This is starting to feel a little more familiar.
Four straight Victory Mondays in a row now, and four straight convincing wins from the New England Patriots. With their absolute beatdown of the Cleveland Browns, this might be a team that nobody wants to face right now. And it was painfully obvious that Cleveland didn’t want to be there about halfway through the very first quarter, which made yesterday’s game my favorite kind: relaxing, enjoyable, and no sweat stains on my recliner from stressing my way through a three hour ordeal.
- If there’s an NFL equivalent of that scene from “Friday the 13th Part 8: Jason Takes Manhattan” where Julis tries to take out Jason Voorhies using only his boxing skills, this game was it. Cleveland got the ball to start the game, then engineered an 11-play, 84 yard drive in which the offense doesn’t see their first third down until they were inside the two yard line. They went for it on 4th-and-goal and got the score to go up 7-0. It was a methodical, pounding, will-imposing drive that let everyone know that the Browns came to play.
- The Patriots also came to play, it would seem, because after taking that series of lefts, rights, and hooks, they held their ground, waited for the dust to settle, and punched them right into a dumpster. That TD represented the last points that Cleveland would score as the Patriots shifted from a base 3-4 with no in-the-box safety to a multi-tiered 6-1/5-2-4 look to clog up the box and force Cleveland to pass, which they were definitively unable to do.
- I have made a lot of random, obscure, ridiculous movie references during my years writing for Pats Pulpit, but to bust out a Jason Takes Manhattan clip, to open the Fan Notes nonetheless, may be the most random, obscure, and ridiculous I’ve ever made or will ever make. Not sure how well that bodes for the rest of this article.
- May as well stick with the defense, though there really isn’t a bad place to start here. That first drive aside, the D didn’t allow a drive of longer than five plays for the entire first half. As I mentioned, they shifted away from the 3-4 and relied on their linebackers to operate on a read-and-react scheme that usually represents a high risk/high reward outing. And because of that, Dont’a Hightower had his best game as a Patriot this season. Six tackles, four solo, a sack, and he followed Christian Barmore up the middle to pressure Mayfield into throwing a Kyle Dugger interception that more or less put the game away. He and Ja’Whaun Bentley completely eliminated any semblance of the inside run game while somehow simultaneously keeping the under middle zones clogged.
- That Dugger pick seemed to just defeat the Browns for some reason. I don’t even know why, because honestly the game was still tied and it was very early. But Mayfield felt the pressure, panicked, and never really came back after that. Honestly, that he only threw the one pick is pretty lucky for him; J.C. Jackson had one go right through his hands as well. Though I guess when you only convert one third down, and that one conversion comes on a penalty, you may as well spend the rest of the game wishing for the clock to tick a little faster.
- Once it was 21-7 and the game was well in hand, New England shifted into a zone mix with McCourty as the deep safety and some combination of Philips and Dugger in the box, designed to force the short passes that may move the ball, but take a very long time to do so. And since Cleveland couldn’t run, they were just pedaling a rusty bike up an icy slope all game long.
- I need to blatantly plagiarise the great Jerry Thornton, of WEEI and Barstool Sports, for what may be my favorite Knee Jerk Reaction he’s ever written when he says:
- “And in another familiar pattern we’ve learned to absolutely come to expect, the pass rush got more effective as the game went on. Don’t get me wrong, Judon is a force of nature from the first snap. But once he starts wearing down the protection, he becomes an extinction level event. We’re also seeing the Belichicks draw up ways to overload one side or another to get Judon either iso’d on a blocker or left unaccounted for. On one, they lined Hightower up inside him, who shot the G-T gap as Judon came wide, leaving the tackle to pick his poison. He chose Hightower and Judon came free. The monster under ever QB’s bed has red sleeves.”
- Possibly the most improved player on this defense year-to-year is Bentley. That play in the 3rd when he read the handoff to D’Ernest Johnson, fired through the gap and met him practically at the mesh point was almost surreal. Like his Spidey Senses tingled before the ball was even snapped. Nothing could make this week better like someone on the Browns complaining New England had stolen their calls.
- I almost feel badly for Christian Barmore. Almost. I feel like in any other year, he’d be rightfully getting praised for being the best pick in the draft and touted for how quickly he has not only been able to thrive at the line of scrimmage, but display a veteran-level understanding of a position that’s only slightly less complicated than the plot of the third Matrix movie. Patriots defensive tackles not only need to be able to almost immediately diagnose the opposing line’s blocking schemes while disrupting said schemes while also getting the push and penetration necessary to create pressure up the middle and collapse the pocket, but they also need to know what the linebacker is doing and create gaps for them to break into. That Barmore has done this so seamlessly, particularly in a game like yesterday’s (five pressure, by the way) in which a lot of the ‘backer play was predicated on what happened after the snap, means he deserves way more credit than he’s getting, due to another rookie that I’m going to get to in a minute.
- Plus, he’s sharing the field with one of the best Bill Belichick FA acquisitions of all time in Matt Judon. He racked up half a sack, three QB hits, a Baker Mayfield Fatality, and was as disruptive in the backfield as a swarm of bees in Tom Callahan’s car. I wouldn’t say that Judon is stealing Barmore’s shine, because you can’t steal something you deserve, but the rookie lineman picked a helluva time to get drafted and have a monster first year.
- Speaking of monsters... If you were to tell me that Mac Jones would finish his day with three touchdowns, just four incompletions, multiple 90+ yard scoring drives, no picks, an almost 80% conversion rate on third down, and less than 200 yards passing, I wouldn’t have thought that was mathematically possible. But that all happened, and it’s primarily because of some phenomenal decision making and an already advanced understanding of what makes winning football.
