Well, that’s what everyone is doing. But I am not going to.
Sure, there were a handful of questionable calls going against the New England Patriots in their loss against the Denver Broncos Sunday night. And, in reality, the officiating across the NFL has been abysmal for some time now, especially this year. Clock errors. Bogus pass interference calls, specifically offensive. Erroneous ball placements on the field. What is a catch and what is not a catch? Endless conferences and time under the hood. Inadvertent whistles. Etc.
Even though “reffing” this year has been bad, to be kind, I try not to get on their backs too much. These guys have to make split second calls while looking at a few different things (hands, feet, boundary lines, etc.) while also having to kind of “interpret” the rule book…reception rules or injury time run off or inadvertent whistle decisions and so on. Sure, these guys are supposed to be professionals and it is their job to know everything, but when retired guys in the booth such as Mike Carey or Gerry Austin get stuff wrong when the announcers throw it to them for analysis, do you expect guys on the field to know every nuance of the rule book by heart? Maybe. But then we can get into how this is a part-time job for these guys and also how the game has passed some of them by or there are several new guys on the job and all that. Different topic for a different day. And really, do YOU know every aspect of your own job head to toe? If you do, I’m impressed. But I would argue that assertion.
Anyway, I digress. I try not to get on the refs too bad because they have to process everything quickly. We, as TV viewers, get to see 8,000 replays at 2,000 different angles and make a decision from there. When it comes down to it, the refs are right quite a bit. They are only egregiously wrong a handful of times. And those are the ones we focus on of course. Because most of those are horrible mistakes.
Were the officials egregiously wrong last night? Well, I wouldn’t have called the Gronk offensive PI late. Or the Patrick Chung holding in the end zone late. But you could make a case for both. It’s been common knowledge that the league has targeted offensive pass interference more aggressively this year. Gronk’s a big guy you say, and he can’t help it? Maybe so. But he did kind of push his forearm out there. And Chung did grab some shoulder, however little it was. The better question may have been why Chung seemed to be one on one against Demaryius Thomas, but whatever. Pass interference, illegal contact, holding…these could likely be called on every play. Probably 90% of the time the refs should just “let the boys play”. Only 10% of those types of penalties are probably blatant enough to deserve a flag. Unfortunately for the Pats, the refs decided to flag them for these marginal infractions at the wrong time of the game.
But that is NOT why they lost the game.
I can think of several reasons why they lost the game. The refs may have had a small role. I think the following had larger roles:
*Chris Harper. Fumbling a punt with a 21-7 lead early in the final quarter after holding the Broncos to a three and out. Not damaging in and of itself…if the D holds again. But they didn’t. And it essentially changed the momentum of the entire game. Have to catch that punt.
*10 punts by Ryan Allen. Sure the weather would hold down any offense. But 10 punts? This is a team that went an entire game without a punt against Jacksonville earlier this year. Ok, Jacksonville. But still. More importantly, here is where 6 Patriot drives ended in punts: Denver 49, Denver 42, Denver 49, New England 47, New England 48, New England 47. The Pats had pretty good field position for the majority of the evening. 6 punts stalled around mid-field…where another first down or two would present a field goal opportunity. If they kick even 3 field goals out of the 6 drives it’s a different game.
*Conservative drive at the end of the first half. 14-7 Pats, 2:07 left, all three timeouts in their pocket. And 5 straight runs to end the half???!! Surely this cannot be the Patriots. 7 point lead on the road in bad conditions with limited weapons against a good team…I can see maybe a little conservatism. But this was ridiculous. This is historically where the Pats make a move, especially considering they were to receive the 2nd half kickoff. Completely mystifying here.
*Not trusting the running game at certain moments. Ok, the running game was brutal. But in a way they did not give it a chance. There were certain times that they should have run the ball. The most glaring was the play that Gronk got hurt. 2:53 left, 1st and 10 at NE 40, Denver had only 1 timeout remaining. THIS was the play to run and make them use their last timeout. Chances are Blount would have been stuffed for 2 yards or less. But the timeouts would be gone. Then a 2nd down run would’ve likely taken them to the 2 minute warning. If you want to try a screen or something on 3rd down…maybe…but another run would’ve taken it down to less than a minute and a half. I get that the pass is the Patriots’ way of closing out a game. But it may have been smarter to run on these downs. In this situation anyway. Then put pressure on the kid to go the length of the field with 1:30 or less left and no timeouts. You may say that Osweiler still did go downfield and score while only using 1:22 so it wouldn’t have mattered. But I would say the circumstances between the two scenarios would have been different and he may have made quicker and more riskier decisions. Different plays may have been called. Etc.
