Well, it was fun while it lasted.
The Patriots were able to string together two wins for the first time all year, but I guess three was just too many for 2020. New England looked great at times, and they looked mediocre at times, ultimately falling short to a Texans team that is far better than their record indicates. New England’s already slim playoff chances just got even slimmer - but seeing as how it’s the holidays, I suppose we should all be congratulating anyone who’s able to slim down this time of year.
- There was a possibly illegal pregame hug between Bill Belichick and Romeo Crennel that I have officially declared the Alec Shane Holiday 2020 Kickoff Event. Those of us who were around for the first years of this Patriots Dynasty will remember Crennel as the defensive coordinator responsible for helming one of the most dominant defensive units the NFL has ever seen. So good for Romeo getting a win yesterday.
- This was my first time watching the Texans play all season, and if they played like they did yesterday, it makes absolutely no sense how this team has lost so many games. Deseaon Watson absolutely shredded this defense for 344 yards and 2 TDs, plus another one on the ground. Nine different players caught a pass, and three players had over 80 yards. How in the hell were they unable to put any points on the board against Cleveland?
- While I don’t want to take any credit away from Watson, who once again showed that he’s one of the best quarterbacks in the league, what the Texans did through the air yesterday was simply exploit what has been a massive, gaping hole in this defense all season: the middle of the field. New England just doesn’t have the personnel to pass off the crossing routes and in-posts over the middle
- On the plus side, the Houston run game was nonexistent, which includes those stretch rushes that has been giving this team fits all year. The Patriots were able to set the edge now for the second week in a row. Don’t underestimate what Lawrence Guy represents to this defensive line, nor should we overlook how happy we should all be that Belichick isn’t mad a Chase Winovich anymore.
- It’s ultimately an amazing thing to watch...but knowing that there was just no way whatsoever the Patriots were going to sack Watson at any point, even when there were like five guys right around him, was the equivalent of spending $20 at one of those claw drop prize machines because every time you got a decent grip on that purple elephant, it falls off the claw right before the slot drop. I lost count halfway through the second quarter how many times Watson evaded a surefire loss of yards and turned it into a positive.
- I also lost count of how many yards the Texans gained after contact. It must have been an optical illusion (that, or the footballs the Texans were playing with had Super Mario mushroom level growth powers), but every Texan that touched the ball yesterday seemed to be six inches and 25 pounds heavier than any Patriot on the field.
- All in all, the Texans team we saw on Sunday was the Texans team I thought they would be all year; I’d put that offensive performance up against most teams in the AFC, to be honest. And if they’ve been playing like that all season and still only have three wins, then they must have just run up against some lousy luck.
- It wasn’t all bad, though, as a receiver not named Jakobi Meyers not only got a look, but a reception to boot.
- Not only that, but with 8:15 left in the third quarter of Week 11, a Patriots wide receiver caught a TD pass when Damiere Byrd made a beautiful adjustment on a 42 yard bomb from Newton. Take THAT, 2014 Chiefs!
- I’d also go as far as to say the Patriots had their best overall drive of the season yesterday when they went 84 yards on 10 plays, an excellent mix of run and pass, to score an opening possession touchdown. While there are still some playcalls that Josh McDaniels dials in that just make zero sense - he was inexplicably committed to the crack toss run long after Houston adjusted and I seem to recall a run for James White on 2nd and 19 that had me screaming at the TV - there is some legit talent on this unit that is just a few pieces away from being a real contender.
- If you want to criticise Cam Newton for his play earlier in the year, you go right ahead - he’s certainly had some awful games. But yesterday’s loss isn’t on him in the slightest. He was decisive and accurate and he spread the ball around to eight different receivers on his way to 365 yards passing. He has never been great at diagnosing the blitz, but defenders are paid to make plays as well.