- Case in point: I think my favorite play of the game came on 2nd-and-11 with exactly two minutes to play in the first half. New England, looking to bust out that patented Bill Belichick double points dip, came out in a 3WR set with everyone spread out fairly wide. Mac Jones audibly yelled out for an alert, motioned Hunter Henry in as an extra blocker, put Jakobi Meyers in the near slot, and handed it to Rhamondre Stevenson up the gut for 16.
- That’s to say nothing of some of the passes he made. A beautiful 26-yard rainbow to Jakobi Meyers on third down. The touch pass to Henry right at the line for his first TD of the game. The 23-yard laser in between two defenders to Kendrick Bourne for a score that, to this point, is the best play of the entire season. I’m trying to think of the last time this kid made one of those boneheaded rookie mistakes he has every right in the world to make, and I’m having a hard time.
- And while I’m not putting a rookie making his tenth career start anywhere near the conversation of the all-time greats — to reiterate, MAC JONES IS NOWHERE NEAR THIS CONVERSATION — the kind of play we’re seeing from this kid drives yet another nail into those complete buffoons who for some reason equate great quarterbacks almost exclusively with the ability to make impressive throws. Dropping a 60-yard dime right along the sideline is an amazing skill. But so is making good choices, understanding down and distance, accuracy, quick release, and about 45 other things that go into it. Tell you what: you go enjoy your diving incompletions and 40-yard strikes on the move across your body to bail out the horrible read you made the down before that resulted in a sack and set up third and long, and I’ll be over here enjoying a quarterback’s complete game.
- I can’t decide whether I should talk about Rhamondre Stevenson or the offensive line first, as they both go together.
- Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney combined for three tackles and one QB pressure all game. The Patriots ran for 186 yards on the ground and 452 yards of total offense. And all this was, on first glance, with an interesting platoon of sorts in which their best lineman didn’t see all that much of the field. I figured they would have eased Trent Brown back into it, but he started the day at right tackle and Onwenu came on in relief duty. And unless my eyes deceived me, Michael Onwenu shifted, mid-game, from left guard to right tackle as the Patriots game plan unfolded. That may not seem like that big a deal, but that’s honestly like merging onto a 100MPH highway in a self-driving car and then your car Inspector Gadgets into a British model stick shift with a hair clutch and you aren’t allowed to pull over to switch into the other seat or take your seatbelt off while you move over.
- The line blocked effectively not only in standard run/pass protection, but I counted three highly effective screens that saw multiple blockers out in front, two effective end arounds that require a strong chip before a long pull block, a flare route to the back and three step drops that really, really don’t work if you can’t take out your man right away, which is what we saw a few times on both of Jones’s sacks.
- And it certainly helps having a 245-pound back that can bowl you over, stiff arm you into Bolivian, juke you out of your skivvies, and catch screens. This was the Rhamondre Stevenson coming out party we’ve all be waiting for — and he’s still this team’s second best between-the-tackles back. His ball security issues seem to be gone and he rarely gets stopped for a loss. I don’t know if you can stop him on down and one, which is a great reason to continue FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THINGS HOLY STOP GIVING IT TO BRANDON BOLDEN ON THIRD AND SHORT.
- But by no means am I having a Bolden bashing session; no way. He has morphed into one of the most reliable players on this offense. 32 yards on three carries, plus 38 yards on three receptions, including a beautifully executed screen on third down, has him firmly entrenched as this team’s go-to back when you need a play. It does make me wonder, though, what kind of season James White would be having right now if he didn’t get injured.
- I don’t really want to do this... but I need to give N’Keal Harry a lot of credit. He absolutely dominated his blocking assignments, and a majority of New England’s big plays on runs and screens went to his side. I don’t know how much clout someone’s ability as a blocking wide receiver gives them when it comes to contract negotiations, but Harry can hold his own with anyone else in the league. Basically, N’Keal Harry is the Maizy Russell of the NFL.
- This game was more or less over when New England went up 31-7 with five minutes to play in the third, at which point the Patriots shifted back to a 4-2-5 nickel hybrid to open up the middle of the field, force everything away from the sidelines, and force Cleveland into dink and dunk drives. Which, for some reason, was when New England got their best pressure on Mayfield.
- Until Jakobi Meyers caught that touchdown, my biggest negative from this game was when he was wide open in the end zone on 2nd-and-goal with the Patriots up 31-7, and Jones went to Stevenson in the flat instead. Yeah, they scored on the very next play on a quick slant to Hunter Henry... but at that point, I thought that Meyers legit was never going to score a TD.
- But when he did... I don’t think I’ve ever seen an entire bench clear for ANY TD, let alone one that came from the backup QB in garbage time. There simply hasn’t been a more consistent player for the Patriots these past two seasons than Meyers, and to watch his whole team celebrate with him was an amazing exclamation point on an already awesome game.
- I’ll close out with a few of my favorite Charles Davis quotes.
- “Here’s a flag on the defense. Let’s see what it’s for, maybe it means it will be a first down for New England.”
- “The Browns would have come off the field if they had made the stop there. But since Stevenson was able to run for the first down, now the Patriots can keep driving.”
- Are the Patriots the best team in the AFC right now? No... but not a ridiculous question. Especially considering this whole season was supposed to be about generating positive momentum.
- New England has won four straight. They just dominated a very good AFC team at home, racking up close to 200 ground yards against a run defense that was averaging 85 yards allowed on the ground. They have outscored their opponents 150 to 50 over the last few games. They aren’t just winning; they’re running teams over. They have yet another tiebreaker in the playoff race and are currently at 68% to make the postseason. Mac Jones balled out. The Pats are rounding into form at the perfect time. Cue the music!
Absolutely huge three game stretch coming up, starting with a short week against the Falcons before facing the two best teams in the AFC back-to-back. We’re really going to find out what this team is made up as they get ready for their bye week.