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Typical Patriots?

Not quite yet, I’m afraid.  What we mean here is, “typical” where the New England Patriots start off a little slow in September (by their standards), such as 2-2 and then steamroll to at least another AFC Championship game by going something like 11-2 (including playoffs) after that.

A lot of fans want to point to that.  Hell, I want to too.  But I’m not there yet.  We’ve spoken before about how “this year feels different”, from several angles.  The sometimes (often?) public snippiness between coach and stars.  The overall talent, or lack thereof.  The different way both the team and its two biggest studs went about their offseason this past summer.  And all that.

The win against Miami was nice.  But there’s a significant possibility that the Dolphins aren’t really very good, despite leaving the game with a still good 3-1 record and first place standing.  The ‘Phins apparently are missing some decent players and on top of that, they lost a couple more during the game.  That’s what I’m hearing anyway.  I have no idea if these injured players are any good, truth be told.

I do know Ryan Tannehill is a certified bum.  That’s not going to help a football club in any way, shape or form.  But who are they going to turn to there, Brock Osweiler?  Ummmm…nope.  Ask Jay Cutler to unretire again?  Ugh.  Miami is actually carrying 4 QB’s, so I suppose there are two more options already on the roster.  I don’t know, there are people who like Tannehill though, so maybe…nevermind…I don’t think we really need to dive all that deep into the Dolphin quarterback situation.  My apologies.

The Patriot defense sure played better, despite the average, at best, opponent.  That has to be encouraging, no matter who the opponent was.  But then again, maybe it’s because the Dolphins forgot that Kenyan Drake ran for a ton of yards down the stretch last year, then gave him only three carries against the Pats.  Drake didn’t do anything with those three carries in the game, but I’m thinking that may not have been enough to get him started.  Especially early in the game before it got out of hand.  I mean, did Adam Gase and his staff watch the Patriot run defense the first 3 weeks?

The Patriot offense looked better of course too.  But still doesn’t appear to be a finely tuned machine.  I mean, has anyone seen the Patriot de facto #1 receiver thus far, Chris Hogan?  Thank God Josh Gordon looked useful in limited action (though the question will linger, how long can he keep his nose clean?  (Pun completely intended).  Julian Edelman comes back Thursday.  But let’s see what he looks like.  Missing all of last year with injury and now he can’t take any juice anymore.  Is the quickness still there?  We will see.  Can’t hurt though.

To the Blowhard, the jury is still out.  Speaking of the Pats…

Indianapolis at New England (-10.5)

…glad to see the Colts come to town.  Looks like Indy has their share of injuries too, including one to receiver T.Y. Hilton.  Huge break for the Pats if Hilton can’t go.  And even Adam Vinatieri is tending to a groin injury.  Can’t have kickers getting hurt, though it seems like a few of them around the league have missed time this year already.  In any event, to top it all off, there are a lot of questions about Andrew Luck’s arm recently.  I suppose that will tend to happen when the coach yanks Luck for Jacoby Brissett to throw a Hail Mary at the end of the game a couple of weeks ago.  Maybe the arm is ok, maybe it’s not.  But it sure took a while to figure out when he was going to play this year over the past offseason.  Where there is smoke there is fire, as they say.

So yeah, Gronk is nursing an ankle issue too and hasn’t looked all that great when he has been on the field this year to boot.  Several reporters have said that the injury is “not serious”.  But…you have to worry about Gronk’s health no matter what.  Plus, we have to worry if Gronk’s Dad will allow him to play with even a slight injury.  I’m not too concerned about it though…yet.  I suppose I should be, seeing that the alternative is more Dwayne Allen.

Here’s hoping the team continues to improve on both sides of the ball and doesn’t overlook this game to the next one…a Sunday Nighter against the smokin’ hot Kansas City Chiefs.  I’m thinking as long as the Patriots show up, this one should be easy enough.  But again…nothing is guaranteed with this group this season.

And…what if the Colts are fired up about the “Josh McDaniels Experience”?  Well, that may be an issue more for the front office after Josh left them at the altar.  I suppose Frank Reich may just ruin that mojo by being overly aggressive…

New England 34, Indianapolis 17.