- There are a areas where Cam Newton is better than Tom Brady. He stronger. He’s more mobile. He runs the RPO in a way that Brady never could. They’re more or less on par with each other when it comes to fashion sense. But Cam Newton can’t touch Brady when it comes to the outside screen game. Tommy B knew when the DB was playing far enough off the receiver that it made sense to call a fake audible at the line, draw the safety closer to the middle, then immediately rifle one to the outside so the receiver could make his guy miss and pick up the first. The outside screen game, a New England staple for so long, is now a detriment to this team.
- A detriment to my fondness for people who collect a paycheck while doing as little work as possible came when I saw Josh McCown on the sidelines yesterday. Last I checked on him, he was collecting $12K per week from the Eagles as a practice squad QB while he watched TV on his couch in Texas. If that doesn’t put him right up there with Ryan Fitzpatrick in the GOAT journeyman conversation, I don’t know what will.
- I’d now like to officially welcome Kyle Dugger to the NFL. He’s still a liability in coverage, particularly on middle crossers (then again, everyone on this defense is a liability in coverage there), but he’s a downhill thumper with phenomenal closing speed. He’s had monster games the past few weeks now and the arrow is trending up.
- If your knowledge of JJ Watt’s career resulted solely from his performance against the Patriots over the years, you’d likely rank him as one of the biggest draft busts of all time.
- I don’t miss him one bit...but listening to whoever drew the commentator job for that game fumble through their calls I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find myself wondering what Dan Fouts’s take would be on some of the games this season. A few thoughts:
- “Players didn’t have access to a full offseason this year. What that means is, where they used to be able to practice, this year, they couldn’t!”
- “You can look at Bill Belichick on the sidelines here wearing a mask. With that mask on, it’s probably a lot harder for other coaches to try and read his lips.’
- “With no fans in the stands this year, look for stadiums to be a lot quieter than we’re used to.”
- OK, I lied. I kind of do miss that guy.
- The two worst things that happened yesterday were:
- Jonathan Jones found himself on the ass end of one of the more brutal stiff-arms I’ve seen in a long time. I hope he’s home and recovering comfortably.
- If Rex Burkhead isn’t done for the year, I’ll be amazed. Whenever a guy’s leg gets completely bent in the wrong direction, I think it’s safe to say that he’s got a full offseason of rehab ahead of him. It sounds horrible to say this...but I hope he broke a bone. Broken bones are much easier to deal with than torn ACLs.
- Same thing goes for Joe Burrow, who also took a brutal shot to the knee yesterday. Kid has a bright future ahead of him, so here’s hoping he comes back strong in 2021.
- Remember when the Patriots had dominant tight ends and there was just no stopping them? That was nice.
- It’s odd to me how this offense can look so strong and so completely inept from drive to drive.
- Is there a name yet for when Damiere Byrd makes a big play? Flipping the Byrd? Byrd is the word? Bye Bye Byrdie?
- Every time I hear the name Kai’mi Fairbairn, I find myself saying “why did he suck so much when he was on the Patriots?” before remembering I once again confused him with Kai Forbath.
- I had completely forgotten that Donte Moncrief was on this team until he made that catch in the 4th quarter.
- I didn’t hear any of the dialogue, but my early frontrunner for best commercial of the year involves two members of a sideline chain gang beating a rug with the first down marker. Progressive, I think. I don’t even care about the context, that’s just funny.
- The Patriots may have lost, their defense may have gotten completely shredded, and they may have all but squandered any possible hopes they had of a playoff berth, but at least they lost their most versatile running back for the year. So at least there’s that.
Ultimately, this game didn’t matter all that much, as the Patriots were facing a pretty steep uphill climb for a playoff berth anyway. And there are definitely some positives to take away from the game, which I’ll get into in tomorrow’s Coping With Loss article. But I know we’re all used to heading into Thanksgiving week with a stranglehold on the AFC East and a nice Week 11 win to take us into Turkey Day. Not the case this year, and that’s fine. Just not in the cards for the 2020 Patriots.
Here’s hoping you’re all doing something fun and safe on Thursday, whether it’s a small gathering with immediate family or just hanging out at home relaxing and watching some football. There’s always a ton to be thankful for, and this year more than most it’s important to keep the good things in mind. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!