It should come as no shocker to you all that I have some thoughts on last night’s game between the New England Patriots and the Miami Dolphins. It should also come as no shocker to you that I’m going to dispose with the preamble and just get right to them, as these primetime games really take it out of me. In the words of Roger Murtaugh, I’m too old for this.
1. The real winner last night was, and will continue to be, the New England Patriots throwback uniforms. I’ll never understand how this franchise could have been so comically inept for almost the entire time they wore those unis regularly. In an era that gave us the Steelers bumblebee socks and the Tampa Bay creamsicle jerseys, New England played with an absolute gem.
2. Now if they’d just get back to winning games while wearing them.
3. As far as losses go, we’ve all had to wake up to way worse. And this 2023 squad has the potential to be a very solid team. They just need to stop spotting the opposition two scores before they decide to start playing football. The schedule is too tough for the Patriots to have to climb out of a multi-score hole every single week.
4. Starting towards middle-to-end of last season, the Patriots followed a very distinctive pattern: get down big early, come roaring back, make the game close, the defense gives the offense three or four chances to tie/take the lead, the offense fails to do so and they lose. More of the same last night.
5. A promising opening drive stalled because Mac Jones failed to diagnose a second down blitz. You want to see him see that, but forgivable. Then a dominant second drive falls apart because of a fumble, and before you knew it it was 10-0. Taking a 17-3 halftime deficit into the locker rooms at halftime isn’t really how this team was built.
6. What they were supposed to be is a run-first, ball control offense that operated out of heavy sets with Mac Jones not asked to do too much in the passing game. New England’s top two running backs have rushed for 75 and 42 yards respectively through two games, with Mac Jones just behind Zeke at 40.
7. Of course, it has to start up front. This offensive line is still very much a work in progress, and they have yet to play a full game with the starters all in.
8. To repeat myself for the seventh or eighth time since mid-2022, the defense played well enough to win. If you’re sitting here this morning thinking of anything special that Tua Tagovailoa did to blow the game open last night, you’re more observant than I am. I would have liked to see better tackling in the backfield — I count at least four runs that should have been 2nd-and-at-least-12 that turned into 2nd-and-3 — but a duo of wildly explosive receivers were kept in check and Miami didn’t have any chunk plays. The 145 ground yards seemed to be part of the game plan as opposed to the D getting gashed.
9. The problem with a game plan that allows the opponent to run well on the ground is that you really, really need to take advantage of your offensive possessions, and the Patriots aren’t doing that yet.
10. Though I should say that If anyone is looking for Jahlani Tavai this morning, you might want to look for the Tavai-sized hole the Dolphins made at Gillette Stadium as they ran over, under, around, and through him for 60 straight minutes.
11. I’d also be just fine never seeing Matthew Judon drop back into coverage on Tyreek Hill ever again.
12. Speaking of coverage, how about Christian Gonzalez? Congrats on your first NFL interception, and I’m happy to say that things are going to get a lot easier for you going forward. The kid has delivered as well as you could possibly expect in his first two NFL games ever against the best receivers in the game right now.
13. It’s tough, because at times you see what this team can do. They have good weapons, and I’m still very high on Mac Jones and think he played very well overall. The only thing I’ll really fault him for was that Xavien Howard pick, that one never should have left his hand. But he’s seeing receivers, being smart with the football, and distributing it well. Once again, seven different Patriots caught a ball last night.
14. Or eight, if you want to count Cole Strange.
15. That was a pretty wild sequence, and not the best way to end the night. If Jones had released it about half a second earlier, Mike Gesicki would have been able to catch it at or past the sticks and maybe we’re having a different conversation today. He needs to get more zip on those passes and have them out where they need to be sooner, which I’m hoping is a chemistry issue that will come into its own as the season progresses. But it was also some amazing heads-up play by Gesicki to try and keep hopes alive.
16. And it was once again a reminder that I clearly have absolutely no freaking idea what the word “irrefutable” means. I always thought it means “impossible to deny or disprove,” but the NFL clearly has other ideas. I also used to think I knew what “conclusive (decisive or convincing)” and “indisputable (unable to be denied)” meant as well. But here I find myself. How the hell did they overturn the spot on that ball based on the footage we saw last night?
17. There are now enough catches, first downs, touchdowns, big plays, and game-defining moments in which the call on the field was overturned despite showing absolutely zero conclusive anything during replay review to comprise its own NFL Top 100 this offseason. The call on the field needs to carry more weight.
18. But I should also say that at the end of the day, if you’re relying on a replay review of a desperate fourth down lateral to a lineman as you try to tie the game with a minute to go, you can’t really be too upset about the loss.
19. But the play of the game, running away, was without a doubt the Brenden Schooler blocked field goal to give the Patriots life. I used to run that play all the time on ESPN Sunday Night NFL on Sega Genesis; line a guy way up on the edge, time the C button so I pressed it right at the snap to give the player a quick speed boost, and make the block. It was a blast. I just had no idea that it could ever work at the NFL level.
20. How is this just happening now for the first time? I know that Schooler is kind of a special teams beast, but still. Get ready to see that all over the league next week.
21. I’m just glad the Patriots made that play against the Dolphins and not the Ravens, otherwise Harbaugh would already be petitioning to make it illegal.
22. Apparently, if you flip photos of Tua around so it looks like he’s right handed and freeze a still frame of him, he kind of resembles Dan Marino. I’m so, so glad I was watching the game last night, otherwise I would have live my life deprived of that knowledge.
23. The catchphrase of the 2023 season is going to be “Tush Push” until proven otherwise. And why not? It seems almost impossible to defend if you need a few yards. Get the QB under center, get one big guy behind him grabbing a handful of ass, get another big guy on the other cheek grabbing a handful of ass, and shove your QB forward. No reason to do anything else — like oh, I don’t know, a deep toss sweep for a loss and a punt — as long as it’s allowed. The more Tush Pushes, the better; I always say that great things happen when you put QBs and butts together.
24. But that 3rd-and-short toss was such a bad call. The defense forces a three-and-out to start the second half, the offense is moving well, and then the play goes backwards and that was that.
25. You’ll never see me criticize Bill Belichick. He’s earned 0-17 seasons for life from here on out as far as I’m concerned and you won’t hear a peep out of me. But I’d like to respectfully request that maybe he ease up a bit on his “fumble once, you’re out for the rest of the game” rule. Pop Douglas is a wildly high-upside receiver who makes the offense more dynamic, and he needs in-game reps to continue his development
26. I’d also like to respectfully request that he never, ever change his challenge flag game. If there’s an NFL equivalent of getting dunked on, that poor line judge got the brunt of it last night. As long as Belichick keeps throwing those kind of flags, I’ll get through the rest of ths season no problem.
27. My big takeaway from last night is I hope Marcus Jones is healthy. And I hope this team will get healthy. 0-2 is a hole, no question. Of the 270 teams that started 0-2 since the 1990 NFL season, only 31 have gone on to make the playoffs. But you know who was one of those 31? The 2001 Patriots. That season turned out OK, I guess, so there’s still hope. Some winnable games coming down the stretch, and you can’t finish 2-2 in the first quarter of the season without losing two.
As they always seem to, the New York Jets are coming at a perfect time. If they can’t win that one, we’re all going to have to have a very difficult conversation this time next week.