Happy Victory Monday, everyone!
If you’re feeling a little strange today, don’t worry; this is the first Victory Monday we’ve experienced since September, so it might take a little while to readjust. And this particular Victory Monday is especially sweet, as it represents one that has been extremely rare around these parts for the past 20 years: the Monday after a Patriots upset win. I know all of us, down to a person, totally knew the Pats were going to win this one...but we’re a special breed. Most folks had the Ravens bullying the Patriots into submission and more or less ending their season.
But that didn’t happen, did it?
- The nice thing about going into a game where you aren’t really expecting anything at all is that there’s zero pressure and you can just hope your team makes a game of it somehow. In years past, Pats/Ravens had me nervous from the Monday before the game until the very end of the fourth quarter and the winner usually had some kind of inside track for home field advantage throughout the playoffs. This year, though, I was just hoping to be invested in the game after halftime. And New England didn’t disappoint.
- The Baltimore Ravens are a running team. They have the best rushing attack in the game, a strong offensive line, and an absolutely electric quarterback who is almost impossible to bring down. No Raven cracked 60 yards rushing last night or had a run longer than 11 yards. Given how weak the Patriots have been against the run, that’s a massive win.
- In normal weeks, I’d make some smug note here about how the leading rusher for the opponent was the QB, which is usually a sign that the defense was dominant — but when it’s Lamar Jackson, that’s more or less expected.
- I know he’s on the Ravens, and I know we’re all programmed to dislike that team - but I hope you can all appreciate just how fun Jackson is to watch, and how well he played last night. His stat line isn’t remarkable — 24 of 34 for 249 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, and 55 yards rushing — but his receivers were plagued by drops all night, there were a handful of bad snaps, and the weather was absolutely brutal. There were plenty of plays that would have been sacks or negative yardage that he turned into first downs, and it’s amazing to see. Very much looking forward to seeing him continue to develop.
- His development was stunted last night, though, by a Patriots defense that saw some interesting new wrinkles, such as Chase Winovich lined up as an inside linebacker and Kyle Dugger and Josh Uche seeing extended snaps for the first time all season. New England clearly chose to go big in order to stop the run, and it worked. Baltimore had a lot of trouble bouncing to the outside and the middle was just a bunch of big dudes getting push.
- Which is as good a time as any to talk a little more about Kyle Dugger, who saw the field for 85% of the defensive snaps and led the team with 12 total tackles. I would imagine that games like yesterday’s is the exact reason Bill Belichick drafted him; the quarterback position seems to be shifting away from the pure pocket passers and morphing into a new breed of smart, fast, mobile guys who are always a threat to break one. Even the fastest linebackers aren’t going to able to move quickly enough to the outside to prevent a scramble, and by the time DBs leave their coverage assignment to crash the line it’s too late. Having a big, athletic safety who isn’t afraid to thump if he needs to is going to be a must for defenses going forward if this QB trend continues.
- Dugger still struggles in straight up coverage, particularly on drag/crosser routes. But this kid has been asked to jump from DII football to the NFL with virtually no offseason and limited practices. That’s not quite the leap I had to make from the Blue Jay reading group in 1st grade to the Red Robin reading group in 2nd (a leap I was unable to make in spectacular fashion, for the record), but it’s pretty damn close.
- Speaking of struggling in coverage, the secondary remains the strength of this team, but to be fair one issue we have seen all season from this unit is busted coverages, particularly in the man/zone mixes. Receivers are going to make plays, and slips happen to everyone, but several times a game a tight end will come wide open across the middle when he’s not passed off correctly or a running back will come out of the flat uncontested for a first down.
- For the most part, though, this defense held a very good Ravens team - more or less the same Ravens team that put up almost 40 on the Patriots last year - to 17 points. And they did it without their best corner and without suffering any injuries.
- I wish I could same about Baltimore, though. You never want to see guys get hurt, and you especially never want to see a guy’s leg snap in half in slow motion. Nick Boyle is one of the better, if not the best, blocking tight ends in the league right now and a pretty important part of their pistol package. Hope he’s able to make it through OK.
- There’s a generation of younger people who will never know the excitement, joy, and anticipation that came with walking into your local video store on a Friday night to rent a movie or a video game (and if it was going to be a really wild night, both) for the weekend. Maybe you had no idea what you wanted to play/see and were looking forward to browsing the shelves to see what caught your eye. Or maybe you had a game you really wanted to play and had to hope that some other kid hadn’t gotten there before you (you just had to stop for gas, didn’t you mom?) and swiped the only copy. And maybe you spent a little too much time browsing the foreign film section because it was closest to that curtain in the back where they kept all the dirty movies and if you stood just right you could see through a crack and get an eyeful of the covers for such cinematic masterpieces as “Sorority Sleepover 6” and “Wet and Wild on South Beach.” But that trip to the video store on Friday nights, coming home with a game, some Doritos, Mountain Dew, and your whole weekend planned was something that all the streaming access in the world can never duplicate.
