Happy Holidays, everyone!
Hopefully everyone had a great Christmas, since we all received a belated lump of coal in our collective stockings as the New England Patriots lost both the game against the Buffalo Bills and control of the AFC East yesterday. Whatever funk the Patriots were in coming out of the bye is still, as far as we know, hanging in space over Lake Michigan, because they couldn’t close when they needed to and found themselves playing from behind right from the get-go.
Oh well. Such is life. On to the Fan Notes.
- I said it back in August, I said it a few weeks ago after that Monday night game, and I’ll say it again here today: the Bills are just a better team than the Patriots are. They have more skill players at almost every position, they have been playing together longer, their players are at more significant points in their careers, and they’re more primed to make a serious playoff run in 2021. New England was able to steal one a few weeks ago because of some wild weather, but what we saw yesterday was more in line with how this season was supposed to go. A Patriots team that has been overachieving is coming down to earth a bit, and one of the best teams in the AFC is rounding into form at the right time. Zero shame in that.
- It all kind of started with the opening series for each team — New England lost yards on a three and out, and then Buffalo went 13 plays in seven minutes to score on a fourth and goal. The Bills decided that they weren’t going to punt all game, played as aggressive as you’re going to see, and made the plays they needed to make.
- Losses like these can be frustrating, as it seemed to represent the that dreaded combination of sloppy play on the field with coaching stubbornness off the field. The strategy seemed to be to limit the big play and try and contain Allen by playing the DBs off and then having the LBs play a spy role while varying which player they sent in to pressure. What this resulted in was the underneath routes open all damn day, and Allen was more than content to take them. That’s not an awful strategy when the pass rush gets home, but Allen wasn’t sacked once all game.
- Seriously, I have no clue why New England didn’t get more aggressive or switch to any kind of press coverage, particularly when they went down two scores and needed to play with a little more urgency.
- And it must have just been a personnel issue, because I can’t think of any other reason why Myles Bryant continued to cover Isaiah McKenzie even after he was given a wedgie, purple nurple, wet willie, and noogie all at once. 11 catches on 12 targets for 125 yards, including a few backbreakers, and New England didn’t adjust. Going to be looking at this one for a long time.
- I guess I should take it as a sign of massive respect that the Bills decided that their punter wasn’t going to see the field at all yesterday... but I don’t think New England’s offense really did much to earn that. Maybe I should take it as a sign of having no respect for the defense instead.
- The Patriots just can’t stop the run. It was a problem in 2019, it was a problem last year, and it’s a problem this year. It’s not going to magically get better as the season comes to a close. Buffalo was down their entire offensive line yesterday and New England still gave up over 100 yards on the ground.
- But even despite all of that, as they have shown all season, this team is capable of hanging with anyone in the league. There are, in my opinion, two plays that, had they gone the other way, could have swung this game for New England. The first was that J.C. Jackson interception that bounced right off his hands. And the second was that N’Keal Harry pass that bounced right off his hands.
- If Harry catches that pass, there’s no tipped slant route for the INT on the next play. New England doesn’t need that goal line stand, they don’t punt back to Buffalo on a short field, there’s no stupid offsides penalty on 4th-and-7, and Buffalo doesn’t go into the locker room up 10 with the ball back to start the second half. You figure it would be a good thing that I had to wait until this late in the year to bust this one out... but Harry has gotten so few targets this season it’s kind of a wash.
- Also... what an awful, awful, awful, AWFUL offensive series from New England to end the half. They were really struggling on offense and in prime position to just go into the locker room to readjust, but they came out throwing. It didn’t go well, but a Roughing the Passer call bailed them out and gave them a chance to run it out again. But they decided to keep going, lost 15 yards on a Unsportsmanlike Conduct penalty, STILL decided to keep throwing, punted it back to Buffalo, and the Bills almost had a chance to put even more points on the board. Just a terrible effort all around.
- Speaking of terrible efforts... I have no idea what some of the refs saw yesterday, for both teams. Matt Milano got an Unnecessary Roughness call for nudging Mac Jones on a slide that I thought was terrible. Then the refs picked up the contact out of bounds flag and gave a flag to a jabbering Trent Brown for a 30-yard swing. Just sloppy stuff all around.
