Since it’s both a few days before Halloween and we’re watching some terrifying football around here lately, let’s start with a line that’s been giving me the willies ever since before the Tom Brady Era:
“Hell is only a word. The reality is much, much worse.”
(I will refrain from posting the actual movie scene because, frankly, it’s pretty disgusting, especially if you’re a fan of Jurassic Park. But I will say that it’s easily one of the creepiest samples to ever grace a legendary underground metal album.)
“For us, as an offense, we know that our excuse basket is running real low. We’re getting guys back that we missed for weeks. Even though we’re missing a couple other guys, we got enough to compete with anybody — and I mean, anybody,” Newton said during a media conference call on Thursday.
“Everybody’s going back to their normal routines. That’s big for us. Me personally, being in my position, it’s one thing to go over your reads; it’s another thing to go over your reads and get a good look at it. We hope it pays dividends come Sunday, and we’re expecting big things from not only the offense but a good complementary game of football for us.”
To Cam’s credit, he was consistent after the Patriots got boat-raced by a banged-up-at-best 49ers team to drop their record to one their worst records through six games this millennium:
“The decision-making is inexcusable, and I think that’s the most frustrating thing,” Newton said.
“It’s a lot of it mental,” Newton said. “I’m not going to point fingers at nobody else being the fact that I just didn’t get the job done. And when you have a performance like that going against a team like this, what happened tonight will happen again. So like I said, it’s a distasteful taste and feeling, but yet here moving forward you just got to get on a roll. We just got to get one.”
So what to do when the problem seems to be....everyone needs to do better at everything?
The Patriots coaching staff seemed abnormally chatty about what needs to happen, players and coaches alike, to avoid having a three-game bender turn into a full-blown existential crisis.
“He’s continuing to gain experience and knowledge in the system,” said Fisch, the quarterbacks coach. “There’s clearly some times that we haven’t pulled the trigger fast enough and therefore we’re hitching a couple extra times or holding onto the ball a little bit longer than we would like to, and that can cause many things — a negative play, a sack, an interception, an incompletion, a late throw.
“What we have to do is we have to continue to practice — to get reps at all of our football plays that we run. I have to do a better job coaching. He has to continue to do a better job reacting and understanding that the looks are always going to be a little bit different. They are always going to be a little bit faster on Sundays and he is going to have to quickly translate the game from the practice field to the game field. We’re all going to have to do a better job helping him there.”
(Personally, that whole “practice” bit seems kind of important to a team that famously succeeds by preparing for and analyzing every detail, like, oh, let’s just say, hitting that last throw in the Broncos game? But we digress. Let’s hear from Josh McDaniels!)
“It starts with doing the things that he’s comfortable with and then working those things in practice so that you end up at a place with the entire unit, so that they can get comfortable with one another,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any shortcut to this. Bill [Belichick] has always told us that practice execution becomes game reality. For us, I think there’s a lot of urgency for us to be able to see that this week and transfer that into the game.”
McDaniels added passing the ball successfully “starts with fundamentals, footwork, technique, doing the little things right relative to moving in the pocket and putting yourself in a good position to throw.” He compared a quarterback’s mechanics to a golf swing.
Speaking of technique, how about that oft-repeated — and to be fair, somewhat deserved — critiques of Cam’s technique, whether it’s opening the hips, throwing with his feet in the wrong places, or conspicuously avoiding the right side of the field?
Here’s QB coach Jedd Fisch again.
“Practice is what helps you there and when you don’t have as much practice time as he probably would have liked over the last three weeks, there’s some things that may or may not have slipped. ... I don’t think there’s anything there that is a problem right now that is not fixable,” he said.
“One of Newton’s strengths is creating plays that might not be there initially. But at times, that has led to him pressing and making mistakes.”
“What Cam has always been able to do is make the plays off schedule, as much or more than, some of the plays on schedule. What we’re trying to do is help him find that balancing act, and us as coaches also continue to build off his skill set,” Fisch explained.
“The rhythm and timing of the passing game is always going to be a little bit different when you’re playing with a guy like a Cam, who has had such experience extending football plays. ... What we’re learning through this process, and are trying to fast-forward the learning as quickly as we possibly can, is when to maybe say ‘let a play die.’
“Really the teaching for us, and what we’re trying to educate Cam on — and what Cam is educating us on — is the difference between a first-and-10 play and a third-and-long play, and the difference between a two-minute drive and the second drive of the second quarter.”
So, situational football, then....that rings a bell around these parts.
And truthfully, that kind of gets at the heart of what’s so frustrating with the 2020 Patriots, offense and defense alike, six games into the season. There’s no one thing that’s messed up that the team can fix.
It’s not just the receivers failing to separate, because as popular as that Pats fan grievance is, there’s plenty of plays on the tape where someone is plenty open to make a play. It’s not just that Cam’s fundamentals seem to have slipped and bad habits seem to be compounding themselves, although there’s also plenty of tape examples documenting plays where that’s clearly the case. It’s not just that the defense seems to be able to throw enough wrenches at Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs one week to stay within a puncher’s chance, and then gets barbecued by a team like the 49ers that plays heavy, mean, and smart, the way the Patriots seem like they want to play. It’s all these very un-Patriots-like setbacks popping up at the worst possible time like that Nemesis weirdo in Resident Evil.
Full circle, then; here’s what needs to be done to get through this part of the quest through Middle-Earth. Back to Cam Newton:
“This is a must-win for us, and I’m going to control the things that I can control. I have two or three more days to prepare and that’s what I plan on doing,” Newton said Thursday.
“Listen man, good vibes, good energies, you have to speak things into existence. I refute [that thought],” he said. “My main focus is to play a better version of what I’ve been playing lately — protecting the football. That’s the key to victory.”
Asked what he has learned most over the past few weeks, Newton said: “Losing is not acceptable in this locker room, in this county, in this state, in this area, in this region. So, Cameron Newton, you need to pick your expletive up. That’s what I’ve learned.”
He has been especially hard on himself, acknowledging that he’s playing for his job.
“When you’re trash, and when you put on performances like I did the past week, anybody can start talking to you — from the whisperers and the chirpers,” he said.
“When you play the way I played on Sunday, terrible, you open the doors. This whole week, starting on Sunday from the first quarter, was a humbling experience. Getting the tap on the shoulder [to come out of the game] was a humbling experience. I’m not used to that. Now I’m at a crossroads.”
That job just got the difficulty cranked up to Expert-level with the Doomsday-clock announcement of Julian Edelman missing time with a knee injury on Thursday, in addition to N’Keal Harry still being sidelined with a concussion.
Thing is, though, Cam’s original point still stands. The excuse basket is running low, and while Sunday’s game in Buffalo may well be a Jurassic Park rain and Hoth-level winds slugfest, that’s football weather around here. Let’s let sidelined safety Patrick Chung send us off the only way he knows how: