Notes, musings, and observations from the New England Patriots’ 19-17 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
These Sunday night games, man. They’re killing me.
By the time I finally got into bed last night, it was well past midnight here on the east coast. And while there was once a time when midnight meant it was time to finally leave the house and go out – even on a Sunday, I was that cool – nowadays if I make it past 11 I consider myself a rebel.
The good news is that, usually when the Patriots lose a Sunday or Monday night game, I’m up all night stewing, staring at the ceiling, lamenting the loss and trying to figure out what went wrong. But based on what we saw last night, where the Patriots took the defending champs wire to wire and almost pulled off the upset, it’s tough to be too mad today. I know that I’ve been saying that a fair amount this season, and I know that wins are wins and losses are losses and that’s just the way it works. But I’m already falling in love with this team and last night’s game just further cemented that.
- Coming into this game, I watched zero football on Sunday. Didn’t tune in to a single afternoon game. I also watched the least amount of TV and spent the least amount of time on the internet this week than I have since a certain fraternity pledge week back in 2001 that I can’t talk about here lest I incur the wrath of the Brotherhood.
- I didn’t watch any of the Brady homecoming videos. I didn’t listen to any of the interviews. I didn’t turn on the TV until right at 8:20 to be sure I missed all the madness. I just wanted no part of all the hype, and I have zero regrets about that. It’s absolutely absurd the amount of emphasis the league, and the country, put on a week four matchup between two teams that aren’t even in the same conference.
- I love Tom Brady. I will always love Tom Brady. What he did for this team, and this region, in unlike anything we’ll ever see again. To have rooted for him these past two decades has been an absolute privilege. And I will continue to hope he does well down in Tampa for as long as he decides to keep playing, which is looking more and more like beyond 45 at this point. But he’s not on the team anymore. He was just one player on a squad that the Patriots were trying to beat. So don’t look for too much ballwashing in this article, because I have none to give.
- That said, let’s do a bit of ballwashing.
- Congrats to Tommy B for setting yet another NFL record. And congrats to everyone who said some version of “yeah you needed 18 more games to break the record you fraud” as they continue to die on the Brady is overrated hill. Since we all know that sports only count when they can be organized on an Excel spreadsheet, those folks sure do have a strong case.
- And also congrats to the Patriots fans for doing exactly what they should have done: cheered Brady before the game, and then booed the hell out of him as soon as it started. When a local legend leaves for another team and then makes his return, you cheer the hell out of them before the game. And then when the game starts, you boo the hell out of them. It’s just what you do, and it’s pretty universal across all of sports. Good for the Foxboro Faithful.
- OK, enough of that.
- I came into this game, for the first time since I don’t know when, having already resigned myself to a Patriots loss. There have been games in the past that I thought New England would lose, but even in those circumstances I was aware they could very well win it as well. Last night, though, at no point did I think the team would walk out of there 2-2.
- Which is why I’m in such a good mood this morning. There are no moral victories, and at 1-3 you have to start wondering if the playoffs are in the cards at all, but I initially thought that the Patriots were going to get absolutely spanked last night. Tampa Bay, coming off a loss, against a team that struggles against the run and is playing fairly mistake-prone football…I really thought it would be a blowout. But it wasn’t. New England held on right until the end with solid defense and smart offense. As usual, penalties and mistakes ended up costing them, but those will be addressed.
- Let’s start with the defense, which was, in my opinion, a bit of a mixed bag. We all know that you need to pressure Tom Brady up the middle, get into the backfield with three or four, play a lot of press man to disrupt the timing, and for the love of Tebow don’t blitz or he will eat you alive. What I saw last night (having not gone back to look at the replay yet) was a lot of DB-heavy sets with a combination of Christian Barmore and Devon Godshaw taking up the space in the middle as the linebackers attacked the line of scrimmage from multiple angles and fronts. And if Matthew Judon didn’t wear those red sleeves all the time it would have been absolutely impossible to track where the hell he is. Trying to stop that guy is like playing Whack-a-Mole without cheating by having your friend stand by to smack them with their hand as they pop up. He’s my defensive MVP so far and it isn’t even close.
