So here's something weird.
The Patriots lost yesterday to the Miami Dolphins in a game that not only would have clinched them the AFC East, but also would have put them in the driver's seat for the one seed and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. The loss pretty much crushed any hope of the road to New York (or New Jersey, as it were) going through Foxboro and makes next week - an away game against a desperate Baltimore Ravens team that never lets the Patriots take a breath - fairly crucial.
Not only that, but it was a divisional loss against a Miami team that hadn't beaten the Patriots in the last seven meetings. And with the Bengals losing last night, the Patriots had the chance to finally get almost complete control of the AFC Playoff Picture, but instead, they let it get away.
And in spite of all that, I'm amazingly calm.
I didn't sweat, curse, or pace once yesterday. Not even during that final drive did I get up from my chair and scream at the TV. I simply sat there, watched, cheered, the Dolphins won, and that was that. Once the game was over, I turned off the TV, got up from my recliner, and went about my day. I slept like a baby last night and woke up not thinking at all about what the Patriots let slip through their fingers by dropping this game to the Dolphins. It was simply a game that happened, and that's all there is to it.
What I think it is is that I have now just accepted whatever may come from the rest of the 2013 season, be they wins, losses, or a few more injuries - which of course happened yesterday with Nate Solder and Josh Boyce. I have suddenly become very Zen about this whole process and have decided that the Patriots are just going to put out whoever is healthy, they are going to do what they can, and if they win, they win. If they lose, they lose. They have already done more with less this year than I ever thought possible, and so I'm very excited to simply keep enjoying the ride from here on out. Don't get me wrong - I'm still going to watch every snap of every game and cheer my ass off for this team, but I think that, for the first time, I have figured out how to simply enjoy a football season for what it is and not view September through January as nothing more than formality leading up to the only game that matters.
And all it took were more injuries than I have fingers and a murder trial to make it happen.
Hopefully my sudden and new outlook on life won't effect these notes. I promise, at no point will I encourage any of you to Go Green or go on a rant about how the lettuce I bought at a farmer's market over the weekend makes me such a good person.
- I'm a Northeast guy, born and bred. I have learned to tolerate the cold, accept that I'm going to be pasty and depressed at least four months of the year, and at the end of the day there is nowhere else I'd rather live. That said, being able to wear a Patriots-themed Santa hat and shorts to a game in December is pretty damn appealing.
- Good to see Kyle Arrington lined up on the outside where he's at his strongest. Not only that, but Arrington was matched up on Mike Wallace, leaving Talib inside on Brian Hartline and Logan Ryan on Charles Clay. New England opted once again for a man/zone mix, which was tremendously successful for the first half, and then completely crapped the bed in the second half.
- When a defense that lives and dies off of generating turnovers suddenly stops generating turnovers, what you get is a defense that will eventually get exposed.
- That's a serious boot that Big Vince is rocking there. Dude looks like RoboCop.
- LaGarrette Blount is running like an absolute animal these past few weeks. Miami simply couldn't tackle him.
- Except, of course, when New England decided to run Blount on a shotgun counter play. I like Blount as a runner, but he really isn't built to run the ball out of the gun. When you have a back that needs to take a few steps to get up to speed, having him start off a few yards behind the line and running into a lot of traffic is trouble.
- Tommy B overthrew Edelman on a seam route on his first attempt downfield, as he was about 2 feet too high. It might take him a little while to make the necessary height adjustment that he's going to be working with from here on out.
- Did...did the Patriots score on their opening drive? What's that 0 next to Miami's name?
- That opening drive is exactly what the Patriots are going to need to do from here on out if they want to keep winning games - run the ball well, control the clock, dictate the defense, and procure yards in chunks. Granted, they are going to need to get themselves into the end zone instead of settle for field goals, but we all knew red zone offense was going to suffer. For their first Gronk-less drive of the rest of the season, it could have gone a lot worse.
- Ryan Tannehill's start yesterday marked the longest Doplhin QB starting streak since Dan Marino. Stats like that make you appreciate Tommy B all that much more.
- Are Dolphins fans just naturally quiet, or are they always too busy enjoying the weather to be loud and obnoxious?
- New England was able to confuse and fluster Tannehill with a lot of blitz packages when these two teams first met. This time around, they used a lot of four man rushes and only seemed to dial up blitzes from the secondary. Yet in spite of that, the Patriots got decent pressure all day.
- Ha! Don't think I've ever seen a field goal snap bounce off a holder's face before. And once again, Nate Ebner is right there to fall on it.
- I wonder what it is with Miami and kicking field goals against the Patriots. Whether they get blocked, shanked, or stuck in holders' facemasks, the Dolphins just can't seem to have any luck kicking against the Pats.
- James Develin split out wide on more than one occasion yesterday, and to be honest I think it did more to confuse the Miami D than we know. He wasn't targeted, but it did force a linebacker out wide and opened up the middle for running lanes.
- Every time I see a game break that features yet another Eli Manning turnover and the ensuing "somebody stole my teddy bear" face, I can't help but stew and fume over the fact that the New York Giants have played well for exactly two months in the last eight years, and both of those months cost the Patriots championships.
- Do you really need to break for commercial after every single timeout, CBS? It's like you're trying to challenge the touchdown/commercial break/touchdown review/commercial break/extra point/commercial break/kickoff for touchback/commercial break mega deathblow with a short run/commercial break/short run/commercial break boredom beatdown. At least the former scenario had a score in it.
- HOO-MAN!!! Gronkowski who???
- Who would have thought that the two best catches of the past two weeks would come from a fullback and a reserve tight end, neither of whom were signed for their hands, and who happen to wear numbers 46 and 47. What's even weirder is that, if you rearrange the letters in Hoomanawanui and Develin, you get "Alumina Naive Hoedown." So there's that, too.
