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Gross…

…and it is still leaving a bad taste in my mouth two days later.  The New England Patriots’ performance on Sunday was just atrocious.  I guess it was worse since I saw it live.  And it wasn’t exactly a gorgeous autumn day to boot.  All in all, not a whole lot to be excited about.

The Buffalo Bills essentially had one player to stop, LeSean McCoy, and the Pats couldn’t do it.  Yeah, McCoy’s final numbers weren’t otherworldly (19 rushes for 70 yards plus 6 catches for 38 yards and a TD), he seemed to always get the job done when it needed to be done.  As did Tyrod Taylor.  A decidedly average quarterback, he seemed to accomplish what he wanted to as well.

You can say whatever you want about the offense.  And they seemed bad.  But…were they really that bad?  I’d call it moreso just conservative.  How much can you really accomplish when you play extremely conservative?

Granted, the Patriots had a third string QB at the helm.  One with a bum thumb on his throwing hand.  And the team once again played with only one legitimate QB active.  They still were clearly babying Rob Gronkowski.  Danny Amendola seems to be working his way back as well and he is not playing much at this time.  Etc.

But I thought Jacoby Brissett looked…competent…out there.  I thought he showed well for someone with his experience, not to mention with the limitations the coaching staff placed on him.  Sure, the fumble inside the 20 was inexcusable.  And he missed a wide-open Amendola on one third down.  But he also dropped one right into Brandon Bolden’s hands for a potential TD, only to have Bolden drop it.  He probably held onto the ball too long most of the time and did other things that rookies are prone to do.   But to me, he didn’t look out-of-place like a lot of rookies do.

They let him throw 3 passes in the first half.  THREE!!  Not counting the 90 yarder to Edelman on the first play of the game due to penalties.  Ok, it was a screen pass that Edelman turned into 90 yards, but a pass nonetheless.  Once the coaches saw what direction the game was going in, couldn’t they have opened it up more earlier?  Yeah, they did a bit in the second half, but still…not quite enough in my eyes.

I thought the game plan and the adjustments from the coaching staff left a lot to be desired.  Especially with 10 days to prepare.  But I have to say, I kind of don’t blame them for at least the offensive plans.  Guys are banged up, as I said, including your only real QB.  The Bills are terrible.  LeGarrette Blount had been running well and was just named the AFC Player of the Month for September.  And all that.  With the game at home, they probably thought they could sneak out of there with like a 20-10 win or something.  Even 14-10 or 14-7.  Something along those lines.

The other units just didn’t hold up their end of the bargain.  Special teams…returns in particular…not good.  Cyrus Jones is supposed to be a dynamic returner.  That quality supposedly separated him from other players in the 2nd round the Patriots thought were about equal where they drafted Jones.  But since the lights have come on in the regular season, Jones has been dropping the ball a lot and has been indecisive when he holds onto it.  Stephen Gostkowski missed a field goal as well.  Ryan Allen punted well, but, not a banner day overall.

My ire is mostly with the defense.  16 points against looks good in the box score.  Making the Bills attempt 5 field goals and allowing only 1 touchdown may look like a positive as well.  But not really.  No pass rush, terrible coverage, couldn’t get off the field on third down.  Ugly.

I know Billy B. has his way of playing mobile QBs…not a ton of pass rush, contain the QB, some sort of zone D, etc.  I know Jabal Sheard and Dont’a Hightower are not 100%.  I know Vincent Valentine left the game somewhere in the middle of it, leaving the Pats essentially with only two defensive tackles in Malcolm Brown and Alan Branch, at a position where they like to rotate a bunch of guys to keep those big fellas fresh.  I know all that and more.  But a hugely disappointing effort all around on the defensive side.  Countless missed tackles.  A cornerback with an amazing 17 tackles (Logan Ryan…which is not actually a good stat for a CB, by the way).  Guys running around TOO wide open, even for zone defense.  As noted above, too many third down conversions against.  And on and on.

