Monday, February 4, 2019

Pats Win SB LIII, 13-3!

"Well, well, well... what abouuuut dat?" (My friend, Leo Pasetti, 1982.)

So the team that didn't train enough in the off-season, that went a "pathetic" 3-5 on the road, that "wasted" a first-round pick on a running back, that didn't get enough in the Garoppollo trade, that "blew their chance" at a playoff Bye with a loss in Miami, and that couldn't possibly beat the Chiefs in Kansas City -- THAT team just won the Super Bowl!

The Patriots capped an improbable playoff run with a 13-3 win that was actually a lot closer than the score indicated. They did it with a great defensive game plan, outstanding special teams play, and a grinding, time-of-possession offense that did just enough to outscore the high-flying Rams.

In a game that paired the #2 and #4 scoring offenses, the biggest stars were the defensive coordinators.

Rams' DC Wade Phillips devised great disguise schemes that confused Patriots QB Tom Brady. They got an interception when Brady mistakenly thought it was man coverage. And time after time the Patriots drove into Rams territory, only to be thwarted before getting into scoring position.

And in his Patriots' swan song, DC Brian Flores crafted a plan to attack the Rams offense up the field, cutting off the misdirection lanes. He added timely blitzes and games that kept Rams QB Jared Goff off balance and out of sorts. And all season he employed far more stunts, games, and exotic defenses, sometimes switching between them five or six times within the same drive.

Flores is headed to Miami tomorrow, to be introduced as the head coach of the Dolphins. And I'll predict right here that he will be the next head coach to win the AFC East. Might not be for a few years, with Belichick around. But he is that good, and he will be sorely missed, no matter whom they bring in to coach the defense next year.

The offensive star was Julian Edelman, the Super Bowl LIII MVP, who kept the chains moving over and over with 10 catches for 141 yards. Rob Gronkowski had a few clutch catches on the lone touchdown drive of the game, but aside from that, the receivers were mostly effective blocking for the run game.

Two running backs were key, led by Sony Michel's 94 yards on 18 carries (5.2 ypc) and that one touchdown. And surprisingly, Rex Burkhead added 43 yards, averaging 6.1 ypc himself. And it wouldn't be right not to mention one back with zero carries -- James Develin didn't touch the ball but his blocking was key in this entire playoff run.

Brady was spot on when he deciphered the defense properly, but it was strange to see all the misfires when he didn't read things properly. He wasn't pressured as much as expected by the Rams D-line, but he did take more hits and was sacked more than in the prior two playoff games combined.

On defense, the line and linebackers simply ran up the field to get to the QB or the RB, whomever had the ball. There weren't any standouts, but the scheme put the front seven near Goff time after time, and it bottled up the running game, too.

But the star was the secondary, which blanketed the receivers on 95% of the plays. Stephon Gilmore earned his rep as the highest rated corner in the NFL. He shut down wideout Brandin Cooks, knocking away three passes, had a forced fumble and an interception.

Additionally, oft-maligned Jason McCourty ran from the other side of the field to knock away a sure touchdown when Cooks got free in the end zone. And when safety Patrick Chung went down with a broken arm, Duron Harmon stepped in, knocking down another potential touchdown and blitzing to force a bad throw on the Gilmore INT.

As for special teams, they played great despite the missed field goal by Gostkowski. Punter Ryan Allen was a legit candidate for MVP, as was gunner Matthew Slater. Allen booted three punts that were downed inside the 10 yard-line, all three by Slater. Giving the Rams the long field went a long way to keeping them off the scoreboard.

I already went over the coaching job on defense. And honestly, the offensive plan wasn't great, entering the game or adjustment-wise. Good enough in the end, but without that defensive game plan, the Pats wouldn't even have been in the game.

Where does that leave us? SUPER BOWL CHAMPS of course! Leave the off-season questions for another day, just enjoy this for the next week, and don't sweat the small stuff :D

Non-Brady MVP: Allen. I know Julian got the MVP award, but if Allen doesn't have one of his best games of the year, it's likely a loss.

