

It Is What It Is: As much as I enjoyed the MNF broadcast, I was less-than-thrilled with their slogan that has apparently been around for a couple of years. Ready? Here it is:

No Other Night Is Monday Night.

Now, while no one can argue with this logic, I fail to see how that sets Monday apart from any other night in its originality. Replace “Monday” with any other day and it still works. Besides, being the only Monday of the week doesn’t make it good, you know? What is Monday supposed to evoke as an adjective?

No Other Milk Is Spoiled Milk.

What gets me is that, somewhere in a New York or Los Angeles board room, someone presented that slogan, and a room full of suits said, Yes, we are a multi-billion-dollar business and we will go with this circular statement that’s only slightly more scintillating than two-day-old steamed rice out of the fridge. You could give any person on the street two minutes, and chances are he or she would come up with something just as effective. Your Week Begins On Monday Night. Or, MNF: Save The Best For Last. For the intro, you could have Vanessa Williams do an updated 2016 version.

I guess, if you really wanted truth in advertising, it would be, Monday Night Football: Because Who Needs A Productive Tuesday?

Time Is On (My) Side: If he had another shot, I wonder if John Harbaugh would ask Tucker for an onside kick? Maybe not as much of a problem with the call as with its execution, as Tucker feigned to kick left but stopped, pranced around the ball as if he were auditioning for the Fish Slapping Dance, and switched to kick it right. This had two effects, neither of them good. First, it alerted the receiving team where the ball was going, and second, it probably threw off Tucker’s focus to the point where the ball fecklessly rolled toward Patrick Chung as if he were a croquet wicket at the senior center.

The Patriots got possession at Baltimore’s 47 with 2:01 left. Would they have tried a pass on first down at their own 25? Would they have gone for it on fourth and one from their own 45? We’ll never know.

Please, Martellus, Don’t Hurt ‘Em: In Latin, apparently, Martellus means “hammer.” An appropriate name for the tight end, who has been too legit to quit, playing through various injuries. He has not seemed like his typical smooth self, at times stumbling after receptions that he would normally carry for extra yardage. Still, the big man caught four passes for 70 yards, including the aforementioned jump-ball battle he won over linebacker Zach Orr for a touchdown. After a poor showing in San Francisco, Bennett vowed to do better, and he did. Dude seems tougher than overcooked calamari.

Some Fuel In Those Jets: Last Sunday, after surrendering a 14-0 lead in San Francisco, the New York Jets looked about as well-prepared as a raw steak at a jerky contest. Oh, to be a Niners fan this year. Oof. New York tied it at 17 in regulation, then marched down the field for the winning TD in overtime. At 4-9, the Jets are officially out of contention for the playoffs, but they might just start playing for pride (and future paychecks) at season’s end. Interesting to watch how they do hosting the Dolphins Saturday night.

On the Dolphins…

Looking For Moore: Tough to see Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill go down with a season-ending knee injury in the Dolphins’ win over the Cardinals. At 8-5, Miami has a decent shot to make the playoffs as a wild card. Backup QB Matt Moore hasn’t started a game since 2012, but he’s had some competitive games vs. the Pats. He passed for three TDs on December 24, 2011 in a close 27-24 New England win. He also helmed the Panthers during a lackluster 20-10 Patriots win in 2009, where Randy Moss played with all the passion of Danish accountant.

The Pats face the Dolphins in the final game of the regular season. Considering Miami makes New England players about as comfortable as Rottweilers in wool turtlenecks, Moore’s progress will be worth watching.

Deflategaffe: So, a team was suspected of deflating footballs and nothing came of it? Sigh. I’ll let Barstoolsports.com’s Jerry Thornton handle this.

I’m Madden As Hell And I’m Not Going To Take This Anymore: At first, Gronk’s ad for Madden NFL 2017 was a fun commercial. After he was injured, though, it kind of makes me sad. So here’s the question: is it a good idea to continue advertising using a player on IR? Does Gronk’s injury matter to those who don’t root for him or his team?

It just seems like a sharp contrast to have a fun-loving player acting silly on-camera when we know he’s done for the year with a serious injury. Kind of like watching a movie stunt if we knew the people on screen got injured in real life. The fantasy stops entertaining us when reality barges in, you know?

Walking So Close To Dead: Man, amazing how the writers of “The Walking Dead” came within inches of a thrilling, game-changing surprise in the series but seemed to wimp out at the last second.

Oh, Lucille. You got in the way of good television yet again.

Malcolm, OK Go: Your OK Go video of the week is “Upside Down & Inside Out,” which is not a tribute to Diana Ross, but is an intriguing look at the effects of zero gravity. Now that I’m older, I actually get a tad motion sick while watching it.

Exit full screen! Exit full screen!

On to Denver Sunday for a 4:25 tilt in the mountains. Should be fun.

Chris Warner still has a piece of birthday cake left in the freezer, but don’t tell his child. You can email him at chris.warner@patriotsdaily.com or tweet: @cwarn89

Patriots Thursday Observations, Rams Review

Well, after the Patriots’ 26-10 handing of the Rams – the team’s 10th win of the season and quarterback Tom Brady’s record-setting 201st for his career – I figured the locals would have a more positive response. It seems like the tone has calmed a bit (and they may have gotten distracted by a Red Sox trade), but initially many New England fans and media members reacted like they’d just watched a Sunday matinee of My Girl.

Maybe they got railroaded by a preview that made them think this would be a lighthearted, nostalgia-based romp. Maybe, instead, they felt forced to face some issues that surfaced unexpectedly.  In any case, a rash of negativity seemed to break out.

Yes, Los Angeles dropped passes. Sure, New England could have scored more. Still, by halftime, the Patriots held the ball for almost 22 minutes and had 17 points, while the Rams had the ball for just over eight minutes and had 25 yards. This game was essentially over at the beginning of the second quarter, when Brady lofted a back-shoulder pass in the left corner of the end zone to Chris Hogan, who reached back with his Go-Go-Gadget arms  to snare it and touched down with his Baryshnikov toes to score it.

New England had this game wrapped up in 17 minutes, but we’re complaining?

After the game, when asked about the 2001 team (present for a 15-year anniversary halftime celebration), Coach Bill Belichick said something that we all need to remember about the ways that team won: “…not necessarily with a lot of style points, but with enough game points at the end.”

