Happy Halloween, everyone!
When I woke up this morning and realized that it was October 31st, a few things went through my mind. First up, I wondered what the hell happened to 2016. Immediately after that, I found myself rejoicing in the fact that this year is almost over. I may or may not have cried a little over the fact that I'm in my mid-30s and have officially aged out of both the pure bliss that is kids' Halloween and the nonstop party that is young adult Halloween and am now at the point where going out and ogling women in sexy costumes is just creepy(er than it has always been, which is still pretty creepy). But as I rolled out of bed and got started with my week, I was able to take solace in the fact that, for the most part, every October 31st brings with it the conclusion of another remarkable month of Patriots football.
This year is no exception. With the 41-25 shellacking of the Buffalo Bills, the Patriots are once again perfect through October, well positioned in the AFC, and heading into their bye at the perfect time -exactly halfway through the season - with the arrow definitively pointing up.
It's tricks and treats as usual in New England.
- I'd ask what in the world the Patriots did to deserve getting Phil Simms and Dan Fouts in back-to-back games...but the NFL hates this team, so I kind of get it. I'd also ask what we as fans did to deserve Simms and Fouts back-to-back...but we're the most obnoxious fan base in the entire league, so I understand that as well.
- Unlike Phil Simms, however, whose sole contribution to any given game is some gushing, fawning fanboyery over some third string linebacker or practice squad call-up, Dan Fouts actually does provide some value. For one, he's always good for a few soundbyte gems each and every week. A few highlights for me:
- "That ball sure is shiny today, because it's wet."
- "That 73 yard kickoff return by Danny Amendola really sparked the Patriots drive there."
- "A fan threw something out onto the field...what is that?"
- We may as well get all this out of the way now before I get into the game itself. This wouldn't be an Alec Shane post if I didn't address the...um... equipment violation...that made it's way onto the field late in the game. Now this is a family-friendly blog, so I'm going to have to limit my commentary somewhat - but I do have a few questions to pose to the group:
- Who do you think threw that? The most likely suspect has an air-tight alibi, as he was on the field at the time after registering his 69th career touchdown. That said, if I was to learn that one of the Gronkowskis was behind it, I wouldn't bat an eye.
- How did he (or she) get it into the stadium? They search all bags and pat you down prior to entry, so it must have had a pretty solid hiding spot, wherever that may have been.
- Did someone come up with this idea, go to the store,and make a purchase with the sole intention of throwing it onto the field? And why then? Why at that exact moment?
- Who is the poor schmuck who has to clean that up? The line judge hilariously just kicked it off to the side, but somebody had to physically pick it up and throw it away. Whoever it was deserves a raise.
- The Patriots have yet to comment...but there are some rumors swirling that that object in question belonged to Tommy B. However, that could have just been an angry Bills fan who had had enough of his team getting screwed metaphorically, so he decided he way as well ramp up the misery factor.
- OK, that's enough. I could have made this entire article about the Billdo, but apparently, I'm an adult, and I should no longer find things like this so funny for some reason. So time for some football.
- I love Rex Ryan. I really do. During a several year span when the Patriots had no real rival in the AFC East, Rex has been able to manufacture big games through his brash attitude and a handful of big wins over Bill Belichick, including a playoff victory at Gillette Stadium. I think we have officially seen the last of him as a coach in the AFC East, so thanks for the memories.
- But anybody wondering why Belichick is so successful and Rex Ryan isn't, look no further than this picture next to this picture. You'll notice that both photos were taken with 30 seconds left in the 4th quarter. You'll also notice that the coach team getting blown out at home is yukking it up on the sidelines while the coach of the team about to head into the bye at 7-1 looks like somebody just took the last piece of chicken. If you didn't know the score of the game and had to guess who was winning based on those pictures alone, you'd think that the Bills had swept the series. That's why the Patriots win and the Bills lose. It all starts with the attitude that comes from the top, and thank Tebow we have been blessed with the greatest coach in NFL history.
- Where this game really fell short, however, was the officiating. There were some calls and non-calls that, even after going back and re-watching, I simply can't figure out. Dont'a Hightower got away with a late hit out of bounds on Tyrod Taylor (although the way that Fouts was spewing about it you'd think he just swept the leg), then somehow Eric Rowe got flagged for DPI when the hold was actually on the receiver. I also thought that they were a little ticky-tack with their holding calls, both offensively and defensively, and more or less forgot that refs are like linemen; if they're doing their job well, everyone forgets about them.