Statistical Oddity: The Patriots have faced the Rams in two Super Bowls, and in those games, the Pats allowed 69% fewer points than the Rams averaged during the regular year:
  • 2001: 31.4ppg in the regular season, 17 points in the Super Bowl
  • 2018: 32.9ppg in the regular season, 3 points in the Super Bowl
Water-cooler Wisdom: "We're Still Here!"

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 14-5 & 3-0!

Friday, February 1, 2019

Pats Rams SB Preview

As you've no doubt noticed, there was a disturbing lack of emails and updates during the playoffs. Sorry folks, but life intruded and I just didn't have the time.

However, I did have a few thoughts on the big game, now that they've gotten there. Mostly, it's the keys to the game when the Pats are on offense and defense. Here we go...

When the Patriots have the ball

When the Pats are on offense, it'll come down to how LA defensive coordinator Wade Phillips does. He struggled to stop Brady for years (his defenses literally went almost 10 years without intercepting a single Brady pass), but he's beaten the GOAT the last two times. And he won those games by bringing pressure instead of sitting back in a zone. (Also, it didn't hurt that Peyton Manning helmed the offense for those Broncos teams.)

You can bank on Pats offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels will have a great plan entering the game. Because in the first two playoff games, his plans have been nearly flawless. Here are the numbers for the first two drives of the games against the Chargers and Chiefs:

  • 25:00 of possession time
  • 286 yards
  • 9 of 10 on third down conversions
  • 21 points

And if not for a foolish interception by Brady, it would have been 10 of 10 on third down and 28 points in four possessions. Impressive beginnings to both games, to say the least.

McDaniels is dialed in this year. The previous seven playoff games, New England failed to score a first-drive touchdown. This year, they were unstoppable early in their first two games.

This is where Phillips comes in. In the two games he beat Brady, his defense totaled 7 sacks and an amazing 26 QB hits! He brought pressure and it paid off.

For the record, both games were in Denver, where the crowd noise made it harder for the Patriots O-line to communicate. And that won't be the case in the Super Bowl; that corporate crowd will only be slightly louder than a theater playing "A Quiet Place."

But Phillips should have learned his lesson by now. He took one thrashing after another playing his usual "four man rush, seven man zone." If he tries it again this Sunday, the Patriots will already be over halfway to a victory.

When the Rams have the ball

On Los Angeles possessions, it'll all come down to whether Jared Goff turns the ball over in the first half. The LA quarterback gave up 18 turnovers (5 fumbles lost, 13 interceptions) this past season, which is slightly more than 1 per game. And Belichick defenses usually confused young quarterbacks, especially the first time they face a Belichick defense.

Add to that this year's D-coordinator (and soon-to-be Miami head coach) Brian Flores, who employs multiple exotic defenses and schemes all over the field. The Patriots ran more stunts and games up front, and deployed more of the Amoeba, Bullseye, and "one down lineman" fronts than in past years. It's paid off by masking a general talent drain, but that aside, it's been extremely effective.

But it works best in the first half. Best evidence of that is the two Chiefs games. KC scored a total of 9 first half points in the two games, but they scored 62 total in the combined second halves. This shows the Patriots defense is hard to decipher at first, but once good offensive teams figure it out, watch out!

Goff doesn't need to get off to an amazing start. His young counterpart, Patrick Mahomes, didn't for the Chiefs, but they still came back to tie the game in the second half.

However, if Goff commits the cardinal sin, if he turns over the ball (especially in the first half), it'll spell real trouble for the Rams.

The rest of it

As for the rest of it, it's mostly a wash. The Patriots have much more experience, but the Rams have more talent. The Pats have a perceived coaching advantage, but no one has seen LA wunderkind Sean McVay in the big game, so no telling how he will do.

Each team's special teams have advantages and weaknesses, but those should mostly cancel each other out. And both offensive and defensive lines are playing their best football of the season right now.

Aside from the experience advantage, the Patriots do have one other thing in their favor: the two-week break. Think back to how dominant they were from the get-go against the LA Chargers. That was after a Bye week.

Rest can't be overrated for a team with this many veteran players. And the first two playoff games showed how much it helps.

That's about it; hope you enjoy the game and that you enjoyed my thoughts on the season. I'm sure I'll write up something post-game -- here's hoping it's a celebration, not a lamentation :D

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 13-5 & 2-0!

