I have always hated the idea of Thursday Night Football. It just seems like a cheap money grab from the league to garner ratings at the expense of product quality and player health. And virtually every TNF I can remember off the top of my head has been a boring, sloppy mess as teams scramble to install a gameplan on a short week and players try to shake off the dings of a game they played just three days prior.
Last night's Patriots vs. Texans game was no exception. I mean when you take a team on a short week with an inexperienced quarterback and a lot of unknowns coming into the game, how could you expect anything less than a blowout?
That's the question I have for Bill O'Brien this morning.
In a game that nobody really could figure out, the Patriots dominated in all three phases of the game to roll to a 27-0 victory that legitimately could have been double that if New England had a non-rookie QB under center. At no point was this game even close, and as he has proven time and time again, Bill Belichick is the best coach in the league and it isn't even close.
Let's get to it.
- So that was what it feels like to be excited, not nervous, for a regular season football game? Excited to just sit down and watch your team play, root hard for them, and if they lose, so be it? That was amazing; how do I get back to that level of fandom?
- I know that I can't. I'm too far gone. But it was nice to have it, even for a game.
- I realized that, for a good number of Patriots fans out there, last night was historic in that it was the first time any of you saw a rookie QB start a game for the Patriots. It was my first time watching it since 1993, and I was only 12 back then, so I don't really remember much about that game. It's kind of cool, thinking about all the potential of a career just beginning.
- And speaking of careers just beginning - what's not to love about the 3rd best QB in the AFC East, Jacoby Brissett? In a game where he was asked to maintain composure and manage the game, he did that and then some. He wasn't perfect, with a few passes sailing high and a would-be touchdown pass to Julian Edelman drilled in too hard, but he was more that good enough against a Texans D that is supposed to represent one of the AFC's best.
- I hope that Brissett's TD celebration, giving the game ball to his coach followed by a handshake, doesn't get lost to history. What a great football moment that was. The entire sideline went nuts on that run, and the players on the field couldn't sprint to the end zone fast enough to rally around their leader and congratulate him. If there were any doubts at all about whether or not Brissett had the full support of the entire organization, those doubts have been squashed like Buffalo's playoff hopes every single September.
- Speaking of Brissett's TD run: what a playcall. Following the fumble and a false start, the Patriots overloaded the left side of the field in a single back set, and every player ran right at the snap except for Shaq Mason, who dipped around Marcus Cannon and chipped Benardrick McKinney down and out of the play as Brisset looped to the right on the bootleg. The lone receiver on that side, Malcolm Mitchell, just ran a clear-out route that ensured that the entire Texans D got to experience the 2016 rushing equivalent of this play. Everyone looked as lost and confused as a group of moviegoers leaving the theater after seeing the third Matrix movie, and Brissett wasn't even challenged until he was at the six yard line. One cut and some great blocking by Mitchell, and the game was more or less over.
- Tom Brady couldn't have run that bootleg. He really isn't that good, is he? Thank goodness his talentless frame has the benefit of being a mere system quarterback under Cheat Bellicheat.
- Did I do that right? I'm kind of new to this "do everything I possibly can to not give any Patriots any credit" thing. I won't bother with the stats and the records and the fact that almost every single great QB has had a great coach and vice versa and how petty it is, because that's no fun.
- May as well talk about special teams here, because they're the ones who won this game for the Patriots. You have to give proper criticism to Tyler Ervin and Charles James for their lack of ball security, but at the same time both fumbles were caused by Patriots players specifically looking to disrupt the carry. Brandon Bolden showed why he belongs on his roster with an absolute savage King Kong swat of the ball, and then Rugby God Nate Ebner gave a helmet-to-ball spear that would make made Edge himself wonder if he's been doing it right. The number of players around the ball both times indicates that the Patriots were expecting the ball to be loose there. Situational Football 101.
- As great as the kickoff units were, my game ball goes to future AFC Special Teams Player of the Week Ryan Allen. Absolute coffins every single punt. His six boots on the night ended as follows: a fair catch at the 11, a fair catch at the 10, a fair catch at the 10, downed at the 20, a fair catch at the 14, downed at the 5, fair catch at the 4. 47.6 YPP average. In a game in which you need to control field position, you can't overstate how crucial Allen's punting was to this win.
- Is there any other reason besides the NFL Color Rush initiative besides an additional jersey to hawk to the masses? As far as Color Rush uniforms go, New England looks OK in that dark blue, but almost all of these uniforms are hideous. Stick to the throwbacks and be done with it.
- This was one game where I would have liked to see the Patriots win the toss and receive. My affinity for deferring is well-documented, but I would have probably taken the ball here. Granted, it worked out juuuust fine, courtesy of Jabaal Sheard, but still.
- Sheard only shows up a few times on the stat sheet - three tackles and two sacks - but what a day he had funneling the runner back into the middle of the field and getting great push to collapse the pocket. I can say the exact same thing about Chris Long (two tackles on the day). Long might turn out to be the FA steal of the year.