- In terms of pressure, it was there. New England only generated one sack, but they moved Tommy B off the line and forced him to roll out of the pocket to throw on the run, which has never been a strong suit of his. There were actually receivers open for him all night, but he wasn’t overly accurate and overthrew his guys a fair amount.
- And while that’s in part due to the at the line looks, overall I think the Patriots secondary had themselves a day. The banner matchup of the night was JC Jackson against Mike Evans, which was back and forth for a while before Jackson came away with the edge. Of Evans’ 75 receiving yards, none of them were really damaging receptions, and that no Buccaneer cracked 80 yards on the day is a win. I never got the impression that Brady ever really settled and found his rhythm, and if not for Leonard Fournette and New England once again giving up 120 yards on the ground I think we’re sitting at .500 right now,
- But this run defense shouldn’t be as weak as it is, to be honest. There’s a lot of beef and talent along the line, New England has arguably the deepest linebacking corp in the NFL, and the secondary matches up well enough so that they don’t need to devote additional resources to the passing game. This is now two seasons plus of this and I don’t know what’s going on.
- As for the offense…
- New England’s leading rusher was Nelson Agholor, who had one carry for four yards. JJ Taylor and Brandon Bolden were tied for second with one rush each for zero yards. The Patriots rushed for -4 yards on eight attempts last night. I don’t know exactly how many records that sets, but it has to be at least a few, none of them good.
- What that means, then, is that the Patriots put all of their faith into a rookie making his fourth NFL start, in primetime, in the most sensationalized regular season game ever, against the undisputed GOAT, who was making his return to a stadium filled with fans who remain very loyal to him. Said rookie was getting zero help from the running game and was up against one of the best defenses in the league that decided they were just going to blitz on every other down.
- The Patriots also seemed comfortable giving that very same rookie the autonomy to go no-huddle at the line and call the plays as he sees fit, using such fun words as “Superman” and “Jordan” to get his receivers into position. If you aren’t beyond impressed with what you’ve seen from Mac Jones so far this season, I really don’t know what to tell you.
- Once again, nine different Patriots made at least one reception. Jones tied Tom Brady’s record of 19 straight completions with a 77% average. He threw two TDs to those tight ends we were all raving about all offseason. He continues to make smart choices and distribute the ball well. And he’ll ultimately be getting his right tackle back and will have a backfield that runs for positive yards and won’t have to take four sacks a game.
- And it should have been like six or seven sacks, to be honest – but on more than one occasion he made a slight adjustment, stepped up in the pocket, and delivered a strike over the middle for positive yards. New England continues to shoot themselves in the foot with penalties and foolish mistakes, and yet even when it’s 2nd and 20, he’s able to get 16 yards back. This kid just continues to impress.
- But I’ll be sure to check for whatever stats there are out there that shows he actually isn’t that good. Maybe it’s adjusted yards after contact or number of times the ball spun through the air after release or something absurd like that. Aqib Talib once said, “people that dry-hump stats to make a point probably prefer reading sheet music to hearing the song,” and while I don’t know exactly when he said that, it was probably after he got to New England and was trying to figure out why the Patriots just won 24-20 and folks were still upset.
- It’s important to keep in mind that Tampa was absolutely ravaged by injury. Their entire secondary was out, as was Gronk, and their best receiving back was missing as well. But that’s not really relevant to Jones’s decision making process. And if I’m being completely honest, if there was a QB that let the moment get to him and was a little off last night, it was the one who was just starting his senior year at Michigan when the other one was born.
- What a find Jakobi Meyers was. He’s the best receiver on this team and it isn’t close. I actually like what Bourne and Agholor bring to the table, but when it comes to the receiving corps, it’s Jones and Meyers. Which sounds a lot like a law firm that advertises on TBS at 3:30AM.
