Here's a little peek behind the curtain for all of my millions of adoring fans out there.
When I write these Fan Notes, the first step is to just jot down some random thoughts and observations while I'm watching the game. I'll then go back later, take a look at what I wrote, try to find at least a few sentences that make at least a little bit of sense, expand a bit, and then throw it up on the site and hope for the best. This now marks my fifth season doing these things, so I'd like to think that I've got the routine more or less down by now.
And yet in all that time I've spent spewing my verbal diarrhea out for all interested parties to read, never before had I felt that I probably could have written an article without even watching the game and still been more or less accurate. Yesterday's game between the Patriots and Rams changed all that, though. This game was as close to predetermined as you're going to get in the National Football League, and it was the kind of contest where you could fill in most of the blanks ahead of time with the only mystery being who scored and when. It wasn't close, it was never close, and that's just fine with me. I have a feeling there are plenty of nailbiters on the horizon, so I for one don't mind watching a game without sweating through my recliner for a change.
- All in all, this wasn't the most exciting game in the world. It was nice in that at no point was I nervous or worried that New England was going to let one slip though their fingers, but at the same time I honestly don't know how much I can really take away from this one in terms of legitimate analysis. For every point I found myself trying to make, I immediately thought of a counterpoint. For example:
- Point: the offense yesterday really didn't have much of an identity. Nothing but screens and slants, with the occasional deep out route to keep it honest. A more competent defense would have adjusted and shut that down after about three drives.
- Counter-point: New England didn't need to do much else besides those screens and out routes, so why get unnecessarily creative? Baltimore is coming to town soon, no need to amass more game tape for the scouts.
- Point: I'd like for someone to tell me what I'm missing regarding the hype surrounding Martellus Bennett. He has been more or less invisible since the Browns game, and even with Gronk out and him assuming the TE1 role now, he still only has two catches for four yards on the day. Unless his injury is way, way, way more severe that any of us know about, you figured even a hobbled Bennett would be able to produce more than that.
- Counterpoint: regardless of the severity, an ankle injury is incredibly limiting. You're slower, you can't break out of your cuts, and you can't plant as well in your blocks. Plus, the Patriots haven't really looked his way all that much with the return of Dion Lewis. The Patriots are a gameplan-specific offense, and Bennett hasn't been the focal point just yet. When he's needed to step up, he'll step up.
- Are the Patriots receiving the opening kickoff a lot more than usual this year, or is it just me? I thought that Bill Belichick had figured out a way to cheat on coin tosses as well?
- It's easy to lose the dynamic duo of John Lynch and Kevin Burkhardt when you think about all of the incompetent boobery that comprises the announcing teams around the league, but boy did we get a treat yesterday. I lost track of the number of Patriots players Lynch mispronounced before we even hit the 10 minute mark in the 1st quarter. Between Ron Gronkowski, Joe THoon-ie, Lie-Garrett Blownt, and Jabaal Shurd, I suppose I should just be happy he managed to find his way into the booth and was pointing in the right direction.
- I also lost track of the number of times Kevin Burkhardt was completely off on the ball spots. "That looks like enough for a first down" may soon become the new lingo for "3rd and 4."
- The highlight of my day, bar none, was the Tommy B montage set to the Karate Kid classic "You're the Best Around." Solid gold all across the board and it isn't even close.
- The Karate Kid was one of the defining movies of my youth, for a lot of reasons...but it wasn't until I watched it as an adult did I realize what a complete douche Daniel LaRusso is. I'm not going to go so far as to say he deserved all of the beatings he got, but he certainly didn't make life any easier on himself at any point.
- Brandon Bolden had a great day on Special Teams. Maybe that's what Jeff Fisher was talking about.
- Cyrus Jones's leash on kickoffs and punt returns is inexplicably long. Usually a Patriots player gets one or two fumbles per season before he is benched indefinitely. Jones seems to be allowed one or two fumbles a game and it makes zero sense.
- That metric about the Rams and Patriots since Super Bowl XXXVI is remarkable. Bill Belichick legitimately killed that team. No wonder Marshall Faulk is still so salty.
- I always thought that interceptions that bounce off a receiver's hands and into the hands of a defensive player shouldn't register on the stat sheet as a pick. Jared Goff threw a well-placed pass that Malcolm Butler caught off the deflection and that isn't on Goff at all. They do it for baseball and runs/errors, so why not do it for football?
- On the flip side, receivers that make unbelievable catches for scores should get a special stat like Super Touchdown or something. There are a bunch of TD passes where the receiver made some absolute magic to pull the ball down and in, and that should get recognized, in my opinion. Chris Hogan's back shoulder catch and adjustment on his touchdown grab should absolutely fall into that category. That's the kind of body control and in-air contortionism that I hope my future wife will have.
- I'd like to think that the uptick we've seen in corner blitzes represents a trend, but I know that's wishful thinking. Odds are we've seen the last defensive back making a run at the QB in 2016. After all, it has been working really well, so why bother keeping it up?
