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Patriots vs. Raiders: Fan Notes from the Game

Related: 10 things we learned from the Patriots’ loss to the Raiders

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NFL: New England Patriots at Las Vegas Raiders Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

It’s December 19. The Holiday Season is in full swing. For many of you, this is your last work week of the year, and it’s a short one at that. Or maybe you’re only there in body, having mentally checked out for the year back in November.

The bottom line is that this is time we should all focus on resting, recharging, and being merry and bright. I see absolutely no reason to dwell on what took place yesterday any more than we have to. If you want Xs and Ox analysis, look elsewhere. These Fan Notes are more in the tradition of Festivus, where I will be Airing Grievances.

  • If you’re still reading my Fan Notes at this point in the season, I’m incredibly grateful. I’m more than aware that I’ve basically been writing the same thing week-in and week-out since about mid-September and have never had to work harder to provide some analysis that doesn’t sound like I wrote this article in homeroom six minutes before the bell rang and teacher said to pass all papers to the front. But I’m not that talented of a writer, and the simple reality is that we’ve all been subjected to a Patriots team that has gone nowhere and exhibited zero growth all season, and you can only cover what you see. I am sorry about what you’ve been reading every week, but I’ve already stretched my mental thesaurus past its limit and I’m trying to figure out how I’m supposed to cover this team effectively for the next three games.
  • I’m also sorry we all have to keep watching these games, where even the wins don’t feel all that good and the losses just leave you shaking your head.
  • And it’s not that the 2022 Patriots are a bad team. Rooting for a bad team comes with the territory when you’re a fan. If you only stick around when the team is winning, you can get the hell out of here and not come back as far as I’m concerned. I’d feel so, so differently about these Patriots if they just didn’t have the talent to compete every week and were getting outplayed despite their best efforts. There are a number of NFL teams out there you can say that about.
  • What makes this team so painful to watch is that they are the polar opposite of every single Patriots squad that Bill Belichick has ever coached. The culture of the New England Patriots has been built on acquiring smart, savvy, lunchpail players who have high football IQs and prioritize team and winning over personal accolades. They pride themselves on playing strong, disciplined football, using a deep understanding of the fundamentals to scheme guys open, take advantage of opportunities, play situational football, and capitalize on the mistakes that opponents eventually make. It’s how they have been able to win countless games over the years, and what the haters refuse to acknowledge when they try to say that Tom Brady was a system QB or just lucky for 21 straight years. That’s Patriots football.
  • But this team? Zero fundamentals. Horrible communication. Different reads of the same play. Mistimed cadences. Straight up not knowing which play they’re running at the line. Repeated mental errors. Bad tackling. Running poorly-timed routes well short of the sticks. Missed blocking assignments. Inconsistency across the board. Lack of rhythm. Drive-killing penalties. Drive-extending penalties. There’s just basic Football 101 stuff that you shouldn’t even be seeing in preseason, let alone Week 15.
  • I mean did anyone ever think, at any point, that the Bill Belichick-led Special Teams unit would be so out of sync that they gave up a blocked punt because half of the punt team was facing the opposite way trying to make sure they were all on the same page when the ball was snapped?
  • I’ve completely lost count at this point of how many times I’ve labeled an embarrassingly bad sequence as the Patriots offense in a nutshell, but you can add another one to the list after a first and goal at the two yard line ended in a field goal because of incompletions, timeouts, and false starts. Not sure if that was the worst three-down sequence of the year — competition for that honor is stiff in 2022 — but it’s for sure up there. Two touchdowns on four plays were taken off the board because either the players didn’t know what was going or the coaches didn’t.
  • And what’s truly terrible about it all is that this is a very good defense, and if the offense was just competent — not good, competent — I’d be excited to see what they could do in the postseason.
  • I feel like this offense went to spend what they thought was a quiet weekend at the Armitage House in Upstate New York, only to get hypnotized and surgically removed from themselves and implanted into the body of a sputtering, inconsistent mess. But then every once in a while someone will snap a flash photo and they’ll be themselves again, just for the briefest of moments, and we’ll have a glimpse of what they’re capable of before Matt Patricia starts stirring the tea with the spoon and they go back down to The Sunken Place.
  • What’s going to be lost in this game is that Kyle Dugger somehow turned a quick screen into a pick-six. He was in the robber safety spot and somehow managed to jump a screen pass behind the line. The look of disbelief on Derek Carr’s face tells you everything you need to know about how impossible that is.
  • For a brief period, the leading touchdown scorer for the Patriots was the D/ST, as Dugger’s pick six gave them six on the season. Rhamondre Stevenson tied it up late with a sixth of his own, so the D/ST now shares the TD leaderboard with the offense’s leading rusher and scorer.
  • Stevenson’s day is another tidbit that’s going to be lost. 19 carries for 172 yards with 126 of those yards after contact and a score. Not surprising that his day reflects a very solid outing from the offensive line.
  • I’ve put this off long enough. Let’s talk about the obvious, the Disaster in the Desert that ended the game. This team’s only two offensive sparks, Rhamondre Stevenson and Jakobi Meyers, teamed up for one of the worst plays you’ll ever see and all but ended New England’s playoff hopes. There are people who are calling that play the dumbest in the history of the NFL. And while I personally don’t agree with that and think that time will cause this to fade into the hodgepodge of boneheaded plays we’ve seen over the years, make no mistake: that highlight (or lowlight) is here to stay. We watched it live, and it will be on repeat for decades to come. It was just all-time horrendous and there’s no spinning it otherwise. You can dwell on it all you want, but that play is now as much a part of Patriots lore as Malcolm Butler, 28-3, Show Ponies Where’s the Beef, and all things Adam Vinatieri.