For context, let’s leave 2001’s ragtag bunch of castoffs behind and take a look at the best Patriots team ever, the 2004 squad. Meeters – even exceeders – of high expectations, winners of back-to-back championships. Let’s go back specifically to the night of November 14, a home game vs. Buffalo. The Pats were 8-1, the Bills, 3-6. New England had a 20-0 lead at the half. They scored only three Adam Vinatieri field goals in the second half while allowing a punt return touchdown, resulting in a final tally of 29-6.

I remember two things about this game: one, Troy Brown picked off Drew Bledsoe. Two, it was fun to watch, relaxing because the end result was never in doubt. I certainly do not recall fans and the media hyperventilating over a lack of offensive production or margin of victory.

Take another look at the 2001 team reunion at Foxboro. Look at the players’ faces, the genuine, unabashed joy in celebrating a special win. Now remember that the Patriots have won three more since, all with the same QB, who is still playing. Consider enjoying this while it’s happening instead of looking back in a few years and realizing, “Oh, yeah, Brady set the QB victories record after 16 winning seasons in a row. That was cool.”

You know what? Without tight end Rob Gronkowski, maybe New England won’t win the Super Bowl this season. Maybe they’ll have a lot of trouble with Oakland in the playoffs, or falter at Denver like last year. So, fans will have to settle for at least 10 wins, again. They’ll be forced to watch their team make the playoffs, again. On the other side of this coin, you have the Browns, who did not lose this past week only because they had a bye. Cleveland has not won a football game in almost a full calendar year: December 13, 2015, a 24-10 victory over San Francisco.

It’s football, Patriots fans, in this franchise’s prime. Let’s try to enjoy it.

Team/Player Observations

Leggin’ It, LeGarrette: Oh, to weigh 250 pounds and flash the ability to scoot outside on a defense. LeGarrette Blount had a productive day against a solid front seven, highlighted by his 43-yard touchdown gallop on fourth and one where he had the safety spinning like Mary Poppins on a rooftop. L.A.’s defense held Blount to only 45 yards on his other 17 carries, a mere 2.6 yards per, but continuing to run him helped play-action remain effective throughout the game. Blount has 957 yards and 13 TDs on the year, demonstrating the team’s increased reliance on him compared to 2015, where he rushed for 703 yards and six TDs in 12 games.

You Have To Learn To Pace Yourself: How about that pressure from the defense? After weeks of rushing three or even two D-linemen and settling back into zones, New England seemed to send everybody and the neighbor’s dog, though this fine analysis by ESPN.com’s Mike Reiss spells out the home team’s preference for confusion over quantity. The Pats’ mixed-up pressure resulted in four sacks, two interceptions, and a 14-of-32 completion rate from rookie Jared Goff. Pass rusher Jabaal Sheard got himself off the side of a milk carton and into the action, coming up with four tackles and a whack on Goff’s arm that resulted in linebacker Kyle Van Noy’s first career interception. Even linebacker Shea McClellin got into the fray with six tackles and his first sack since 2014 with the Chicago Bears.

I mean, sure, Los Angeles is about as offensive as a video of puppies in a field (oh, God, please watch this. Seriously, please), but some solid signs of potential showed up Sunday.

Offenses Find Him Van-Noy-ing: Besides the interception, Van Noy had four tackles, including a solid pop on a crossing pattern over the middle. The veteran, whose career as a Lion seemed less stable than the heroine of an Asian TV drama, has found structure and production in Foxboro. Most impressively, he has shown equal ability in rushing the passer and dropping back into coverage. Nice when a trade works out.

Converting On Third Danny: Covering receiver Danny Amendola with a zone defense is like trying to swat a fly with a pitchfork. He has a knack for finding open spaces and getting necessary yards. He’s a clutch guy, as seen when two of his three receptions converted third downs in the second quarter (17 yards on third and 11, three yards on third and three). Amendola sprained his ankle on a punt return late in the game, an unfortunate end to a quietly productive day.

Pass Me A Bottle, Mr. Jones: Hoo, boy. Cyrus Jones is going to drive fans to drink, if he hasn’t already. The rookie punt-returner/leading-cause-of-angina became Clouseau Jones once again, muffing a punt midway through the first quarter that got him relieved of his duties and, sad to say, indirectly led to Amendola’s injury.

Catching punts is tricky because, while a passed ball travels along a smooth, predictable parabola, a punted ball shows a sharper, less predictable drop. But we’re not talking about a guy who’s new to the game, here. Jones was the best punt returner in the nation at Alabama last season. He fielded 42 punts in 2015 alone, returning four for touchdowns while compiling a 12.6-yard average. On his muff, he looked hesitant and, instead of getting underneath the ball, seemed to reach toward it with all the enthusiasm of Flash Gordon extending his hand into the Wood Beast stump.

Disappointing day for Jones, who had zero tackles on defense and zero yards on two returns. With Amendola hurt, New England coaches need to consider bringing in Julian Edelman (No, thank you) or bringing up Alabama receiver DeAndrew White from the practice squad.

Hold Me Now: Some of the disappointment in the offense’s output stemmed from some terribly timed holding penalties. Guard Joe Thuney and tight end Martellus Bennett each had a call in the first half that negated big gains and halted possessions. After scoring on their first drive, New England forced a three-and-out and took over on their own 35. Brady completed a 12-yard pass to Edelman but, instead of getting a fresh set of downs near midfield, the Pats ended up with first and 20 at their own 25 due to Thuney’s misdeed. Four downs later, the Pats punted. In the fourth quarter, Bennett held on an eight-yard run by Blount that would have gained a first down at the Ram 18-yard line; however, his second holding penalty of the day made it second and 16 at the 36, eventually forcing New England to settle for a field goal.

These are plays where, even if the Patriots had gained zero yards, they still would have been in decent position to convert (second and 10, third and six). Something to think about for next week.

Friendly Ghost: Nice to see Stephen Gostkowski have a perfect day. Your AFC Special Teams Player of the Week went four-for-four on field goals, including three kicks 45 yards and over. Fans have to feel pretty good for the man, who was in the midst of his worst statistical year kicking field goals since 2010 and his worst year ever on extra points (he missed one XP in 2006, going 43 of 44, and no other regular-season misses until this year). Does this constitute a turnaround? We shall see next week, and the week after that, and so on, and so on.

Ice, Ice, Brady: My new nickname for Brady is the Ice Sculptor. He just keeps chipping away until he gets to the work of art within, you know? The numbers weren’t spectacular (33 of 46 for 269 yards, one TD), but – during a week where he faced a better-than-average pass rush and had to adjust to life without Gronk – he spread the wealth around to seven different receivers and maintained ball possession at a rate of 37:57 to 22:03. After years of searching, he has found his golden ticket in Malcolm Mitchell, a rookie who seems to understand the team’s passing principles and has managed to find a groove in the past few weeks (Mitchell caught eight balls for 82 yards Sunday).

