“December Football” has taken on a bit of a different meaning around these parts the last couple seasons. Since everyone’s doing Best-of-the-Decade lists anyway, if you go back to just this point in 2018, which was about 15 years ago by my math, the Patriots historically ran the table in December to the tune of 59 wins to just 11 losses since 2001. In the 2016 season, TB12 & Co plastered 4 straight teams to the tune of a 113-39 point differential in December, and going all the way back to 2012, that squad notched a 5-game December point differential of 150-127 despite losing to the eventually Super-Bowl-destined San Francisco 49ers. You could seriously schedule your holiday parties by it.
Since last year, though, we all know how it’s gone down. December football in a 60% Gronk or post-Gronk world is leg day at the gym, every day. It’s gonna hurt. It’s gonna burn. Time seems like it’s crawling like 4:55 on a Friday. And you may very well face-plant trying to hit a box jump that’s roughly half of what JJ Watt can do. It happens.
Which, when you know that’s what time it is, makes Sunday’s grind of a W over a legitimately good, skilled, and thoroughly un-intimidated division nemesis like the Bills that much more satisfying. Not just clinching the division again, or owning the Bills 2-0 while allowing 27 total points over two contests this season, but in several different parts of the game, the Patriots seemed like what the team supposedly morphed into about this time last year; a team that’s more than happy to keep landing body blows and out-muscle whoever’s in front of you until there’s three zeroes on the game clock.
Starting with the fullback who also moonlights at linebacker, Elandon Roberts, who not only logged an easy career-high 21 snaps as a lead blocker, but also found something that occupying the position Jimmy Neckroll used to hold down has something in common with his home base on defense:
“Same on defense, same on offense. When a linebacker steps into the hole, Imma run through their motherfu--in’ face. Period. That’s all I think about, making my block, running through a motherfu---er’s face.”
“Late in the season, it turns into a mentality,” Roberts continued before talking about his own mentality: “I run through a motherf---ers’ face. Offense, defense, special teams, whatever you want. I think that’s why Bill [Belichick] likes me. Because sometimes, I hit people, and he doesn’t tell me anything, but he just gives me a little grin. And then I walk by him, and he doesn’t say anything. I think I’m the only person in practice he won’t say s--t to.”
“Ain’t nobody coming downhill like (our linebackers),” Roberts said. “Ain’t nobody coming downhill like (Dont’a) Hightower, Jamie (Collins), me, (Ja’Whaun Bentley) — nobody. So if they want to stop getting their pressure, they can come downhill. And if they don’t come downhill, I’m going to hit them in their mother(expletive) mouth. That’s my job.”
Now, having said that, let’s run fullback dive at least once before the Super Bowl. If you’d like to try and stand up all 238 pounds of Elandon at 6’0’’, you got first dibs.
And lest you think I just pulled the title for this out of my ass, take it away, N’Keal:
N’Keal Harry: “My goal today was just to be powerful. Make it hard for them to tackle me, and just be the more physical team.”— Henry McKenna (@McKennAnalysis) December 22, 2019
And Brady’s block?
“That’s a true quarterback.” pic.twitter.com/ZZvhJdMgEA
Speaking of which, it took a couple looks to see clearly here, but N’Keal also appears to be multitalented in this run play, as he also enjoys pancakes:
N'Keal Harry is a lot of fun to watch as a run blocker. He's not afraid to throw his body around. pic.twitter.com/KmQgQuOpii— Zack Cox (@ZackCoxNESN) December 22, 2019
Being powerful is even more important when your assignment is to block a first-round pick that was born a few months before your 18th birthday, possibly-janky elbow be damned. Rub some dirt on it.
Tom to Rex to N'Keal with a block from TB12. @TomBrady | @NkealHarry15 pic.twitter.com/WPeoJrcu0g— New England Patriots (@Patriots) December 21, 2019
And for plays that used to be automatic money in the bank that we don’t get to see quite as much any more, a Brady sneak always warms the heart (and provides a fresh set of downs):
The GOAT of QB sneaks. @TomBrady | #GoPats pic.twitter.com/h0jBOM4gsa— New England Patriots (@Patriots) December 22, 2019
That’s December football. Tedy Bruschi makes it sound much more badass in 2004 though:
“Me taking that ball was sort of taking the hopes and dreams of all these other teams and telling them ‘You’re not going to take this from us, we’re going to take this from you, just like I’m taking this ball from this running back’. ‘They ain’t got it’ was symbolic of ‘they don’t understand’. They don’t understand what they have to do to be champions, they don’t understand what they have to go through to be champions, and I just took it from them and that proved to me that they ain’t got it”