*Offensive line. Maybe not as much as the previous game against Buffalo, but the OL had its struggles in this one too. And the Broncos didn’t even have DeMarcus Ware. People don’t think that Tre’ Jackson should’ve been called for the penalty that wiped out a 51 yard pass play. I say if he doesn’t haul Von Miller down, Brady doesn’t get the pass off. Looked like a legit penalty to me. Anyway, they didn’t give Brady a ton of time I felt. Which made all the 3rd and 10 bombs to Brandon LaFell even more mystifying to me.
*Defense in crunch time. Sure, the fumbled punt and the offense shutting down in the 4th quarter didn’t help the D. They may have been a little tired. Losing Hightower hurt as well. Special teamer Jonathan Freeny and the Ghost of Jerod Mayo played entirely too many snaps. But there were several big plays in the 4th and OT as well. Logan Ryan played well…until the end. Malcolm Butler got torched a few times. The safeties? Seemed a little late on several plays. 23 points allowed in the 4th quarter and OT? Awful.
That about sums it up. Not all about the refs. The Pats had a legit chance to go undefeated, even with all the injuries. So will this loss help? Maybe. As long as they keep the #1 seed. With the 5 cream puffs coming up on the schedule (please don’t try to sell me on the Texans or Jets, even in their house), the team should win those games and be able to manage playing time and injuries. As long as Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Rob Gronkowski, Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower return for the playoffs and the team suffers no more major injuries, the Super Bowl is within reach. But we will cross that bridge when we get to it…
Moving onto the Offense today…while still sweating out that the Patriots will stick to their historical ways under the Kraft family and let Darrelle Revis walk…and have him sign with another AFC team…not good…
Under contract: Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo, Garrett Gilbert
Free agents: None
Thoughts: Nothing to see here. Brady apparently will play for much less than he is worth (though make no mistake, every time he renegotiates, he makes more money than people think he does). He can still play at a high level. Just need to make sure the offensive line is stout enough to keep him upright and it will be business as usual. Jimmy Football is of course unproven, but the organization seems to love him. Hopefully we won’t have to see him play again next year anyway, other than mop up time.
Garrett Gilbert? Who cares? The 3rd QB will be on the practice squad. And if we see the 3rd QB at any time next year, the season is surely over. So it could be anyone. But Gilbert should be thanking his lucky stars the Pats signed him last December 17. Apparently, the Pats wanted to sign some dude named David Fales off the Chicago Bears practice squad. Chicago ended up elevating him to the 53-man roster. So the Pats went for Gilbert instead. Then Garrett got to enjoy the ride for 6 weeks and also got himself a Super Bowl ring. I know no one cares about this stuff but me, but good for Gilbert anyway…and I suppose too bad for Fales.
Under contract: LeGarrette Blount, Brandon Bolden, James White, Tyler Gaffney, Jonas Gray, Dion Lewis
Free agents: Shane Vereen, Stevan Ridley, James Develin (FB)
Thoughts: Kind of a run-of-the-mill group in the backfield. But you know what? It’s actually probably good enough. That’s assuming White and Gaffney can play a little. Blount is an average back…he can take advantage of the poor run defense teams, but is not a game breaker, despite what many Patriots fans think. Gray showed some flashes, obviously. He seemed to run pretty well when given the chance. Looked like he had more burst than Blount. But there was a reason he was on the practice squad for the first half of the season, where every team in the league had a chance to add him and they did not. I think it’s more than the alarm clock thing and getting buried in the doghouse. There must be some more limitations…again, despite what many Patriots fans think. Bolden is a nice guy to have on the team, but I don’t want him getting carries…many of them anyway. Lewis…if you want.
The keys here as it stands are White and Gaffney. White was a preseason darling, but couldn’t get on the field last year. When he did, no one saw much. Perhaps he needs more reps. But I’m not completely sold on him yet. Gaffney was stolen from Carolina after he got hurt early in training camp and they wanted put him on injured reserve before they actually needed to. Did it during a period where he had to clear waivers before they could put him on IR. If they kept him until the first cutdown from 90 to 75 players, they could have put him straight to IR without exposing him to waivers. Needed that 90th roster spot I suppose. Anyway, dumb move by them if they liked him. But if Carolina was willing to take that risk, how good can Gaffney really be? The Patriots did something like this a couple of years back when the New York Giants tried to do the same exact thing with Jake Ballard when he was hurt one year. The Pats claimed him and stashed him on an injury list all year. Got everyone all fired up about him making contributions the following year…and then he never made the team. So we will see.