And now Brady has 201 wins. Since 2000, the Buffalo Bills franchise has 110 wins. In that time, Buffalo has started 15 different quarterbacks. Again: let’s think about enjoying this time and taking challenges as they come instead of worrying about what might happen in a month or two.

Random Observations

Like I Could Give Two Fox: Sign me up for a few more games on Fox next year. I found the tandem of Kevin Burkhardt and John Lynch entertaining and informative. Burkhardt had consistency and steadiness that I’ve found missing from some CBS broadcasts, while Lynch’s enthusiasm and easily-applied first-hand knowledge of the game shone through. With 52 seconds left in the first quarter, Lynch was overly critical of Rams receiver Brian Quick’s inability to catch a ball that was thrown so far behind him it may have landed in Wrentham, but I suppose we should expect a former safety to point his sharpest criticism at receivers (and, often, L.A.’s misnamed “pass-catchers” deserved it).

Lynch has a brief-yet-in-depth view of life at Gillette after spending the preseason there before his retirement in 2008, so I’m looking forward to the next Fox broadcast with him, whenever that might be.

Sunday Morning Is Every Day: Speaking of Fox, a pleasant surprise to have Nirvana playing as the broadcast went to commercial after Hogan’s touchdown. However, it didn’t take long to realize that the song “Lithium” may have been inappropriate. Make no mistake, I appreciate it a lot and play it often (here’s a gritty, on-point version with St. Vincent at Nirvana’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame induction), but considering the league’s issues with drug use and depression, maybe not the best, most-informed selection.

This reminded me of Apple’s use of “Gigantic” for the iPhone. Again, amazing song that I’ve been listening to for years (and, I must admit, crushing hard on Kim Deal since the late ’80s), but I don’t think the Apple folks really took into account what the song is about. Check out the lyrics here. (Hint: when she sings, “What a hunk of love,” I don’t think she’s talking about Elvis.

Day Tripper: The Pixies also show up, in a sense, on a Samsung commercial that plays a Nada Surf cover of the Pixies song “Where Is My Mind.” One of the best ads of the season, this little vignette features a group of kids using their Galaxy S7 to capture and enhance a summer day’s adventure into the city. Great demonstration of how a song can evoke positive emotions regarding a product. This is the exact opposite of what I feel when watching that insipid “You Don’t Own Me” Toyota Corolla commercial. (I will not link to this.)

“You Don’t Own Me” is a weird message. Is the car leased? Is the ad supposed to foster an idea of independence, watching a bunch of self-involved nitwits driving around town in their Corollas? Is Toyota maybe over-valuing this vehicle a tad? Seems like the Corolla slogan should be, “If you’re looking for something between a Yaris and a Camry, we’ve got the car for you!”

It’s A Shame About Ravens: On the one hand, thank you, Baltimore, for beating Miami and giving New England some space at the top of the AFC East. On the other hand, yeesh. The Ravens’ 38-6 culling of the Dolphins makes next week’s tilt with the Charm Citizens look like a tough matchup. Can the Patriots get pressure on QB Joe Flacco? Can New England’s offensive line give Brady enough time? Lots of questions going into this one.

But I’m sure, even if the Patriots lose, no one will overreact. Right?

Sully Should Have Landed Them On The Hudson: Holy moly, did the Jets crash. On November 27 vs. the Patriots, they looked like a team that was kinda/sorta finding its way. Ryan Fitzpatrick made a couple of precise throws for touchdowns and avoided any interceptions (though he did essentially end New York’s chances with a costly fumble courtesy of Chris Long’s strip sack). Up to the end, New York’s team appeared excited and engaged. A mere eight days later, the Jets lost to the Colts in a game that wasn’t even as close as the 41-10 score indicated. Colts QB Andrew Luck had enough time to drop back, check the fridge, make himself a baloney sandwich (with pickles!), eat said sandwich, and then complete a pass to a wide open Dwayne Allen for a walk-in touchdown. Meanwhile, Fitzpatrick went five of 12 passing with one interception before being benched for rookie QB/Guy Smiley Impersonator Bryce Petty, who looked, um, promising? I guess?

Strange how NFL dynamics transition from week to week.

2001: A Time Odyssey: If you give Super Bowl 36 another look-see (and you can watch the entire game here), it will amaze you how much the rules of football have changed. For whatever reason, the referees made the decision to let New England’s defense play rough. Seriously, if that February 2002 game had been officiated with 2016 rules, the Rams would have racked up about 150 yards on Patriots penalties and a few New England defenders would have gotten thrown out for targeting and/or unnecessary roughness. Patriots defensive backs clutched and grabbed St. Louis receivers like they were clinging to kayaks in a Class Four rapid.

If a St. Louis fans approached me and said that his or her number-one gripe was New England’s defense going full-contact like Chuck Daly’s Pistons on the Chicago Bulls, I’d have to agree. (Well, that, and the fact that Coach Mike Martz only let Marshall Faulk carry the ball 17 times.) Fifteen years ago, man. Whew.

A Cleat Must Be Hard To Fit In The NFL’s Mouth: Difficult to look at the “My Cause, My Cleats” program and ignore the hypocrisy of the NFL. The league encouraged players to wear cleats with logos and slogans of various causes for Week 13, which is wonderful. Keep in mind, however, that, for one, the NFL would not let the Browns or Titans participate the following Sunday (Week 13 was their bye) until public outcry influenced them to allow it; and two, this is the same league that fined a player last year for wearing purple cleats to increase awareness of domestic violence. But now the NFL totally cares, you guys!

I would bet my lunch money on Pizza Day (rectangular slice of cheese pizza, eight-ounce milk, Scooter Pie), that NFL Commissioner/oleaginous golf caddy Roger Goodell had nothing to do with this – that someone convinced him to give it a shot while making it seem like he came up with the idea.

How can a front office full of seemingly intelligent people continue to misjudge the public on such a consistent basis? If the NFL is serious, they’ll promote Cleat Causes every week. Why not? Let players register their causes with the league (you can’t just sarcastically make up a charity, like the “Kneepads For Roger” Foundation) and continue promoting it over the course of the season. Not complicated. But the NFL won’t do that, because they’re not serious about players’ concerns.

