It’s tough to call a Week 5 game against a non-conference opponent must-win, but had the New England Patriots lost yesterday and dropped to 1-4 on the year, that might have been too big a hole to dig out of. Luckily, the game was never in doubt and New England cruised to a 29-0 beatdown over a team that, for whatever reason, is simply doomed to be terrible each and every year.
Those poor Detroit Lions.
- First and foremost, absolutely nothing about this game matters beyond the health of safety Saivion Smith, who was taken off the field yesterday in an ambulance. Luckily, all seems to be well, as he was discharged from the hospital and was able to travel home with his teammates, so that’s just a massive win. I watched that replay from every possible angle and can’t for the life of me figure what could have caused such a severe injury, but honestly that’s neither here nor there. This was yet another stark reminder of how dangerous this game is, so I’m glad Smith is OK.
- For anyone who came into yesterday’s game nervous in any way about a loss, you must have forgotten that Jared Goff simply doesn’t score points against the Patriots.
- I’m not sure what it is about Jared Goff, but the man just doesn’t score points against the Patriots. The Lions, averaging 35 point per game coming into this week, got completely shut out as Goff threw for less than 230 yards with a pick and a sack. It’s been a long time since I played fantasy football — it was getting a little out of control for me, so I had to quit cold turkey — but I’d imagine that everyone who had Goff in their lineups yesterday came away with negative points on the board.
- And it didn’t look, at first glance at least, like the Patriots did anything overly complex in terms of scheme. I saw a lot of three safety shell, big nickel packages, and a steadily rotating linebacker corps. I also saw fast first steps, tons of swarming to the ballcarrier, and perfectly timed gap rushes that helped contribute to the first 0-for-6 fourth down day I can ever remember seeing.
- I’m willing to give Dan Campbell a pass on five of his six attempts; the NFL as a whole is just going for it on fourth-and-relatively-short a lot more now and I’m all about it. But down 6-0, facing a 4th-and-9 at the New England 32, you kick the field goal there, new kicker or not. That play more or less put the game away and I don’t understand the play-calling there at all.
- That’s not to deflect on giving credit where credit is due, to the monster in red sleeves known to some as Matthew Judon. Judon registered two sacks (one strip sack), two QB hits, three hurries, and a monster run stop. Lined up on both sides of the line and terrorized two very good tackles. The strip sack that led to the Dugger touchdown was just Judon getting a massive first step and forcing Goff out of the pocket before any receiver even started running their routes. I hope for Goff’s sake that he never runs into Kyle Van Noy and Matthew Judon at the same time, or else he might spend the rest of his days at Demented Hills Asylum.
- Speaking of Dugger, aka Kyle Dugger the Pile Plugger, now also known as Kyle Dugger the Mile Chugger — five tackles, a pass breakup, and a touchdown on the day. The combination of Adrian Philips, Jabrill Peppers, and Dugger in the middle of the field is going to be a problem for a lot of offenses.
- T.J. Hockenson: one catch for six yards. Last week he had eight for 179 and two scores. I’m not going to go so far as to say that the Patriots can finally cover tight ends, but this is a nice thing to see.
- I’ve maintained for years that Bill Belichick has a pact with the Celtic god Toutatis that has brought him tremendous success on the football field, but requires the sacrifice of a cornerback drafted in the second round of the NFL Draft. Which makes the most valuable players in Patriots history Duke Dawson, Cyrus Jones, Jordan Richards, Terrence Wheatley, Joejuan Williams, Tavon Wilson, Ras-I Dowling, and Darius Butler. And I’m OK with it — not just because of the success, but because of how Belichick always manages to find amazing DBs later in the draft or in free agency. Maybe Toutatis threw it into the deal as a bonus.
- And this year’s early frontrunner is, of course, Jack Jones. Jones now has picks in the last two games, both of which were ball-hawking reads where he broke off his route, anticipated the throw, and made an athletic play. We aren’t that far removed from an all Jones secondary and I’m here for all of it.
- I could wax poetic about the defense all day, as it still remains the beating heart of this team. And this is the kind of win that can really galvanize a unit and have them playing with a sense of pride and toughness that can carry over all season. But the offense put up 29 points behind a rookie quarterback making his first NFL start and an offensive line that, finally, put a complete game together, So let’s flip to the other side of the ball.
- The story of the day is, of course, Bailey Zappe and what he was able to do yesterday. And while his stat line is fine — 17-for-21 for 188 yards, a touchdown, and a pick that wasn’t even remotely his fault — it’s more what he didn’t do that leaves me impressed today. The kid was poised and confident in the pocket, stepped up when he sensed pressure, and made some excellent reads. He definitely made some classic rookie mistakes — a little slow to release, stared down his first read, locked in as opposed to going through his progressions, choosing to throw directly into Nelson Agholor’s hands — but he was in control of this game from the start and at no point did anything he did put the team in a compromised position. That’s all you can ask for.
