So that happened.
- I’ve watched a lot of football in my life — way more than I should have, if I’m being honest. And in my 33 years as a fan of this sport, I’ve seen a lot of weird games. And yesterday’s matchup between the New England Patriots and Dallas Cowboys might have been the weirdest game I have ever watched, and I mean that with all sincerity.
- And the weird, like a Waffle House at 4:30 am on a Tuesday, was pervasive and complete. Absolutely nothing about that game made any sense. The team that dominated the box score stats so thoroughly you have to do a double take to make sure you were reading it right didn’t take the lead until the 4th quarter. The team that dominated the time of possession needed overtime to eke out the win. We had an end zone pick, a QB sneak fumble at the goal line, penalties galore, and scoring followed by non scoring followed by a ton of scoring, and when it was all said and done and the Pats remained winless at home I found myself very confused as to how the hell I got here. Again, much like a Waffle House at 4:30 am.
- I guess I should start with the coaching staff, as I can’t for the life of me tell you what I think their game plan was going into this one. If you were to tell me Belichick’s pregame speech was something to the tune of, “OK men, here’s the plan. Defense, try to stop them from scoring! And offense, you guys do the opposite of that — score points! Now let’s get ‘em!”, I wouldn’t be all that surprised. I saw a lot of Cover 3, corners deep in the outside thirds, and very little press man, likely to keep all plays in front of them. But the level of cushion Dallas’s receivers got at the line would make Fauci himself say “I think it’s safe to get a little closer there.”
- That said, the Cowboys are one of the best teams in the NFL and absolutely loaded on offense. They’re just a better team than the Patriots by a decent margin. So this may very well may have been a keep it conservative, limit mistakes, and try to force them into making errors kind of day — which, somehow, worked. Dallas constantly screwed themselves with penalties, Dak fumbled at the goal line and threw an end zone pick. Dallas just couldn’t put points on the board. Unfortunately for the Patriots, they couldn’t either.
- When New England went up 14-7 on their first two possessions of the game, I started to think that this was going to be one of those games New England was on the ass end of multiple times over the years, where the better team plays poorly, the inferior team has everything go their way, and it’s a double digit win that leaves a lot of people confused. But that wasn’t the case, and while there are a lot of reasons why the Patriots didn’t win this game, there are two in particular I’d like to point out:
- FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THINGS HOLY STOP GIVING IT TO BRANDON BOLDEN ON THIRD AND SHORT
- When Dallas’s last four possessions of the game were all long drives that took less than five minutes and all resulted in either points or a missed field goal attempt, that should be an indicator that the defense isn’t able to stop them and thus each New England offensive possession becomes critical to the point where going for it on fourth down is a solid option. Giving Dallas a short field doesn’t matter as much when they’re likely going to drive down anyway, and there has been absolutely nothing I’ve seen out of Mac Jones that leads me to believe he can’t handle that kind of situation. The 2021 Patriots season is for getting Jones reps, building his confidence, letting him acclimate to the NFL, build team chemistry, and maybe make a legit run next year. So why not open things up a bit?
- This might just be me, but I really thought that when the Patriots paid a lot of money to sign Jonnu Smith, they’d be using him a little more creatively. It may just be that the playbook is still limited because FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THINGS HOLY STOP GIVING IT TO BRANDON BOLDEN ON THIRD AND SHORT, and maybe as the season goes on he’ll grow into that role as the move TE we all hoped he would be, but I spent all offseason ranting about how a move TE is a rookie quarterback’s best friend, and as usual, I’m looking foolish.
- I’ll also say that this offensive line is a real liability right now. And when you don’t trust your line (and rightly so), that’s going to limit your playbook regardless of who is under center. Maybe we should just call up all the practice squad guys again.
- I’m going to do my best to break down some individual plays, both good and bad... but again, this was just a weird game and I don’t know how effective I’ll be, as I watched the NFL equivalent of Kate Beckinsale walking arm in arm with Pete Davidson. It happened, it worked, but nobody could for the life of you say why.
- A real bright spot for me, other than his horrendous blitz pickup, was Rhamondre Stevenson. His stats aren’t anything crazy, but he’s a decisive runner who rarely gets tackled for a loss and is a legit threat out of the backfield as a receiver. He ran a 22 yard seam route yesterday that was miles better than anything we saw out of the tight ends all last year. He seems like the kind of guy that, on third and short, you just go big and give him the ball and maybe FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THINGS HOLY STOP GIVING IT TO BRANDON BOLDEN ON THIRD AND SHORT
- I lost track of how many times Damien Harris was questionable to return with a chest, ankle, and leg injury, but return he did, and he’s still the team’s best back. His vision out of the goal line Wildcat is excellent, and he didn’t fumble yesterday. He also has a nice backfield cut that he used on three separate occasions to move away from the blocking scheme to bounce to the outside for positive yards.
- I don’t think I even really need to bother with the defense, because all I really saw Dallas do was a rollout of the play action to hit the open man coming across the middle on the heels of a positive first down run. Dallas was playing Madden ‘94 where a few plays worked every single time no matter what the defense did and there was no reason to change it up. Nickel package, dime package, it didn’t matter.