Dead To Rights: My “The Walking Dead” annoyance this week? They’re following the comic too closely. In the past, the show writers used to use the book as a general guideline, taking characters and settings from it but typically veering away from those plotlines (the best example of this arises in volume one, which shows the early demise of what became a prominent character in the TV series). Now, it seems that they have consistently stuck to the comic’s storylines, which, if you’re like me and have read them, makes the show predictable and a little tiresome.

No spoilers, but I will say this: if you thought the Saviors were tough to deal with, just wait until next season when the Whisperers come along.

Favorite Nickname For A Zombie I Just Made Up: Stinkers. Because they would totally smell, right? “Hey, look out for those stinkers, wouldja?” Sounds right.

OK, Then: Your OK Go video of the week is “This Too Shall Pass,” a wonderful example of a Rube Goldberg machine. I used to draw up Goldberg-type inventions when I was a child (as, you guessed it, my social schedule allowed a certain amount of “me” time), and this video brought back some fun memories.

On to Baltimore for Monday night. Should be a good one. Let’s hope for 202.

Chris Warner is just like you, man. Just trying to navigate this crazy trip aboard spaceship Earth. His email is chris.warner@patriotsdaily.com; he tweets @cwarn89.

Patriots Thursday Observations, 49ers Review

Welcome to our holiday version of Thursday Observations, brought to you a day early. Enjoy the day, enjoy football, and for Heaven’s sake, make sure you have enough cinnamon around the house if you need it, because that stuff is more coveted right now than spice in Dune.

Speaking of the holidays, it’s started to feel like Christmas around Foxboro, as they have received a treat of a schedule these few weeks. After last Sunday’s 30-17 besting of the Niners (or, for this week only, the 1-and-9ers) in San Francisco, the Patriots travel to New York to tackle the 3-7 Jets this coming Sunday at 4:25. After that, they host the 4-6 Rams on December 4. At 8-2, the Patriots have been gifted chances to gain some wins and fix a few things.

One of those things, of course, is the defense, which still needs improvement. However, as we said last week after the loss vs. Seattle, this was a game the Patriots needed to win, and they did so by a fair margin. It wasn’t pretty, but games against 1-9 teams in a driving rain usually aren’t.

Player/Team Observations

I’d Buy That For A Dollar: It will be intriguing to watch if this team ever plays four full quarters of football. They started out well, holding the home team to a three-and-out and embarking on a scoring drive of their own, taking over after Danny Amendola’s 30-yard punt return and needing six plays to travel 27 yards for a touchdown. Julian Edelman pulled his best Baryshnikov, toe-tapping the right corner of the end zone for the opening score.

After that? A missed PAT by Stephen Gostkowski (this will not even get its own subhead this week because there’s nothing more to say about it. A missed PAT is like finally finding an empty seat on a crowded train and, just when you plop yourself down, realizing it smells like old herring). Then San Francisco went on a 12-play drive that took about as long as a summer day spent in a library, lopping 7:30 off the clock and gaining a field goal.

I mean, yes, points matter the most, but when one of the worst offenses in the league converts two third-and-longs in a row, and when Colin Kaepernick completes his first nine out of 10 passes for 120 yards, an issue or two must be lurking around somewhere, right? We can say – as we did last week with Seattle – that maybe the 49ers have found their mid-season rhythm and improved. Still, if that’s the case, then why has the Patriots’ defense become Lourdes for anemic offenses?

On the other hand, after missing on nine straight passes through the fourth, Kaepernick ended up 16 of 30 for 206 yards and two touchdowns passing. Not great, especially considering his fast start – but that was a fast start that New England’s defense needed to prevent.

Mr. Hyde And … Mr. Hyde? There doesn’t seem to be a Dr. Jekyll on the way to help out New England’s rush defense, as they allowed 86 yards on 19 carries to Carlos Hyde. Watching this game again, it looked like, rather than constantly running through wide open gaps, Hyde did a great job of shrugging off tackles. Coach Vince Lombardi would have been displeased.

The Jets’ Matt Forte averages 3.9 yards per carry. He’s also a threat out of the backfield, with 23 receptions for 179 yards this year. That could become an issue, considering…

Wheel Of Misfortune: Tough to say if the Patriots have ever had as much trouble covering the wheel route, when a running back sprints to the flat and heads upfield. Some sobering stats from NESN’s Doug Kyed yesterday, where rookie linebacker Elandon Roberts allowed 13 completions on 14 attempts for 154 yards and a touchdown.

So, yeah. Not the best.

Roberts can improve: he ran a 4.60 40-yard dash at his pro day, and he played more of an attacking style in college, which led to a national-second-best 84 solo tackles his senior year at Houston. He has the ability to cover the wheel route; he just hasn’t had to until this year. You can see his delayed reaction on the Niners’ last TD, when Shaun Draughn zipped along the sideline and caught a pass just short of the end zone. That seems fixable. Again, Forte will be a great barometer next week.

Bray For Brady: Or crow, or shout, or whatever you want to do. With one more win, quarterback Tom Brady will tie Peyton Manning for the most wins ever at 200. That seems right. I’m just not sure if New England fans always take the time to appreciate what they have in him.

Sure, he completed 24 of 40 passes for 280 yards and four touchdowns, but each touchdown deserves a closer look. There’s the aforementioned dropped feather to Edelman. After that, a pantomime pass to the right helped get James White open for a dunker screen on the left side (and kudos to White for asserting himself at the goal line), Then he ducked, spun, and slipped out of pressure to get off a fadeaway shot to Amendola. Finally, a sneaky laser over a defender’s helmet into rookie Malcolm Mitchell’s palm-frond-sized hands.

Look over each one, and enjoy. Brady’s a lot closer to the end of his career than the beginning. He’s just not playing like it.

Heat-Seeking Mitchell: Speaking of the rookie receiver, it has been rewarding to watch him grow this season. Unlike some recent, young Pats pass-catchers, he has shown an all-important connection with Brady that bodes well for his future. On Sunday, Mitchell had the aforementioned 56-yard catch-and-run. He also had an important snag over the middle to convert a third-and-9, and ended up with four receptions for 98 yards. Thus far, Mitchell has hauled in 11 passes for 193 yards on the year (17.5 avg.) and one TD.

His time should decrease once Chris Hogan returns, but this past game he helped establish himself as a dependable mid-range option.

Come On, Feel Van Noy’s: Linebacker Kyle Van Noy’s, um, pressure, I guess? The new Patriot had one sack and one pressure on Sunday, ending the day with two tackles total. The athleticism and experience of former Patriot Jamie Collins won’t be duplicated with one player; it seems that the coaching staff hopes Van Noy can come in on sub packages and pressure the QB.