  • And for those of you over the age of 30 who are also suffering from a bit of PTSD flashbacks this morning over the late 80s/early 90s Patriots where plays like that were more of the rule than the exception, just know you’re not alone. Who here remembers being excited that Hugh Millen led the Patriots to a 6-10 season in 1991 and couldn’t wait to build on such positive momentum?
  • Meyers, in his postgame interview, said that the play was all on him. It wasn’t a called or scripted lateral, and he was trying to play the hero. So it would be easy not to put what happened here on the coaches trying to pull a play out of their rear end. And sure, you can’t place the blame directly at the feet of the coaching staff. But it all goes back to my earlier point about how this team has zero discipline and no fundamentals. So, yes, I will put that at the feet of the coaches.
  • I guess I should also mention the reason we even had to witness that debacle, the non-touchdown that stood. There are a lot of folks mad about that one, and I get it. But the NFL has been nothing but consistent with how wildly inconsistent they are about everything. Calls have been overturned with way less evidence than what looked to me to be a very clear toe on the white line. Calls have also stood with way more evidence than what we had available. Two of the exact same plays get two different calls. Sometimes it’s a catch, sometimes it isn’t. DPI could always go either way. Maybe they feel like calling Roughing The Passer sometimes, maybe they don’t. So you can be mad if you want, but there’s no rhyme or reason to any of it and there hasn’t been for some time. At least that part is consistent. If that exact play happened 10 more times, it would be overturned five times and stand five times. Just the new reality of a sport that has been getting harder and harder to watch since about 2012.
  • Ironically, if this game hadn’t gotten flexed out of primetime, there would be sideline pylon cams that would have given us a lot more certainty.
  • Though I’m glad they did, because this was a bad football game. New England and Vegas both did their very best to hand the other team the game, and ultimately the Patriots had had enough and literally did just that. It’s too festive a season to expose the world to that level of dookie.
  • But it shouldn’t have gotten to that point. The Raiders had to go 81 yards to get that score, and they did it in one minute and 39 seconds. They converted a 4th-and-10 from their own 19 and then didn’t even need a third down the rest of the way. There must be a universal rule written somewhere in the NFL lawbook that states all defenses trying to protect a lead late must, at all costs, play exclusively prevent defense, because I don’t know how many times I’ve watched it happen with every team, every season, no matter what,
  • I mean seriously — Why do teams do that? The defense was lights out for most of this game. They only gave up one real TD drive and completely shut the Raiders out in the second half. What they were doing was clearly working. So, why suddenly decide to switch? You can get mad at the refs for not overturning the TD, but it never should have gotten to that point.
  • To that end, I don’t really have all that much game-specific analysis for any of you today. If you’re looking for what I think of this game from an Xs and Os standpoint, just go to pretty much any other Fan Notes this season and substitute “Raiders” with whoever they were playing that week. What follows is just some more general observations about what we continue to see with this team and what we can maybe expect as the end of the season draws mercifully closer.
  • And again, it’s not because the Patriots are a bad team. Rooting for bad teams is part of being a fan. Of course it’s more fun when your team is winning, but you take the bad with the good and I’ll be here no matter what. There’s something kind of zen about rooting for a bad team — just think about that 2020 squad. I really enjoyed that season, in spite of the 7-9 record. But the reality is that you can only watch the same episode of your favorite show so many times before you want to see something different, and that these 2022 Patriots never even got out of the parking lot on this season just kind of has me looking at my watch waiting for it all to be over.
  • I was asked, some years ago on a podcast, if there was anything negative about being a Patriots fan. I neither expected nor deserved any sympathy, but since I was asked, I mentioned how the regular season for Pats fans was more or less spent waiting around for a 12-4 finish and wondering where the AFC Championship Game will be held, which takes away a lot of the excitement. It was a good problem to have... but we all knew in September that New England would be the No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the AFC year-in and year-out, so it was just a matter of how they got there. The 2022 equivalent of that is knowing that a drive that makes it inside the opponent’s 30 is going to end in a field goal, it’s just a matter of how they get there. And to their credit, they’re really getting creative with how they stay out of the end zone.
  • And to think, the Patriots almost came back from a two-score deficit. Almost.
  • Bill Belichick is now 14-16 against his former assistants, and 1-7 most recently.
  • It would seem that every 20-25 years or so, the Patriots and Raiders have a game that goes down in history due to some wild play or call. 1976 had the penalty that wasn’t to knock the Pats out of the playoffs. 2001 had the Tuck Rule and the start of the Dynasty. 2022 had that absurd lateral. Not sure whether I should look forward to Pats vs. Raiders 2047 or dread it, but I can guarantee it’s going to be a spectacle.
  • I think I’ve had enough now. Time to go watch an episode of The Office. I need something less cringey and uncomfortable than watching this team play, like “Scott’s Tots.”
  • I always try to end these Fan Notes with a positive, and I’ll do so by talking about the other kind of football... I don’t know how many soccer fans there are out there, but the best World Cup of my lifetime just wrapped up with Lionel Messi and Argentina taking down France in an all-time great match. I won’t get too deep into it in case I’m in the minority here as a soccer fan — but as Patriots fans, we should all have a unique respect for any kind of GOAT debate, and Messi is right up there in that conversation. That he was able to finish what is more than likely his last ever World Cup by bringing home the most coveted trophy on the planet is just awesome. Congrats to Messi and Argentina, and I’m already counting down to North America 2026.
  • Just three games to go. Serenity now.