Week (against the spread):  8-7

Week (straight up):  10-5

Season (against the spread):  30-33

Season (straight up):  37-26

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Super Bowl Leftovers…

…and perhaps a few early offseason notes.  I mean, the New England Patriots’ Super Bowl loss has been analyzed a gazillion times over the last week.  How much more is there to say?  Well, I had to write something to throw out my final pick record, so I’ll throw a few thoughts out there in no particular order:

*Josh McDaniels is the most recent story, so maybe we should cover that first.  That was kind of a slimy thing he did to the Colts.  But hey, the contract wasn’t signed, right?  He changed his mind, for whatever reason.  Sure, he gave the Colts every indication he was taking the job.  Then, of course, didn’t.  Maybe that’s an indictment on how the NFL handles these situations?  If Josh signs that deal in the wild card week, then there is no backtracking, correct?  But the NFL doesn’t allow that.

Most people feel bad for the assistants that signed contracts with the Colts.  And yeah, there is some validity to that too.  But again, why did they sign their contracts and leave their current jobs when Josh hadn’t actually signed his yet?  Shouldn’t the head coach be sealed up in blood before anyone else does anything?  Sure, the assistants planned to go with him for probably several months.  And then officially for several weeks, once Josh told them he was taking the Indy job.  But again, nothing was signed.  I’ve heard a lot this week about “well, the assistants had been planning to go with McDaniels for up to a year when Josh got a head coaching gig”.  Yeah, that may be true.  But what if Josh never got a head coaching opportunity this offseason?  The assistants were going to quit their jobs anyway like a year ago, even they didn’t know when McDaniels was going to be offered a head coaching position (more importantly, TAKE, a head coaching position)?  I don’t know.  Assistants often get screwed.  And maybe I am taking a hard line here.  But I am not feeling as bad as most about their “plight”.

One last thing, the “family” reason for why McDaniels stayed is sweet and all.  But it’s also nonsense.  Sure, stability for coaches and their families is not something that happens often in the league.  But Josh didn’t stay for that reason.  The Krafts made him the heir apparent to Bill Belichick.  Period.  Maybe nothing is signed.  But you honestly cannot tell me that McDaniels sullied his reputation around the league and kind of torpedoed his head coaching prospects, at least for the immediate future, without receiving SOME kind of promise in the process.  No way he stays otherwise.

*You know what else I have determined is also nonsense?  The fact that everyone thinks that if Malcolm Butler plays in the Super Bowl, the Patriots automatically win.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  Having Butler on the sideline sure didn’t help.  And for a player that played 98% of the snaps all season to all of a sudden be benched in the most important game of the year is certainly questionable.  But would one player have had made the difference?

Reports came out this week that Matt Patricia and probably Belichick had the players often in the wrong positions all game.  They didn’t match up to Eagle packages the best way.  They had plays where Marquis Flowers was rushing the passer and their best pass rusher, Trey Flowers, was going into coverage.  They left Nick Foles uncovered on his touchdown catch.  They had dime defense in for obvious running downs.  Etc., etc., etc.

We all know that Johnson Bademosi and Jordan Richards are special teams players at best and in Richards’ case, maybe not even a real NFL player.  So Butler comes in.  But then Eric Rowe is still out there.  And he was terrible too.  Maybe Bademosi and Richards still get snaps.  And maybe Butler does ok, but the other three still get torched.  Devin McCourty was awful too.  And Butler has not been great overall this year either.  EVERYONE on the defense, with the possible exception of Stephon Gilmore, was brutal in the Super Bowl.  No pass D, no run D, no nothing.  The coaches did not help things.  James Harrison played something like 93% of the snaps.  Sure, he was “fresh” from not playing much of the season.  But you are really going to depend on him as well?

I think we all want to hear why Butler was benched.  But with the entire defense being historically bad, and the coaching also matching that, to suggest that having his presence merely in the lineup would have changed things I actually think is a little bit of a leap.