- Thank Tebow for Matthew Judon, who was once again a bright spot along a defensive line that made whoever washes Dak Prescott’s jersey’s job very easy this morning. Dak was able to move the pocket at will, he’s mobile enough that even when New England was able to penetrate he just scrambled towards the sidelines, and since New England had such a soft cushion guys were open. That, and since he had upwards of eight seconds to throw at times, you just can’t cover guys for that long.
- And shout out to J.C. Jackson, who handily won the matchup with Amari Cooper. You’re not going to shut a receiver of that caliber down completely, but 5 for 55 is a solid stat line.
- What isn’t a solid stat line, is 9 for 149 and a score, which is what CeeDee Lamb put up yesterday. The guy is a beast, and the safety help New England tried to offer didn’t really work.
- Speaking of safety... I know that there are just certain things you aren’t allowed to talk about in 2021 or else you’ll get canceled. I need to do a bit of research on how much of a trigger warning “Devin McCourty is starting to show his age” has attached to it before I go there.
- It’s a long-shot... but I’d love to see the Patriots somehow force an opponent into a 3rd-and-99 scenario at some point this season. I’m just fascinated to see what play they’d use to gain 98 yards on the play to get to 4th-and-1 and then punch it in for the score. My guess is a quick slant.
- I failed algebra on four separate occasions in high school, but Matt Patricia is a smart guy, right? So if New England is constantly presented with the equation 4th-and-1 = 3rd down and X minus one, where X equals yards to go for a first, maybe he can figure that out. Doesn’t a one on each side of the equation cancel each other out? So it’s 4th = 3rd-and-X now?
- The 2021 Patriots might be one of those teams that plays perfectly to the level of their opponent. They keep every game close and rely on a few plays to either win or lose the game. That’s happened almost every week so far, and unfortunately New England hasn’t been on the winning side. A Damien Harris fumble, a missed Nick Folk field goal, a last-minute field goal against the Texans, and a pick six all swung various games one way or another. Living on the edge is no way to live, but that might be what we’re in for.
- If this is true, maybe it’s time to just lean into it, go crazy, and FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THINGS HOLY STOP GIVING IT TO BRANDON BOLDEN ON THIRD AND SHORT
- There was at least some normalcy regarding this game. Mac Jones made a few rookie mistakes, including leading Kendrick Bourne just a bit too much to lead to the pick six...but a lot of QBs do that. N’Keal Harry once again did what he does best: draw a flag to give New England a first down and good field position. And Jakobi Meyers continues to catch absolutely everything that comes his way.
- And I think we should all count that two point conversion he caught as a touchdown reception. The guy deserves it.
- Mac Jones has spent six weeks proving, to me at least, that he’s ready to take on more responsibility. He makes the appropriate hand signals, uses his brakes, looks both ways before crossing the street, and understands the gears. He’s been asking dad if maybe he could take the training wheels off his bike and dad keeps saying “sure, we’ll do it this weekend,” but when the weekend comes around again dad says “ride around the driveway a few more times” and goes inside to drink beer and watch football. And while I can’t support that last activity enough...take the damn training wheels off already and FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THINGS HOLY STOP GIVING IT TO BRANDON BOLDEN ON THIRD AND SHORT
- I don’t understand the appeal of Patton Oswalt. That is all.
- Every week, Mac Jones gets a number of Welcome to the NFL moments. Some are great - your first TD pass, your first win. Some are bad — your first pick, your first bad decision. And some are the hit you took from Randy Gregory, who harnessed his inner Lattimer to level you and force you to cough up the ball.
- Whatever happened to the NFL teaming up with breast cancer awareness all October? Remember the pink cleats and towels? Guess the league wasn’t profiting enough from it.
- I would pay way more money than I’m willing to admit to watch a Bob Kraft vs. Jerry Jones decathlon. It wouldn’t even need to be all athletic events either. Maybe an egg toss and a pie eating contest. Arm wrestling and corn hole. That would be appointment TV for me.
- Good for that girl abandoning her romantic tryst on the beach to go get some late night Taco Bell. She’s going to regret it in the morning either way, but at least now she’ll have the bed to herself.
- And in hindsight, good for the guy getting blown off - especially if they had gone to Taco Bell together before heading home to do whatever they were going to do. That’s no way to wake up in a strange bed.
- Bill Belichick legit looked like he went 12 rounds by the end of this game. Came into it with a bloody nose, somehow left it with a bloody lip as well. He got beat up by osmosis as something.
- Live look at the last two minutes of this game.
- Which leads me to believe that Patriots can hang with anybody. They can also lose to anybody. They’re right where they should be a 2-4, they have yet to win at home this year, and they kind of are what they are. I still think that the December Patriots will be a team nobody wants to play... but it may very well be too late at that point. Which is fine... but still.
The Jets are coming to town now. Thank Goodness. No WAY they lose at home to those guys.