Happy Holidays, everyone!
The holiday season is all about peace, joy, family, tradition, and time off from work, which means it has three things I really like and one thing I tolerate when I have to.
And one of our holiday traditions here in New England is watching the New England Patriots clinch yet another AFC East division title, ensuring that everyone here in Patriots Nation will be getting at least one item on their wish list. This marks 11 straight years of hats and t-shirts for the Patriots, with nothing but the hapless Dolphins standing in their way of a first round playoff bye,
- Boy was the beginning of yesterday’s game a weird feeling for me. Week 16, Bills playing the Patriots at Gillette, and a) the game mattered, and b) it wasn’t over before it even started. I also had absolutely no idea whether or not the Patriots offense would be enough to get it done against this fierce Bills D. The fact that the game was on a Saturday and completely threw off my schedule for the rest of the weekend didn’t help either.
- But not only was this Patriots offense enough to get it done, I’m going to go ahead and say that they played their most complete performance of 2019. I’m not going to say that they’re firing on all cylinders or anything like that, but I saw the kind of chemistry, balance, and creativity that I’ve been waiting to see all season from this unit.
- Starting with first round bust, national disgrace, and worst decision of the Bill Belichick Era Sony Michel. For some reason, Michel has spent a good chunk of this season getting Margo-on-Clark Griswold levels of hate from a good chunk of Pats fans for his performance this year. He averaged 4.6 yards per carry yesterday, ran for 95 yards, and showed the kind of falling forward, crash the gap toughness that took the Patriots all the way to the Super Bowl last year.
- I also love that the Patriots kept leaning on Rex Burkhead after he fumbled away the ball on a very strong opening drive to set the Bills up with their first lead of the day. In previous years, the only time we’d have seen Burkhead for the rest of the game was when the sideline camera cut to him sitting alone on the sidelines staring at the ground and looking like someone just ate the last bacon-wrapped scallop at the holiday party. But the Patriots used him in both the running game and the passing game, he was New England’s leading receiver on the day, and his go-ahead score was one of the best runs by any back of the year. If Wes Mantooth was covering this team instead of Scott Zolak, he’d almost certainly have ended his broadcast with “today we spell redemption R-E-X.”
- And it starts up front with an offensive line that allowed no sacks and opened up holes to run through. So much of a game is getting the initial push, and the Patriots O-line got the better of one of the best defensive lines in football.
- Which means I need to give Marshall Newhouse his due. He’s been an easy punching bag for pretty much everyone this season, but he came in relief of Marcus Canon and dominated.
- Congrats to Julian Edelman, who now holds the record for most passes caught by Tommy B. He probably has the most drops too, but we won’t talk about that.
- You know who I miss? Antwain Smith. If elaborate, overly involved nicknames were popular, he’d beb Antwain “X plus one, where X equals the yards you need to pick up a first down and keep the chains moving” Smith. Not to take away from any of the backs on Saturday, but he was a very underrated player for this team.
- After the Burkhead fumble, the Patriots answered with an 11 play, 75 yard drive that ate up half of the quarter. A perfect mix of runs and passes that ended with Tommy B extending his own NFL record by hitting his 76th different receiver for a Matt LaCosse touchdown. Going 75 yards against the Bills is no easy feat.
- Nor is starting from your own half yard line, going 81 yards on 17 plays, converting a 4th down, eating up nine minutes of clock, and getting a field goal out of it.
- Although I’m more than willing to admit that Sony Michel looked to be short on a 4th and 1 that should have given the Bills the ball. Pats got away with one there - you know, because the Patriots get all the calls. Can’t win when you gotta fight against the zebras too! Am I right? Am I right, folks???
- I’d honestly go so far as to say that the only disappointment from the offense on Sunday was the guy for whom I’d had the highest hopes - Mohammed Sanu. Tommy B hit nine different receivers on Saturday, and Sanu is in the mix with those receivers with three grabs on five targets...but he has been nothing but underwhelming so far in his tenure. Belichick has been after the guy for years, all the way back to his days with Cincinnati, so there has to be something here that Sanu either isn’t picking up or they’re just saving for the playoffs.
- Although to Sanu’s credit, he may be the best “ break out of his route or sit down in the hole in the zone exactly one yard too far to the left so he misses the pass” receiver the Patriots have ever had.
