Patriots Thursday Observations, Dolphins Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Team/Player Observations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Random Observations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, for the love of Christ.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This message brought to you by my pizza snobbery.

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

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

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

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

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

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Patriots Thursday Observations, Jets Review

 

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

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

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

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

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

Team/Player Observations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Random Observations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On to some TV stuff…

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

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

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

“‘Go fart her?’ What the hell, Gary?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Patriots Thursday Observations, Broncos Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

Team/Player Observations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Random Observations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On to lighter subjects, like the commercials.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Patriots Thursday Observations, Jets Review

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

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

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

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

Player/Team Observations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Random Observations

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

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

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

Make sense? Good.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Asking for a friend.

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

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

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

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

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

Patriots Thursday Observations, Seahawks Review

After their thrilling-yet-ultimately-disappointing 31-24 loss to Seattle, it’s apparent that over the past 15 years the Patriots tend to lose in three different ways.

1.) The Blowout – just one of those games where the opponent plays well and New England seems to do everything wrong and have everything go against them. At some point in the fourth quarter, fans realize they’ve continued watching because they want to see the backup QB and/or maybe they enjoy the feeling of suffering. See: Chiefs 41, Patriots 14, 2014.

2.) The Nap – Possibly due to underestimating an opponent, maybe because of overabundant contentment with an early lead, or a combination of both, these head-shakers come around every couple of seasons or so. The prime example was 2004’s loss at Miami, but the 2015 upset by the Eagles counts, too.

3.) The Better Team That Day Won – Think Green Bay in 2014. Yeah, the Patriots lost, but fans came out of that game with respect for the Packers and confidence in New England. Half “If Only,” half “Meh, What Are You Gonna Do?”

So, where does the loss to the Seahawks lie? It’s tough to tell. We do know that the NFL has no great, unstoppable team this year. The Patriots are one of the best, yet they have obvious holes that need work and, at this point in the season, probably won’t get 100 percent fixed.

Was this a mediocre New England defense in disarray, or a Seattle offense waking up for the second half of the season? We’ll have a better idea after Sunday’s game in San Francisco. If the Patriots have trouble containing the 1-8 Niners’ 29th-ranked offense, with its 36-percent third-down conversion rate and 20.8 points per game, then the defense has more issues than your grandmother’s attic full of Reader’s Digest.

This could be one of those “Win That Feels Like A Loss” weeks. Ooh. Fun.

Game/Player Observations

Straight Outta Complementary: Metaphors abound regarding the relationship between offense, defense, and special teams. I’ve heard the trio compared to legs on a stool, where the failure of one brings the whole thing down. Now, while the Patriots defense was only slightly more effective than taking Airborne during the bubonic plague, it’s hard to say that offense or special teams had a great day.

That’s complementary football. One team makes a play that sets up the next team. Defense stops them deep, punt return gets a few yards to set up the offense, offense delivers with points. Last week, the Patriots actually converted 60 percent of their third-down opportunities, while the Seahawks cashed in on 50 percent. Looking at the game stats, the Patriots’ two turnovers set the teams apart. The defense too often failed to hold up its end of the bargain, but they weren’t the only reason for losing.

Not to be too much of a grammar weirdo, but “complementary” means to combine and enhance each other, “complimentary” is the other thing. (I try to remember that the word “complete” starts out with the same five letters.) I always think of complimentary running backs as a couple of teammates saying things like, “Nice block!” “Thanks, man. Way to cut and go!”

I reiterate: grammar weirdo.

Two Halves Make A Hole: The Patriots allowing the Seahawks to drive the length of the field in less than a minute at the end of the first half lost them the game, not just because of the seven points, but due also to its impact on Tom Brady’s reluctance to score with about 40 seconds left in the game. This is actually detailed well in this piece by Mike Reiss of ESPN.com.

The Patriots have used this goal-and-minutes-to-go strategy before. Against Cincinnati, LeGarrette Blount appeared to score a touchdown with two minutes left, but the replay ruled him down at the one. On the next play, Brady took the snap and flopped toward the line of scrimmage, gaining nothing and taking 35 seconds of the clock. Blount then went up and over the pile for the score. Now, the Patriots held a 28-17 lead at the time, so Brady could have done the meringue behind his line and lost a couple of yards to no ill effect.