- I don't think that Ryan Tannehill lined up under center all game.
- So...is Marcquice Cole good, or his he unbearably awful? Every time I think I have it figure out, he goes and does something that is the complete opposite of what I was originally thinking.
- Steve Gregory deserves his share of the blame for the Mike Wallace touchdown as well. Both Cole and Gregory had the chance to bring Wallace (who isn't exceptionally big or strong) down, but both kind of just bounced off him like
- Hey, at least they went into halftime with the lead for once.
- "Stephen Gostkowski is 31 of 33 and has made 21 straight inside of 50." That kick was doomed to miss before it was even snapped.
- Oh Bob Kraft, you sly devil you. Everyone who saw it knows what I'm talking about.
- Perhaps what worries me most about the Patriots defense is that when the opponent needs to score quickly, they almost always put themselves in position to do so. What that speaks to is how this defense has lost so many players that they are no longer able to be versatile. There are very few players who can play multiple roles; when a guy is in there, he's in there to do one job. So whenever opponents' go no-huddle and switch it up at the line, New England gets caught. It makes them extremely vulnerable against smarter quarterbacks, and there's nothing anyone can really do about it at this point.
- Why doesn't Austin Collie get more snaps? He catches everything that comes his way.
- I also feel like Stevan Ridley earned himself some more reps yesterday, running hard for positive yards and holding onto the football like me with the last piece of chicken fried steak at Old Country Buffet. In a game in which the Dolphins figured out how to render Shane Vereen ineffective and New England was forced to field a trio of slot receivers with similar skillsets, it would seem that the power run game would be the way to go. Ridley and Blount together in the backfield could be an effective formation.
- With Logan Mankins spending the bulk of the day at tackle, we are officially at the point where injuries have once again forced guys to play out of position just to get enough bodies on the field. I wonder if the Patriots Hall of Fame will ever construct a 2-Way Players Wing.
- Along those lines - we may not be seeing Nate Solder for a while. It sounds like he got taken out of the game because of the hit he suffered last week, which marks his fourth concussion in two years. I don't know how well that bodes for the long term.
- So both offensive tackles gone, both interior defensive linemen gone, practice squadders and undrafted free agents in charge of both protecting and getting to the quarterback. Bring on the postseason!
- Get Julian Edelman a contract. Get him one as soon as humanly possible and pay him whatever he wants.
- Hey, weird - a red zone field goal! How weird is it that the offense and defense are almost mirror images of each other? Move the ball well between the 20s, stall in the red zone settle for field goals.
- The girlfriend on the Miami Dolphins cheerleaders: "they sure do look stupid flailing around. And what a bad angle from down low like that, it's like they all have double chins!" Oddly, I did not share her sentiments.
- Phil Simms has really stepped up his announcing game as of late; several times he said something, and I actually agreed with him.
- Danny Ammendola had one of his most complete games of the year, both as a receiver and as a blocker. Running and passing plays in which he wasn't the target, he was right around the ball. He has definitely lost something off his cuts resulting from, you know, his muscle tearing off the bone, but after he has offseason surgery, those three or four plays of 2014 during which he's 100% healthy are going to be a blast to watch.
- Thank goodness Edelman scored from outside the 20; if he had gotten tackled at the five yard line there, that would have ended in a field goal.
- I have a feeling that Julian Edelman went to visit Gronk in the hospital last week and Gronk told him, in between massive spoonfuls of Jell-o and mashed potatoes, to take up the reins of the Gronkspikes from here on out. And I'll say that pound for pound, the little guy is holding his own.
- That Charles Clay 4th down conversion was one of those joycrap plays that makes you realize that the inevitable is on its way.
- Luckily for me, the inevitable didn't take too long to happen after the conversion - a long completion, a Dont'a Hightower blown coverage, and a long, exasperated sigh of acceptance from Alec.
- Although to be fair, that Miami winning TD was pretty much decided on the kickoff. Of all the times to shank one out of bounds, it happens when the Patriots need to make a big defensive stop.
- Jim Nantz on the Dolphins' winning touchdown: "Hightower didn't have a clue that the pass was on the way." I'll do you one better, Nantz: Hightower didn't have a clue that there was a football game going on.
- In Hightower's defense, he actually had a decent game defending the run yesterday. And at this point, it isn't even his fault anymore; he is completely, utterly, and inexplicably incompetent in coverage and why he is still being asked to do anything besides rush the passer is beyond me. I'd honestly rather see Chandler Jones drop back in coverage and I'm not even kidding.
- If I didn't know any better, I'd say that Danny Ammendola was tough as nails.
- Two plays decided this game: the 4th and 5 conversion and the Ammendola incompletion in the end zone. Just beautiful offense and beautiful defense on both plays, and plays worthy of a ton of credit.
- An earlier note praised Hoo-man and said "Gronkowski who?" Well...we sure could have used him on that last drive.
- Glad the refs let a lot of contact go on those last few plays, as no game should ever be decided on a flag. It just chaps my ass that the officials are so inconsistent from game-to-game.
- Perhaps what's most concerning about yesterday's game is that the Patriots didn't play particularly poorly. They ran it well, completed a lot of passes, remained disciplined, generated some pressure, and didn't allow too many sacks. This wasn't like Cleveland or New York where they just didn't play well for most of the game and had to scramble to pull out the win; there aren't any blatant reason why the Pats lost this game. They played pretty well, and the Dolphins just played better. That has to raise some red flags.
- Congrats to Miami, who was - and possibly is - the better team. We may very well see you guys in a few weeks up where it's cold - they way it's supposed to be.