- Tommy B. That sweet, sweet Tommy B. He's just a man possessed right now. His passer rating through four games: 127.7, 140.0, 124.2, 137.0. He has thrown for over 1300 yards with 12 TDs and no picks. He missed of the season thus far and still has a strong number of MVP votes. He's completing almost 75% of his passes and looks better now than he has in a very long time. There are currently a large number of sportswriters who have an article titled "Age, the NFL Has Caught Up to Tom Brady," and each and every week they watch Pats games with their fingers on the mouse, desperate to finally post it, but he keeps thwarting them.
- The Patriots came out very pass-heavy to start the game, as expected. When you're the Bills and get treated to the NFL equivalent of a Yokuzuna splash the week before, you knew they were going to limit that production.The result was a 14 play, 70 yard drive that ended in the first TD to a Patriots receiver in 2016.
- That's pretty nuts when you think about it. I wonder what the Vegas line was on a New England receiver not catching a touchdown pass from Tommy B until Week 8, and the first receiver to do so is Danny Amendola.
- Live look at me when a huge Julian Edelman completion got called back due to a stupid penalty.
- Live look at me on the ensuing play. What a throw that was.
- What I loved most about that Hogan TD connection is that there was absolutely nothing fancy about it. Brady recognized the blitz and the single coverage, the line picked it up, and Tommy B dropped it right in Hogan's lap for an easy six. A simple playground Go Route that worked to perfection.
- Even better is that Aaron Dobson, Chad Ochocinco, and Brandon LaFell would have dropped that pass.
- As the NFL gets more and more unwatchable, I have to give credit where credit is due and admit that yesterday was hands down the most exciting slate of games so far this year. There were some real barnburners, some OT thrillers, and we got to witness the greatest QB of all time avenge the one loss his team suffered while he was serving a suspension for some absolute nonsense. The only negative was that the abundance of commercials made it so that, I was channel surfing, I was subjected to four highlights of a Bilal Powell TD run on four different channels.
- After giving up 14 points on back-to-back drives, the Bills defense stiffened up by dropping seven and eight, relying on their front line to get enough pressure and sending the blitz on third down. The result was consecutive three and outs in which Brady had plenty of time to throw, but couldn't find the open man. Great defensive adjustment.
- That said, the Bills really shot themselves in the foot in this game with drops and penalties. I can think of several plays that either went for big yards or should have gone for big yards that were negated by a boneheaded penalty or a good pass bouncing right off a receiver's hands. When you're extremely limited offensively and missing your best weapons, you can't afford to be undisciplined.
- Another reason I prefer Dan Fouts to Phil Simms: he is so completely wrong on literally every single call he makes that you can almost take the exact opposite of what he said as fact. It helps having that in your pocket when trying to break down a game.
- New England could have more or less put this game away on multiple occasions in the first half and couldn't do it. They let Buffalo hang around keep it close, courtesy of some excellent defensive play from the Bills after a few early scores. However, it's just a matter of time before this New England offense opens up, and it's kind of fitting that the play that more or less put this one out of reach was a seam route that we've now seen hundreds of times before.
- Gronk's 69th TD score of his career was a classic example of why it's very dangerous to try and fool Tommy B as he diagnoses a defense. Buffalo showed a dual LB blitz up the middle as Tommy B lined up in an empty set on 2nd and 6. With both Edelman and Amendola flanking close to the line, the correct read of a double A-gap blitz is a WR hot route in which both receivers run in patterns so Brady can hit them for 6 or 7 yards. However, at the snap, the LBs dropped back into coverage, meaning there were only four pass rushers for five offensive linemen. Brady, not fooled in the slightest by the blitz disguise, dropped back and waited for the pocket to form around him as Gronk ran up the seam, in single coverage. A simple step up and a perfect strike to the greatest TE of all time was all it took for Gronk to haul in number 69.
- 69. Heh.
- I'd like to know if Gronk had any particular celebrations in mind beyond his patented Gronk spike for that TD. I can think of a few, but they would all warrant at least a 15 yard penalty, not to mention a stern talking to by the league and perhaps a visit from Chris Hansen.
- The only concern I have now is that, now that he has 69 TDs and a franchise record, Gronk won't want to catch any more passes. I know that sounds ridiculous...but keep in mind who we're talking about here.