- So...Houston. First up, if you've never been to a football game in Texas, I highly recommend it. Just a different world down there in terms of the game - and it doesn't even matter what age the players are either. From Pee Wee to NFL, you're going to get nutjob, wild, passionate fans who breathe football, and that's awesome.
- Besides that... if you watch highlights of this game - which you can do here - you will see the following moments that comprise the entirety of the Texans big plays:
- A right sideline out route for a first down.
- That's it.
- The biggest Texans highlight of the night was the Foxboro Faithful, and Gillette Stadium, giving Big Vince Wilfork a tribute video and the warm welcome home that he deserves. There was a shot of him on the sideline, looking dejected, on the receiving end of a Patriots blowout in Foxboro for the first time in his life, and my heart broke a little. We all love you, Vince. Robert Kraft is already busy trying to track down the necessary square mileage of red cloth he'll need to make your HOF jacket.
- I knew that the Patriots were going to be OK in this game pretty much from their opening drive, even though it ended in a punt. Houston absolutely sprinted at the line on that drive. Attacked the LOS with Walter Sobchakian rage with no respect for the middle zones or deep ball. In spite of that, Brissett still had the time to take a deep shot on 3rd down. It didn't connect, and James White was open in the flat...but it's throws like that one that made this game such a blast to watch.
- Houston only sacked Brissett once all night, courtest of stellar offensive line play and a great job along the interior by these two Adonises.
- And if you tell me that isn't the funniest picture you'll see today, I'd love to hang out with you, because you have awesome stuff going on in your life. I'm posting it again here just to make sure everyone sees it. If I didn't know any better, I'd say that David Andrews was home crying into his pillow over a messy breakup, and so his good buddies Nate Solder and Shaq Mason kidnapped him, took him shopping, got him a makeover and a new haircut, and he came out of the salon as Joe Thuney. Big thanks to by buddy Mike Tan for taking and sending that picture.
- I wonder if last night's game's first quarter broke some kind of record for most commercial breaks in a single period of any sporting event at any point in the history of sporting events. Integrity!
- As some of you may know, I have been field testing a theory regarding the correlation between LeGarrette Blount's first run of the game and his overall performance on the day. His first carry last night went for zero yards. He finished with 105 yards and 2 TDs. So there goes that.
- HOWEVER - my theory can still be applied to the first carry of each half. Blount followed up his first carry of the 1st half with a lackluster two quarters. His 1st carry of the 3rd quarter went for five yards. So I'm not dead yet.
- The Patriots sent a man in motion on almost every offensive snap - the most basic way for a new QB to diagnose man vs. zone. This was a basic, basic offense, folks, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.
- I couldn't help but shake my head at some of the spots the refs gave the Texans last night. What clearly looked like a stuff on 3rd down by the D was called a 1st, and then a Jet Sweep from Edelman in the red zone looked like he reached for the 1st, but it got stifled, resulting in a missed Gronk connection and a FG instead of a TD. And it couldn't have been clearer that the Texans fumbled the ensuing kickoff, but Belichick had to use a challenge. But on the plus side, that ensuing challenge allowed for some more much-needed 1st quarter commercials. So you take the good with the bad.
- DeAndre Hopkins is a monster. Virtually every catch he made was of the "what can you do" variety.
- A quick sidenote: you'd be blind if you didn't notice how politically charged this football season has been, both on the field and in the commercials between the snaps. I haven't said anything about any of it thus far, and I'm not going to say anything about it going forward either. This is a football blog, and I'm doing my part to keep it that way. Nothing drives me more nuts than when someone says "I don't want to get political, but *makes political statement*", and the only reason I'm even writing this note now as opposed to letting it all go completely was to let everyone who has been asking me to comment on these issues know that you've just read the last words I'll be typing about any of it this year. Back to the game.
- Jamie Collins seems to be good for that exact pick at least two or three times a season. Fakes the blitz, drops back across the middle, reads the quarterback's eyes, and cuts in front of the crossing pattern. You figure that not only would there be enough game tape on him by now to let QBs know to watch out for that, but Collins is an animal and I'm absolutely terrified of the guy when I'm sitting on my couch. If he was on the same field and he's actively gunning for me, I'm hiring a marine biologist to stab him with one of those shark darts so I know where he is at all times.
- I love how Phil Simms tried to give J.J. Watt, who was literally crawling towards Brissett on his knees after getting thrown to the ground by Solder, the credit for McKinney's sack. I guess when you've played the Patriots four times in your career and have yet to register a single sack of your own, you have to take credit where you can.
- I would, however, like to extend a personal thank you to Watt for taking a break from Instagramming pictures of himself flipping tires shirtless in the woods at 3 AM - #StayHumble - to come to Gillette and register two tackles on the day.
- Those last notes were a little harsh. I love Watt - I really do. He's 1A in the league behind Von Miller. I just wish he was a little self-aware about what a megadouche he comes across as sometimes. And since he never seems to be able to do a damn thing against the Patriots, I don't feel too bad poking fun at him here. Miller has been owning New England since he came into the league. If Watt is such a monster, how is it so easy to gameplan him into Bolivian?