Meanwhile, former first-round pick Barkevious Mingo has got to start pounding the protein powder. He had a chance to tackle Kaepernick during the Niners’ late drive but got flung off of the quarterback’s legs like discount tearaway pants. Disappointing showing by someone for whom some of us still hold out a little hope.

LeGrin And LeGarrette: Runaway-shopping-cart-full-of-frozen-turkeys LeGarrette Blount rolled to 124 yards on 19 carries yesterday, helping the visitors keep possession during a torrential downpour throughout the middle of the game. Blount currently has 201 totes for 802 yards this year (a nifty 4.0 yards per) and 12 touchdowns. He’s on pace to rush for over 1,200 yards on the season, a fact that few of us were considering in August.

Block Party: Maybe they’ll have Brady for two more years, maybe more, but no matter what, the Patriots need to continue to work on their blocking. The O-line did a decent job overall, and Mitchell had notable downfield efforts on a couple of Blount’s long runs. Special mention of Matt Lengel here, too. The 6-7, 266-pound tight end threw a great wham block on a late Blount run, slamming into the Niners’ defensive line to open a hole. With Rob Gronkowski dealing with a lung issue, the visitors didn’t use a lot of two tight end sets, which means they had to do without one of their best combo blockers. Lengel’s wham block, and its success, showed an important part of their typical game plan that was largely missing on Sunday.

White As Rain: Nice showing by running back James White. He executed the aforementioned screen well, and got up to ramming speed at the goal line, plowing over cornerback Rashard Robinson like he was a punching clown. White also came back along the sideline for a 14-yard third-quarter pass for a first down after Brady bought himself some time with a little do-si-do. White’s time will decrease as Dion Lewis’ reps increase, but he has become an important part of the offense.

Warming Up Those Turnovers: The Patriots haven’t stolen the football back much on defense. They had their chances last Sunday, as San Francisco had more balls on the ground than a nudist colony picnic. I counted four fumbles and a muffed punt in the nasty, rainy weather, yet the home team seemed to get every bounce. If one of those drops had gone New England’s way, maybe this game would have looked a little more like the walkover some had expected.

Slater Gets The Boot: Sorry to hear special teams ace Matthew Slater left the game early and ended up wearing a walking boot and using a crutch. New England’s special teams have played erratically, but on the whole they seemed to show improvement. We’ll see how much Slater’s absence affects them.

Branch Out: This type of thing makes me wonder if 2016 will end up as New England’s year. They show signs of improvement but need more plays together as a unit defensively, which seems like a perfect time for starting defensive tackle Alan Branch to get suspended for reported marijuana use. Listen, I don’t know what it’s like to hit professional football players for hours on end every week. I don’t know what it’s like to carry around an Easter Island body at 6-6, 325. I’m not pro-pot, but maybe, in lieu of prescription drugs like Vicodin, it helps alleviate pain.

But, man, if it’s against the rules – and if you know you’re getting drug tested – you’ve got to hold off. Interesting to see what rookies Vincent Valentine and Woodrow Hamilton can do.

Random Observations

Sheard Madness: Yeah, I don’t really know either. For Jabaal Sheard to go from a potential sack leader to sitting at home as a healthy scratch, something had to have happened. ESPN.com’s Mike Reiss spells out the probable reason in this column: poor play meant Sheard had to sit. For his sake, let’s hope he can improve in the coming weeks. This team’s defense would work better with a potentially potent pass-rusher than without one.

Fitz And Starts: As has been mentioned before in this column, the next few weeks will tell us a lot about the Patriots’ defense. Jets QB Ryan Fitzpatrick has had success against New England in the past. However, his 2016 season has been the equivalent of walking barefoot on a pebble driveway, as Fitzpatrick has passed for eight touchdowns against 13 interceptions, with a 56.4 completion rate, his lowest since 2009 (55.9 with the Bills). If the Jets can get a passing game moving against the Patriots, then we have reached a definitive worry point beyond, “Oh, the opposing passer has been showing improvement,” that applied to Seattle and, to a lesser extent, San Francisco.

That’s Not Your Only Option: In the springs of 2009 and 2010, I interviewed about 50 college players prepping for the NFL draft. One of my favorites was with a player who had no plans to try out for the NFL, a linebacker named Ross Pospisil (you can read the interview here). Even before then, in part due to my former Marine father, I had been a fan of Navy football. A prolific option attack is a fun thing to watch: Navy’s O has averaged 327 yards rushing per game, and they just came off of a 66-31 manhandling of East Carolina where they ran for 480 yards and nine TDs. Yeesh.

Every year, I compile a “That Guy” pre-draft series where I look at the types of players the Patriots tend to draft. This year’s frontrunners for “The Navy Guy” are fullback Shawn White (all 6-1, 255 pounds of him) and quarterback Will Worth. Navy plays SMU at 3:30 Saturday on ESPNU.

Walking Dead Spots: I think the writers of “The Walking Dead” forget what the show is about, and they start to weave intricate story lines about myriad characters talking to each other for most of an hour. When producers get interviewed, they say things like, “This show has zombies in it, but it’s not really about zombies.”

I disagree. It’s about zombies. If you think I watch that show to hear characters spew angst and reel off half an hour of exposition, you’ve lost sight of the fact that walker-killin’ is the best part. I really don’t need a soap opera set in post-apocalyptic Georgia. It’s dramatic enough with the dead rising and trying to eat the living. So, more head shots and knives to the temple, please.

(Insert joke relating flesh-eating zombies to Black Friday shoppers here.)

Feet Of Greatness: I’ll spend much of Thanksgiving watching Brady in his Foot Locker Week of Greatness commercial. If he doesn’t get considered for the Emmy, all of television is a sham.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving. And don’t forget the cinnamon.

Chris Warner really wants a drumstick this year. You can email him at chris.warner@patriotsdaily.com or tweet him @cwarn89.

So, That Jamie Collins Trade…

I won’t pretend to understand why the Patriots made the decision to trade Jamie Collins.

Yesterday’s trade, which shocked and baffled fans and media is now in its second day of debate.

The rants are predictable. The anger and confusion palpable, on Twitter; profane.

Jamie Collins is a marvel to watch. He did things no one in a Patriots uniform has ever done before. His athleticism is as jaw-dropping as the news that the Patriots essentially dumped him to the 0-8 Cleveland Browns for nothing more than what they would be expected to get in compensation if they kept him and let him walk as a free agent after the season.