As for the free agents, I’d actually take Ridley back. I’m assuming he will have to get one of those one year, “make good” deals, to prove he is healthy and still a decent back. Why not here? But if I’m Ridley, I don’t know if I would do that in New England. Too many bodies and he won’t get the carries he needs to cash in next year. I’d let Vereen walk, especially if he is looking for like 5 mil a year, as I have heard. He stayed healthy last year, but what are the chances of that happening again, with his history? Plus, he got some yardage last year, but to me, he seemed to be less explosive than he has been in the past. I like him, but he can be replaced. Develin is restricted, so he will likely be back, if the Pats want a fullback. No problem with that. I wouldn’t argue adding another veteran here, but I’m not rolling out tremendous cash to do so.
Under contract: Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Brandon LaFell, Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce, Jonathan Krause, Matthew Slater
Free agents: Brian Tyms, Greg Orton
Thoughts: Again, probably enough here as well. No need to spend major dough on anyone…such as trading for Andre Johnson’s good sized deal. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love a big name like ‘Dre here. But I’d rather spend the dough on other positions than extending for someone at this position. I wonder if Dobson will ever be anything, but I’m not opposed to giving him another chance. He showed some promise in his rookie year. He supposedly is “rededicating” himself this offseason. We will see, but why not? Boyce, Krause, Slater? Yeah, filler. There has been talk about maybe replacing Amendola with someone like Brian Hartline, but what’s the difference? Tyms and Orton are both restricted, but again, who cares? I’m not as high on Tyms as everyone else seems to be. Loved him in the preseason though, for whatever that’s worth…pretty much nothing, I know. If Edelman can stay healthy and LaFell keeps progressing here, it’s enough.
Under contract: Rob Gronkowski, Michael Hoomanawanui, Tim Wright
Free agents: None
Thoughts: Keep Gronk healthy! That’s it! I see Wright contributing more next year, as a receiver, now that he will have an offseason and a full training camp with the team. I think they will find a way to work him in more. I’d love to see them acquire a backup, through the draft or otherwise, that can both catch and block. I’m not saying another Gronk, but someone who is capable of doing both to take some of the load off Gronk during the regular season. To a much smaller degree, obviously. But if their plan is just to have these guys and then having an extra offensive lineman be a blocker, then I am ok with that too. Unless that OL is Marcus Cannon. Because he was awful in that role last year. Nate Solder and Cameron Fleming were good at it though, so there are other options.
Under contract: Sebastian Vollmer, Nate Solder, Ryan Wendell, Marcus Cannon, Bryan Stork, Cameron Fleming, Josh Kline, Jordan Devey, Chris Barker, Caylin Hauptmann
Free agents: Dan Connolly, Danny Aiken (LS)
Thoughts: I think the Patriots are set at tackle and center with Vollmer, Solder and Stork. Would love to see Solder get his cap number down with a long term deal though. He struggled at times last year, but I’m ok with keeping him on the blind side. Can you do better? Not sure. Stork seemed to make a difference when he was in the lineup. Vollmer has been good. Not a huge Cannon fan…who is actually? But as a backup swing tackle, again, you could do worse. I believe Fleming is technically a tackle as well, though they tried him at guard too…and of course as the blocking TE. Will be in his 2nd year, I’m good here. Guard seems to be one of the highest priority positions to upgrade to me. I like having Wendell on the squad. He played ok at guard and you can play him at center as well. I’d love to bring Connolly back for depth at the right price too. He also has the flexibility to play C. I’d like to see them get another big guard to at the very least groom next year. Kline appears to be deep depth. Barker has been around for 2 years and has barely played. Devey is atrocious and Hauptmann is someone I’ve never heard of. Maybe he’s the guy, but doubtful. Seems ripe for another high level player here. Aiken is here as the long snapper and it doesn’t matter to me if they re-sign him or let him go. Someone will do it next year.
Under contract: Stephen Gostkowski (franchise tag)
Free agents: None
Thoughts: I’m not terribly excited the Pats used their franchise tag on their kicker. But there really was only one other option to use it on among all of their impending free agents: Devin McCourty. As stated above, I’m not sad they didn’t use it on Devin. So you may as well make sure you have a reliable kicker going forward…on a team poised to score plenty of points. Sure, I’m not positive he has made too many clutch kicks over his career, certainly as compared to his predecessor, Adam Vinatieri. But again, having a reliable kicker is a good thing. Some teams in the past have gotten derailed because their kicker was terrible (Billy Cundiff anyone?). His kickoffs are strong as well. I’m fine with it. May as well lock him up for a few years though, so they are not tempted to use the franchise tag on him again next year.