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Patriots Earn A Playoff Bye, Crushing Jets 38-3

The Patriots took care of business, beating the listless Jets 38-3 to secure the #2 playoff seed and a week off before their next game. The win was predictable; Tom Brady is now 14-2 against the Jets in regular-season home games. In two weeks, the Patriots will host the Texans, Ravens, or Chargers at Gillette Stadium.

There was very little to learn from the Jets game. Reports were that some New York players skipped meetings this week because they were sure the coach was going to be fired. They had checked out, and it showed in the game.

However, three trends about this Patriots team have emerged since mid-season.

1. Defensive improvement

Starting in week eight, the Pats gave up 68 points in two games to Tennessee and Miami (34ppg), and 78 points in the other seven games total (11ppg). And those seven games included tilts with the potent Packers and Steelers offensive teams, the Steelers game in Pittsburgh.

The secondary is playing much better, with rookie JC Jackson taking over the second corner position and linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts improving more than you could possible expect. Also, discipline within the scheme along the front four/five is much better than earlier in the year.

They still give up lots of yards, but are making teams settle for field goals and turning the ball over much more often. There won't be any bad offenses in the playoffs, so it'll be interesting to see if the Steelers game was poor play by Pittsburgh or better play by the Patriots defense.

2. Running the football

Excepting the losses to Tennessee and Miami, the Patriots averaged 153 rushing yards a game in the last nine contests. The offensive line has been dominant of late. And fullback James Develin has been a devastating blocker in multiple games.

It's true that this is partly out of necessity, because the passing attack has been mediocre. But it's also true that other teams knew the Patriots were going to run, and they still couldn't slow them down.

3. Diverse offensive attack

Over the years, the Patriots have succeed in the playoffs more often when they used a lot of receivers and runners on offense. That kind of diverse attack always served the well, because teams usually key on your best performers in the playoffs.

To that point, in four of their last five games, three or more rushers had double-digit yards on the ground. And in two of those games, they had five such rushers. It makes it tough to key on one player, and also means the Patriots can bring in fresh legs over an over to attack defenders who have been on the field all game long.

And in the last six games, the Pats had at least five players with multiple receptions in five of them. Again, this just makes it tough to key on one guy, giving opposing defenses fits and lots of players to cover.

In the past, teams would often double-team Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski. And despite Gronk's lesser production this year, teams leave him singled-up at their own peril. But even if they only double Edelman, that leaves Gronk, Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett (who has been coming on), James White, Rex Burkhead, and Cordarrelle Patterson in one-on-one coverage.

4. Quick hits

A. The Patriots have four non-offensive touchdowns this year, two on special teams and two on defense.

B. Despite a lot of consternation about the number of Patriots penalties, they are third-best in the league, committing less than 50 yards worth of penalties per game.

C. The kickoff returns are a real concern. The Jets average start after a kickoff was the 32 yard-line; not good.

D. The last time the Patriots clinched a playoff bye the last weekend of the season with an 11-5 record was the 2001 season. IIRC, they won the Super Bowl that year :D

Where does that leave us. We can all relax next weekend, as the next Patriots opponent takes a beating Wild Card Weekend. If you want to root for something, hope the Chargers win and the #6 seed loses (the Colts, Titans, and Steelers, depending on tonight's game). That would put division rival LA in Kansas City, which is always a tough draw in the playoffs.

Biggest ongoing concern: It's inconsistency. In 2019, penalties, poor kick coverage, missed field goals, bad defensive calls, and poor tackling have all cost the team games. It's amazing they have a playoff bye at all. But now that they do, they need to shore up those issues, because they aren't more talented than the other teams in the post-season.

Statistical oddity: The Pats gave up 34 points in one game against Miami, and 41 total points in their other five AFC East tilts.

Water-cooler wisdom: "After all the hand-wringing, the Pats are two wins away from the Super Bowl yet again."

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS.  11-5 & 0-0!

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Patriots Win Game, Division, 24-12

The Patriots took care of business, defeating their "little brother" Bills 24-12 in a game not quite that competitive. The win gave the Patriots the AFC East crown, and combined with Houston's loss at Philly, the Pats will be the #2 playoff seed if they win next week. Speaking of which, the Jets come in with their young QB, hoping to play spoiler to the Pats playoff hopes.

