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, Ravens Review

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

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

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

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

Team/Player Observations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Random Observations

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

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

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

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

Or this beauty:

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

McDonough: “For the single season Patriots record.”

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

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

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

No Other Night Is Monday Night.

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

No Other Milk Is Spoiled Milk.

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the Dolphins…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exit full screen! Exit full screen!

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

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

Patriots Thursday Observations, Rams Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Team/Player Observations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Random Observations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Strange how NFL dynamics transition from week to week.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Patriots Thursday Observations, 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, 49ers Review

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

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

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

Player/Team Observations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, yeah. Not the best.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Random Observations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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