Receiver? Safety? Kick Coverage? Yeah, why not... (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
That's what I'm talking about, boys! Way to get the win! That's five straight now - just one W away from clinching the AFC East! Do you know how hard it is to win games in the NFL? And you've won 10 of them so far this year. Sure, it wasn't pretty, but you got it done, and that's all that matters, right? Home field advantage is within our grasp, so let's learn from this game and finish out the season strong!
How did that sound? Sincere? Was it convincing?
Look - we all know how easily I could go on a rant right now about the second straight ugly win over a team that had no business being in the game late - it's what I seem to do best. And trust me when I say that a very large part of me wants to do exactly that. I want to talk about how this marks the second Patriots victory in a row where the game ended and I felt like I just caught myself feeling good for rigging a game of Candyland. I want to lay into the defense and implore Bill Belichick to stop toying with my emotions like this. I want to turn into the epitome of a whiny, obnoxious, spoiled Patriots fan who isn't happy with just a win and demands that the defense play better than what we were all forced to sweat out yesterday. But I'm not going to do any of that; a lot of my notes are negative enough as it is and I have a funny feeling we are going to get plenty of negative press about this defense elsewhere this week. What I'm going to be telling myself over and over (and over) this week is that Washington is one of those places that the Patriots have historically struggled as of late and that the Washington Redskins gave the Pats everything they had yesterday. Sure, the D didn't play great, but they got it done, and that's all I really care about. I mean, the Redskins aren't that bad, right?
- Good to see Dane Fletcher back out there, and good to see him making an impact on special teams. This defense could use a crazy white linebacker.
- New England's base offense to start the game was an empty 5 WR set that put Aaron Hernandez in the slot and allowed Rob Gronkowski to motion in for extra protection if need be. The Redskins countered by running a lot of stunt blitzes up the middle to disrupt Brady's timing and force him to release early. In the early battle of Brady vs. Skins pass rush, the edge went to Washington.
- Matthew Slater gets the nod at safety again. Are there really no better safeties out there than a WR-turned special teamer?
- I wonder how many times Andre Carter, when he was a Redskin, lay awake nights wishing he could just lay Rex Grossman out. Thank you, Andre. And you're welcome, Andre.
- Vince Wilfork has more touchdowns than Chad Ochocinco, and almost as many catches.
- Good Lord, Devin McCourty. You're making it very, very hard for me to keep on defending you.
- New England's goal line D is so solid that I have to wonder how this team can be so porous between the 20s and so stout in the red zone. I just don't get it.
- It's very rare that a hit causes a human being to literally fold in half. Jerod Mayo's hit on Rex Grossman to complete the 1st quarter goal line stand folded him like a book. You could almost see the cartoon speech bubble above Rex's helmet with a big OOF! in it.
- ARE YOU KIDDING ME, GRONK????? Diving catch, breaks 16 tackles, skirts the sideline, outruns some DBs, and sets Tommy B up inside the 15. If the person who hurt Gronk's back in college, thus knocking him down the draft board, is reading this - send me an email. I'd like to buy you a drink.
- OK - two drinks.
- Actually - drinks on me all night.
- The same offer goes to whoever gave Aaron Hernandez that joint.
- How long did Gronk have to wait for the ball to come down off the record-setting TD spike? 3 seconds? Four?
- The Patriots didn't run the ball until just over a minute left in the 1st quarter, and it was a 1 yard run by Benjarvus Green-Ellis. New England needs to re-balance out this offense.
- Very impressed with Roy Helu. Great patience and phenomenal cutting ability. Get him behind a decent offensive line and give him a quarterback that scares anybody, he could do some damage.
- And by damage, I mean against a defense actually capable of making a stop.
- Grossman had a few overthrows that Matthew Slater should have been in position to intercept, but he was playing in 2 deep coverage and allowing for a sizable cushion to avoid another big gain. Tough to criticize his positioning considering HE'S A FREAKING RECEIVER.
- God I'm sick of making no-name quarterbacks look like all stars. I'm just so damn sick of it.
- What is it about this secondary that causes such a significant drop-off between first and second year defensive backs? McCourty is just the latest in a long chain of DBs that had a good first season followed by poor play the following year. Is it that they play more off instinct during year one and overthink things trying to conform to the system in year two?
