I spent November 18, 2001 clad in a yellow security jacket and black pants, standing with my back to the field as the ever-hydrated Foxboro faithful hurled insults my way. Believe me when I say being on the field working security for a Patriots game isn’t nearly as cool as it sounds.
The game in question was the New England Patriots vs. the St. Louis Rams. That 24-17 loss would represent the last defeat the team faced that year. And while there are never any moral victories in football, I feel like fans and team alike left that game feeling pretty good about how the Patriots hung in there.
I have a similar feeling this morning, to be honest. In a game that nobody really expected to win, the Patriots hung tough. If you had told me that the Patriots, at full strength with Mac Jones under center, would travel to Lambeau Field and barely lose to the Packers in overtime, I would have be extremely happy with that
That New England could have won this game with a fourth round rookie forced into starting action may have me more optimistic than I should be this morning.
- Most importantly, let’s all hope that Brian Hoyer is OK. The hit he took looked hard, but it didn’t look massively serious. What I’m hoping is that we’re simply right in the middle of Point F of the NFL’s 8-Point Crisis Management Plan as opposed to it actually being a serious head injury.
- And for those who need a refresher on the NFL’s 8-Point Crisis Management Plan, I’m happy to lay it out for you:
- A: There is a clear and obvious problem surrounding player behavior or safety;
- B: The NFL completely ignores this problem because they don’t care, and have never cared, about player safety or behavior;
- C: Something happens, on or off the field, that is simply too egregious to ignore, usually involving a higher-profile player;
- D: The NFL vomits out the usual platitudes, makes some bogus statements about looking into the issue with a full investigation, and doubles down on buzzwords like “integrity” and “efficacy”;
- E: A lower-level employee or behind-the-scene individual takes the fall for whatever went down;
- F: For a few weeks following the incident, the league is hyper-vigilant about whatever the issue is, taking often unnecessary measures in order to cover their own ass and give off the right appearance;
- G: Everything starts to blow over, we all more or less move on, and the NFL stops caring again;
- H: See Point A.
- I always liked Brian Hoyer as a backup and player/coach-type mentor, so here’s hoping for a speedy recovery.
- And to be honest, Hoyer looked good in his extremely limited action. Taking the ball from the New England 25 all the way to the red zone before fizzling out and settling for a field goal is exactly what this team does, so he didn’t really miss a beat.
- In terms of overall offensive strategy, New England didn’t shock anyone by adopting the “I Just Ate at Golden Corral” Offense: runs, runs, runs, and then some more runs. When it was finally time to pass, it was rushed and a little gross. All things I know too well.
- And the run game continues to impress. Both Harris and Stevenson averaged over 4.5 yards per carry, even with a rookie under center where the Packers knew they’d be run-heavy. There’s nothing flashy about the runs, either; no trickery or fancy blocking schemes. Just power, one-cut gap discipline that allows the backs to get into the second level, make guys miss, and fall forward after contact. Now if the damn tight ends could just get their act together, we might actually be in good shape.
- Jonnu Smith injured his ankle and missed a good chunk of the game. Did anybody else completely forget that until just now?
- And perhaps one of the reasons why the running game is so effective is because that overrated, massive reach, Belichick’s hubris on full display waste of a first rounder Cole Strange is very quietly having himself a rookie season for the ages. The strength of the Patriots line is on the interior, and if there has been a single massive error on Strange’s part, I don’t remember it.
- The Yang to Strange’s Yin, however, is Isaiah Wynn, who was straight-up benched yesterday for 34-year-old Marcus Cannon. At this point the only thing about the Patriots offense more reliable than them settling for field goals in the red zone is that a big play is going to get called back on a Wynn penalty at least once per game. I have no idea what’s going on with him, but if this isn’t his last season in New England I’ll be surprised.
- I’ve made it this far without talking about Bailey Zappe, which is almost as impressive as how I’ve now made it four whole weeks into the 2022 NFL season without making a single Strange 69 joke. I won’t be able to hold out much longer on that one.