I will also admit that I told someone during the game that “I would play a dead Malcolm Butler over a fully operational Jordan Richards” though.  So there’s that…

*Most New England fans expected Doug Pederson to wet his pants at some point in the game and for the Pats even to win somewhat comfortably.  I know I did.  But that man deserves a ton of credit for the game he called.  He wasn’t afraid, that was a big start.  He exploited matchups.  Went for it on 4th downs.  All that.  He was probably the real MVP and not Foles.  Hell of a call on the 4th down TD to Foles down by the goal line.  The Pats had no idea what was going on for that play.  Well, for a lot of plays actually.  But that one in particular.

*The Super Bowl loss makes me more angry that Brady did his whole “Tom vs. Time” Facebook thing and that Bill did his “The Two Bills” 30 for 3o.  It probably doesn’t matter either way.  But I feel like they have never done stuff like that in the past and now here they are doing it the week of the Super Bowl.  Tom obviously had a choice on when to schedule his stuff and I am sure Bill did too.  It just seems odd that this is the year they decide to do that kind of stuff.  Just felt like to me that these guys kind of thought the game was in the bag.  Maybe not, but that’s what I’m feeling.

*Speaking of one play on defense, by Butler or anyone else, maybe making a difference, how about the fumble by Brady with just over two minutes left?  THAT’S the one I cannot get over.  Didn’t we all think that when they got the ball back at that point that Brady would march them downfield and score pretty easily?  Sure, Brady got swallowed up pretty quickly.  And sure, it’s hard to nitpick an offense that had over 600 yards.  But that was obviously a killer.

*On the fumble, it’s also hard to blame an offensive line that played over its head all day.  But that was clearly a bad spot for a glitch.

*As for the people on the offensive line, Nate Solder has had a decent, if unspectacular career.  Hard to criticize him too much also, since he and his family have gone through some significant battles off the field.  But if he’s not retiring as some people think, I’m not resigning him anywhere near the 10-11 mil or whatever he made this year.  As average as LaAdrian Waddle and Cam Fleming may be, I’d consider resigning them for short money, hope 2017 third round pick Antonio Garcia can contribute something and then add another vet or two to compete at lesser money.  I’m spending every available penny to revamp that defense next year if I’m the Patriots.

*One offensive free agent I would spend a little extra to bring back, however, is Danny Amendola.  Even if he is again the fifth receiver on paper next year behind Julian Edelman, Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell.  As long as Brady is here, I want Danny here.  The guy is just money.  He won’t take yet another pay cut to stay after his huge offseason, will he?  He’s been taking cuts for years, does he finally go the other way?  Not sure what the market will be for him, or what he wants to do, but I’m keeping him here.  I’m good with these 5.  Not sure I care much about Kenny Britt or Philip Dorsett.

*While we are on offensive free agents, I have loved what Dion Lewis has brought to the team, but if he’s looking to cash in, we’ll see ya later.  I don’t blame him because of how his career has gone with injuries and being cut and all that.  I’m just not spending a lot of dough on running backs.  I’d give Gillislee another shot next year since he is signed.  I’d also see if Rex Burkhead would come back at similar money as this year…or less.  He missed some time this season but looked pretty good when he was out there.  I’d like to see more.  In fact, I would have liked to have seen more of him in the Super Bowl, especially after Cooks got knocked out.  Would have played him at receiver instead of Dorsett for that matter.

*It’s too bad Alan Branch retired this year and didn’t tell anyone.  Could have used the 2016 Branch in the playoffs.  Much more so than Ricky Jean Francois.

*I hope Brady isn’t blaming Amendola for overthrowing him on his pass route.  Similar how everyone blamed Wes Welker in 2012 for dropping Brady’s wide open pass, including probably Brady himself and as we all know, Brady’s wife Gisele.  Both throws could have been better.  But both catches should have absolutely been made.  Maybe Gisele understands now.

*Man I hope Jimmy G is the real deal for the sake of the 49ers.  He’s pocketing like 43 million next year alone from what I understand.  Just…wow…thank God Bill got that second round pick for him…ugh…

*Cooks trying to jump over the defender on the goal line when he could have beaten the guy to the outside was pure stupidity.  Yes, that play could have worked.  But I still think it was a dumb play call.  Brady needs to throw it there, simple as that.