I hope you didn't get too depressed the last few weeks, when the local 11 lost back-to-back heartbreaking games. It appeared they were out of the running for a playoff Bye, but the win today changed all that. It's unclear why people always assume other teams will win-out to knock the Patriots down, but once again, the Pats are kings of the AFC East, and have that week off in their sights.

They did it yesterday with the running game. Excepting the kneel-downs to finish the game, the Patriots rushed 45 times for 275 yards (6.1ypc), with rookie Sony Michel leading the way (18 for 116 and 6.4ypc) and Cordarrelle Patterson (4 for 66, and an eye-popping 16.5ypc!). The O-line plowed through the Buffalo defense, opening big holes and reaching the second and third levels to take out defenders. It was the most yards rushing in any Tom Brady start.

Brady himself was pedestrian, as were the receivers. Julian Edelman had two dropped passes, and Rob Gronkowski had one go through his hands that ended up being intercepted. On the day, Brady was 13 of 24 for 126 yards, 1 TD, and 2 INTs (all that despite being sacked just once and hit only twice).

The biggest problem in the passing game was that only five players were targeted. As stated in the past, Patriots post-season success often comes down to having a lot of receivers involved in the passing attack. It's too easy to shut them down if the other team can key on one or two receivers -- so they have to diversify their passing attack before the playoffs start.

Lost in all the angst of the last few weeks was how well the defense played against the Steelers. In four of the last five weeks, they have given up yards but held teams once they got inside the 20, giving up an average of just 13 points each to the Jets, Vikings, Steelers, and Bills.

They still aren't as reliable as when former D-coordinator Matt Patricia was here, but new defensive signal-caller Brian Flores has improved as the year progressed. And believe it or not, it's mostly about their discipline. They are playing their assignments better; keeping Buffalo's running QB in check on Sunday.

Corners Jason McCourty and JC Jackson are playing better, as is safety Devin McCourty. The linebackers are still suspect, but the D-line looked a lot better against Buffalo. Trey Flowers is by far the best of their front seven, and he's been helped by better play from Lawrence Guy and occasional good plays from Malcom Brown.

On special teams, the team had another blocked punt (Matthew Slater), but they also had really bad kickoff returns. In the third quarter, the Pats had three kickoff returns, and started at the 15, the 12, and the 12 yard lines. Not good, folks, not good.

Where does that leave us? Patriots won the division for the tenth year in a row. (Trivia question: what was the last season when an AFC East team won more games than the Patriots? Bonus question: can you name the team? Answers below.) The team is relatively healthy, and they if they beat the Jets next week, they will be home Wild Card Weekend. Note: Tom Brady is 13-2 at home as a starter against the NYJ in regular season play.

Biggest ongoing concern: It's the stagnant passing offense. With Josh Gordon gone for the year, they have to find another option to take pressure off Gronkowski, Edelman, and the running backs. My suggestion is to use Chris Hogan, but either he or Phillip Dorsett needs to step up if the Pats expect to make much noise in the playoffs.

Non-Brady MVP: Running back Sony Michel, who now has more 100-yard games (4) than all other rookie running backs under Bill Belichick (3). The team is also 4-0 when Michel runs for at least 100 yards.

Statistical oddity: The Patriots tenth consecutive division title is the first time in NFL history a team has won at least ten straight. The only other team in major American sports history to do so was the the Atlanta Braves, who won 14 in a row

Water-cooler wisdom: "Two weeks ago, everything went against the Pats. Yesterday, everything went for them. Call me when that changes."

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 10-5!

PPS. Trivia answers:
V

V
V
V
V
V
V
V
V
V
V
V
V
V
V
In the 2000 season, the Miami Dolphins were 11-5 and the Patriots the opposite, finishing 5-11. The two seasons since then when the Patriots didn't win the division (2002 and 2008), they finished tied with the Jets and Dolphins, respectively, and lost the crown on tiebreakers.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Dolphins Stun Patriots 34-33

The Patriots lost a big one yesterday, bowing 34-33 in a stunner at Miami. The loss kept the Phins alive for the division title. And in a week when the Steelers and Texans lost, the Patriots could have separated from the pack -- but now it's just a mess for the playoff seedings. Next up is a trip to Pittsburgh, which is crucial to the Pats playoff-bye hopes (more on that in a sec).