- My favorite Zappe throw of the day may have been an incompletion late in the third quarter where he took a shot to Jakobi Meyers on a deeper post that fell harmlessly to the ground. It was the kind of throw that either results in a reception for the Patriots or a surefire incompletion, and it’s the kind of throw you want to see veterans make.
- He was also able to lead an 83-yard scoring drive, which you always like to see.
- Man did this offense miss Jakobi Meyers. He led the team in targets, catches, and yards yesterday, and has now caught a TD pass from Mac Jones, Brian Hoyer, and Bailey Zappe. He was open on that shallow crosser on almost every down and when Mac Jones comes back, I hope that connection picks up right where it left off.
- And yes, I said when Mac Jones comes back. Because there is not a QB controversy in New England.
- I’m going to write that again, THERE IS NOT A QB CONTROVERSY IN NEW ENGLAND. Yes, Zappe played well, but Jones is still the guy.
- I will, however, be curious to see if my theory of any backup QB that starts and wins a single game in the NFL ends up getting a nice contract from a QB-needy team the next year. So maybe the Commanders come calling in March and offer a second-round pick for Zappe.
- The reason that Zappe was able to find so much success, of course, was because of the play of the offensive line. Zero sacks for Zappe, and Isaiah Wynn almost made it a full half before drawing a holding penalty. Some real progress there.
- That there were six linemen out there for much of the game likely had a lot to do with that, but still. David Andrews, Cole Strange, and Michael Onwenu might be the best interior trio in the league right now.
- That it took me this long to mention Rhamondre Stevenson — or if you’re color commentator extraordinaire Jonathan Vilma, Ramonday Steveson — is borderline criminal. I never get happy when any player for any team gets hurt, but I’d be lying if the first thing I thought when they announced that Damien Harris was questionable to return wasn’t, “Oh good, now they have no choice but to let Stevenson keep getting like six yards per carry.”
- Stevenson is a one-cut, decisive runner who can make guys miss as easily as he can overpower them. On his career-long 49-yard run, he was the lone back in a counter/trap run where he juked a lineman at the line of scrimmage, broke two tackles in the second level, outran a DB as he hit his second gear, and likely would have gone to the house had he not barely been tripped up as he broke through. He also juked a linebacker out of his jockstrap on a screen and executed a spin move I didn’t think guys his size could even do. Better hands and an all-round threat. I’m all for spelling the two backs by not overworking one of them... but if something is working, you should stick to it.
- I’m now more excited than ever for the return of Ty Montgomery. Adding in a scat back to this running game is going to be a lot of fun.
- Speaking of returns: He didn’t do a whole lot yesterday — two grabs on three attempts for seven yards — but Tyquan Thornton got behind the defense on three occasions that I noticed. So just a matter of time.
- The history of the pre-Robert Kraft Patriots is, if I’m being wildly generous and putting every ounce of my English degree to use, desultory. This was a franchise rife with embarrassing seasons, scandals, the biggest blowout (at the time) in Super Bowl history, and levels of incompetence that shouldn’t be possible for a professional sports team. But the one, and perhaps only, area that the Patriots most definitively did not bungle was their uniform and logo. That Pat Patriot logo is absolute fire, and I’ll argue that the red and white throwbacks are the best in the NFL. Wish New England would just go back to that for good.
- This was a great win that has us all feeling optimistic again... so I better remedy that before people start getting the wrong idea.
- There’s just something about Jahlani Tavai that these coaches love for some reason or other, and I just can’t for the life of me see it. He was the starting linebacker yesterday and the only thing I can really give him credit for is he’s fast to the ballcarrier. Though to be fair, I spent three seasons saying the exact same thing about James White.
- Another 100-yard rushing day for a Patriots opponent, and it likely would have been more if Detroit didn’t have to more or less abandon the run in the second half.
- The good news is that when the Patriots get inside the 30, they’re more or less guaranteed to score. The bad news is that score is more or less guaranteed to be a field goal.
- And finally, a huge congrats to Bill Belichick for getting a win in his 400th game as a coach. In the revolving door that is NFL head coaches, that the Patriots have had the same guy at the helm for two decades is a massive blessing. It’s just too bad Don Shula isn’t around anymore for when he inevitably becomes most all-time; Shula always had such glowing things to say about Belichick.
Shutting another team out is really hard to do, even if it is Jared Goff under center. Hopefully the Patriots can keep this momentum going, continue to get healthy, and find themselves at .500 next week against a very confusing Cleveland Browns team.