Let the Holiday Season commence!
Actually, no; that’s a lie. The Holiday Season starts the day after Thanksgiving and goes until New Year’s Day. If you’re one of those people who put up the decorations this past Saturday and are already on your third rewatch of Elf, you and I aren’t going to get along.
But the second half of the 2021 season is underway, and the e New England Patriots just handed the Carolina Panthers a commanding loss. We’re getting ready to see one of the wilder AFC playoff pushes in recent memory, and believe it or not, courtesy of this win, the Pats are right there in it. It wasn’t perfect, but it was damn fun to watch.
- Going to get this out of the way now: you can’t start a game like that in the National Football League. You just can’t. Getting a holding penalty or a DPI during the course of the game is one thing, but pre-snap penalties just scream of a lack of discipline and poor communication. False starts, delays of game, illegal shifts — it’s the kind of thing that drives coaching staffs nuts. New England had 25 penalty yards before the first quarter was even half over, and there were fumbles and drops galore. My hope is that the Patriots knew they kind of had this game in the bag, so they decided to get every bad play and dumb penalty out all at once for this game and it’s going to be flawless football from here on out.
- Because once they shook off whatever rust there may have been from traveling all the way from LA to Boston to Carolina, there was a lot to like about yesterday’s game. This team is morphing into what we hoped they’d all be right before our eyes, and I’m here for all of it. The Patriots won this game exactly the way we all thought they would. Carolina’s pass defense is stout, but they’re weaker against the run, so a run-heavy gameplan made all the sense in the world. No trick plays, no deep shots down the field, and no Patriots player making more than three catches on the day. Just a lot of big sets and clock-killing drives.
- In other words, this was the perfect game for Rhamondre Stevenson to have his coming out party He and Harris split the carries with 10 and 15 respectively, but on the “money” downs, ie the plays where you needed to get yards Stevenson was the guy. Between the stiff-arms, the quick cuts, and shoulder-lowering yards after contact, this was what we’ve been hoping to see out of the rookie all season.
- Primarily in stretch and B/C gap runs as well. The Panthers dedicated much of their energy up front to stopping those one-cut smash runs that Damien Harris runs so well, and they did a fairly good job there. More than a few times, Harris was tackled for a loss, which is about as rare an occurrence as me getting a second date. But when New England adjusted and started using pull blocks, tosses, and receiver motion to widen the linebackers, they were more or less able to move the ball at will. My favorite Stevenson play came on a 3rd and 1 about halfway through the second quarter as the Patriots drove down for what would be their first TD of the game. It was a simple toss left to Stevenson, who displayed good patience, got a solid block from Jakob Johnson, waited for Wynn to hit his mark then exploded through the gap for the first and more, stiff-arming some poor CB about eight yards down the field before heading out of bounds to set up 1st and Goal at the three. Damien Harris punched it in on the next play, and it was a lead the Patriots wouldn’t relinquish.
- And they didn’t relinquish that lead because a) the defense is playing extremely well, and b_ Sam Darnold STINKS. Usually when a team’s starting QB is in concussion protocol and not a guarantee to start, I find myself hoping that he’ll be inactive and the Patriots will have their way with some random backup. But I was legit happy to see Sam Darnold get the start today, because I knew it was just a matter of time before he Darnolded up the joint.
- I know passer rating is mostly just a bunch of made up metrics and nobody in their right mind sees it as any accurate measure of a quarterback’s talent...but when your QBR for the day is almost half of your opponent’s longest play from scrimmage, you know you had a rough outing.
- I’m legit sitting here right now trying to think of a single completion, of the 16 he connected on yesterday, that I would qualify as a good play, and the only one that comes to mind was a 13 yard dart to DJ Moore for a first when Carolina was backed up inside their own five. You might not remember it because the very next play was a false start, and then a botched snap led to an intentional grounding call. So the drive started at the 5, went up to the 20, and ended at the 11.
- Both of Carolina’s scores came on short fields given to them by turnovers, both of which were great plays by the Panther defense. Stephon Gilmore getting an INT yesterday was as predetermined as what the NFL decides to share with the general public when something happens that makes them look bad, and the Mac Jones strip sack was a combination of a good push and a slow reaction from Isiah Wynn. But Carolina was unable to do anything with their field position, and when you’re constantly settling for field goals, you’re in for a long day.
- New England’s first series of the game featured a 3rd and 1 at the 35 yard line and Mac Jones snuck it for the first. What they didn’t do was a delayed draw to Brandon Bolden for a loss. They decided to save the delayed Bolden draw on 2nd and 25 instead. So everything after that was more or less gravy for me.
- And as long as he stops getting in on 3rd and 1, I can’t get enough of what they’re doing with Bolden in this offense. He’s still the best back for blitz pick-up, but they’re calling his number on screens, hitches, and he made a beautiful adjustment on a wheel route for a big gain on 3rd down. Belichick is getting Bolden quality reps just to spite those of us who whined about him early in the season. So you’re welcome, everyone.