There were a lot of positives and some negatives in this game. But let's deal with the elephant in the room first -- who the hell cost the Patriots the game?! Miami scored on a 69-yard pass on the last play of the game. But before that play, there were plenty of bad plays and missed opportunities that led to the defeat. Here is my list of the top five, from the least objectionable to the most.

5. The missed extra point

Stephen Gostkowski missed an extra point after the first touchdown of the game. These points often come back to haunt teams. And in this case, that extra point would have forced Miami to hit their own extra point after the final TD to win. But given how likely Miami is to convert that extra point, this miss probably didn't decide it.

4. The missed field goal

Gostkowski pushed this one right, just like the missed extra point, and it obviously hurt a lot more than the extra point miss. If they had these points, the final touchdown would not have cost them the game.

If the Pats had these points, they would have led by eight. So even with the final miracle play, the Dolphins would have to make a two-point conversion just to tie -- no guarantee on that. So missing this field goal was huge. (Note: combine that with the missed extra point, and the Pats would have led by nine -- an insurmountable lead at the end.)

3. The BS final play

If you didn't see it, with seven seconds left, Miami was 69 yards away with no timeouts. They threw an underneath pass, which was lateralled twice to the left sideline and run all the way in for a touchdown. All the while, their second-best defender all year, Stephon Gilmore, jogged along down the midline out of the play, and at the end Rob Gronkowski was the last man and he was easily out-maneuvered by the Dolphins running back.

The play was horrible for a couple of reasons. Gilmore needed to get into the play. The Patriots fastest defender and best tackler, Devin McCourty, was on the sideline for the final play. And Gronkowski shouldn't have been in because this was not a hail-mary situation, so they didn't need tall players to knock down an endzone pass.

Bad, bad, and more bad.

2. Poor game-management at the end

With 1:50 left in the game, the Patriots didn't try for a game-clinching touchdown, instead running three times and then kicking a field goal to go up by five points. I have no argument with running to keep the clock moving and run as much time as they could. But once they got to fourth-down, things started to break down.

Their best strategy, IMO, would have been to try for the touchdown on fourth down. If they scored, the game would have been effectively over. If they failed, Miami would have gotten the ball a their own four yard-line with 16-seconds left. Sure, they'd only need a field goal to win, but the odds against them are astronomical!

However, the Pats kicked the field goal, going up 33-28. Fine.

But once they did that, they should have had Gostkowski kick the ball through the end zone. Instead, they had him squib-kick it short, forcing a time-consuming return. But just risking the return was a mistake, giving the Dolphins to score.

And once they didn't score, it led to the play mentioned earlier :(

1. The sack to end the second quarter

Tom Brady had the biggest gaffe of the game. The Pats had third-and-two at the Miami two yard-line with 14-seconds left in the first half. New England called one more play, a pass into the end zone. If it failed, the Pats would kick the field goal and go into the half with a 30-21 lead.

On a play like this, there are only two things Brady can't do: turn over the ball, or take a sack. Losing the ball is always a problem, and taking a sack means the clock will run out without a chance for a field goal.

But instead of throwing after his first read, Brady double-clutched and tried to look for another target -- and of course, he was sacked. The Pats could do nothing but watch helplessly as the clock wound toward triple-zeros and the half came to an end.

The reason this is worse than either Gostkowski miss is that it was a mental error rather than a physical one. No player is perfect, but it was startling to see Brady take that sack. Frankly it's the kind of thing other NFL teams have to put up with on a regular basis. But the Patriots are always so well prepared for situational football it was stunning to watch. 

That's my breakdown of the breakdowns in this game. The Patriots should have had seven additional points, making that last play irrelevant. Instead, their missed opportunities gave the Dolphins a chance to beat them at the end. The Patriots missed their chances, Miami didn't. Period.

If the Pats had won, Monday we'd be talking about improved play from Gronkowski and Edelman, problems exposed on defense, and impressive special-teams coaching (they blocked two Miami punts). But instead we'll be talking about missed opportunities and a lost chance to further their playoff hopes and dreams.

