Happy Friday, everyone!
Today’s Fan Notes are going to be more of some general observations as opposed to anything too in-depth, as I haven’t had any time to go back through the film and the stat sheet in too much depth, and plus I feel like you can’t really glean anything from TNF anyway. Just glad to be on the other side of it and ready to finish the season strong.
- If you follow me in any capacity here, you know how I feel about Thursday Night Football. In exchange for a money grab, the NFL has opted to put out a wildly inferior product where players who don’t have enough time to heal and coaches who don’t have enough time to install a game plan struggle through three hours of crap where you take it as a win if nobody gets hurt. As with every Thursday NightPatriots game I’ve ever watched, I’m taking very little away from this game, positive or negative. Once again, an overall sloppy product where it’s tough to fully tell if what we saw last night was more the result of one team being a lot better than another or just one coaching staff being better at preparing. Probably a little bit of both.
- That said, a shutout is a shutout. Granted, it’s far easier to be on the defensive side of the ball coming off a short week, and it certainly showed. I honestly don’t know for sure how much of last night’s shutout was New England’s D playing well and how much was Atlanta’s O playing horribly, but like the above note, it was likely somewhere in the middle. No need to look too deeply into the negative plays or long drives that ended with a punt or anything else too far beyond getting the win and getting some time off. We all know what we’re getting with TNF at this point, and what we’re getting is lousy football.
- I mean seriously, you can’t play much worse than the Falcons did last night. Atlanta’s leading rusher had 34 yards on the ground, and their leading receiver had less than 50. Penalties, poorly timed routes, and an inability to shake New England’s press man at the line to disrupt the timing led to a game where Atlanta barely even crossed midfield.
- But the real reason that this game was so lopsided, in my opinion, was the disparity between the two lines. The Falcons O-line played like they decided to protest the recent censorship that’s happening on the internet right now by just refusing to block anything. And when they weren’t blocking, they were lining up incorrectly, false starting, and forgetting to get off the field in time. Matt Ryan was hit and/or pressured on half of his dropbacks. He was sacked four times, including a massive sack that almost took them out of field goal range.
- Whoops. Wrong clip. Oh well, moving on.
- I actually really like Matt Ryan, and couldn’t help but feel bad for him. He did what he could with what he had... but the Falcons just don’t have the firepower on offense to compete with a Patriots team that has now outscored its opponents 175-50 over the last five weeks. I feel like he was relieved as he left the game.
- Which honestly makes me wonder if Kyle Pitts was the right pick in this year’s draft. The guy is a beast (though you wouldn’t know it based on last night, courtesy of Kyle Dugger... but more on him in a minute), but when you have that many holes along your roster. it might have been smarter to trade back for more picks and amass talent up and down the positional groupings. Then again, the draft is a complete crapshoot, and Pitts is legit, so what do I know.
- The Red Sleeve Man would be a great name for a horror movie, which is what Matthew Judon is turning into for quarterbacks each and every week. If Judon lined up on the same side of the line more than two times in a row all game, I certainly missed it. He is already having a career year in terms of sacks, he was beating double teams, he was chipping tight ends to disrupt routes, and I feel like it would be easier to count the times he wasn’t in the backfield as opposed to the times he was.
- And the crazy thing is, Judon wasn’t even the best player on the defense last night. That particular honor should go to Christian Barmore and Davon Godchaux, who treated the interior of the Falcons offensive line like a failed soufflé on Holiday Baking Championship. Neither Godchaux nor Barmore are supposed to sack the quarterback; their job is to eat blocks, move the line of scrimmage, and collapse the pocket so edge rushers and linebackers can get home using disguised fronts. Godchaux had two sacks yesterday and Barmore had one, not to mention the fourth down stop where the Falcons couldn’t get a single yard, which was all Godchaux. Drew a double team while still maintaining his gap integrity so Lawrence Guy can fill the lane and Philips can maintain the angle to finish the play.
