Happy Thanksgiving Week, Everyone!
Anyone who has been following my writing knows how much I love Thanksgiving. You just aren’t going to find a better holiday, in my opinion; no presents, no flash, no unnecessary tomfoolery, just a lot of food, taking some time to be thankful for what you have, and a few football games to boot. Add in the fact that I don’t lift a finger to help out with the meal or the cleanup and just lie there like some entitled, spoiled scrub, and it’s safe to say that I’m looking forward to this Thursday immensely.
And you’ll find few greater pre-meal appetizers than a convincing New England Patriots win to start the week off right. The Patriots traveled to Mexico City and absolutely throttled the Oakland Raiders, 33-8, in a game that could have easily been even more lopsided. For the second straight week, the Patriots put together a complete game, and the two week stretch that most of us had pegged as the most difficult on the entire calendar - at Denver, at Oakland - saw the Patriots go 2-0 with a combined score of 74-24. The Patriots have outscored their opponents by 50 over the past two weeks.
If that isn’t something to be thankful for, I don’t know what is.
- As far as the horrendous decision that is playing NFL games overseas goes, it seems like Mexico City might make for a decent exception. The travel time isn’t horrendous, the time change doesn’t screw with you too much, and the only thing players really have to deal with is the altitude - which, as you can see by the Patriots’ decision to stay in the Colorado area after the Broncos game, becomes yet another factor in the chess match that is head coaching. I’m sure we’ll soon see an NFL franchise parked permanently in both Mexico City and London before too long.
- And of course...what better way to watch an American Football game in Mexico than at an Irish Bar? This week’s free fare at Paddy’s of Park Slope in Brooklyn was beer-soaked hot dogs. I ate four. And I owe everyone who was in my subway car on the train into work this morning a profuse apology.
- As far as the game itself - this was yet another dominant performance from the Patriots, in all three phases of the game. Tommy B went 30 of 37 for 339 yards and 3 TDs. The running game averaged 4.4 yards per carry. The defense only surrendered a garbage time TD. Ghost set a personal and franchise record with a 62 yard field goal that would have been good from 70. It’s late November, the Patriots are rounding into form, and all is right with the world.
- I should mention, however, that the Raiders didn’t do themselves any favors with a their sloppy game filled with drops and costly penalties. You need to play your best game against the Patriots, and Oakland certainly didn’t do that,
- Massive credit to the front line, without run stuffer Malcom Brown. Oakland ran a lot of draw plays out of shotgun in hopes of allowing the backs to read the gap commitments of the defensive line and cut accordingly. But there was a lot of solid gap discipline from New England yesterday and made the runner earn it. Other than a 25 yard Marshawn Lynch run, there wasn’t much of a rushing attack to speak of.
- Yards after contact, however, remains something of an issue for this team. Backs always seem to be able to push the pile and fall forward instead of backwards. Seeing as how we’re now into Week 12, it kind of is what it is at this point.
- I couldn’t tell if the Patriots were getting booed or cheered when they came onto the field for the first time. Maybe I couldn’t tel because they marched down the field and scored so effortlessly I was just mesmerized by it and forgot to pay attention. But if I had to guess, I’d say there was a 50/0 split of Pats fans in the stands yesterday, and that’s probably what you’re going to get every time the Patriots play overseas.
- Speaking of playing overseas...Tommy B has now thrown TD passes in three different countries. He also has a 300 yard game in three different countries. And since he’s going to play until he’s 70 and the NFL is hell-bent on global expansion, who knows how many countries he’ll chalk up before he hangs em up.
- There have now been two defensive holding penalties called on Gronk this season. The who knows 2017 NFL season rolls on.
- At one point yesterday there was a clip of Julian Edelman playing soccer with a bunch of kids and I threw a fit. Then I realized that the clip was from over the summer and I calmed down a little.
- It’s weird to hear, in Tony Romo, a color commentator who is actually a Tom Brady fan. he breaks down Brady’s pre-snap intelligence, his ability to get receivers where they need to be, and his overall sweet creaminess without sounding like he’s just been forced to taste Aunt Edna’s fat free, gluten free gravy. It’s refreshing - like mom’s full fat, full gluten gravy.
- Not a whole lot of negatives to take away from this game, but one Achilles heel that could very well be the turd in the 2017 punch bowl from the Patriots is the pass rush. there’s virtually none to speak of; Derek Carr was only sacked once. They only have 17 sacks on the year. Their sack leader, Trey Flowers, is tied with Van Noy at 4. They just aren’t getting the pressure they’re going to need to get against whatever NFC team they may face, should certain things I won’t mention here anymore transpire over the coming weeks.
