It's the most wonderful time of the year.
We're in the home stretch of 2016 (thank Tebow), most of us get a full week off after Christmas, and the Patriots are once again AFC East Champs and get a week off in the playoffs. Not only that, but the Patriots were able to beat the Broncos, in Denver, and place a huge lump of coal in Denver's playoff stocking. Merry merry.
I'm going to have to apologize for the brevity of these Fan Notes; I was dealing with some shenanigans yesterday and wasn't able to pay as close attention to this game as I would have liked, and when I watched the replay I ended up losing a fair portion of what I had already written due to some computer issues, so I'm going to chalk this up to Roger Goodell somehow.
- I should probably kick these off with a confession: I was absolutely convinced that the Patriots were going to drop this game, and absolutely nothing around the league over the weekend did anything to lessen that feelings. I don't know if there was a single game that went New England's way leading up to kickoff, and not only that, every game that mattered ended on some tomfoolery. Whether it was a backup QB throwing four TD passes or a decision to let the wind dictate that you go for two rather than attempt to send it to OT or a last second FG that the kicker, after the game, admitted was well beyond his max, it seemed like this was just one of those weeks that the football gods had penciled in to screw the Pats over.
- What certainly didn't help matters was that whatever it is about Denver that represents Tommy B's kryptonite was shining bright and green and powerful early on. He was skittish, inaccurate, and his touch was off. He was releasing early when he didn't need to and never really got settled. I'd love to know what it is about that stadium.
- I'm sure that 30 other NFL franchises would as well.
- That said, I definitely don't want to make it seem like the only thing that did it was the stadium. There were 11 guys in dark blue and orange playing in that stadium that had quite a bit to do with it.
- Whoever the rumpswabbing yokels are who dictate the TV schedule decided that most of America would rather watch a few kneeldowns in the Houston/Jacksonville game as opposed to the opening of one of the more important games on the slate yesterday, so the very first thing I saw when the broadcast finally switched over was a punt after the Patriots lost the coin toss and went three and out.Yuck.
- Luckily, we finally got some retribution for Harper's Muff, and for the first time this season, Jones made a great play on a punt return. Granted, it was Jonathan Jones because Cyrus was a healthy scratch and likely won't see the field again this year, but you take what you can get.
- The primary storyline out of yesterday's game is the ineptitude of Denver's offense. Their running game is nonexistent, and Trevor Siemian isn't quite ready to carry that team on his own. I will say that Siemian didn't look terrible and certainly wasn't helped any by the drops that took place, but I also think it's fair to say that he's not where he needs to be as a player yet.
- And so, if we can all admit the above has at least some veracity...can somebody please explain to me what exactly it is about this kid that had Phil Simms slobbering like a cartoon wolf when a scantily clad wolfette walks by? I don't think I've heard that kind of unwanton mancrushery from Simms since 2011, when Simms fawned and gushed over Tim Tebow's perfect throwing mechanics. That guy must just really, really like Denver quarterbacks.
- Speaking of...I can't help but notice that there seems to be quite the uptick of commercials for male enhancement and erectile dysfunction medication this year. At least I hope that's the case and I'm not just suddenly starting to notice them now as I inch inevitably closer towards finding myself in their target age demographic.
- So here's what I noticed about the early part of New England's offensive gameplan yesterday:
- Throw it to James White.
- That's pretty much it. The Patriots were held without a first down, and without a single completion, for the entire first quarter. I wonder what the Vegas line was on the first Patriot to catch a ball being a defender.
- Luckily, as has not been the case in years past, the Patriots defense was as lights out as you can ask for. Denver offensive woes aside, New England was aggressive, creative, enthusiastic, and motivated. They only rushed three at times and were still able to get pressure. Granted, Denver's offensive line is holier than the events taking place this coming weekend, but that wouldn't matter in previous seasons. They're really rounding into form at just the right time.
- My game ball, however, goes to the offensive line, particularly Marcus Cannon, who was tasked with defending the best edge rusher in the NFL and held him virtually statless for the entire game (5 tackles, 4 solo). Cannon utilized a lot of wide open stances and kept his arms completely disenganged from Miller until the last minute, which prevented the use of spin and rip moves that Miller is so great at. That Cannon has gone from liability and potential cap casualty to franchise tackle is a testament to him, and to Dante Scarnecchia.
- The only guy along the line who didn't have the best day, I'm sad to say, is my boy Joe Thuney. Got stood up and pancaked on a handful of plays.
- How can you not love Julian Edelman? Better yet, how can you not love the sideline mics catching Julian Edelman cussing up a storm?
- It seems like almost every week I learn a new potentially jinxing stat that makes me uneasy. This week's? The Patriots are 135-21 when winning the TO battle since 2000. Why do they do this to me?
- I wish it was socially acceptable to wear a Santa hat year-round. I don't look good in...well, in anything...but I can totally pull off the Santa hat.
- My favorite play of 2016 thus far might have been that Devin McCourty truck stick hit on Demaryius Thomas to end any slim hopes of a Denver comeback. Granted, Thomas should 100% have come down with that pass, but that's exactly the kind of hit you want to see from a safety when trying to close out a game.
- "Matt Patricia is an aeronautical engineer" is quickly replacing "Ryan Fitzpatrick went to Harvard" and I don't like it one bit. Are intelligent guys in the NFL so hard to come by that we have to throw every guy who didn't major in Leisure Studies for three semesters at Arizona a party.
- Then again, when this guy is your commissioner, I guess it's smart to remind folks that competence does exist in the NFL.
- This wasn't the most exciting game to watch overall; the offense was struggling, but efficient, and the defense more than took care of business. And honestly, that's just fine with me.
- The Patriots have now won an NFL-record eight straight division titles. They have a first round playoff bye for an NFL record seven straight seasons. And here I can't enjoy any of it because the Patriots are cheaters and have only won because of Belicheat and I'm just not delusional enough to have my head buried in the sand and can see that nobody else in the world has any respect for this tainted franchise. Dammit.
- You know what would make the playoffs even more exciting? If you got to pick your opponent based on your seeding. 1st overall seed gets to choose who they play all the way to the Super Bowl, then 2nd seed gets the next pick, and down you go. That could be a lot of fun, and seeing as how the two AFC Wild Card teams are likely going to be a lot better than either the three or four seed, it would make that seeding even more valuable.
- When Tommy B takes the field for the divisional round in January, it will be his 32nd playoff start. That's two full regular NFL seasons worth of playoff games for Brady. GOAT.
- T.J. Ward drew a ridiculous penalty, flexed his muscles, and ruined his team's chances for a comeback. Goat.
- Rumor has it that Denver's offense got into a fight with Denver's defense in the locker room after the game. I don't know much about that - current reports on the matter are IN-COM-PLETE - but that there are even rumors floating around isn't the best look.
The good news is that the Patriots host the Jets, who are a complete disaster, next week. The bad news is that we all have to root for the Colts (remember them? That team that we all used to think about?) to beat the Raiders, in Oakland, so Week 17 against the Dolphins in Miami, where Brady is 0-3 in his past three games, will be meaningless.
Then again...a game in Miami to lock up the one seed and simultaneously knock the Dolphins out of the playoffs would be a pretty sweet way to kick off 2017.