- Since the Browns scored on their opening drive last week, the Patriots have scored 70 unanswered points. To make it a little more specific, since the Falcons went up 28-3 in that fateful Super Bowl, the Pats have outscored them 79-7.
- And then there’s Kyle Dugger, who drew the toughest assignment of the night in covering Kyle Pitts, who had three grabs for 29 yards on the day. He also led the team in solo tackles, including four in open space where he was the only thing between a Falcons player and a chunk play, and was in on a few big special teams tackles in a game where New England completely dominated the field position game. He’s quietly becoming a Pro Bowl snub for 2021.
- The other Kyle, of Van Noy fame, may have very well had his best game as a Patriot last night. Eight tackles, two sacks, and a pick-six. Maybe it’s time to turn him into the next Mike Vrabel and get him in there as a goal line tight end.
- The NFL apparently thinks Van Noy had his best game as a Patriot as well.
- Speaking of tight ends, last night the Patriots used a six man offensive line with Trent Brown and Michael Onwenu on the right side of the line, which is primarily where New England did a lot of their damage on the ground. Not to mention the mental damage that must have taken place to every Falcons DB who saw Brown running full steam at them on e swing block.
- I mean seriously. If you’re 5-foot-10 and 195 pounds and an unfathomably fast and athletic 6-foot-8, 370-pound mountain comes charging at you, what the hell do you do? I imagine you do something like this.
- While I’m on the subject of Brown, all I could focus on for New England’s opening drive of the game was his short pants. I think there was a N’Keal Harry catch and Brandon Bolden got stuffed on third and short in there somewhere... but man... those pants.
- What I think happened is that Brown forgot his pants back in Boston, and since JJ Taylor was inactive last night... well, the rest of the story tells itself.
- As poorly as the Atlanta offensive line played, the Patriots offensive line continues to perform at an incredibly high level. This game was won, as so many games are, at the line of scrimmage. The Falcons were only able to get pressure via well disguised blitzes that Mac Jones read correctly at times and at other times was fooled by. When the middle rushes weren’t working, they switched to 12 personnel using Rhamondre Stevenson on counter runs, tosses and sweeps. When that opened the line up, they went back to 21 personnel with Harris running behind Johnson up the gut. Both Harris and Stevenson pounded their way to over five yards per carry each. They’re very different yet very similar backs at the same time. Harris remains your lead back, but Stevenson is one helluva number 2.
- I would legitimately love to know what the kind of fan who hates the kind of TD pass Mac Jones threw to Agholor — easy, high percentage, to the open man, the right read — would have rather seen in that scenario. Maybe a fade route to the end zone into double coverage? Do a backflip before you chuck it? The ol’ behind the back fake-out?
- I would also legitimately love to know what the defensive play call was that got Agholor so open. My guess was it was some kind fo zone package where both linebackers thought they had the same section of field and the safety was going to move into the vacant spot, maybe show blitz and drop out. Either way, Agholor had the kind of separation that certainly wouldn’t get him any sideways glances from a triple-masked, Hazmat suit wearing hypochondriac.
- Remember when the Patriots would give up 17 yards on 3rd-and-18? Even crazier, remember when they had negative rushing yards against Tampa? They haven’t rushed for less that 120 since that game, and the 134 they gained on the ground last night, doesn’t include some big runs that were called back. The NFL has spent the last few years getting smaller on defense to keep up with the spread passing attack, so the Patriots have gotten as big as possible in order to just cram the ball down your throat. GM Bill leaving coach Bill out to dry once again.
- Mac Jones had a bad throw to Jakobi Meyers with 11:13 left in the third quarter. I don’t remember the last time that happened, so I thought I’d make a note.
- That pick was a bad decision as well. He had N’Keal Harry on the wheel route, and the check down was there too. A.J. Terrell also made a great play.