- Holy jeez was it quiet in Carolina yesterday. If it got any livelier at Bank of America Stadium, a funeral might have broken out.
- For the record, I stole that joke from the “Burns, Baby Burns” episode of The Simpsons, in which Rodney Dangerfield played Mr. Burns’s long lost son. In my opinion, Season 8 of The Simpsons was the last good season of that show. But from Season 3 to Season 8, you’re just not going to find better television, ever.
- If you want to sum up Jamie Collins’s entire career, look no further than yesterday’s game. Barely shows up on the stat sheet, but pulled in one of the most ridiculous interceptions you’ll ever see. That guy is either overpursuing the runner, hurdling the entire line to block a field goal, getting cut for freelancing too much, pulling a ball out of thin air for the pick, missing the tackle completely, or juking three linemen at once to pull the quarterback down for the sack. He either makes the most incredible play you’ve seen all season or you wonder if he slept through that entire week’s film session.
- As far as color guys go, Aadam Archuleta is by no means the worst out there. Sure, he looks like he spent his pre-broadcast career auditioning for Cinemax After Dark movies, and he may or may not have called Jakobi Meyers, who has zero career touchdowns, Mac Jones’s favorite red zone target, but in terms of unfettered nincompoopery, there isn’t much to report.
- Maybe Trent Brown and Isaiah Wynn should both play left tackle. They can put them in one big uniform like one kid sitting on another kid’s shoulders under a trenchcoat trying to sneak into an R-rated movie.
- Matt Judon continues to get my vote for team MVP as we hit the halfway point on the season. I think my favorite play of the game came on Carolina’s first drive following New England’s first touchdown of the game. On first and 10, the Panthers called what looked like a playaction drag route that saw multiple layers of cross-field routes as Darnold rolled out to his right. You could hear Judon make an adjustment pre-snap, then fake the stunt blitz only to drop into coverage in front of the right end as Lawrence Guy chased Darnold down. He ended up throwing it away, and Carolina punted three plays later. He’s not just a pass rusher.
- The yin to Judon’s yang, alas, remains Dont’a Hightower I don’t like how easily I’m getting used to watching Hightower overpursue, find himself behind the play, and miss tackles. He remains one of Bill Belichick’s all-time great draft picks. He’s a team captain and locker room leader. He made the game-saving tackle in Super Bowl 49 and had the game-chaging strip sack on Matt Ryan in Super Bowl 51. His legacy with this franchise is secure. But it might be time to hang ‘em up.
- Mac Jones will be New England’s rookie of the year by default, because we overvalue the QB position and it’s most offensive awards are more less a quarterback’s to lose. But if we calibrate for value, the real frontrunner should be Christian Barmore. He’s able to get consistent interior pressure, eliminating the need for extra rushers and allowing New England to transition into more of a zone scheme that suits the talent level well. Barmore is leading the league in hurres and swatted passes, and he’s 3rd in the league in pressures and QB hits. Him and Judon are the waterfall that churns Belichick’s chocolate river.
- And again, the defense looked great. But it bears repeating that Sam Darnold just plain stinks. I have no clue what he was looking at on the JC Jackson pick six, and Jackson was in blanket coverage on his second pick of the day. Whenever a DB makes a pick in the end zone and also makes a pick that he brings into the end zone, you have officially been bodied.
- Honestly, the most embarrassing part of that pick six was how slowly Jackson seemed to be running in comparison to Robby Anderson, who was really trying to chase him down like the gladiator against the Christian in Life of Brian.
- Sorry about that last one, that was obscure. But my father is British, born and raised in England before coming over to the states for college. Because of that, I grew up watching a ton of Monty Python. So I’m never going to hesitate to make a reference.
- While I’m on the subject, it’s only a slight exaggeration to say that The Black Knight would have had a better passing day than Sam Darnold.
- The internet exploded yesterday because Josh Allen sacked Josh Allen. I couldn’t care less about that; seems like a dumb thing to get excited about. But it’s a great opportunity to make it even more lame by linking to this.
- Also, thank you to Urban Meyer, whose Jaguars upset the Bills to put the Patriots just a half game out of first in the division. We should all kick in and get him a gift certificate for a massage. Anybody know any good massage spots in Florida?
- This was one of the few times I was OK with punting on 4th-and-1 at midfield. There was just no way the Panthers were driving 90+ yards and scoring, so it made sense from a field position perspective. But I’d really, really like to see them go for it more, especially since Mac Jones is getting better at the sneak — which is maybe something our Commander in Chief should practice as well.
- Mac Jones and the Patriots are officially over .500 on the season. They’ve won three straight and are undefeated on the road. They’ve outscored their last three opponents 105-40. And they still haven’t played their best football yet. Cue the music!
Not only did the Patriots secure yet another road win, but almost the entire AFC fell in New England’s favor. The Bills lost, the Bengals lost, and even the Raiders lost. The Browns, however, looked unstoppable yesterday, so New England is going to have their hands full at home, where they struggle.
The New England Patriots, struggling at home, are going to have all they can handle in the Cleveland Browns. Yikes. I better stop writing and go lie down.