- Hard to get mad at Danny Woodhead for giving up sacks. I mean what is the little guy supposed to do?
- I wasn't even upset about the Annexation of Puerto Rico play that led to a Santana Moss touchdown. I really wasn't. I mean, if we're going to pad some stats, I'd rather it not be Rex Grossman's. Just let some random receiver throw it up there instead.
- That isn't the first Tommy B pass to nowhere intended for Deion Branch we've seen this season. When the no-huddle doesn't work, it really doesn't work.
- Brady followed that throw with a total miss to Danny Woodhead on a screen. Throwing to Gronk and then throwing to Woodhead must be a pretty large adjustment.
- New England actually ran it fairly well - when they ran it. Don't get the imbalance of run and pass when the running game is working.
- TOMMY! Stop forcing throws to Gronk, man!
- One positive to take away from Devin MCourty's play - he's very solid in run tackling.
- More offensive miscommunications during this game than I've seen all season. Nobody really seemed on the same page, and a lot of it was on Brady. Receivers were definitely open.
- The odd thing is, amid all that offensive miscommunication, Tommy B had two or three plays yesterday that could easily hang with any one of his all-time career highlights.
- Having no real talent in the kick return department is deceptively disheartening; you just know the odds are good that New England isn't going to start drives with good field position.
- Not sure about that Unnecessary Roughness call on London Fletcher. I think that Tommy B started his slide late and Fletcher came in with as clean a hit as I've seen. This league is really frustrating.
- The immortal Dan Dierdorf on DeAngelo Hall picking up the penalty flag and throwing it downfield: "He'll get an unsportsmanlike conduct probably for that." Wow, Dan. How do you do it?
- Ohhhhhh Tommy B. Oh Tommy, Tommy, Tommy. Touch passes don't get any sweeter than that play to Gronkowski.
- Is calling the Brady to Gronk connection "Beauty and the Beast" too cliché? I hope not - and if it isn't, I'd like to take full credit for coining it.
- I have an idea for a goal line running play: Jumbo Set using Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon as tight ends with Gronkowski as the fullback. Brady hands off to Woodhead and Gronk just picks him up and shot-puts him over defenders into the end zone. It can't miss!
- I feel like I might have suggested that goal line play before in a prior article. If so, I apologize. But the image of Gronk just grabbing Woodhead by his collar and the seat of his pants and tossing him over the pile into the end zone is just too funny not to share. Bonus points if Woodhead does a double somersault and sticks the landing, arms up in the air and back perfectly arched.
- I think this game solidified one very bittersweet truth: this team can hang with anyone in the NFL offensively and any team in the NFL can hang with the Patriots offensively. The recipe for any kind of postseason success has to be "shootout."
- Isn't Rex Grossman supposed to throw a lot of picks?
- Make-up call for the Tommy B personal foul on the Vince Wilfork penalty. Two garbage calls that kept drives going and led to points for both teams. Even Steven.
- Rex Grossman completed 9 straight at one point. There's just no way to spin that as anything other than Rex Grossman completed 9 straight at one point.
- Redskins' receivers weren't open. They were WIDE open. Usually the nearest Patriot
receiverdefender was at least a good 3 yards away. You can't pin all of that on the lack of pressure.
- You know what's most concerning? Looking at the season as a whole, I don't know if I can honestly say that New England's defense played exceptionally poorly yesterday. It would appear that this unit has two modes: mediocre and god-awful, which they alternate between week-to-week.
- What the hell is this unit going to do against Tim Tebow?
- This version of the Patriots is one of the most difficult teams I've had to follow from an emotional turmoil standpoint. I go from elation to despair every 45 seconds and by the time each game ends I've lived an entire season's worth of Maury Povitch "are you the father" DNA tests.
- At about the 5 minute mark in the 3rd quarter, I started to get the impression that the next team to punt was going to lose the game.
- After Washington tied the game at 27, New England shifted to a vanilla zone and let the linebackers wander across the middle to prevent any over plays. My only guess for the switch was a decision to make Washington score slowly and try to time it so the Patriots were the last team with the ball with the game tied. And dammit it almost came to that.
- Julian Edelman on Santana Moss? Really?