- How hard is it to master the center/QB exchange? Think Trent Brown could get it down in a practice or two? Because if so, I can pretty much guarantee the Patriots will never come up short on a QB sneak again.
- There were a few bright spots on the day. Damien Harris ran for 100 yards and three scores, hopefully sending a number of you right into your fantasy finals next week. And Adrian Philips decided to wear red sleeves for this game, which was an absolutely savage move.
- And again, if the Patriots had perhaps forced a single punt, or made a few less mistakes, we’re singing a different tune this morning. But it also might be that the 2021 Patriots have just kind of run out of gas. We’ll see. A big blowout win this week against the terrible Jags could be just the ticket to regain some momentum. Then again, a narrow win — or worse — might be just enough to sputter out. Guess we’ll see.
- Ultimately, who cares at the end of the day. I’m still having a blast watching this season against the context of this year being one of a two or three year process that sees the Patriots emerge as serious contenders in the AFC. They’re already well beyond where I thought they’d be, and plus it was Christmas weekend! Tough to be in a bad mood with all of this holiday cheer flowing like wine.
- Hopefully the traditions you and your family may have had to put on hold last year came charging back with a vengeance this year. To that end, it wouldn’t be an Alec Shane Christmas if I wasn’t reduced to a sobbing mess by the end of that video pepper spray alternately known as It’s a Wonderful Life, airing every Christmas Eve on NBC like clockwork. Without fail, I’m a complete wreck by the end of that movie, likely due in part to the bourbon and overall spirit of the holiday, but mainly because that is just an amazing, amazing film. Oddly though, I never seem to lose it at the same part of each viewing; it always starts, and escalates, at different times as those final, extraordinary moments play out. So for those keeping track at home, here’s the 2021 report:
- George Bailey, newly gifted his life back, stops running exactly three times during his wild, joyous sprint home to his wife and kids. The first stop is at the sight of his wrecked car, the repair bill for which is likely far more than he could ever hope to afford, as he raises his arms in triumph and yells out in pure elation. The third is at Mr. Potter’s window, who is currently on the phone with the police, to wish him a Merry Christmas before resuming his mad dash. But it was the second of George’s three stops that got the waterworks going for me. In a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment, as he reaches his hometown’s Main Street and stops to see that the sign once again says You Are Now in Bedford Falls and it’s no longer Pottersville, George’s hand clasps ever so briefly over his mouth in the sort of overwhelmed, overjoyed surprise that’s usually reserved for 6th round draft picks engineering a Super Bowl winning scoring drive against The Greatest Show on Turf. And as he turns back around to let out yet another elated yell at the bustling and vibrant street... Well, that was just about the end of me.
- As for when I switched from sitting on the couch crying silently and hoping nobody would notice to making a complete fool out of myself in front of my in-laws as I was reduced to a 40-year-old toddler bawling and drooling himself to sleep.
- The last person we see putting money on the table, money collected by the entire town of Bedford Falls at the drop of a hat with no questions asked because George Bailey was in trouble and that was all they needed to hear, was the very sergeant who had been sent by Mr. Potter to arrest George over an $8,000 deficit at the Bailey Building and Loan (about $115K in 2021). That sergeant, who had never met George Bailey in his life and didn’t know him from Adam, gives what he can, reaches into his coat pocket, pulls out George’s arrest warrant, looks at George, and tears it in half with the most genuine, happy, and heartfelt smile you’ll ever see before turning towards the crowd to belt out “Hark The Herald Angels Sing” at the top of his lungs. That song has always been my favorite Christmas carol, and I’m pretty sure this scene is why.
- Though I will go to my grave insisting that the single greatest moment in that film, and arguably the single greatest moment in any film ever made, is George stopping to kiss and replace the newel post before running upstairs to hug his children.
- OK, that’s enough of that. Pull it together, Shane.
Two very winnable games left on the slate, and New England is going to need to win them both. Who would have thought that a Week 1 goal line fumble would hang so heavy over an entire season, but that’s what makes this sport so great.