*Then the botched field goal the play after.  Not Stephen Gostkowski’s fault in that case.  Though being that short an attempt, the feeling here is he still should have made it.  He got off a decent attempt actually.  BUT, the missed extra point was brutal.  Gostkowski had a pretty good year.  But it’s time to at the very least bring in some competition for him next year.

*Guess the Eagles’ backup left tackle wasn’t so bad, eh?  I suppose when you have a 39-year-old James Harrison playing over 90% of the snaps, maybe that’s a big part of the problem.  But where also was Trey Flowers?  Oh, sometimes he was in coverage.  Nevermind…

*Not sure anyone is talking enough about how that stupidity with the kickoff return on the very last drive cost the Pats some pretty good field position.  Maybe they are a lot closer on that last play and don’t have to fire up a Hail Mary?

*The strategy of deferring when winning the coin toss is something that has worked well for the Pats over the years.  But in some games, doesn’t it make sense to take the ball, score on the first drive and make the other team actually play from behind instead of it always being you?  Seems like this would have been a good time to do that, playing against a backup QB and a lot of players that hadn’t been on this stage before.  Never know, the Eagles could have folded under the pressure early.  Instead, the early lead for them in this game may have given them some confidence.  Not to mention that the Pats allowed the Eagles to march downfield pretty easily right before the half.  There goes that plan…

I guess that is enough.  And we shouldn’t feel too bad I guess.  5-3 in Super Bowls in the 2000’s should make most people happy.  Maybe it should be 6-2.  Maybe it should be 2-6.  The Pats probably should have lost to the Rams, Seahawks, and Falcons.  Maybe they should have beaten the Eagles and won both Giants games.  Who knows?  Sometimes these things even themselves out over time.

Guess I am just trying to keep things in perspective…trying…

Week (against the spread):  1-0

Week (straight up):  0-1

Season (against the spread):  143-124 (53.6%…I can live with that!)

Season (straight up):  180-87 (67.4%)

Just unacceptable

Just like after the first preseason game, had to give myself some time to digest that pathetic performance by our supposed Super Bowl contenders, the New England Patriots.  Don’t get me wrong.  I am not jumping off the bandwagon for sure.  This team will still win the division, despite these clowns that are saying the Pats have sole possession of last place right now.  The cliche “it’s only one game” does certainly apply.  But it is a disheartening way to start the season, I will allow.  Anyway…some observations:

*What the hell happened to this “revamped” defense we have been hearing about?  “Darrelle Revis will shut down his guy and allow for others to help out elsewhere”.  “Chandler Jones will have a huge breakout year”.  “Patriots have too many good corners”.  “Having Big Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo back will stiffen up the run defense”.  Etc.  Ok again, so some of this stuff may well happen over the long haul.  But it’s a little concerning that NONE of this happened yesterday.  I will grant that the Dolphins had more than a few short fields to work with on their drives, but still…Matt Patricia and his crew did nothing to inspire confidence.  Patricia hasn’t done anything to inspire confidence for me since he’s been around actually.  But that’s a story for a different day…

*Of particular concern on D was the alarming lack of pass rush.  Especially since we were all told that the Miami offensive line is “in shambles”. What doesn’t help is when you only play your 2nd best pass rusher from last year half of the game.  Yes, Rob Ninkovich may be better off as kind of a “3rd pass rusher”, but the fact remains that he was the Pats 2nd best one last year.  And he does seem to have a nose for the ball, as he always seems to force fumbles.  Yet he played half the snaps yesterday.  One thing I did like that I saw a bit…love to see it more, but at least it was way more than last year…was that Dont’a Hightower was utilized more as a pass rusher.  Not that he had a lot of success.  But he appears to be better rushing instead of covering.  So we will see where that goes.  So if losing snaps to Hightower as a pass rusher is the plan, it’s ok with me.  But Ninkovich losing snaps to Sealver Siliga or Joe Vellano or even Dominique Easley (now anyway)…not ok…because…

*…the middle of the D-Line got gashed by the running backs.  Continuing story from last year.  I don’t know what game analyst Trent Green was watching.  But I didn’t see Vince Wilfork as being “light on his feet” and “a difference maker”.  He had one nice rush.  And then couldn’t stop anyone else coming through.  Part of it is the stiff he has to play next to (see above).  But folks, Vince ain’t the same guy, simple as that.  Is it still the torn Achilles recovery?  Old age?  Just being fat?  Not sure…probably a combination of the above.  But either way, Chris Jones ain’t gonna be the answer when he comes back from his injury.  Maybe Tommy Kelly would’ve helped.  But these guys all sucked yesterday.  No other way to put it.

