The very first football game I remember watching was the 1984 Super Bowl, which saw the 49ers take down the Dolphins 38-16 in what turned out to be a pretty historic season. As a 3-year-old, I of course knew none of that; I was perfectly content sitting on the couch with my dad and cheering for the Dolphins because I liked dolphins. I mean who doesn’t like dolphins at age 3?
And in the 37 years that have transpired since Super Bowl XIX, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a game quite like the one I saw last night between the New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills. New England ran 49 plays, ran for 46 of them, and were basically a muffed punt and a bogus 15-yard personal foul away from completely shutting Buffalo out. I’m going to do what I can to break this game down, but to be honest, I kinda got nuthin’ here. I’ve never sympathized with David after the dentist more than when the final whistle blew on this game. So let’s see what happens here.
- The last time I saw wind like that, there was an opening for a nanny position at the Banks residence. There was once a time, in my youth, where I would have called the windy, sleety hell that was last night’s game “football weather,” and the kind of game I would have loved to go to. I still remember being at the 2004 AFC Divisional Game between the Patriots and Titans where it was so cold that my beer froze before I even had a chance to finish it. But I watched last night’s matchup on the couch, in my pajamas, with the fireplace roaring and a seemingly endless supply of pigs in a blanket. I haven’t yet reached Old Man Yells at Cloud levels of crotchety just yet, but I have officially aged out of any kind of awful weather games and am totally fine with that.
- This is also one of those games where I’m glad I don’t do this for a living, as my football (and regular, for that matter) IQ isn’t nearly high enough to break down last night’s offensive game plan in a way that anyone would find interesting. The most creative play the Patriots ran was a Jet Sweep to Kendrick Bourne; other than that it was runs, runs, and more runs. It was glaringly evident, pretty much from the opening kickoff, that nothing about this game was going to make any sense. The ball was moving around like a snitch in an overly aggressive game of Quidditch. Players were slipping left and right. Drops. Overthrows. Underthrows. New England was playing directly into the teeth of a 50MPH headwind for the first and third quarter and seemed more than content to just run it three times and punt it on every drive in an effort to just kill clock. It got to the point where if you lost yardage on first down, that was more or less it for that drive.
- But even in a game like this, where the Patriots took their entire offensive strategy from Laura Dern, they still managed to make adjustments. The elements were such that any kind of east to west play even made that next cut impossible, so they switched almost exclusively to a Jumbo package with Michael Onwenu and Trent Brown on the same side of the line to go with power runs up the gut. There was no reason for draws and misdirection when you can only punt the ball 15 yards.
- I literally finished that last note as Damien Harris took the toss from the big package 64 yards. No need to cut up the field, just plant the foot and go. You’re welcome, everyone.
- That run was all N’Keal Harry. Textbook crack block on the perimeter to open up the cutback lane.
- Speaking of Harry... It’s very easy to crap all over him today for being out there for the first time in his career with no idea what he’s doing in what was probably the most difficult conditions possible, but I can’t bring myself to do it. That’s a bad coaching decision. And to be honest, Harry’s ability as a blocker and WR/TE hybrid was a massive part of last night’s win.
- And honestly, N’Keal Harry is the only receiver I can really talk about for this one. Bourne got a carry, they tried an end around with Agholor, and that’s more or less it. But that’s OK, because when you ran the ball the way New England ran it last night, who the hell cares?
- Which brings me to the running backs, namely Rhamondre Stevenson. I don’t want to discredit Harris, who ran like a demon and had the play of the night with that long TD run. But when Harris went down with the hamstring injury, and the Patriots were already well into their version of Vaughn vs. Parkman in Major League, they handed it to Stevenson with nine and 10 men in the box and he was still able to pick up 78 yards on 11 carries.
- And it wasn’t just the carries, either; I lost count of how many times Stevenson met contact at the line but kept moving forward. Whatever ball security issues he had to start the season have clearly been resolved, because if ever there was a time for him to cough one up, it was in a game where he was constantly getting fed a wet, slippery football in the blinding wind against a heavily stacked box where defenders were trying to strip it on ever carry.