Since the move makes no sense on the surface – not to fans, not to media who cover the league, nor probably to other league executives – it goes without saying that there is something more here.

What?

I don’t know. You don’t know. Mike Felger doesn’t know. Lou Merloni doesn’t know. Marc Bertrand sure as HELL doesn’t know.

Unlike them, I’m not going to speculate. What’s the point?

Instead, I’ll give you my reaction. I was at lunch when I got an alert on my phone. I saw the news. I was shocked.

My second reaction? I shook my head and smiled.

I smiled? Yeah. I smiled at the sheer audacity and for lack of a better term, balls, that Bill Belichick and the Patriots have. They truly do not care what anyone thinks about their moves.

You would think that after 16 years on the job, the man would begin to lack the ability to surprise. Apparently that’s not the case.

The standard answer – We did what we thought was best for the football team – is infuriating, yet completely accurate. I have no doubts that they have their reasons for thinking that shuffling off Jamie Collins was for the overall good of the team. Are those reasons valid?

We don’t know. Yet. But if there is anyone in professional sports who should be given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to this sort of thing, it is Bill Belichick.

He does this time after time, the reaction is always the same, and yet…the team chugs along.

Whether it is Drew Bledsoe, Lawyer Milloy, Deion Branch, Richard Seymour, Wes Welker, Logan Mankins, Chandler Jones or Jamie Collins, the reaction from fans and talking head media is always hyperbolic, always irrational, always angry.

Then time passes, and while the moves still may not make sense, there has been little to no impact from the subtraction, people shrug and move on to the next drama.

One might think that after witnessing this occurrence time after time after time, one would begin to establish some sort of trust that the individual making these moves (or at least signing off on them) actually knows what they’re doing.

But instead, whenever this type of thing happens, the same, tired cliches and angry rants are spouted. HUBRIS! ARROGANCE! EGO! POND SCUM! THE GAME IS PASSING HIM BY!

Who knows, maybe THIS IS the move that finally sends the New England Patriots into the death spiral back to mediocrity. If it is, there will be no shortage of “experts” lining up to tell you they knew it all along.

Me? Shocking as this will be for some of you to read, I’ll trust that they know what they’re doing.

Patriots Reading List

While we wait for the Red Sox to start their first-round series with the Cleveland Indians tomorrow night, a few notes from a Patriots long-form rich Tuesday.

No More Questions – We’ll start with this impressive oral history of Bill Belichick from David Fleming at ESPN. This article will appear in next week’s edition of ESPN the Magazine.

Unlike a previous ESPN piece, the anonymous quotes are kept to a minimum. Only two individuals decided to go unnamed in the piece, and unsurprisingly, both had a negative opinion.

Former NFL Head Coach: “Bill likes creating the image of an outlaw, the tough guy. I think he really relishes it. But who is he really? He was kind of a geeky kid. Not that athletic. A failed football player.”

What a coward. “A failed football player.” How so? I’m pretty sure Belichick wasn’t under any illusions at Wesleyan that he was going to be playing in the NFL. The comment also seems to indicate that it was someone who had played in the NFL as well.

Don Shula? Dan Reeves? Tony Dungy?

So who is this? The line about being him being “kind of a geeky kid” makes me think it is an older coach, someone who might’ve seen Belichick at that age.

The second bit:

Former NFL Coach: “He will step across the line at any point he thinks he can get away with it. That [stuff] happens. It absolutely fits with the culture and the mindset there. It’s all about winning, and when you’re working 23 hours a day looking for every advantage and you have your whole life invested in the outcome of a football game, honestly, how long before you start to think, ‘Well, if I go just a little bit further with pushing the envelope, what’s the difference?’ The harder you work and the more you’re invested in it, the more you start to think like Bill and the easier it becomes to justify it.”

Is this the same guy as above? Or someone else? This seems an interesting connection:

Other than these couple blips, the piece is overwhelmingly positive. It just shows how much easier it is to trash someone when you’re being anonymous. (Hello, Don Van Natta!)

Letters from a young Bill Belichick reveal another side to coach – Another piece on the Patriots head coach focuses on a fan who wrote to him while Belichick was coaching the Cleveland Browns. In contrast to the portrait painted in the local papers at the time, the writer finds Belichick to be engaging, kind and helpful.

WHY YOU REALLY HATE TOM BRADY – Jeff Pearlman at Bleacher Report with a half-satire look at why people actually dislike the Patriots QB.

This part was fascinating:

The leading voice in category B is John Teerlinck, a longtime NFL defensive line coach who retired in 2012 after 11 years with the Colts. In 27 total seasons in the league (four as a player, 23 on the sidelines), Teerlinck says he witnessed every sort of imaginable rules violation. Vaseline-coated jerseys? Check. Taping the practices of opposing teams? Check. Paying off players for vicious hits? Check. Deflating and inflating footballs? Check.

“Everyone—and I mean everyone—is guilty of doctoring and messing with footballs,” he says. “But the media makes a big deal out of something that’s not a big deal. At home games, I’ve seen teams take 50 footballs, put them in the sun, roll them around, scuff them up. I’ve seen kickers take 45-pound plates from the bench room, put the nose of the football through the weight and drop the ball through, just to break the nose off either end of the ball and un-stiff it. I can tell you stories about two-way glass divides where one team spies on the other. I can tell you about microphones in the visiting team’s locker room. I can tell you about guys coming in and taking pictures of what coaches write on the board. There’s no end to it.”

Wait, what?

“When you’re good, people don’t like you,” says Teerlinck. “The cheating thing—that’s just bulls–t. Tom Brady is really good.”

Tom Brady has done his time for Deflategate, but the science says he’s not guilty – MIT Professor (and Eagles fan) John Leonard reacts after Exponent’s defense of its Wells Report work in John Branch’s recent advertorial in The New York Times.

He challenges the Exponent scientists to show their work.

Respectfully, I request Dr. Robert Caligiuri, Corporate Vice President at Exponent, to review his team’s work for the Logo Gauge and to explain what seems to clearly be either an error in logic or an error in computation. In my opinion, the league’s experts should publish a correction: “If referee Walt Anderson used the Logo gauge, the Patriots halftime measurements are fully explained by the environmental factors tested under the most likely game conditions and circumstances.”

Specifically, I believe Exponent should clarify their decision not to retract or qualify their findings based on the readily apparent errors in Figures 26, 27 and 28. These figures show the transient pressure curves for the Logo Gauge measurements of the two teams’ footballs over the course of halftime. It applies a calibration conversion of the Patriots Logo Gauge values to match a more accurate “master gauge” that Exponent used in its experiments. (Exponent’s master gauge costs about $1000; Anderson’s gauges cost about $20; in measurement, cost translates to accuracy.)