- How about that Johnny Hekker, eh?
- Perhaps most impressive about yesterday's game was the absolute nonfactor that was Aaron Donald. The Patriots double-teamed him and ran away from his direction whenever they went to the outside with tremendous success.
- To that end: I was a little curious why the Patriots didn't design more Blount runs to the outside.
- The second I wrote both of those Donald beat a double team and stuffed a Blount off-tackle run for a loss. Dammit.
- That said, that Blount stuff was one of Donald's two tackles on the day...so I'll take it.
- Brady's 3rd down passer rating is insane. In fact...it's almost too good. The NFL needs to look into this.
- I see that a lot of people are freaking out over Matt Patricia's apparent twin right now. I don't want to rain on anybody's parade, but I personally don't know what the big deal is. Unless something drastic has changed since I last lived in New England on a permanent basis, that region is chock-full of fat, bearded white guys in red hoodies.
- The Patriots ran more plays in the first half than the Rams had yards by almost double. How is that even possible?
- Then again, if your coach is the NFL equivalent of a professor who just found out he got tenure and suddenly finds himself with absolutely zero craps to give, I guess anything is possible.
- The real question is, what does Jeff Fisher have on the league? Compromising photos? Potentially damaging emails? There has to be something. But even then, why do the Rams have to constantly suffer? Can't they just bounce him around between all the teams that need a new coach so franchises at least have a shot at relevance? He's like that relative that nobody wants so you all take turns putting him up until he finally kicks it.
- If you want to sum up Fisher's career in one clip, look no further than this one. Guy is searching through his pockets like an underage kid trying to get into a bar and claiming she forgot her ID trying to get one of the rare positive plays for the Rams to count. Maybe you should tuck your flag into your sock like Belichick does.
- I wish they had aired the 2001 Patriots halftime show. The clips I've seen from that tribute are awesome. A few quick highlights:
- Everyone coming out together, choosing to be introduced as a team.
- Bob Kraft sounding completely hammered during his speech.
- Troy Brown with some colorful adjectives
- I don't know exactly what the Patriots said to Jabaal Sheard after he was a healthy scratch a few weeks ago, but whatever it is, it worked. He has been an animal as of late and even had a few passes deflected yesterday, which is nuts. Sheard and Chris Long seem to be coming into their own at just the right time.
- Speaking of coming into his own...Malcolm Butler officially has a Papa John's commercial with Antoni Brown and it's pretty good. Glad to see Butler diversifying his portfolio.
- If you told me that Butler would be the Patriots' hardest hitter on a defense that features Patrick Chung, Dont'a Hightower, Rob Ninkovich, and Barkevious Mingo, I'd have called you crazy. But I'm going to go ahead and say that Butler is the emotional heart of the defense and I don't think it's all that close.
- While I really don't know what I can take away from this game in terms of on-field display, what I can take away was that the Patriots were fired up after big plays, which is exactly what I was hoping to see.
- I've been waiting for a very long time to say this: welcome to the inner circle, rookie wide receiver.
- I don't want to jinx it, but I think that Malcolm Mitchell has officially arrived. His eight catches yesterday was tied with Edelman for most on the team, and he also saw more snaps than Edelman did. He has reliable hands, a diverse route tree, and is already one of the best blocking receivers on the team. His arrow is pointing up for sure. You know what they say about drafting receivers: the 17th time's a charm!
- Not a moment too soon, too, as Danny Amendola is likely out for the remainder of the regular season. With Amendola sidelined, the Patriots are down to three healthy wide receivers on the roster. There's a chance they could call up either Devin Lucien or DeAndrew White from the practice squad, but even if they do it's not like those guys are brimming over with talent. Look for Mitchell to see an increased role as Amendola gets himself back into playing shape.
- With all these receivers down, thank Tebow for the running backs. Blount continues to have a career year, and White and Lewis both offer a unique skillset that the Patriots continue to utilize. Blount turns 30 today and I don't see any signs of him slowing down.
- By comparison, when I turned 30 I'm pretty sure I woke up that morning and then rocked myself back to sleep trying to get enough momentum to get out of bed.
- It wouldn't be Fan Notes without mentioning yet another record set by Tommy B yesterday. With win 201, Tom Brady is now the winningest quarterback of all time. Who knows how many more records he'll set before he hangs it up. Milk the hell out of the last of the Brady Era, everyone. We'll never have anyone like him ever again.
- Both Peyton Manning and Brett Favre reached out to Tom Brady to congratulate him on the milestone. Roger Goodell, however, hasn't said a word. Weird.
Absolutely huge game coming up next Monday night against a Ravens team that just shellacked the Miami Dolphins and is guaranteed to give the Patriots all that they can handle. But with the chance to wrap up on only the division, but a first round playoff bye with a win against Baltimore coupled with a Dolphins loss, you know that the Patriots will be well prepared for another battle in the trenches.
I just hope that Bill Belichick doesn't get too creative. We all know what happens when the Patriots show John Harbaugh something he hasn't seen before.