- I’d love to know how many different, unique plays they actually called; I don’t know how many names you can give A-gap rushes, off-tackle sweeps, and direct tosses. But what’s especially great about this one is that when these two teams play in a few weeks, the Patriots will still have more or less their entire playbook at their disposal.
- I spent a lot of time wondering which quote from the Rocky franchise best applied to Stevenson’s game last night, but ultimately I couldn’t decide. So I’ll just post one here and the other one here and let you decide which you prefer.
- I would imagine that there are a lot of quarterbacks that would be upset with a game plan like last night’s; New England is now the first team since 1974 to win a game while throwing three or fewer attempts. But it’s almost like Mac Jones was created in a lab to be a New England Patriot. Stats are unimportant, looking a certain way is irrelevant, and numbers are for people that don’t like the fact that sports are played by human beings. You win any way you need to.
- I like Sean McDermott. He seems like a good coach, a fiery guy, and all account indicate that players love playing for him. But you really have to question some of his decision making last night. There was just no way there was a good enough angle to overturn that Mac Jones sneak for the first, which cost them a vital time out. They then had to burn another one because the offense wasn’t set up, which gave the Patriots the opportunity to just run the clock out after the Myles Bryant breakup. I didn’t really see much in terms of offensive adjustment and commitment to the run game. I wouldn’t call it stubborn...but a big reason the Bills drafted Josh Allen was because of his arm strength in bad weather. Still, when it ain’t working, you need to switch tactics.
- On the flip side, if it is working, why change it?
- One thing I would have done more if I was Buffalo was run Allen a lot more. I’m always surprised by how fast he is, how mobile he is, and how difficult he is to bring down. I only remember one designed Allen run last night, but every time he took off with the ball in his hands, it ended well for Buffalo.
- I wonder what the PSI of the footballs was for this game. I guess they’ll just add it to all of the meticulous research and data gathering the NFL has been doing ever since Tom Brady’s suspension.
- I imagine this is the kind of game offensive linemen live for. Nothing fancy, no blitz diagnosis, no passing off the Mike linebacker... just plow people over and let it ride.
- The desperation by ESPN to fit in enough ads given how fast this game went was frustrating and hilarious. I don’t remember commercial breaks being as long as they were last night.
- Speaking of commercials... I may have to see whether the Carpe Line of Sweat Management products is worth their salt, particularly when playoff time comes around. My poor recliner must weight 50 pounds more than it did when I bought it by now.
- I will also definitively be skipping Episode 4 of the Man in the Arena Brady documentary, which they teased maybe 10 times last night. I’ve moved on from the 2007 season... but that doesn’t meat I want to talk about it.
- I kept wondering at what point Bill defensive linemen would stop celebrating when they stuffed a Patriots run, but they never did.
- I was way more pissed than I had any right to be when Mac attempted his second pass of the game, late in the fourth quarter, to drop his completion percentage by half. Two of three for 19 yards sounds more like the results of a field sobriety test than a quarterback stat line.
- Man... good thing J.J. Taylor wasn’t active yesterday. He might have straight up been blown away.
- This game should, hopefully, represent absolutely massive confidence and team building for this Patriots team. They went on the road, to a divisional opponent touted as one of the best in the league, in primetime, in an off-the-wall bonkers game, and got to fly home winners with a comfortable lead in both the division and the conference while they head into a bye week.
Contrary to popular belief, the AFC East wasn’t decided last night. The Patriots still have a lot of football to play, including a surging Colts team, this Bills squad again, and the suddenly dangerous Dolphins in Miami to close out the season. But it’s tough not to be excited for what’s to come.
Enjoy the week off, everyone. I know I’m looking forward to some time away from football. And in case it wasn’t obvious, lets all root very hard for Tommy B this Sunday.