- Early last week, I posed the question to Pats Nation: Which quarterback should start against the Packers? And almost 70% of you mentioned you’d rather see Zappe out there. At the time, we were all under the impression that Mac Jones was going to be out for an extended period, so maybe that influenced your vote (the season is over now, so throw the rookie in there and see what we have)...but regardless, everyone clamoring for Zappe got what they asked for on Sunday.
- And he was... fine, I have to say. He wasn’t asked to do a whole lot, only throwing 15 passes, but every mistake he made was exactly the kind of mistake you’d expect a rookie to make. Holding onto the ball too long and taking sacks. Scrambling away from ghost pressure. Not progressing through reads fast enough. Letting a few passes sail early and into the dirt. Delay of game penalties. But he also made some very nice throws and reads, including one that came on what should have been the second delay of game penalty in a row where he hit DeVante Parker on a 25-yard crosser to become the first quarterback of the 2022 rookie class to throw a touchdown pass.
- We’ll have to see what this week brings in terms of quarterback health, but if Zappe is the guy against Detroit, I think that there’s a way to install a game plan that will make him successful.
- That does, however, speed up the clock for what the best nickname for him is. I’m personally partial to Slappy Zappe, but that’s just because I find the word “slappy” unreasonably funny. I guess Scrappy Zappe makes a little more sense, or The Zap Trap, perhaps. Zappe Gilmore? Don’t Worry, Be Zappe? Not sure, I’m still thinking.
- If this game seemed to go by extremely quickly for you, you’re correct. I don’t think that New England called a single snap with more than six seconds left on the play clock in a classic “Let’s just get through this” kind of move.
- Once again, the reason the Patriots were in this game was because of their defense. Holding Aaron Rodgers to 250 yards passing is no small feat, nor is picking him off — let alone a pick-six to close out the half. That was just the fourth pick-six of Rodgers’s career.
- Granted, the low passing yards likely had something to do with the almost 200 yards the defense gave up on the ground. The three safety look aimed to prevent the big play that the Packers are known for, with that third safety assigned the buzz role of crashing into the box. However, they could never get there in time, and it became a focal point of the Green Bay attack.
- Still, it’s tough not to like what this defense can do. You can’t contain Rodgers forever, and I honestly feel like the Patriots get away with this game if Hoyer had stayed in.
- “The Patriots would have beaten the Packers on the road if only they’d had Brian Hoyer” is never something I thought I’d write.
- A few things I’m going to be watching for going forward:
- Myles Bryant moving more into the slot might be where he’s most effective;
- Jack Jones as an outside corner opposite Jalen Mills, perhaps shifting Jonathan Jones into more of a press role;
- Jahlani Tavai in general. He’s getting a ton of reps and I can’t quite figure out why.
- I’d also like to have a word with the officiating crew. Not only did they miss a ton of holds (from both sides), they called phantom holds, completely missed a non-horse collar tackle, pointed in the wrong direction half the time, got the penalties and numbers wrong, and just had an all-around awful day. The officiating isn’t the reason New England lost and there’s never any point in complaining about the refs, but at least know which team you’re calling the foul on.
- I also can’t help but wonder if the Patriots still might have been able to sneak away with this one if they had just had better special teams play. Poor kick coverage and recoverable punts that found their way into the end zone gave one of the all-time greats field position that didn’t help the cause.
- OK... I’ve now written “The Patriots could have won with Brian Hoyer” and “The Patriots aren’t playing well on special teams” in the same damn article. I better close this out.
- Of course I’d be doing us all a massive disservice if I didn’t close out the Pats vs. Packers Fan Notes by mentioning one of the greatest regular season moments in Patriots history. I’ll never not laugh at that clip, particularly the way he carries the ball on the return. Atta boy, Dan!
If you want to stew over this loss, I certainly can’t stop you. But If you were to tell me in May of 2022 that the Patriots would lose in overtime at Green Bay on a last second field goal, I would have been absolutely thrilled with that result. That it happened with a third-string rookie at quarterback is nothing short of remarkable.
New England has a pretty soft schedule coming up, so we’ll know a whole lot about this team over the next month or so.