Where that leaves us: Believe it or not, the Patriots are still currently the second AFC playoff seed. If they win out, they will likely rest the first weekend of the playoffs, because they hold the tie-breaker over Houston and Kansas City. Next week at Pittsburgh is the only real challenge to them running the table. They finish with two home games against non-playoff opponents (Bills and Jets).

Biggest ongoing concern: Uncharacteristically undisciplined play. They still commit too many penalties (5 for 30 yards, but really 6 for 45 because of offsetting penalties on one play), the coaching is poor in spots, and they gave up way too many big plays against Miami.

All of these things are uncharacteristic of Patriots teams in general.

Non-Brady MVP: Albert McClellan gets it this week because he blocked two Dolphins punts, which should have been enough to win the game, but unfortunately...

Statistical Oddity: This is the first time in over six years the Patriots led a game near the end, only to lose on the last play of the game. (Trivia question: can you name previous the team and the situation? Answer below.)

Water-cooler wisdom: "Next week against Pittsburgh is the whole thing now. If they win that game, they are probably still the #2 seed after everything they've been through."

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 9-4!

PPS. Trivia answer:
V
V
V
V
V
V
V
V
V
V
V
V
V
The Ravens beat New England 31-30 on a field goal at the final gun. Incidentally, this broke the Patriots streak of 148 games without falling below a .500 record.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Patriots Handle Jets 27-13

The Patriots took care of business, beating the Jets 27-13 in New York. The victory helped New England build a three-game lead over the Dolphins in the AFC East, and brought them within one game of the Chiefs for the #1 seed in the AFC playoffs. Also, Pittsburgh blew a game in Denver, which put them a half-game behind the Pats for the second seed. Next up are the Vikings in Foxboro next Sunday.

This game started like a prize fight, with the teams trading jabs early on and scoring points where they could. They both scored on two of six drives in the first 30 minutes. But once the second half started, the Patriots pulled away by scoring on three of five possessions while the Jets scored only once on four drives.

The offense benefited from return of tight end Rob Gronkowski, running back Sony Michel, and guard Marcus Cannon. Backs Michel (21 rushes for 133 yards) and James White (9 for 73) combined for an impressive 6.9 ypc, including some big chunk plays. Michel ran well, with good moves and they both took advantage of the blocks of Mason, Gronkowski, and tackle Trent Brown.

With a dominating running game, Patriots QB Tom Brady had his best statistical game of the season: 20 of 31 for 283 (65%) yards, 2 touchdowns, 0 INTs, and a 115.4 QB rating. (Trivia question: can you name Brady's second-best QB rating game this season? Answer below.) Brady was hit five times, but never sacked, and his top targets were Julian Edelman and Josh Gordon. But he did the most damage with Gronkowski, who caught an uncatchable ball for a touchdown in the first half.

The best sign for the offense was that Brady completed 2+ passes to five players (Gordon, Edelman, Gronkowski, Michel, and Phillip Dorsett). Coupled with excellent running, this kind of offensive distribution has always served the Patriots well in the playoffs. In the post-season, teams are good at eliminating one or two options from their opponents, so teams need third and fourth options to win in January/February.

On defense it felt like the team thought they could win by just containing the Jets to short gains. New York notched just two 20+ yard plays in the game (the Patriots had ten of those), and they just couldn't sustain drives with short gains to move the chains. The Jets gained only 5.6 yards per pass attempt, a pretty low number by NFL standings.

The few standouts from this vanilla defensive game were D-linemen Deatrich Wise and Trey Flowers, safeties Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty, and corner Stephon Gilmore. Wise and Flowers combined for 2 sacks (for 12 yards) and 7 QB hits. Chung led the team with 13 tackles, and McCourty had tight coverage on a few plays downfield. Gilmore is by far the Patriots best corner; he knocked away two passes and gathered his second interception of the season.

The linebackers continue to be an issue. Elandon Roberts made a few big plays and let up a few. Kyle Van Noy was decent, but Dont'a Hightower is a shell of his former self. Hightower is either injured or is permanently hobbled from past injuries. His one assisted tackle is the kind of number you'd expect of a player who was barely on the field.

