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Patriots vs. Saints: Fan Notes from the Game

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Notes, musings, and observations from the New England Patriots’ 36-20 victory over the New Orleans Saints

New England Patriots vs New Orleans Saints Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Victory Monday!

It’s been a while, hasn’t it? The last time Patriots fans got to enjoy a Victory Monday, it was the Victory Mondayest Victory Monday to have ever Victory Mondayed. And after last week’s Chiefs game...well, no need to get back into that one. What matters is that, for now at least, the Patriots have righted the ship and are coming off a convincing road win against the New Orleans Saints. And since the entire NFL once again is shaping up to be pretty terrible this year, 1-1 is more than good enough for me at this point.

  • It was odd seeing Tony Romo in an announcer booth instead of rolling around on the turf with a broken something or other. But I’ll say this: I love him. His enthusiasm is palpable. And it’s a breath of fresh air to have a quarterback calling games who actually played in the NFL this century and is speaking from an experience that includes a version of a game that is totally, unequivocally different than the one that Phil Simms or Troy Aikman, or even Trent Dilfer played. He’s not some dinosaur whining about nonsense. He’s accurate, he does a great job breaking down complex schemes, and on more than one occasion, he accurately predicted the play based on the formations alone. Keep it up, Tony.
  • I’ll also say that, to anyone in the NYC area who doesn’t have the Sunday ticket package and is looking for a good spot to see the games, you won’t find a better place to watch the Patriots play than Paddy’s of Park Slope, located on 5th Ave and 13th St. in Brooklyn. Drink specials, free hot dogs, free wings, all the games (complete with the app that allows you to listen to individual commentary on your phone), and the bartender is a Jets fan who hates his life. If that isn’t a winning combination, I don’t know what is. I’ll for sure be there next Sunday for Houston.
  • But before we talk about Houston...yesterday’s game was a little more like it. Maybe the Patriots should get blown out by the Chiefs every year.
  • As expected, with a depleted receiving corps, scat backs became receivers and the Patriots looked to create mismatches against linebackers. The result was solid: Burkhead and White carried the first drive and were responsible for the bulk of the yards.
  • If Burkhead and White isn’t the name of a 70s folk duo, then somewhere along the line someone missed out on a million dollar franchise.
  • Even when Burkhead went out, White was the engine that kept the offense going. This looks to be a mismatch-based offense that will thrive on reading the defense and finding the open man. This team is going to be driving everyone but Mike Gillislee owners nuts.
  • There is, however, a fatal flaw in such an offensive scheme: it requires healthy bodies that can line up across from an opponent. Not sure how many of those the Patriots have left.
  • New England’s first drive: a few quick out routes, a stretch run, a few end arounds... sound familiar? Not sure if this is just going to be what they do going forward or if they’re still just trying to figure out how to best utilize a bunch of unique offensive skill positions.
  • So how long is Gostkowski’s leash at this point? It has to be shortening by the minute at this point. Two areas where I should never be cringing when watching a Patriots game are punt returns and extra points.
  • I have watched Gronk’s first touchdown of 2017 multiple times at this point, and I still have no clue what the hell happened. Classic Brady just kind of hucking it up there, and Gronk was wide open. And then some poor schlub tried to tackle him like a deabteat boyfriend begging his soon-to-be-ex not to leave him.It doesn’t work in real life, and it doesn’t work against human rhinos either.
  • New England seems quite committed to the stretch run. I just don’t know if Gillislee is that kind of back - seems strongest when he’s allowed to get a strong first step at the line and crash through the A-gap to pick up additional yards after contact. Harder to do that when you have to shift from east/west to north/south.
  • I wonder if the NFL is going to try to pass off playing the game on silent in the upper left corner of the screen while they air a commercial as a faster game with fewer breaks.
  • I turned 36 this past summer. I have never been sacked in my life. My knees hurt when I wake up every morning and I think I pulled a muscle in my back opening a jar of pickles on Tuesday. Tommy B is 40 and moves better than I ever have in my life. Dammit.
  • What I love about Tommy B’s mobility is that it’s usually of the two or three step variety. Just a simple step up in the pocket to find the open man. And that’s why he has always struggled with middle pressure - nowhere to step up.
  • I have zero clue if the pick play that sprung Hogan for a TD is a foul or not. But I also have no clue what a catch is, what constitutes pass interference, what illegal contact means, how to classify unsportsmanlike conduct, what how the league establishes possession, what defines a defenseless receiver, how I ever landed a girlfriend, or how Jim Irsay isn’t in prison for drug trafficking. So what do I know.
  • In 2011, the defensive strategy was to keep everything in front of them, give up short yards in chunks, stiffen up in the red zone, and try to hold opponents to field goals while thriving off turnovers. We hated it. The 2017 defensive strategy might be to give up multiple big plays a game in order to get opposing offenses off the field quickly and tire out the opposing defense by making them get right back out there.