…since everyone else is doing it. Kinda early for me though really. Since I haven’t seen any practices or any preseason games (yes, I watch them!), I don’t know the difference between Cameron Fleming and Darius Fleming or who the hell guys like Wilson Van Hooser or L.T. Tuipulotu are. Plus there are always are a couple of undrafted guys that come out of nowhere (see Kenbrell Thompkins), guys that are highly touted for what they do on the practice field but are stiffs (see Zach Sudfeld) or guys that get cut from other teams at the end of camp being added (perhaps Benjarvus Green-Ellis coming back this year?). Among other circumstances, including 4 games worth of injuries to factor into. But here goes anyway…the players marked with (L) I would consider a lock at this point:
QB: Tom Brady (L), Jimmy Garoppolo (L), Ryan Mallett:
Billy B has cut high picks before, but as bad as the reports about Jimmy have been, doubtful it will be him this year. I’m hesitant to make Mallett a lock for a couple of reasons. First, the Patriots rarely carry 3 QB’s. Second, I still feel like they could make a trade involving him at some point during the preseason…if he shows well.
RB: Stevan Ridley (L), Shane Vereen (L), James White (L), Brandon Bolden:
People that think Ridley is going to get cut are delusional. He still can’t catch, but he remains the best back on the roster. If he doesn’t fumble (BIG “if”, I know), he could have another year like 2012. There is no “big” back likely to make the roster either. Maybe Bolden, but he is not a threat for main back duties. Bolden makes it here because of special teams and he has some RB ability. But if someone like Green-Ellis becomes available, I wonder if Bolden is gone. Also if one of the undrafted kids (Roy Finch, Stephen Houston or 1st year player Jonas Gray) shows well. There is a lot of love for James White, but I am not going to get too excited yet. We’ve been there before. Vereen will play a ton, but he will also get hurt. You can pretty much count on that.
WR: Julian Edelman (L), Danny Amendola (L), Kenbrell Thompkins (L), Josh Boyce (L), Matthew Slater (L), Brandon LaFell, Aaron Dobson:
Yup, there is room for all 7. Especially since Slater doesn’t really count. Have to put him somewhere though. Don’t have Dobson as a lock for the simple reason that I would not be shocked to see him start the year on the PUP list. Would allow them some more room for another body. Plus, if I’m not mistaken, he had his surgery later than expected and would give him more recovery time. Amendola will get one more chance to prove dependable. I believe he can be cut after this season with no salary cap implications, so this is kind of make or break for him. One of the reasons Boyce sticks too. Hard to believe they would axe him after a year too. Don’t know which way to go on LaFell. They gave him a big bonus, but you have to wonder why a team with no WRs (Carolina) would let him walk. Jeremy Gallon was drafted, but he likely ends up staying on PUP or the practice squad.
TE: Rob Gronkowski (L), Michael Hoomanawanui (L), James Develin:
Hoo-man is dinged up I guess, but he really is the only other suitable choice behind Gronk. Feel like Develin makes it as TE/FB combo. But there are a couple of young TE’s in Asa Watson and Justin Jones that have some promise…they say anyway. If the Pats feel like they cannot sneak these guys onto the practice squad, maybe one of them takes Develin’s spot. DJ Williams is also lurking, but feel like they could re-sign him quickly if needed. Hasn’t been a lot of demand for his services.
OL: Nate Solder (L), Logan Mankins (L), Ryan Wendell (L), Dan Connolly (L), Sebastian Vollmer (L), Marcus Cannon (L), Cameron Fleming (L), Jon Halapio (L), Joe Kline (L), Bryan Stork (L):
Again, room for all 10 exists. No one knows what’s wrong with Stork, but he is injured and has missed some practices. People are quick to write off Wendell and Connolly, but these guys have been around and have positional flexibility. There is room under the cap for them. The 3 draftees (Stork, Fleming, Halapio) may have promise, but probably aren’t ready. Cannon has impressed at times and Kline showed well last year. But I feel like Wendell and Connolly both stick, especially now that Stork is “behind”. Chris Barker was carried for all 16 games last year and if they want to make a spot for him, then maybe one of them goes. But my sense is that if Barker showed them anything last year, they wouldn’t have drafted 3 linemen this year. With injuries though, all 11 could stick somehow.
Defense and specialists to follow…