Happy New Year, everyone!
For the first time since September of 2020, the New England Patriots beat the Miami Dolphins and now find themselves needing nothing more than a win on the road against the best team in the NFL with the No. 1 seed in the AFC on the line in order to make the playoffs, where they get to either go back to Buffalo or off to Kansas City in the Wild Card round. Perhaps 2023 is the year of the miracle.
- Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: the Dolphins were without their starting quarterback, which of course made a difference. Could the Patriots have gotten the win if Tua Tagovailoa were under center? Who knows. But counterpoint: almost the entire New England secondary was out yesterday, the linebackers are banged up, and they held the Dolphins QBs to under 250 yards passing with two picks. An offense with Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle had Raheem Mostert as the leading receiver and no running back eclipsed 50 rushing yards.
- Because once again, this team lives and dies by its defense. New England seemed to operate out of a lot of three safety nickel with Jonathan Jones, Myles Bryant, Kyle Dugger, Jabrill Peppers, and Devin McCourty. Lots of zone-heavy concepts with a Cover 2 Cone where Hill was almost constantly bracketed and put at hat-on-a-hat in zone on the other receivers. That type of complexity is only effective if all three levels of D plays with extreme discipline and wins their individual matchups, which the Patriots most certainly did.
- Of all the things that don’t make sense about the 2023 season, the special teams play is hands down the most perplexing. Sloppy mistakes, poor blocking, and drive-saving penalties have plagued this unit all season, while on the flip side they’re capable of completely changing the game with explosive returns and field positioning. If nothing else, Bill Belichick-coached teams would never lose a game because of special teams play, but in 2023 that isn’t the case.
- I want to give Nick Folk a pass for how he’s kind of faded down the stretch; the kicker isn’t supposed to carry an entire offense all year, so that leg must be tired. But come on man, you have to at least make the extra points.
- Same goes for Rhamondre Stevenson. You can see he’s starting to tire a bit, and I couldn’t be more understanding. Not only has he been carrying the offense, he has also been carrying defenders on his back as he carries the ball that has been carrying the offense. Glad to see Damien Harris back, and it goes to show the importance of a deep backfield.
- Mac Jones started off hot, he finished hot, but was wildly inconsistent for the middle two quarters. The Patriots scored their second opening drive touchdown of the season (the first was against Minnesota), and when they needed a big drive late to ice the game they got it, but they also punted on their next four possessions (including two straight three-and-outs to start the second half) when there were actually guys open and plays to be made. Jones has thrown some absolute dimes this season, and has really made receivers work for others. There’s a pass to a wide open Tyquan Thornton midway through the third quarter that comes to mind where if he hits Thornton in stride, he’s likely gone. Instead he had to turn around and high point the ball while falling over. This offense is a whole lot like all-you-can-eat rib night at The Sizzler — lots of fun at times, but not for the timid, and more a test of endurance and pain tolerance than anything else.
- That said, great to see Tyquan Thornton on the stat sheet. He’s getting more looks and more opportunities as the season progresses, so maybe we’ll finally get to see that Go Route we’ve all been waiting for before the year is out.
- Of course it wasn’t remotely perfect — there were a few three-and-outs, and it wouldn’t be a Pats game without a “False start, 2-yard run, incompletion, incompletion, punt”-sequence, but games like this go to show that if the offense can just show up two or three times a game, they’ll have a chance to win every time.
- The way I see it, it’s pretty simple going forward. All the Patriots need to do every week is play a backup QB, or the backup to the backup QB, and register a pick-six. If they can do that, I see no reason why they can’t make a serious playoff run.
- Can someone please explain to me why forward progress isn’t reviewable? Is there any logic to that?
- We all know the kind of things that land you in Bill Belichick’s doghouse. Multiple fumbles. Mental errors. Freelancing on plays. Bad tackling or poor angles. Being late for practice. But courtesy of Kendrick Bourne, we can now for some reason add “Register 100 yards receiving and a touchdown” to that list. Why he only got two passes thrown his way remains a mystery that we’re just never going to know the answer to. When one of your best receivers has less touchdowns than Kyle Dugger, you have to wonder what the hell is going on.
- That said, there are way worse players to be losing to than Kyle Dugger, who is rapidly becoming one of the league’s best safeties. On Dugger’s pick-six, he showed in-line blitz before dropping into Cover 2 with Myles Bryant fading into deep half coverage. It allowed him to break off the drop-step and cut in front of the pass for the 39-yard score, in which he showed some pretty solid elusiveness. Maybe the Patriots should have an offensive package with Marcus Jones and Kyle Dugger on the field at the same time. Dugger has the size and build to be a solid move tight end, maybe with Jones motioning out of the backfield into the slot.
- This is a poorly-coached team that makes a lot of mistakes and can’t close out games. They’ve looked completely lost on offense for much of the season and have been one of the more frustrating squads to watch in recent memory. Yet they’re one win away from a playoff berth and could even sneak in next week with a loss accompanied by losses from Miami, Pittsburgh, and Tennessee. Tebow works in mysterious ways.
- This is likely going to need a completely separate article, but yesterday’s game was possibly the last time both Matthew Slater and Devin McCourty took the field at Gillette Stadium. It’s not quite time to give them both the credit and respect that they so very much deserve, as there are a few games left to play still... but if there are two more crucial pieces of the Dynasty 2.0 not named Tom Brady, I’d like to hear who they are.
Let’s all enjoy this win, as it may very well be the last one we get to experience on the 2022 season. On the plus side, the Patriots have yet to lose a single game in 2023, so we’re already building some solid momentum for next year.