- He may also be the best “miss the easy block that would have sprung a rookie for a big gain on a 4th down jet sweep but instead sent him ass over teakettle to turn the ball over and allow the Bills to get a touchdown before the half and enter into the locker room with massive momentum and the chance to double dip” receiver the Patriots have ever had as well.
- Which leads me to N’Keal Harry, who has been getting more and more involved in the offense with each passing week. He only had two grabs on three targets, but he’s growing as a blocker and has now run the ball effectively two weeks straight. He drew a PI call on third down to keep the chains moving. He mixed it up with Bills DBs. And perhaps my favorite part of his day...Tommy B likes the kid enough to throw the most earth-shattering block you’ll ever see, allowing Harry to run at an incredible rate.
- The last thing I’ll say about the offense before moving on to the D is that they seem to have developed a new package in which they show so many different combinations of 21 personnel that defenses eventually lose count. I saw formations that included Michel/White, Michel/Burkhead, White/Burkhead, Michel/Sanu, White/Harry, and Burkhead/Bolden before I saw something shiny and got distracted. The Patriots both ran and passed out of this formation with good success. Josh McDaniels is Josh McDanielsing at the right time and I love it.
- If you’re feeling like the defense let you down a bit yesterday, I can understand that. You don’t want to give up a big TD play just before the half, and you certainly don’t want to give up another deep touchdown later in the game. But the optics there are bad, and looking at the next level of stats, the defense was once again great. They just had absolutely no answer for Cole Beasley, and that isn’t their fault; it’s Bill Belichick’s. He really should have gone out and gotten that guy.
- Can you imagine Beasley and Edelman lined up in opposite slots? The man is wasted in Buffalo.
- I don’t think I’ve seen the Patriots show more zero blitz pre-snap looks in my life. The focus was clearly on stopping the run and not letting Singletary get any chunk plays, and they did just that. The longest run of the day was a Josh Allen scramble that was, for the most part, contained.
- Saturday’s game might have been Lawrence Guy’s best game of the season. Completely took away both A gaps, shed his blocks, passed blockers off effectively, registered six tackles and 1.5 sacks, and straight up clotheslined Singletary for a loss in the 2nd quarter.
- The last two minutes of a half/game either take two minutes or 45 minutes. There really doesn’t seem to be any in between.
- That graphic they ran in the third quarter comparing Josh Allen and Tommy B’s career rush yards - 1,126 to 1,033 - was laugh out loud funny. I almost said to myself, “OK, now do literally every other stat there is,” but I refrained. I actually really like Josh Allen. He throws a nice deep ball and is very tough to bring down. If he can continue to develop, the Bills might have something there.
- It’s also really, really hard not to like this Bills team. They aren’t the most talented roster top to bottom, but they’re scrappy and they never give up and they make plays when they need to. This game was kind of like watching your son beat you in arm wrestling for the first time. Yeah it stings...but as you walk away you can’t help but shake your head and smile.
- Or, in this case, you let him think he’s winning for a little while before you slam his hand into the table, flipping it over, and stand over him laughing.
- Virtually every single person you have ever seen or will ever see in a commercial, from childhood all the way up until the day you die, is hoping to make it big as an actor. That’s insane.
- And I have absolutely no idea why I thought of that just now. I just saw this guy dressed as a Christmas caroler in a KFC commercial and thought to myself how excited he must have been to get the call telling him he’d beaten out the 500 other people auditioning to be a background actor in a fried chicken commercial.
- When the Patriots went up 24-17, I was waiting for the defense to make a big play. They had been solid and stingy, but they hadn’t done anything to fully seal the victory yet, so you just knew it was coming. And while it wasn’t a Duron Harmon interception or a fumble recovery and they decided to wait until the Bills had goal to go with a chance to tie it at the very end of the game, the D came through with a sack and a zero blitz that forced Allen to throw up a prayer that was batten down by JC Jackson to ice the game. hadn’t made one all game and it was the perfect time.
- I’d like to take a moment to compliment the Foxboro faithful on their fashion choices on Saturday. I saw plenty of Santa suits, more than a few Elf costumes, festive blazers, ugly sweaters, and the obligatory hydrated fat guy with no shirt on thumbing his nose at the late December weather. Say what you will about Patriots fans, they know how to bring the funk.
What a game. A signature win against what is quickly becoming a worthy opponent to secure a division title. One more game to go, and then the team can get a much needed rest.
Hopefully everyone has a great holiday this week. Go easy on the egg nog, it’s bad for you.