*The pass defense was supposed to be a major upgrade, due mainly to Revis.  But the schemes being played had me a little confused.  Now I am far from an “X’s and O’s” guy.  But seeing Jamie Collins covering Mike Wallace in crunch time was something that was more than a little shocking to me.  And seeing Tavon Wilson on the field at all was mystifying.  I guess when the alternatives are Patrick Chung and Duron Harmon and I suppose Malcolm Butler, then…but maybe Kyle Arrington or Logan Ryan could have played more in some capacity?  Revis was also not Revis.  But he is the least of my worries at this point.

*We don’t even need to talk about the blocked punt/bad snap.

*Now let’s get to the offense.  Josh McDaniels has a better rep than Patricia.  Because of this, he may take less heat.  But he needs to get some heat here.  Along with the Offensive Line coach…GOOOOGE, or whoever he is.  Now before everyone lays the blame on the Logan Mankins trade, ALL of the lineman sucked yesterday.  ESPECIALLY the tackles.  Would Mankins have made a difference?  Maybe.  But the other guys were terrible.  They seemed to rotate a bit, but the snap counts showed that was not the case.  Ryan Wendell got a handful of snaps in place of Jordan Devey, but the other 4 played all game (though Dan Connolly rotated between center and right guard).  Not a big deal.  Bottom line is that Mankins or no Mankins…didn’t matter.

*Going back to McDaniels, the Patriots have a worrisome pattern of completely abandoning the run.  Not that their running backs were tearing it up.  And we’ve already been through the lines’ struggles.  But they just completely went away from it.  Making them of course one-dimensional and therefore easier to defend.  Think they should have stuck with it longer.  Also, Miami was down their top 3 linebackers at some point.  Couldn’t he/they have made some adjustments to exploit that a little more?

*No no-huddle offense either.  Part of their package for years.  Was it the heat, being it was September in Miami?  Maybe.  But didn’t they just have training camp, two-a-day practices, exhibition games, etc., in July and August?  Seems to me the heat shouldn’t have affected them as much as some people have claimed it may have.

*Last, but not least, Mr. Tom Brady.  Not very good.  Yes, again time to throw was an issue.  But looks like he zoned in on Gronk too much.  Gronk was in on limited snaps, but Brady was always looking for him.  Brady also stopped throwing to Edelman in the 2nd half…well, except the deep pass he fired over his head…then seemed to blame Edelman.  Maybe Julian should have kept running under the ball, we won’t ever know.  But he was open.  I don’t know what the story is with Danny Amendola either.  Both training camps we hear about how Brady is working on good chemistry with Amendola.  Danny got hurt last year and then Brady also clearly lost confidence in him.  This year was supposed to be different.  But we never saw him out there really until the 2nd half.  Did Amendola just not get open?  Does Brady still lack confidence in him?  Jeez, he threw to Brandon LaFell more and that was a disaster.  Was Aaron Dobson not physically ready?  Seemed like he would have been a better choice at WR instead of LaFell…but I guess hindsight is 20/20.  But the bottom line was that Brady was off his game yesterday.  Let’s hope we can chalk it up to him being always bad in Miami.

*This didn’t matter in this particular game, but I thought it was interesting to see Patrick Chung returning kicks.  Yikes!  If they aren’t going to throw to Amendola, why not put him back there?  Just a thought…

To sum it all up?  Ugly!  There are areas of concern.  But if the AFC East is as bad as it is supposed to be, there is no long-term issue…divisionally anyway.  A trip to the playoffs is still surely in order.  But if these things don’t get completely fixed, they will probably face a road game in the playoffs and an early exit.  Let’s cross that bridge when we get to it though.

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