- As for his fellow 2019 rookie, N’Keal Harry, I was absolutely thrilled to see him pick up right were he left off upon his return. I feel like “one catch for 10 yards and drew a DPI flag on a pass where he didn’t even know the ball was coming his way” will more or less sum up his entire Patriots career.
- I wonder if there is a set of rules as obscure, inconsistent, and nonsensical as what happens to a football whenever it gets kicked. Punt, FG attempt, kickoff, doesn’t matter. None of it makes any sense. The ball hits the pylon, it’s a touchback. Unless a player has possession of it first and then loses it, at which point it’s a touchback. If a player touches the ball on a kickoff with one leg out of bounds, it’s a penalty. It’s also a penalty to run down the field out of bounds, unless you get pushed out of bounds, in which case you can continue to run out of bounds as long as you’re trying to get back in bounds before getting pushed out of bounds again. Field goals are a live ball if blocked, unless the kicking team recovers the ball, at which point it’s a dead ball. But you can return short field goal attempts. No lining up over the center on field goals either or running into the kicker. Anything I missed?
- I love Brandon Bolden. Seriously. I think he’s a great special teamer and a huge locker room guy. And he had some key first down pickups last night. But I can’t for the life of me figure out what he’s doing out there in key third down situations or back there returning kickoffs. Activate Rhamondre Stevenson already.
- Boy did this team miss James White last night. Against a blitz-heavy unit that isn’t allowing anything on the ground, having a receiving back as an outlet and in blitz pickup is a QB’s best friend. Instead we got…well, what we got last night.
- Perhaps what most upsets me about yesterday’s game was that, for the first time in NFL history, the head coach of each team was 69, and Gronk wasn’t even there to giggle nonstop. Travesty.
- While I stand by my statement that at no point was I expecting the Patriots to come out of there with a victory, I officially knew it just wasn’t in the cards for the Patriots when Tom Brady rushed for 6 yards on a third and 6 to keep a go-ahead scoring alive. But the fact that it even took a Tommy B scramble to keep a drive going when they were down is pretty awesome.
- You figure after 20 years of watching Tommy B carve up defenses when he has time to throw the Patriots would have rushed more than two on a must-stop drive. But oh well.
- I know I haven’t said anything about Steve Belichick’s faces. But some things are simply too perfect to further mar with additional words.
- There are a lot of people who think that the Patriots should have gone for it on 4th and 3 rather than attempt a 50+ yard field goal in the rain with a kicker nursing an injury. And you can for sure count me among those folks. If they don’t convert, they don’t convert -New England had been unsuccessful on third down all night, and Tampa had been getting to Jones regularly, so I get the hesitancy – but I just feel like it’s well worth the risk.
- The way I see it, there were six ways this game could have ended as they faced that 4th and 3:
- The Patriots convert, keep grinding the clock down, and kick a go-ahead FG with virtually no time left on the clock. Pats win.
- The Patriots convert, keep grinding the clock down, but miss the go-ahead FG. Pats lose.
- The Patriots don’t convert, game over.
- The Patriots miss the field goal, game over.
- The Patriots make the field goal and give Tommy B the ball back with a minute and two time outs to drive into FG range, which he 100% would have done. Pats lose.
- The The Patriots make the field goal and are able to make the stop, which they hadn’t really done all of the second half, but you never know. Pats win.
- If you look at all of those scenarios, the most likely one, by a longshot, really seems to be that first option. I doubt Folk would have missed from under 50 – he barely missed from 56 – and I just don’t see New England getting the stop if they give Brady the ball back. I don’t know; but honestly, that it was even that close is pretty good, in my opinion.
All in all, I’m just glad that it’s all over. 2-2 would have been unreal for sure, but that’s not the way it is. This team could be 4-0 right now too, which is something to keep in mind here. The Texans are a very beatable team, and everyone kind of stinks and everyone is kind of good so nobody knows what’s going to happen. Let’s just keep hoping this rookie continues to do what he’s doing.