  • I’ll say this: thus far, the 2017 Patriots are an amazing 1st quarter team. The sure know how to come out of the gate swinging. If they can get the 2nd-4th quarter Patriots to catch up, they’re going to be dangerous.
  • How sad is it that, for a short period yesterday, Rex Burkhead was the last player to score a touchdown for both the Patriots and the Bengals?
  • The Patriots struggled immensely last year with running backs and the wheel route out of the backfield. It was very nice of the rest of the league to spare their backs the extra yardage it takes to start that pattern from behind the line and just have them burn the Patriots with the Go Route instead.
  • Nate Solder has been absolutely slapped around for two straight weeks now. He didn’t see any snaps in the preseason, so I’m really, really hoping it’s just rust. Because if your left tackle loses one on one battles when your quarterback has successfully read the blitz and is looking for a seam route...
  • What an asset Gronk is as a blocking tight end. On Gillislee’s first TD run of the day, he stacked up two linemen and allowed James Develin to seal off the gap. No clue why the couldn’t do that last week, but whatever.
  • And allow me to again praise Develin, who saw some time lined up at receiver yesterday and even caught a pass outside the hash marks, which might be an NFL first for a fullback.
  • Ted Ginn Jr. is herpes the on the Patriots lip - or elsewhere, if that’s where you’d like to take this. Goes away for months at a time, to the point where you more or less forget it even exists, and then all of a sudden you wake up the morning of your job interview and it’s there, hanging around, reminding you of some regrettable moments in you past.
  • I’m still angry at Ghost. Maybe more mistrustful than angry, but still - he’s in my doghouse at the moment. That said, great job by the entire special teams unit getting on the field in about 10 seconds to put points on the board before halftime.
  • That lob pass pick that Brady threw to draw the 12 men on the field penalty is exactly why he’s the best QB of all time. The drive ultimately stalled, but the Patriots were able to switch the field.
  • Or they would have been if Allen’s punt had gone longer than 27 yards.
  • That’s it. Gronk plays in January every season and not one second before.
  • That blue tent is starting to have an Island of Dr. Moreau-esque effect on me. It has turned into a place that players enter and never leave.
  • I’d like to sit here and say that the Patriots throwing with a 20 point lead in the 4th quarter was some kind of new thing or indicative or the lack of a viable rushing attach...but that has kind of been their MO for a while now, even in the Blount era. Still...Gillislee, man. Pound it with that guy.
  • “The groin’s an interesting one, because it can be a lot of different things.” Tony Romo has already delivered the best line he’ll ever give as a color guy. Retire now, Tony. You peaked.
  • Tommy B’s throw to Phillip Dorsett was absurd. That’s two deep dimes in two weeks to new receivers. Why doesn’t he just retire already? He’s washed up.
  • I also love that, as Dorsett was hauling in the second most yards in his career, Brissett has yet to throw a TD pass as a Colt. That’s not a knock on Jacoby, I love that kid...but it is a knock on the Colts, who stink and make terrible trades.
  • If this entire team is going to get hurt, I for one am glad it’s happening early in the season as opposed to what happened to them in 2013.
  • The big negative from yesterday’s game was red zone offense. For the second week in a row, it was a real problem. Ghost’s FGs were all under 30 yards, which means that the Patriots were kicking field goals inside the 10. And there was only no Gronk for one of those drives. That can’t happen later on in the season.
  • Another concern is that I don’t know how this offense is going to exploit mismatches given the injured list right now. That said, whatever formation they end up marching out there will undoubtedly be made illegal in 2018 when the Ravens complain about it.
  • Zero urgency from New Orleans at any point yesterday, even before the game got out of hand. Maybe they’re just so used to starting the year 0-2 that they don’t want to break the streak.
  • Speaking of streaks... congratulations to Joe Thomas for playing 10,000 consecutive snaps in yesterday’s game against the Ravens. Tough to think of a better definition of “contrition” than playing 10,000 straight snaps for the Browns. And in a game where injuries happen almost every play and players tend to be forced to sit out a snap or two because their shoe comes off or they can’t find their helmet, that Thomas has been able to play the most difficult, underappreciated position in the sport day in and out is incredible. Get that man on the Patriots and get him a ring.
  • You can tell that Bill Belichick likes Sean Payton and the Saints when he punts from the 35 after the game is out of hand. That’s usually a FG try at minimum, more likely a 4WR Streaks call to go for the FU score. But since the Saints and Patriots have been Wall Buddies for some time now, I can totally get behind the show of respect. I just hope that Jerry Jones doesn’t think he’s suddenly invited to the party now that the Evil Eye of Goodell has turned on him.

Once again, injuries are something to monitor. If Gronk misses extended time, if Hogan’s knee acts up, if Burkhead’s ribs require a few weeks rest, if Amendola is still in concussion protocol, the the Patriots have a very tall order in defeating a stout Texans defense. But a two game home stand gives the Patriots a great chance to enter into the 2nd quarter of the season at 3-1, which would put them right in line with where they were this time last year.

In the meantime, let’s all continue keeping an eye on that blue tent. I don’t trust that thing as far as I can throw it.