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Patriots vs. 49ers: Fan Notes from the Game

Notes, musings, and observations from the New England Patriots' 30-17 victory over the San Francisco 49ers.

Welcome to the best week of the year!

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and it isn’t even close. My love for Turkey Day is already well-documented here at the Pulpit, but that will never stop me from taking this opportunity during the last full week of every November to extol the virtues of setting a day aside to be thankful for what you have, and celebrate that thankfulness with an obscene amount of food, a good nap, and some Thursday football that is actually watchable for a change.

And with a 30-17 victory over the San Francisco 49ers yesterday, the Patriots have started the week of right. It wasn’t perfect to say the least - there was a pretty long stretch in the middle of the game that was downright ugly - but the bottom line is that the Pats generated a road win on the west coast and overcame some key injuries to put themselves right back in the drivers seat for homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. Still a ton of football left, and the playoff picture is as muddled as I can ever remember it being this late in the year, but looking ahead and the schedule, there is plenty to be thankful for here in New England.

  • I know that the logic behind having eight early games and three late games is ratings based, with the idea that you put the semi-marquis games later so folks have incentive to tune in after their local broadcast is over. And putting the games at 4:25 gives early matchups time to end so people can transition seamlessly over to the next one. I get all that. But I still don’t like it.
  • The main reason I don’t like it (other than having to sit through a slate of early games before I get to the only one I really care about): with only three games on and the NFL deciding to run a commercial break every 47.5 seconds, the odds of all three games being at commercial simultaneously is pretty high.
  • One plus that came out of that, though:I always thought that the plural of “Hippopotamus” was “Hippopatami.” I know know it’s “Hippopotamuses.” Thanks, Postal Service commercial!
  • The Patriots have put the ball on the ground 19 times this season. They didn’t fumble once yesterday despite the conditions. The 49ers, however, fumbled five times (and recovered them all). You’ll remember the 49ers recovering a bunch of fumbles the last time these two teams met as well. I’m looking forward to the year-long, multi-million dollar investigation into how that could have possibly happened.
  • Did I...did I see a safety blitz on the first defensive series of the game? Did that happen? And did it actually result in a sack?
  • The Patriots actually generated a whopping five sacks yesterday and dialed up a decent number of blitzes. Operating primarily out of a 5-1 front, they sent in an extra man out of the secondary on a handful of plays with moderate success. You have to give some credit to the absolute mess that is the San Francisco 49er offensive line, but in a year where New England sacks occur with the frequency of a positive Lena Dunham contribution to society, it was still nice to see.
  • That said: I’m still not overly bullish on this defense and I don’t think that anything is going to change over the last six weeks of the season.
  • I’d talk about how happy I was to see Dion Lewis out there, but I had completely forgotten how short he is and had a really hard time seeing him at all.
  • What a gift that shotgun formation with Lewis and White flanking Brady is going to be. What do you do against that if you’re a defender? We didn’t see a whole lot of that package as Lewis continues to shake off the rust and get himself back into game shape, but that package more or less forces a linebacker to cover one of them and motioning one/both out of the backfield will more or less allow Tommy B to diagnose defensive schemes. Can’t wait to see that package with Gronk and Bennett disguised as blockers.
  • If the Patriots can just go ahead and start like every game like they started yesterday - kick off, force a three and out, huge pun return, TD on the opening drive - every time, that’d be great.
  • The real trick, though, is staying hot like that. I would call this game a tale of two halves, but it was really a tale of first/fourth quarter and second/third quarter. That isn’t going to cut it against better teams.
  • There used to be plays on the old Madden video games that worked no matter what your opponent did. One was called “X Delay,” I remember, and another was called “Double X Slant.” I loved it as a kid, and grew sick of it once I got a little older. If the NFL was a Madden Game, “RB Wheel Route” would be one of those plays I would just run over and over against the Patriots.
  • Not the best day for Elandon Roberts, who got smoked in coverage like me trying to help out around the kitchen this Thursday. The problem with filling the void left by Jamie Collins is that neither Roberts nor Mingo can cover out of the backfield and so any receiving back worth his salt is going to have a field day. You can put Hightower into coverage, as he’s servicable, but then you leave the middle of the field vulnerable. Matt Forte is going to have a monster day on Sunday.
  • Live look in at kickers around the NFL yesterday.
  • Maybe it isn’t Ghost. Maybe the taller goalposts is creating some kind of optical iullusion that’s screwing with every single kicker in the league? His missed XP was the 10th of the day. By the time Sunday came to a close, there were an NFL-record 12 missed PATs. That’s insane.
  • I want to hate that Tommy B was better looking, cooler, and more stylish in 1982 than I have ever been or ever will be...but I just can’t.
  • Finishing tackles continues to be an issue. They say you can’t teach tackling, but I was kind of hoping that they could at least teach bringing a guy to the ground once you have him wrapped up.
  • Eyyy, look at Kyle Van Noy registering a sack! Simple dip to the inside Kaepernick up. Kind of makes that last note look a little stupid.
  • You don’t want to be the guy running to the sidelines for a punt when the penalty on you cost your team a TD. Not a good look, Nate Solder.
  • Solder also caused a false start which short-circuited a drive and blew his block on a Brady sack. Solder has been great this year overall, but yesterday might have been his worst game of 2016.
  • Odd how the 49ers fans were at their loudest when the Patriots were facing a 3rd and 21 with virtually no chance of converting.
  • Speaking of 3rd downs, the 49ers didn’t need a single one on their last scoring drive of the 2nd half as they drove 92 yards in just over four minutes for the TD. That’s completely unacceptable.