- Why am I bringing this up? Because video game rentals came with a very distinct downside, especially if, like me, you rented a lot of football games and had friends who were jerks. Video game football in 2020 has advanced far beyond anything I’m capable of comprehending, but in the early 90s, playing was more or less a race to figure out which three or four plays worked every single time no matter what your soon-to-be ex friend did to try and stop it, and just run that play over and over and over until someone threw a controller and stormed out of the room. It was great when you figured the money plays out first...but holy jeez did it suck when you were on the ass end of it. Some of the playcalls are still seared into my brain 20+ years later. X Delay. Pitch Strong. WR Drag Left. Yuck.
- I’m still rambling. Sorry. But I imagine that the Ravens are going to watch game tape this week and feel very much like a kid who just lost six games of ESPN Sunday Night NFL because the Patriots found the money plays right away and just wouldn’t stop calling them. They were all runs — Off Tackle Right and Zone HB Dive — with Damien Harris racking up 121 yards on 22 carries for a whopping 5.5 YPC average. All in all, the Patriots ran the ball 40 times for 173 yards and a score - which, honestly, is what you expected the Ravens to do.
- Can you imagine what this rushing attack would be if the Patriots had receivers who scared anyone? Honestly, I’d settle for “receivers that occasionally startle one person once in a while” at this point, but this line and these running backs have to make anyone down on the 2020 team incredibly excited for the future.
- I love me some Jakobi Meyers. I was actually surprised that his stat line was only five grabs on seven targets for 59 yards, and the reason I’m surprised is twofold. One, his catches came in key moments and either helped move the chains or picked up some nice chunk yards that helped switch the field. And two, he was literally the only receiver who got a look last night. Nothing for Harry, Byrd, or Gunner. I will say, though, that N’Keal Harry is an excellent blocking receiver — but I would imagine if Belichick had wanted a first-round pick that blocked all the time, he’d have drafted another lineman.
- Going to keep giving Harry the benefit of the doubt; he’s back after time off, and the Ravens have a solid secondary. But Jakobi Meyers isn’t a WR1. Not his fault, but he’s just not.
- Maybe he’s not a WR1 because he was a quarterback before he was a receiver? Did anybody know that? I’d like to formally welcome “Jakobi Meyers was a college QB” to a very elite club of sports facts that aren’t all that interesting but will forever be crammed down our throats by the talking heads. It joins “Julian Edelman played quarterback in college”, “Chris Hogan played lacrosse”, and the immortal “Ryan Fitzpatrick went to Harvard” in some pretty mighty company.
- His throw to Rex Burkhead for New England’s second score of the day to cap off a 10 play, 75 yard drive was a tight, arcing spiral right between two defenders and right in Rex Burkhead’s bread basket. Had that throw happened at any point between Week 4 and 8 of this season, it would have been the best pass thrown by a Patriot that day. Don’t want to see it too much, but loved it. Can’t wait for the inevitable Newton to Edelman to Meyers then back to Newton Triple Whammy for big yards.
- New England’s base 21 personnel has Jakobi Meyers and Damiere Byrd as their WRs. Just like we all suspected!
- Glad to see that Cam Newton has been paying attention to our politie, rational, and reasoned critiques about his lack of QB sneaking on short yardage downs. I’d be totally fine never seeing him line up in shotgun again on 3rd or 4th and short.
- As if you needed another reason to say screw you to 2020: there was a Tornado Warning all along the eastern seaboard last night. We’re all well-versed in rain, wind, snow, hail, and the occasional hurricane...but tornados are the midwest’s problem.
- Although given the way that the weather factored into this game, somehow calming down when New England had the ball and picking up when Baltimore had it, makes me think that there’s more to Ernie Adams’s job description than we’ll ever know.
- In case you were missing the constant flag throwing, windbag explanations of penalties, and extended conferences that came with Ed Hochuli-reffed games, you were thrilled to see that is son Steven is a chip of the old block. He called a pretty even game, I’ll give him that, but nobody wants to hear you pontificate for 45 seconds every time you throw one.
- It has kind of fallen by the wayside this season with all of the other storylines going on...but what did the Patriots do last night that John Harbaugh is going to try to get changed for next year? No playing in the rain? No more than two players named Isaiah on the roster at any one time?
- I’m not often one to laugh at another’s misfortune (yes that’s a complete lie, just move on), but I will never not chuckle when the Ravens get flagged for Illegal formation.
- If I’m going to give out the Guy Nobody Will Talk About Today But Deserves A Ton Of Credit Award to someone this morning, it has to be Jakob Johnson. He still needs to learn when to abandon his pre-snap block and improvise based on what the linebacker does, but he’s been awesome. Runs hard, throws himself into every block, and is emerging as Newton’s emergency option when the play breaks down.
At 4-5, the Patriots are currently sitting at 10th place in the AFC. It’s crazy to think that if just a few plays had gone their way, they’d be 6-2 right now...but that’s football. I still think that the playoffs are going to be a stretch for this team, as they need to stay hot and need a few other teams to fall flat on their face down the stretch, but it’s not impossible. The Patriots needed to win big last night, and they did. They now have a reeling Texans team that lost to Cleveland with a chance to get to .500 on the year, with three divisional games still to play. So who knows.