Punter Ryan Allen was consistent, having his second best game of the season. His kicks put the Jets back, forcing them to drive a long way every time they got the ball. There was one long return on a kickoff, but it appeared there was enough of a wind to make his boots in one direction shorter. Kicking the other way, the Jets didn't return a single boot.

The game plan was obviously to play it close to the vest and wait for your talent to overwhelm the Jets. For the most part it worked. However, the week after the bye, they should not have committed 11 penalties. Things needed to be more buttoned down that that.

Where does that leave us? The rest of the AFC mostly did favors for the Patriots in the past week. KC and Pittsburgh lost to put the Pats in the driver's seat for a playoff bye. And the Dolphins lost, which basically locked up the division for the Patriots. If they can stay healthy, they have a real chance to make noise in January.

Biggest ongoing concern: Believe it or not, the health of Sony Michel and Rob Gronkowski. Without them, the offense was stale. With them, it was dynamic and in much better rhythm.

Non-Brady MVP: Trent Brown, despite his two penalties, he did a great job protecting Brady's blindside and blocking on running plays.

Statistical oddity: The Jets haven't recovered a Patriots fumble in their last 11 games, spanning 6 years. (Last one was November 22, 2012,)

Water-cooler Wisdom: "It's not an impressive victory, but a division win on the road is always good."

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 8-3!

PPS. Trivia answer: Brady notched a 109.2 QB rating in the shootout win against the Chiefs, his second-best rating for the season.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Titans Blow Out Patriots, 34-10

The Tennessee Titans were most inhospitable hosts yesterday, dominating from the opening kickoff and cruising to a 34-10 win over the Patriots. Happily the Dolphins lost, too, so New England remains up by two games in the AFC East. Unhappily, Kansas City won, giving them a two-game cushion in the race for playoff byes (and the LA Chargers currently have a half-game lead in that race).

This game was ugly from the beginning. The Titans returned the opening kickoff 58 yards to start in New England territory, one of three drives that started on the Patriots side of the field -- all in the first half. Tennessee scored 24 points in the first half, while the Pats scored on two of their first three drives and then went bagel over their last nine possessions.

It's pretty apparent that Mike Vrabel was the real architect of the Houston Texans defense that gave the Patriots fits in last year's playoffs. Because Vrabel left Houston for Tennessee, and the Patriots easily beat the Texans but struggled mightily against the Titans.

The three best Patriots on the field were not on the team anymore: Dion Lewis and Malcolm Butler from last year, and Logan Ryan who signed with the Titans in 2017. The current Patriots couldn't do much right except for punting the ball, where Ryan Allen got more practice this week (6 kicks) than in any game since opening day.

The team just stunk up the joint. Lots of bad performances on both sides of the ball, poor coverage on defense, poor execution on offense, reverting to early-season form by going 3-of-15 on third-down conversions, and coaching that seemed ill-prepared to adjust. Even reliable corner Stephon Gilmore notched his worst game of 2018.

Tom Brady was under constant pressure, and it didn't help that he missed wide open receivers to keep feeding the ball to Josh Gordon. Injuries along the O-line led to very few rushing yards, botched screen passes, and 3 sacks & 6 QB hits of Brady. Only Julian Edelman played well, and he took a pounding after each of his nine receptions.

I can't go into the gory details because there were just too many screw-ups. Can we just chalk this up to the team letting down after a big win over Green Bay and thinking about their upcoming Bye week?

So where does that leave us? Mostly hoping that when Gronkowski returns from injury the offense will be better. (It should be.) There was nothing to hang their hats on yesterday; Tennessee outschemed them, outsmarted them, and outplayed them. The Bye week couldn't be coming at a more important point.

Biggest ongoing concern: The offensive play on the road has been poor. The offense scored only 10 points in Detroit, 24 in Chicago, 18 in Buffalo, and just 10 yesterday. And if not for two special teams TDs in Chicago, they'd be 1-4 on the road and fighting to stay atop their division.

Non-Brady MVP: Edelman was really the only standout, 9 receptions for 104 yards and a completed pass for the second straight week.

Statistical Oddity: James Develin ran the ball for the first time since October 12, 2014. And he made the most of it, scoring the team's only touchdown.

Water-cooler Wisdom: "Bye week seemed to start a day early for the Pats."

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 7-3!