So here's the thing about games like yesterday's.
I make a point to go to at least one game a year. I have seen the Patriots play live at least once every season since 2000, and I'd very much like to keep that streak going. It has usually been a home game, but sometimes I've been a loud, obnoxious member of the away crowd, and either way it's always a great time.
The problem with going to a live Patriots game, no matter when or where it is, is that it more or less takes up your entire day and by the time you finally get home, you end up crumpling into bed in a massive heap, too tired and overhydrated to do anything else. All that is to say, I'm beyond useless this morning and likely won't have my act together until at least Thursday. They don't tell you that a big part of getting older is that the recovery time from getting good and hydrated is insanely longer than it used to be. There was once a time where I could stay up hydrating until 4 AM, wake up and 9, go to class, and be ready to start hydrating again that very same afternoon. Now...not so much. Father Time is undefeated for a reason.
But you know what? It was worth it. I got to see Tommy B's first game back at home, the crowd was as electric as it has ever been at Gillette, and the Patriots rolled to a convincing 35-17 victory that put them at 5-1 and in sole possession of 1st place in the AFC. Granted, today's Fan Notes from the Game should more accurately be labeled "Hazy Recollections from the Game," but that's OK. I allow myself one of these per year. You're all just going to have to deal with it.
- I think what I liked most about this game, oddly enough, was how little Martellus Bennett was involved in the passing attack. Granted, five catches for 48 yards is nothing to sneeze at, but considering the game he had last week, it was definitely a down performance for Bennett. His touched seemed to go instead to Gronk, who finally reminded folks why they took him in the first round of their fantasy drafts. That's what I love about this offense: you can stop one tight end, but you can't stop them both.
- I know there's a joke in there somewhere about stopping tight ends, or tight ends being enough to stop just about anything, but I feel like we've all already been there before.
- It would appear that the NFL is now actively trying to see how ridiculous they can be in regards to limiting player enjoyment and any possible reminder that football is, in fact, a game. And the last time I checked, games were supposed to be fun. There have to be two guys on Park Avenue playing some version of Stupid Rules Chicken where the loser is the guy who instills the rule that gets people to walk away from the game altogether.
- I also loved the offensive balance in terms of run and pass. New England definitely went a little more pass-heavy (23 rushing attempts vs.35 passing attempts), but 23 carries is a nice round number and is more or less the reason for the second half success.
- And in terms of receivers, pretty much everybody got in on the action; seven different Patriots made a reception yesterday. Gronk was obviously the main target, but when LeGarrette Blount has two catches on the day, you know things are working.
- It wasn't all roses offensively, though; I thought that Cincy got a great push against the O-line and on more than one occasion Tommy B either had to hold the ball longer than he wanted to or scramble out of pressure. In fact, it was kind of an ugly first half of football for the Patriots, and if the Bengals hadn't Bengaled their way into some holding penalties to sustain Patriots drives and throwing a fade route on 3rd and 1 at the goal line when you have every intention of going for it on 4th down, there's a chance that we're all singing a different tune this morning.
- I feel like Julian Edelman's production, or lack thereof, is going to be a topic of discussion this week. Everyone figured that Edelman would come out smoking hot once Tommy B returned, but he hasn't really been much of a factor as of late. Is he still injured? Has he lost a step? Or do the Patriots just have so many weapons now he's no longer asked to to as much? Nobody knows, but that certainly isn't going to stop everybody from giving the definitive answer on the subject.
- The play of the game, in my opinion, was a Dont'a Hightower delay blitz on the Cincinnatti eight yard line after a holding penalty backed the Bengals up and forced a 2nd and 18. Dalton was in a 1 back shotgun set with what in football terminology is referred to as a whole buttload of Patriots defenders on the line. Elandon Roberts was on the weak side edge, showing blitz, with Hightower as the lone LB over the middle. At the snap, Roberts dropped back into coverage, occupying the zone where Hightower was as Hightower crashed the line and sacked Dalton unblocked. Completely fooled the entire offensive line and totally shifted the momentum. The Bengals drove down and scored on their opening possession of the second half and were in position to add to that lead with an offense that, up until that point, had been fairly efficient. Hightower's sack cut the lead to two points, the Patriots got the ball back on the free kick, then scored again right away to take control and they wouldn't give it back.
- OK, I think it's time to talk about Stephen Gostkowski. On the plus side, he made both his FGs today, one of which was a 46 yarder. On the minus side, he missed an extra point, which you really shouldn't do at the NFL level. Going back to last year's AFC Championship game, he has now been an inconsistent kicker at best and I'd love to know who out there is confident in him at this point in the season. If New England is down two with 10 seconds left and the Patriots have the ball at the opposing 30 yard line, do you want Ghost out there kicking for the win? At this point in the season, I do not.
- Another solid day from the secondary. Very few of AJ Green's catches ended up hurting the team, and Dalton was forced to look to Brandon LaFell and Terrence Boyd for most of his yards. You aren't going to shut Green out completely, you just have to hope to limit him, and that's exactly what happened today. Credit to the New England secondary, especially Eric Rowe, who had a nice outing in his Patriots debut.
- I wonder if Cyrus Jones being a healthy scratch yesterday was punishment for last week's ejection or because he...you know...kinda sucks.
- Where do the Patriots find these guys? Sixth round pick Elandon Roberts was an animal out there until he got hurt. As I already mentioned, he was a big factor in the Hightower safety, and he registered seven tackles on the day. Hope he's OK, because look for him to see an expanded role in the defense.
- If I see one more QB in the grasp who scrambles right and completes a pass...
- A very interesting question for the coaching staff is going to be what to do with Dion Lewis when he returns. James White is a legit receiving threat and extremely dangerous when he turns the corner. I do think that Lewis offers more as a running threat and is a better weapon overall, but one thing that the Patriots are known to do is leave a guy who is playing well in until there is a reason to take him out. It's a great problem to have at the end of the day.
- Of course, maybe we'll soon see some sort of weird 3RB package with Blount, Lewis, and White all in the backfield at the same time.
- Odds are you won't hear about it from anyone...but all New England's communication went out during this game. I believe proper protocol dictates that the Patriots accuse the Bengals of cheating and ESPN to run a 30 minute expose on it, so make sure you all set your DVRs for what I'm sure is going to be some stellar analysis on sneaky, underhanded gamesmanship from Shannon Sharpe.
- One element of the game that has Patriots fans up in arms was this play by Vontaze Burfict, going low at Bennett's knees in what looks like a fairly flagrant attempt to take him out. As for me, I'm pretty torn; on one hand...yeah, that looked ugly (and no, Dan Fouts, you blathering, mouthbreathing idiot, he didn't "lose his balance," learn how to correctly call a football game for once in your damn life), but on the other hand, isn't that what they want defenders to do now, because safety and because integrity? But since it's Burfict here, and the guy has a long, ignominious history of scumbaggery, I can't help but feel like he was looking to hurt someone here and they need to kick his ass out of the league.
- Tom Brady since his return: 754 yards, 7 TDs, zero picks. Not too shabby for an overrated system QB.
Pretty big game coming up on Sunday, so not too much time to enjoy this one. The Steelers are one of the best teams in the AFC, and the winner of this week's matchup could very well have an inside track for homefield advantage come playoff time. Big Ben is going to be out, which should tilt the odds into New England's favor...but not enough time has passed for the wounds inflicted by nobody QBs looking like All-Stars for me to be resting easy this morning.