The first time I remember seeing this type of play was in 2008 when the Matt Cassel-helmed Pats hosted the Bills. New England led 13-3 with 11:05 left on the clock. They chewed up over nine minutes on their final scoring drive. With a first down at the Bills’ one with 3:18 left, Cassel took two snaps in a row and made zero yards. It was easy to see that he had no intention of making it into the end zone, as his first move was to crouch behind the center. On third down, BenJarvus Green-Ellis plowed in for the necessary yard, 20-3, Patriots.

We’ve seen this strategy work before; I’m just not sure I’ve seen it when New England trailed. But, even with less than a minute left, the Patriots thought it more important to force Seattle to call a timeout than to tie the game as soon as possible. Here we get into the loser’s side of “ifs”: if Blount reached the ball over the plain, if Brady went the right way on the ensuing sneak, if they tried Blount one more time on fourth down. We’ll see how much this loss makes a difference in January.

Call-Ins For Collins: “Did trading linebacker Jamie Collins hurt the defense?” is one of the myriad reasons I have ignored talk radio this week. As Coach Bill Belichick might say, Look, I’m just trying to do what’s best for the team. Short term, it’s easy to see that the lack of an oak-sized uberathlete didn’t help, but I don’t think Belichick was looking short term. Again, we’ll have a better idea of what’s up after their meeting in San Francisco, because they looked off. Seattle marched down the field meeting all the resistance of tulips to a tank, and Doug Baldwin was so open for his second TD that he could have stopped at the one-yard line and celebrated before stepping into the end zone.

The next three games are away at San Franciso (1-8), away at the Jets (3-7), and home vs. the Rams (4-5). That makes three teams with a combined eight wins. The time for fixing is now.

Spitting Out Pieces Of His Broken Luck: I have never had a punctured lung. I can’t imagine it’s pleasant. The fact that tight end Rob Gronkowski took a nasty hit and, after a five-play respite, returned to the game says so much about his character. Gronk thought he just had the wind knocked out of him. That’s like thinking you got a splinter in your toe and, when you look for it, finding a 10-penny nail.

Cutting the game observations a little short today due to a cold. When I blow my nose, it sounds like I’m starting up a Harley-Davidson. Accidentally took some NyQuil during the day but so far no negative effectsaadcvx#%zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Random Observations

If Tom E. Curran Were Born In County Mayo, We’d Have A Hell Of A Subhead Here: Kudos to Curran and Jerod Mayo for their analysis of New England’s zone breakdowns (you can see their video here). In it, Mayo shows how the Patriots failed to drop back far enough to cover the middle flat, making them especially vulnerable to mid-range down-and-outs. Mayo also has some notable comments on the impact of the Collins trade (hint: it’s not what you might think).

So, salvageable. The next few weeks should see New England bulking up the win column; fans have the luxury of deciding on the quality of those expected wins. Not a bad spot to be in.

Cris Crossed The Line: On a personal note, I was not a big fan of how Cris Collinsworth played up the hit on Gronk. I know, I know: I’m biased, and maybe due to my age I don’t relish the big hits in football like I used to (in part because it hurts enough to get out of bed these days without having gotten tackled the day before). Still, when Collinsworth starts that hawnh-hawnh-hawnh guffaw during the replay and fails to note the sobriety of the moment as Gronk is getting looked at by the training staff, it can be difficult to listen to.

You can note the severity of the hit, praise the defense, and still show proper concern for player safety. We can have nice things.

Hello, My Name Is Inigo Montoya. You Killed My Father. Prepare To Be Reprimanded: If you search for “Seahawks–Patriots–Revenge,” you get several headlines from national outlets promoting the storyline of how Seattle got back at New England on Sunday.

Ah, yes. Revenge. Because the Patriots may have beaten the Seahawks in one of the most tense and memorable Super Bowls in history, but Seattle came to Foxboro two years later and upset the home team in Week 10. Even Steven!

They certainly seemed both pumped and jacked.

Officially Bad: We can all agree that Kam Chancellor committed pass interference on Gronk, right? The tight end tried to get to the ball but the safety prevented him from doing so, impeding him from behind. I’m not saying Seattle stole the game or that, even if New England had scored there, they would have won in overtime. Hell, if the Seahawks won the toss, Russell Wilson could have gotten them down the field in the time it took for fans to fill up the chip bowl. Questionable calls went both ways, from Seattle’s fumble that wasn’t called to Richard Sherman’s phantom face mask penalty. And that’s the issue.