Later:

In an ideal world, I would love to get the chance to talk through many of the details of the case with Exponent’s scientists. I am extremely curious if they have additional experimental data not included in the report—for example, did they perform simulations with the Logo Gauge with a 71°F locker room temperature? Are they willing to publish the individual ball-by-ball measured values for their simulations? Did they perform simulations that included the rubbing procedure? I can think of many questions to ask and additional experiments that would be interesting to perform.

Tom Brady’s Revenge Tour Has NFL Up at Night – Mike Freeman has some interesting quotes.

An AFC defensive assistant coach put it rather succinctly, and he’s right.

“Thanks to Roger Goodell,” said the coach, “Tom Brady is going to kill us all.”

 

The Most Red Sox Thing Ever

That was weird.

It seems like only the Red Sox could suffer a crushing loss via a walk-off grand slam, and then go have a champagne celebration in the locker room over winning the division.

I’m not condemning the celebration, they won the A.L. East (Thanks, Buck Showalter!) and deserve to celebrate that accomplishment, but it doesn’t make the whole night any less weird.

This Red Sox team is going to be interesting in the postseason. I honestly have no idea what to expect. There are questions about the ace, closer and manager – three pretty important areas. The lineup seems to score either 10 runs or 1.

Yet, they’ve won the division anyway. ¯_(ツ)_/¯

NESN was supposed to air their second David Ortiz special last night, but because of the coverage of the clinching celebration, the special will air tonight, following the Red Sox/Yankees game. (Around 10pm)

The David Ortiz Era presented by Foxwoods Resort Casino is a one-hour documentary-style feature that tells the story of how Big Papi went from signing with Boston as an unheralded free agent to winning three World Series titles with the Red Sox.

Ortiz is everywhere in the final days of his career, there was his piece on the Players Tribune this week – Thanks for the Memories, New York and Sports Illustrated is devoting a large chunk of its magazine to the Red Sox slugger, as well. Here is the regional cover:

40covv19ortiz

(Arnold Palmer is on the national cover)

The issue contains the longform piece The Big Interview featuring Ortiz.

Elsewhere:

Sports Hub is tops in latest radio ratings – The beat goes on.

Tanguay storms off WEEI morning show over needling – WEEI on the other hand, is resorting to wacky staged stunts in order to try and get attention.

Patriots Three-Sixteenths Through 2016 Review

Come on. I mean, 3-0? Sure, most fans hoped for it, but to see it happen the way it has happened has been a real trip.

Yes, here the Patriots sit after coming back to win in Arizona, outlasting the Dolphins at home, and besting the Texans in every phase of the game last Thursday night. Each an impressive win in its own right, even disregarding the players who missed time on the field.

A list of some of the topics we’re discussing this week.

Flying Coach: The game day roster had dwindled like the cast of a Hitchcock movie. The offense had more questions than a six-year-old watching a Pinter play. Who’s held in higher esteem right now than the Patriots’ coaching staff? They got their team prepared, set them off to strong starts, and beat some teams who are expected to do something in the league this season. Impressive all the way around.

The Third Man: Imagine hearing this a few months ago. Hey, listen up, Patriots fans. Tom Brady won’t play the first four games because of a supercilious, sniveling toady who wanted to clarify his power over players. Then, less than halfway through what will be shaping up as a benchmark performance vs. Miami (18 for 26, 232 yards, three TDs), Jimmy Garoppolo will hurt his throwing shoulder. So, Jacoby Brissett will start vs. the Texans. (That’s the rookie.)

Well, you might ask, who’s Brissett’s backup? Oh, nobody. I mean, Julian Edelman, I guess, but if it comes down to that, the match is more or less lost, anyway.

With 103 yards passing (11 of 19 for 58 percent), Brissett’s first start will not make the Patriots Hall of Fame, but it should stay in fans’ memories for a while. The rookie got sacked just once and ran eight times for 48 yards, including a slick touchdown run where, even if Houston had brought 13 players onto the field, all 13 would have gone for the fake handoff. Keep in mind, no opposing coaching staff knows the Patriots as well as the Texans staff does, yet Bill Belichick, Josh McDaniels and company kept Houston on their heels for much of the night during their 27-0 dominance.

Part of that game plan, of course, called for a focus on running the football.

Develin A Deep Blue Key: Donning his smart “color rush” threads last Thursday, fullback James Develin once again demonstrated his importance in the running game. After three weeks, he has compiled exactly zero yards on zero carries with zero receptions. Yet he’s one of the most important offensive players on the field. LeGarrette Blount is averaging 4.0 yards per carry (75 for 298) with four touchdowns. While much credit goes to O-line coach Dante Scarnecchia with his young charges, Develin has made a huge difference, paving the way for the Pats to run out the clock this year.

Giving Him The Bennett Of The Doubt: I must admit, I did not have high hopes for tight end Martellus Bennett coming into this season. His preseason performance seemed a bit underwhelming (seven catches in four games). Though his blocking made an impression in Week One (largely the impression of Cardinals defenders planted in the Arizona turf), he caught just three passes for 14 yards. This was why I convinced my wife to bench him for her fantasy football team (still sorry, my Love!). Bennett, of course, caught five passes for 114 yards and a TD. He continued his essential role the following week, acting as a safety valve for Brissett (two catches for 10) and pushing bodies around like a Tokyo train conductor. Also, for the first time in his career? Carrying the football. One rush for six yards on an end-around.

So, yeah, I was wrong about Bennett. Imagine what he can do playing with a healthy Rob Gronkowski alongside him.

Take The Long Way Home: The Patriots showed interest in defensive end Chris Long before the 2008 draft. Nice they kept their interest, and nice for a solid veteran like Long to experience winning on a regular basis. In his eight years on the Rams, the team never had more than seven wins (four times) and went 2-14 twice (2008, 2011) and 1-15 once (2009). Long seems rejuvenated, with one sack, two passes defensed, and numerous pressures. Here’s hoping he discovers what it’s like to go over .500 in a season.

Dont’a You Forget About Me: Important to note that New England’s defense held Houston’s offense in check without linebacker Dont’a Hightower. New England’s defensive play-caller and run-stopper managed one tackle before getting hurt against Arizona. In the meantime, battery mate Jamie Collins has turned Kraken, tallying 23 tackles in three games (14 vs. Houston), along with two interceptions. Backup Jonathan Freeny (10 tackles, one forced fumble) has pitched in, but when Hightower returns, the defense has the potential to improve. This really seems like the proverbial icing on the cake. I mean, life’s great, you’re eating cake, and someone comes along and says, “Hey, how about some icing on that?” Hells, yeah. Frost that sonofabitch.