  • Also unacceptable is the fact that a 50% passer had a perfect 158.3 passer rating in the 1st half. Keep in mind that the Patriots registered five sacks and forced three fumbles in the first half as well.
  • Worst of all about that whole mess is that they allowed a guy named Vance to score on you. I mean can you imagine getting bested by a Vance? No real way to come back from that.
  • That 92 yard San Fran drive might represent the low point of the season for this team defensively. The 49ers are not a good team in any capacity, yet they were still able to march the length of an entire football field without even registering a 3rd down.
  • Then the Patriots went three and out and shanked a punt. Son of a mess.
  • Two minutes left, one time out, starting from your own 30, and the Patriots were perfectly content to just run out the clock. Zero urgency or sense of purpose for an offense that had, for the most part, been running a smooth system. Maybe everyone was just too damp and chilly.
  • Except, of course, for the fact that a lackluster Patriots inside of two minutes is more or less par for the course this season. This seems to be an offense that can score points at will when everyone is on the same page - so why not even try it? Is there that little confidence in the defense where the Patriots don’t want to give the other team another possession in case they don’t convert?
  • As the 1st half came to a close, Fitzy of called the Patriots defense “Wednesday before Thanksgiving traffic bad.” While that’s a funny analogy, it doesn’t quite work; holiday traffic actually involves a lot of stops.
  • Gotta love how Trent Green kept mentioning yesterday how the 49ers were last in the league at pretty much everything just before they went on to buck that very trend.
  • For some reason, after Blount had that TD called back he didn’t really do anything at all until the 4th quarter. Then again, neither did the Patriots, so maybe it’s unfair to just be targeting one guy.
  • The play of the game, in my opinion, was made by the player of the game, Malcolm Mitchell. The Patriots ran a total of 10 plays for 42 yards as the 2nd half got underway and were having trouble getting anything going. On their third possession of the quarter, they were facing a 3rd and 9 at their own 21 and in danger of going three and out yet again. Brady sent Mitchell in motion from strong side to weak side, revealing man coverage, and was able to find him for 21 yards, courtesy of some solid protection and a well-execute in-cut from Mitchell. It provided the team with the spark that had been solely lacking up until that point, kept the drive alive, and ultimately led to a five yard Danny Amendola TD that put New England up by 10.
  • Speaking of that TD...who would have thought that, in a battle between Tom Brady and Colin Kaepernick, Tommy B would be the more mobile quarterback by a country mile. His four rushes for a whopping 12 yards aside, anyone looking for a master class in pocket presence and how a simple few steps up or laterally can make all the difference in the world need look no further than this game. I lost count of the number of times Brady was able to extend the play with his legs, and the Amendola TD was the greatest example of that.
  • Have there been any accusatory articles out there regarding Tommy B’s mobility at age 39? There has to have been, right?
  • You have to take the bad with the good, however; some of Tommy B’s deep looks were questionable at best. One that particularly comes to mind was a soft corner end zone fade to a double covered Danny Amendola. He also seemed hell-bent on hitting Julian Edelman deep. Edelman is not a deep threat. I don’t know why they kept going for that long crossing route. Never in a million years did I think I’d be typing this, but: hurry up and come back, Chris Hogan.
  • New England had the chance to put the game away after forcing a three and out following the Amendola score. The drive went one yard Blount run, incompletion, incompletion.
  • Luckily, the defense then forced another three and out and gave the Patriots a second chance to put the game away, which they did, once again courtesy of Malcolm Mitchell and a mobile Tom Brady.
  • What a throw that was. Once again facing another 3rd and long, lined up in a similar formation, Tommy B felt the pressure coming from behind and stepped up to hit Mitchell with an absolute laser just as he was brought down. Mitchell made the catch, cut on a dime and took off for the 56 yard TD to ice the game.
  • I don’t know about any of you, but I saw Ahmad hot in pursuit of Brady on that play and it looked like it was a strip sack waiting to happen. Tommy B got it off just in time.
  • If they don’t rename that play “Malcolm Go” from here on out, someone is going to have to answer to me.
  • I’m not really a political guy and personally think that there are plenty of other places to talk politics outside of the sports arena. However, I’m also always one to appreciate an epic burn when I hear one, and RedZone’s Scott Hanson had one for the ages when, commenting on Kaepernick’s scramble, he said, “boy he’s got some speed, not weighted down at all by that ‘I Voted’ Sticker.” Well played, sir.
  • Maybe I’m just numb to it at this point, but it seemed to me that there was an amazing lack of commercial breaks in the 4th quarter. It could very well have just been a normal amount of commercial breaks and there were just so many leading up to the 4th quarter that normal is the new fast, but I’ll take it.
  • That Mitchell score seemed to completely take the wind out of San Francisco’s sails. Their ensuing possession gained all of one yard on three plays, and then when New England drove down to kick a field goal, the Niners didn’t even try to launch a comeback. Their scoring drive was slow and methodical, taking the under routes the Patriots willingly ceded and then (shocker!) hitting a wide open RB out of the backfield for a walk-in score. But by then the game was over and nobody really cared.
  • Odd choice, then, for the 49ers to use their timeouts on the ensuing Patriots possession as LeGarrette Blount once again found his legs and eclipsed 100 yards for the game. Blount is well on pace to have his best statistical season of his career. Will be very curious to see what happens to his numbers and reps now that Lewis is back in the fold.

A road win, in the rain, without Gronk and Hogan, after a 3,000 mile trek is always a good thing. We’re Patriots, fans, of course, so winning 30-17 isn’t even remotely good enough and it’s time to complain about the defense some more because we’re the absolute worst and that’s what we do. But if you’re among those who have chosen to try and enjoy football (and oh how I envy you folks), you have to be feeling good about what we saw yesterday. The Dolphins don’t look like they’re going away, so the foot needs to stay on the gas, but the landscape of the AFC East could get very interesting over the next few weeks, so I’m looking forward to this home stretch immensely.