- The Patriots are 76-0 at home when leading at halftime. Sweet Tebow what a stat.
- How do you give up a 3rd and 15 against a rookie QB if you're Houston?
- What's the best way to tell the girlfriend that I'm canceling our plans for tonight because "The Top 10 New England Patriots" is on NFL Network at 8 PM and "A Football Life: Rodney Harrison" is on at 9?
- Actually, never mind. She reads all of my articles because she's amazing and supportive and knows that football is my favorite thing and she wants to share it with me. So mission accomplished.
- The Texans tried to adjust to New England's ability to take away the deeper routes by calling more plays over the middle and calling more stretch runs to Lamar Miller. It didn't work at all, but they did try. Good job, guys!
- Pizza Hut now makes a pizza that has a grilled cheese sandwich for a crust. Just going to leave that there.
- I'm also really glad to see a prostate cancer screening commercial out there, and I hope the NFL keeps that up. Breast Cancer Awareness, to which the NFL dedicates the entire month of October, is obviously important and meaningful and a fantastic cause to get behind - but I feel safe saying that the vast majority of the NFL's employees should be more concerned with prostate cancer than breast cancer.
- Blount should run to the outside more. When he follows Solder to the sideline, he has great success.
- There was some talk about eliminating the kickoff altogether in the offseason, but it got squashed. Now that the Patriots have perfected the short high kick and rode two kickoff turnovers to victory, look for that discussion to be reopened, with some SERIOUS momentum behind it, very soon.
- I really don't know what Demps should have done on that Bennett DPI call that gave New England the ball at the one (the first time). When you have a size mismatch like that, you have to try and defend. DPI is a ridiculous penalty sometimes - even when it works out in your favor.
- And to say something positive about Houston - how the hell did the Patriots, with Brissett, Bennett, Gronk, Devlin, and Blount, at the 1-yard line, not punch it in with no problem right away? Credit the Texans D-line for being a second DPI call away from a huge goal-line stop - and even then, Blount barely got in.
- Thank Tebow the Texans are good at the sideline toe-drag route to Hopkins. I think that play accounted for 90% of their offense last night.
- Hogan was wide open on that deep bomb, and man would that have been sweet. But Brady has missed those as well.
- I don't know why every single snap during which the clock was still running wasn't taken when there was less then two second left on the playclock.
- Live look at the Texans fans towards the end of the third quarter.
- Where have I seen that Malcolm Butler 4th down breakup play before?
- Any excuse to post that play I will always, always take. You're welcome.
- Sure am glad I started Gronk, my 1st round pick, in fantasy this week. 0-3, here we come!
- Saw a great Tweet from Darren Rovell last night regarding game checks for each team's respective quarterback. Jacoby Brissett made $26,471 last night. Brock Osweiller made $235,294. Oops.
- Thank goodness the Patriots Bud Light can won the vote for - whatever the hell it is the fans were voting for. I don't think I would have been able to sleep if that can had lost.
- "You know who's smiling right now? Hall of Fame Coach Bill Parcells." Parcells has been a huge mentor to Brissett, so it's good to see The Tuna still giving back to his team.
- You know who isn't smiling right now, though? This guy.
- I wonder what the score of this game would have been if Garoppolo was in. Hell, if Brady was in. That Titans game from 2009 might have been dethroned as biggest blowout in Patriots history.
- One of the most underrated elements of the 2016 Patriots defense is their ability to tackle. At every level, each player is a great tackler.
- I could also say the same thing about the blocking ability of the WRs. Belichick's draft strategy may be unorthodox - but he looks for football players, not guys that play a position. Huge difference.
- Up 27-0 with 8 minutes left in the game and possession of the ball is usually when you put the backup QB in to finish out the game. Why didn't the Patriots do that? Those arrogant bastards.
- Live look at Roger Goodell after the Blount 41 yard TD run that completely put the game away.
- Maybe the Patriots should start Edelman at QB next week and beat Rex Ryan with him. That might cause Rex to retire on the spot.
- As of this writing - 11:43 PM on September 22nd, I have yet to see anyone else coin the phrase "Game, Brissett, Match." So I'm taking credit.
- Bill Belichick is now 6-0 with QBs making their first career start. He's 3-0 with two different quarterbacks, including two primetime games and a big divisional matchup. He tied Curly Lambeau for 4th most wins all-time at 226, trailing only Shula, Halas, and Landry. So let me just take this opportunity to preemptively congratulate Jack del Rio on your upcoming Coach of the Year Award. I mean you did go for two that time, after all.
Let's all enjoy a rare Victory Friday and the only good thing that comes out of playing on a Thursday night - a weekend off to relax and just enjoy the other games stress-free as the Patriots enjoy a mini bye week before hosting an 0-2 Bills team getting ready to host the Arizona Cardinals. And with the Jets playing the Chiefs, the AFC East could be more or less over by Monday Night.
Life is good.