All The White Moves: Some impressive plays from running back James White thus far this season, and that observation comes from a big supporter of running back D. J. Foster. Some idiot may have even figured it would have been a good idea to release White in favor of Foster. That same nincompoop feels relieved this never happened. Besides averaging a nifty 4.4 yards per carry (eight for 35), White has caught eight passes for 52 yards and shown an increase in power and elusiveness from last year. With pass-catching dynamo Dion Lewis’ expected return later this season, White might see his playing time limited. For now, though, he has provided quarterbacks not named Brady with a comfy fallback option.

All Four One And One Four All: As much as I questioned New England keeping only four receivers on their roster (not counting special teams ace Matthew Slater), it has paid off to this point in the season. Edelman (18 receptions, 180 yards) remains a central, go-to guy. Danny Amendola (nine for 119, two TDs) just seems to catch tough passes to convert third downs. Rookie Malcolm Mitchell (four for 75) has shown the potential to become the first dependable receiver the Patriots have drafted since Edelman. Chris Hogan (eight for 122) has popped up in key moments (none better than his opening TD at Arizona) and shown the willingness to block so necessary for NFL pass-catchers.

Vito, You’re Blocking: Speaking of which, check out this clip of Blount’s touchdown run, and keep an eye on Develin, Hogan and Edelman. This play reminds me of when the Naval Academy’s option offense really gets rolling: the entire offense accounts for every defender. For Pete’s sake, Edelman IHOPs his defender as Blount runs by. Houston came to Gillette as favorites, the first team to do so since the Portsmouth Spartans in 1931. (Note: This is decidedly untrue.)

You’re Wondering Now, What To DoNew England’s special teams have made such a huge difference over the past few weeks, from punter Ryan Allen dropping footballs at the Texans’ 10-yard-line, to kicker Stephen Gostkowski hitting all three field goal attempts at Arizona (including a 53-yarder), to myriad contributors forcing fumbles and making tackles (Gostkowski’s high-flying kickoffs have helped). Play-for-play, special teams contributions have the highest impact, and their ability to fluster opponents has been a key part of the Pats’ 3-0 start.

Nothing But Flowers: Defensive lineman Trey Flowers has six tackles and one fumble recovery this year; he gets mentioned here for something beyond numbers. The best Patriots teams over the past 15 years have had strong backups to help weather any injury fronts. Flowers backs up both Long and Jabaal Sheard (two sacks). Free agent athlete Barkevious Mingo and Shea McClellin back up the linebackers, including the aforementioned Freeny. This is a talented team with a deep roster that, if necessary, could make a difference in January.

The Brady Hunch: One aspect of the Patriots’ as-hot-as-could-be-expected start that no one seems to consider is opponents’ motivation factor. Are teams starting out flat vs. New England? As ESPN.com’s Mike Reiss pointed out in his indispensable Sunday notes, the Patriots have outscored their three foes 34-0 in the first quarter. Partly Pats’ preparation, of course, but also a sign that the other guys aren’t as pumped as usual? Though impossible to tell, it might make sense that a defensive player isn’t quite as focused facing Garoppolo or Brissett as he would be vs. one of the greatest quarterbacks ever.

Not saying that going without Tom Brady for a month has been good for the team, the league, or anyone else. Just looking at it from another angle.

What angles are you looking at this season? Let us know in the comments section below.

Chris Warner tweets a little more than he should @cwarn89

Streaking Sox, Underdog Pats

The Red Sox continue to cruise along, winning their seventh in a row last night, behind a resurgent Clay Buchholz. The magic number to win the division sits at six games with ten to play.

It is always satisfying to see cocksure loudmouths have to eat their words when it comes to the local teams, and this is especially fun with all the demands for the head of John Farrell earlier in the season, the proclamations that Rick Porcello is terrible or that Hanley Ramirez is a lazy bum who will be a disaster at first base.

They may not win the World Series this fall, but this Red Sox club has made the summer interesting.


The Patriots enter tonight’s game with the Houston Texans as a rare home underdog.

With rookie Jacoby Brissett the likely starter at QB we could see some interesting stuff from Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels tonight. The Washington Post tells us that Brissett is perfect for the Patriots.

(Hey, have you heard that Brissett was mentored by Bill Parcells????)


The New York Times, which has mostly been on the right side of deflategate, allowed one of its writers to publish an infomercial for Exponent, the company behind the pseudoscience of the Wells Report.

The writer of the article has a history of anti-Patriots Tweets and articles, so that he choose to present things in this light is not much of a surprise.

patriots-from-johnbranchnyt

The article essentially consists of Exponent giving a tour of its facilities and saying “we’re smart! we stand by our work!

None of the objections brought by critics were asked of the scientists. Nothing about the doctored photos of the gauges, etc. They emphasize that they did not allow their Boston office to participate in the study to avoid “fan bias” in their work (They don’t trust their own people?) but allowed a New York Giants fan to lead the work.


Elsewhere from the last week or two (I’ve been out of town):

Jim Donaldson: It’s a wrap after this final column – The longtime ProJo columnist accepts a buyout from the paper.

NFL Week 2 Finals: Season Off to Slow Start – NFL ratings aren’t great thus far. Thanks Roger!

The WEEI morning show “tryouts” are a sham. Despite being likely the least popular candidate, barring a huge surprise Gary Tanguay will get the gig alongside Minihane and Callahan. I hope I’m wrong. I’ve already put @OldTakesExposed on notice.

HUBRIS ALERT.

HUBRIS!

The funny thing is, Tom E Curran called this #hotsportztake exactly yesterday morning:

But you won’t see the hashtag #UnconventionalBill if Edelman starts taking snaps. It will be #ARROGANCE and it will be trending like a motherscratcher.

To the people who revile Belichick for what they see as a mumbling, smarter-than-thou pomposity, using Edelman at quarterback won’t be fun – WHEEEE!!!! – like it would be if some coach who’s cuddly with the media did it. It will instead be seen as an attempt by Belichick to show how smart he is. Another “Look at the big brain on me….!” moment in which he’s toying with an opponent like a cat with a mole.

Any bets on whether ol’ Yianni read Curran’s post and thought Yes! I’ve got my hottake for the day!