- Dan Snyder looks just like Lewis Skolnick from the 80s classic Revenge of the Nerds.
- OF COURSE they had to flash that stat of Tommy B's 200 straight passes with no INTs right before the Wes Welker drop and the end zone interception. Of course they did. What did the Patriots ever do to you, obscure stats researchers of the world?
- That pick was followed by a very unhappy exchange between Brady and Bill O'Brien that is going to get overblown by every member of every media source in the United States this week. I, for one, thought it was great. You know what that expletive-filled exchange said to me? It said that no one player is bigger than the team - not even Tom Brady. Coaches coach, players play. Tommy B tried to force one in there, he got picked off, and his coach let him have it. Good for you, Bill.
- Seriously - can you imagine any member of the Colts' staff getting after Peyton Manning like that?
- And what happened after the game was over? Tommy B and Bill O'Brien hug it out. That's how you conduct business, and that's how a football team is run. You watching this, Indy? Let's all let that exchange be the absolute non-issue that it is.
- Is the term "opportunistic defense" the equivalent of the term "really nice" used to describe the ugly person you're setting your friend up with? Both are true, but reeeeally not what you want to hear.
- I wonder how much money is won and lost on Patriots games based on the point spread alone.
- Once again, Jerod Mayo comes up with an INT when it mattered. That's two straight games now.
- New England is sitting at 10-3, just one win away from clinching the AFC East, and I feel really, really dirty.
- I have a very bad feeling that by this time next week I'll be able to say that Bill Belichick's defense got absolutely dominated by Dan Orlovsky, Rex Grossman, and Tim Tebow.
- Seriously - what is this defense supposed to do against Tebow next week at Mile High, a stadium where the Patriots have traditionally struggled?
- I'm going to need to pull a Marie Barone and cover my La-Z-Boy in plastic. The back and seat of my recliner looked like I was poolside for a Rex Ryan bellyflop by the time the game was over.
- This game sure didn't feel like the Redskins were held to 2 TDs on 5 red zone trips, did it?
- A quick around-the league-note: To all those haters STILL whining about The Tuck Rule game, go watch the replay of the Aaron Rodgers strip sack that was initially ruled a fumble and then overturned against the Raiders yesterday. The refs got it right in 2001. You may not like the rule, but it wasn't a fumble yesterday and it wasn't a fumble back then. Get over it.
- (NOTE: CBS actually flashed to a replay of the Brady tuck as I was writing this. If that play happened today, it would have been a 15 yard penalty on Charles Woodson for hitting Brady's helmet with his hand. Very sad.)
Let's go back again and look at the big picture. The Patriots have now won 5 straight and sit at the top of the AFC at 10-3. They are just one win away from clinching the division and could very well earn a 1st round bye. While I was none-too-pleased during the game, after taking some time to calm down and air the stink of fear and panic out my mancave, I realized that it's quite possible that I'll be able to go back to this game with a more objective eye and find some positives that I overlooked in the heat of the moment. Maybe I'll be able to talk about how close the Patriots are to getting Pat Chung and Brandon Spikes back and how once this defense gets fully healthy it will actually be pretty solid in areas other than the red zone. Maybe I'll be able to give some more respect to Washington's pass rush and Jim Haslet's defensive schemes, which kept Brady off-kilter all day. Maybe I'll be able to convince myself that Jabar Gaffney and Donte Stallworth shredded this secondary because they are both still a little bitter about being released by New England. Maybe I'll be able to make the case that even when the Patriots have a bad game, they are still pretty damn good. And maybe I'll read somewhere that Rex Grossman used this Patriots game to finally unleash a brilliant scheme that has been 6 years in the making, luring the entire NFL to sleep with horrendous play season after season before exploding onto the scene as one of the league's more dominant quarterbacks. Maybe all that will happen, and I'll be able to erase that nagging question of how the hell this team is supposed to compete with anyone that it is going to face in the playoffs with this defense, even if they do come up big when it matters most.
For now, though, I'm just going to sit here and try to enjoy this one as best I can. Sure, my hands are still shaking, but they're bound to stop any time now. At least I hope so, because I have a funny feeling I have a whole lot of praying to do this week.
Rumor has it that a certain member of the Denver Broncos has a man on the inside.