- Stanley Morgan, the previous Patriots record holder, called Gronk after the game to congratulate him, which is a pretty classy move. I spent more time that I'd like to admit scouting the internet for some Stanley Morgan highlights, as a lot of newer fans likely never saw him play (I was still pretty young when he was playing and only remember snippets of his games), but I couldn't find anything, sadly. Morgan is one of the most underrated receivers of all time, in my opinion, and revolutionized the deep threat in NFL offenses. If anyone can find some game tape on him, it's well worth the watch.
- The question now, of course, is how long before the NFL decides to make a TE seam route illegal?
- RB wheel routes continue to plague these coverage linebackers.
- I want to give Tyrod Taylor crdedit for being so elusive, because he 100% deserves that accolade...but this has been a serious theme for the New England defense this season: get your hands on the QB, don't finish the play. With the next game featuring an offense that is more or less built around a quarterback that runs around in the backfield waiting for a receiver to get open, I really hope that's something the team tries to address during the bye week.
- While most people are rightly considering Brady for MVP at this point in the year, I'd like to propose another candidate. This candidate has been an absolute gamechanger, has directly affected the outcome of almost every game this year, and has remained as steady and consistent as it gets. So at this time, I would like to officially nominate the goalpost for Most Valuable Player of 2016.
- I'm not going to go ahead and say that Stephen Gostkowski is officially out of the dog house, but thatt FG to close out the first half was EXACTLY what he needed. A 51 yarder, into a swirling wind, that was no pressure at all because it's a very tough kick to make, and he delivered. Was perfect on the day overall, which will hopefully do wonders for his confidence.
- One thing that will always fascinate me is the frequency with which bobbled punt and kick returns turn into big returns. Sometimes it's because the coverage unit breaks down as everyone starts a mad dash for the ball, and others it's because the extra second or so it takes to secure the ball allows blocks to develop - but I wish that the Patriots could figure out a way for a returner to bobble the ball more often - in a good way. However, with ball security being what it is, maybe that's a horrible idea.
- I was absolutely astounded to see that there wasn't a commercial after the Edelman TD confirmation and the opening kickoff.
- Once the Bills went down three scores and they had to more or less abandon the run, New England swtiched to a 4-2 nickel and only rushed three at times. Taylor had to sit longer in the pocket and didn't look to run as he attempted to gain longer yardage plays. I didn't like it, and apparently neither did the Patriots, because they ultimately decided to start giving more mixed looks, which worked better.
- How much does it suck that a Bills punt from their own end zone turned instead into a massive TD drive? Only Buffalo.
- Another monster rushing day from Tommy B. I should admit that Chris Hogan may possibly have gotten way with a hold on that Brady scramble, but I couldn't see - Brady is just such a blur.
- How about that Hogan though, right? He's currently on pace for about 800 yards and 5 TDs, which is exactly where you want a WR3 to be.
- After the Blount TD to more than put this game away, Bills mafia started to head for the exists. And order has been restored.
- The good thing about a game being over so early is that I get to relax for the last quarter and I'm not such a wreck. The negative is I get to whine and complain about things I didn't like. Things such as:
- Why was a clearly injured Martellus Bennet still playing in the 4th quarter before a bye week when the Patriots are up by three scores?
- And why did Brady take multiple deep shots up three scores? New England did this at Buffalo a few years back as well, and the Bills were able to come charging back. Just run the clock out and head into the bye healthy. Tommy B took some shots on that drive I would have rather he taken.
- If anyone out there wants to design an app that aggregates every time a fan complains on the internet that his/her team gets screwed by the refs and New England has the zebras in their back pocket, you have an investor in me. The refs suck, I agree. But they don't suck any more or any less for one team in particular.
- Of course, it wouldn't be a win against a Rob Ryan defense without the obligatory "Who Farted" Rob Ryan face. This year's doesn't quite have the stank to it that the one against the Saints did, but that's OK. This year's was more of the "there are only two of us in this elevator, and it sure as hell wasn't me, but we work together so I'm just going to let this go" variety.
7-1 at the bye with a week off to relax, get healthy, and watch the rest of the league battle it out as November rolls around. At this point, the Patriots have an absolute chokehold on the AFC East, and barring a total collapse, they are extremely well-positioned to lock up at least a two seed. Their only loss on the year has been avenged, and looking ahead to the upcoming games - Seattle, San Francisco, Jets, Rams, Ravens, Broncos, Jets, Dolphins - it's tough to see anything lower than 12-4 there at the absolute worst.
Have a great bye week, everyone. Apparently people go outside and do stuff during these autumn Sundays; who knew? I may have to try it and see what happens.