Post-game discussion should not come down to a tradeoff of bad calls like we’re swapping properties in Monopoly: “If I give you the Marvin Gardens fumble, you have to hand over the Park Place pass interference in the end zone.” There exists a parallel universe where this game was officiated well; and frankly, I don’t know how that game ended. Did the Patriots win on a field goal? Did the Seahawks end up with a 14-point lead? There’s no telling.

Referees are human. In some instances, maybe the video guys should buzz in for a second look without a coach’s challenge, especially where fumbles and face mask penalties are called. With help from instant replay, some of these calls are obvious and could be changed quickly.

Or, hey, we could do away with instant replay all together and make it more of a free-for-all. Look everybody! I got Free Parking!

The Most Memorable Play Of A Forgettable Season: Very happy to report that Cassel’s third-down punt at Buffalo in the Patriots’ last game of 2008 is now on YouTube. If you’ll remember, this was the wind game, where Zephyr swirled with such force that the goal posts ended up slanting in different directions. With 6:36 left in the fourth, leading 13-0, they ran Lamont Jordan for one yard twice, then had Cassel boot it out of the shotgun. The wind was such that, once the ball hit the ground at the 25 and bounced to the 11, it featured a breeze-aided roll all the way to the one. Cassel was credited with a 57-yarder.

You know, 2008 was not the most fun year, but it had its moments.

Different Bites For Different Likes: Food fads come and go, so it’s time to get rid of the culinary horror known as caramel and sea salt. I love caramel. It’s a delicious treat. I still don’t understand how people want to add an overabundance of salt to something so delicious. Yet, every time I go to the supermarket, I see a picture on a box of dark chocolate treats, and I read the word “caramel,” and then “sea salt” reaches up its little calcified hands and punches me in the nethers.

Believe me, I understand food fads. No one liked sun-dried tomatoes in 1987 more than I. But we’ve had enough of this sweet-n-savory experiment, right? I don’t want paprika in my butterscotch. I’m sure I wouldn’t like garlic powder on my ice cream. By the way, why sea salt? Regular salt not pretentious enough?

This seems like what would have happened if the Reese’s peanut butter cup people started out in the wrong direction. “Hey, you got sea salt in my caramel!”

And you got caramel in my sea salt. I guess they’re just two great tastes that taste great together

“No. No way. You just totally effed up my caramel.”

Walking I’m Not Dead Yet: For all my ranting about the first episode of the season, I of course went back and watched the next two eps of “The Walking Dead.” I think I see the problem. As a reader of the comics, I wasn’t a fan of Negan, but I did see his value as an outsized, over-the-top character. As much as I like Jeffrey Dean Morgan as an actor, I don’t think he’s right for the part. He’s charming, and handsome, and not nearly as loathsome-seeming as the Negan character needs to be. At times it seems like Morgan’s doing an impression of Al Pacino, bigger than every scene. Doesn’t work for me.

I referred to the books as “comics” because I’ve decided to restrict my use of the term “graphic novels,” for a couple of reasons. One, I don’t see the term “comic” as derogatory, and two, we’re talking about a zombie narrative. If I wanted to recommend a novel about zombies, it would be Colson Whitehead’s evocative, harrowing Zone One. To me, calling a comic book a graphic novel is like referring to a movie as a sight sculpture: it’s simply a different art form.

On to San Francisco. Losing is never fun. How lucky for Patriots fans that, for the past 15 years, they have done it so rarely.

Chris Warner was recently diagnosed with sleep apnea where, apparently, he stopped breathing on an average of 35 times per hour. Sleep well, everyone! And tweet him: @cwarn89 

Patriots Thursday Observations, Bills Review

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

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

Perfect. Easy.

Oh, a trade? Involving whom, you say?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Player/Game Observations

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

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

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

What the hell was the name of that movie again?

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

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

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

So … that’s pretty good.

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

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

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

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

Random Observations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Patriots Thursday Observations, Steelers Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sound of wind whistling through trees…

Player/Game Observations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Random Observations

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

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

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

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

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

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

God damnit.

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

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

I guess we shall see.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To hell with it. I’m done.

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