- On the plus side...Malcolm Bulter had himself one helluva game. His primary assignment was Amari Cooper, as the Patriots opted for primarily man under coverage. On seven targets, Cooper had just three catches for 28 yards, and Butler physically broke up a number of those passes. Oakland’s leading receiver was Michael Crabtree, who only had six catches for 51 yards. This secondary finally figured out what the hell they were doing.
- On the offensive side of the ball, the Patriots did almost the complete opposite of their strategy last week. The two leading receivers, reception wise, were Amendola with eight and Cooks with six. Tight ends combined for eight receptions, with only eight total passes going to backs. The rushing attack was right up the gut, using motion to move Khalil Mack away from the intended gap and utilizing Dion Lewis and his elusiveness to make plays at the second level. They only had to punt twice, the second of which coming with Hoyer on the field and had drives of 15 plays when they needed to go long and three plays when they had the chance to score fast.
- Some of the throws that Tom Brady makes make absolutely zero sense. One to a double covered Gronk in the middle of the 2nd quarter comes to mind. He had two Raiders converging on him, he was basically falling backwards, and he still somehow fired a laser to where only Gronk could get it.
- For my own sanity’s sake, I need to take a minute to talk about the 2009 fullback dive play of 2017: the quick screen to the wide receiver that gets blown up in the backfield way more often than it actually works. It’s usually to cooks, but Amendola and Chris Hogan have both seen their yardage totals decrease by a few yards with this play throughout the season. I’m currently trying to think of a single time this season when a quick screen to a Patriots receiver resulted in more than five yards and the only instance I can think of was a Hoyer to Cooks screen last week against Denver in garbage time.
- That said, I hope they keep on running it. They need to do it once in a while to mitigate the pass rush and open up running lanes out of certain formations. That useless screen is the equivalent of a good boxer throwing a lot of jabs and hooks that most likely aren’t going to land: to alter the opponent’s defense and create openings for later attacks.
- New England’s second TD of the day was a Brady to Amendola strike in the back of the end zone that, based on the number of audibles Tommy B called prior to the snap, almost certainly wasn’t the original playcall. To that end, I would absolutely LOVE to know what some of those hand signals meant. Just a few that are worth mentioning:
- A Milking a cow motion
- A palms together V
- A double shoulder touch.
- A push motion
- Whatever it is, it worked.
- The reason the Patriots were able to find success against the Raiders was because of the guards and center, who managed to keep the middle and the shallow area of the pocket clean enough to allow Brady to step up.
- Every time Cassius Marsh is on the edge, bad things happen.
- Another think I love about this defense is the amount of patience they exhibit They’re willing to wait for their opponents to make a mistake, and they pounce.
- Ted Karras, who was playing his first game at center in who knows how long, did an amazing job. I didn’t even think about him or hear his name once, which is exactly what you want out of an offensive lineman. It must be because he wearing 75.
- Speaking of 75...after Wilfork, I don’t know if they can give that number to an offensive lineman. it just doesn’t quite work. However, I don’t know how I’d feel about giving it to another D-line guy either. They should either retire it or give that number to the skinniest, whitest guy on the team. Like Ryan Allen. Like Ryan
- It’s nice for a receiver to pull a double move, have the cornerback get smoked, and make a long reception for a TD when it’s the Patriots doing it, isn’t it? This time it was Obi Melifonwu harnessing his inner Malcolm Butler and letting Brandin Cooks bust free for a 64 yard TD reception that put the game away to start the 3rd quarter. Granted, the game was more or less over when Gostkowski nailed that 62 yarder to close out the half...but I don’t want to pick nits.
- You can look at Oakland’s last possession of the half and New England’s first possession of the 3rd quarter as the perfect microcosm of the difference between a good team and a great one. The Raiders had a chance to go into the locker room only down 14-7 with some solid momentum that comes from a 10+ play scoring drive to end the half. Instead, Seth Roberts fumbled, the Patriots recovered, and then they went 48 yards in just over 30 seconds to get three as the clock expired. They they received to start the 3rd quarter (after deferring) and scored in three plays. After that, it was just a matter of milking the clock.
- Another great way of gauging good teams vs. great ones - take a look at this owner, and then take a look at this one, and you tell me which horse you’re backing.
- It’s weird how your priorities shift in a game like this, isn’t it? Coming in, I wanted the Patriots to win. But as the 4th quarter wore on, I got really, really invested in the shutout. When Oakland scored that 4th quarter TD, I was significantly more irritated than I should have been.
- However, tough to get too irritated this week, isn’t it? Most of us will only be in the office for two and a half days, then it’s a long weekend full of food, naps, boring football games that are perfect to fall asleep to, mad dashes to claim great savings, and the start of egg nog season. Top that all off with the Patriots clinching yet another non-losing season, and there’s a lot to be thankful for this year.
Kind of crazy how it’s Thanksgiving and the Patriots have only played one divisional game. The only non-divisional opponent they have left is Pittsburgh, so absolutely anything can happen as we close out this season.