- Overall, though, while it wasn’t his best game by far, the decision making remains on an incredible level and any criticisms I have of him — more effective play clock management, reading delayed blitzes better, taking an extra second to look off the defender — are all perfectly reasonable criticisms to make of a rookie. Being able to run the ball as effectively as they are forces teams to overcompensate to stop it — and when you have that, a smart, efficient, methodical quarterback is going to be virtually impossible to stop.
- I wonder how long before “Mac Jones is an overrated system quarterback” starts trending. I wouldn’t be surprised if it already has.
- They’re really upping their game with these Hess Trucks. I had one when I was a kid, and it was just a tin box with wheels that fell off almost immediately. Somewhere out there, there is someone who has collected every single Hess truck ever, and in 30 years we’re going to see it all on some antiques roadshow. No clue what it will be worth.
- I’m glad these teams only meet once every four years. All of these 28-3 references are even getting painful for me now. Even the moon is getting in on the action these days.
- One player I felt I haven’t really touched on at all, all season, is Deatrich Wise. He’s racking himself up a solid season and, to be honest, he might be the most important part of the defense that nobody is talking about. One particular luxury that the Patriots have this year is they have players on the front that can line up as both interior and edge players, and Wise is the best example of that. He can both collapse the pocket and force the QB out of the pocket on the outside. There’s a pretty wild race going on for who is the best defensive player nobody is giving any credit to because Judon is such a beast.
- If you went to bed after the Patriots went up 19-0 to completely put the game away, I certainly don’t blame you — but you may have missed the most exciting final two minutes in a blowout game in NFL history. For the first time since 2000, three different QBs for the same team threw an interception. The Kyle Van Noy pick six was the most exciting, but the Adrian Philips pick off Feleipe Franks was the most impressive.
- I also can’t decide if “Feleipe Franks” works best as the name of a band, a euphemism for a really bad hangover, or a brand of hot dogs. Just a Hall of Fame name.
- There is absolutely zero chance I’ll be going to see the new Ghostbusters movie. I didn’t see the last one they crapped out, and I won’t be seeing this one either. That movie was just too perfect and didn’t need a remake or a relaunch. This needs to stop before they decide to remake Jaws and The Shawshank Redemption.
- The big plus, and the only positive I’ll ever take away from a Thursday Night game other than the victory, is that nobody got hurt. Getting an injury-free win going into a mini-bye is huge, and New England is going to need both the extra rest and the extra time to prepare.
- I don’t know if I would call last night’s game a must-win... but with the Titans, two games against the Bills, and a very underrated Colts team coming up, I’d certainly put it in the “would be really, really great to get a win” category. And it was really, really great to get a win.
- Now that we all have the weekend to relax and either do something non-football related or just enjoy the complete logjam that is the AFC playoff race, a few games to pay attention to:
- Bills vs. Colts. Don’t sleep on the Colts here, they’re flying under the radar and have won four of their last six, taking Baltimore all the way to OT.
- Jets vs. Dolphins. The return of Joe Flacco! This game is a toss-up, which I find hilarious.
- Titans vs. Texans. Can’t imagine that this one will be very competitive, but you never know with divisional matchups.
- The Patriots are, for the moment, have the most wins in the AFC East. Mac Jones is the third rookie ever to go undefeated on the road through five games, in some pretty solid company with just Ben Roethlisberger and Dak Prescott. His five road wins is as many as the total wins of all of his fellow rookie QBs combined. He has completed over 80% of his passes over the last two games, and last night gave Bill Belichick enough game tape to rip him a new one this week so he continues to improve. Cue the music!
Have a great weekend, everyone, and enjoy the break. As much as Thursday Night Football sucks, it’s nice to coast into the next few days with the win behind us. Fan Note Fridays only happen once a year, which gives me time to do what I really enjoy on Friday, then Saturday/Sunday.
And of course, the very happiest of Thanksgivings to all of you. No matter where you are or who you’re with, may you stuff your face until your buttons pop.