With all that negativity being said and as angry as I have been since the game, I am really here to tell you…it doesn’t matter!!  yes, the Pats really should be 4-0.  Sure, everyone figured they’d be 3-1, with the loss actually coming against Arizona.  Once they got to 3-0 and had a bad team at home, 4-0 really should have happened.

Now that it didn’t, it’s probably a good time to look at the big picture.  With their 3rd string QB playing two and a half games out of the four Tom Brady was suspended, the team went 3-1.  They still lead the putrid division by a game.  And now Brady comes back.  Rob Ninkovich is back as well.  Presumably, Gronk, Amendola, Sheard, Hightower et al will get healthier.  The offensive line will continue to gel (helped by quicker decisions and releases by Brady).  The defense should play better and round into some sort of form.  Gostkowski should return to his reliable self.  Even Jones may learn from his return mistakes.  Maybe we see more of Barkevious Mingo chasing the QB around as well.

The goal here is the end of the season, not September.  We know Belichick always treats the first month or so as an extended training camp.  Gets an idea of what they have.  How things can be adjusted.  The team should win the division going away still.  And be in the mix for home field advantage in the AFC for sure…let’s just hope they don’t blow it like last year.

Maybe an early loss is good for them?  No undefeated record to chase.  Early wakeup call.  Stuff like that.

That’s what I’m going with now anyway…

 

J-E-T-S!!!

It’s Jets week folks…actually, the week is basically over, since the game is tomorrow.  If you haven’t heard.  And you possibly may not have heard.  This past week has been one of the quietest lead-ins to a Pats/Jets game for as far back as I can remember.  Of course, most of that probably has to do with that loudmouth Rex Ryan being no longer here.  But still…

Not much chatter this week, you can almost hear a pin drop.  Sure, a couple of Jets have said a couple of minor things that the local media has tried to escalate the meaning of a bit.  But nothing like the past.  Kind of depressing I say.  I’m used to a lot more hype for the game.  Guess we will have the Bills’ games for that though.

Coming right out and saying Patriots 31, Jets 16.  Full disclosure, I picked the Jets plus 9.5 in a weekly picks pool I am in.  But that is more about superstition than anything else.  Seems like when I take the Pats, they never cover…and occasionally do not win.  So I basically just pick their opponent every week if there is any doubt whatsoever.  Against Jacksonville a few weeks back?  Nope, I took the Pats.  But divisional games I have to say I mostly pick the opponent, plus the points (isn’t it ALWAYS the opponent getting “plus the points” with the divisional foes?).  Makes me feel like I am being somewhat partial anyway.

In any event, why this score?  I mean, the Jets are 4-1, shouldn’t I really give them more of a chance?  Especially since they have given up only 75 points in 5 games?  Well, have you seen what the 4-1 consists of?  Wins against the Browns, Colts, Dolphins and Redskins and a loss against the Eagles.  That’s quite a murderer’s row, right?  Other than the Colts in their house, I pay no mind to the rest of the scores.  And that’s also stretching it, since the Colts haven’t been as good as most people thought they would be, especially when they came out of the gate.  So please, enough about the Jets bandwagon…settle down with that.  They do have some overall talent on both sides of the ball.  And maybe Todd Bowles is a good coach in the end.  But 5 games against mediocre competition and some are calling the J-E-T-S the main competitor to the Patriots in the AFC?  A win for the NY team Sunday would go a long way towards that maybe.  But until then…relax.

The main reason I think the score is even this close is because of where the Patriots have some injury concerns.  And no, I am not talking about Matthew Slater.  An aside, I love what Slater brings to the table.  He is all over the field on every special teams unit.  As William Belichick will tell you, special teams are indeed a big part of the game.  But if Slater goes down, can’t they get some other young dude that runs with abandon down the field on every special teams play?  It’s not like he even returns kicks or punts.  As great as he is at what he does, he should be replaceable in that capacity.  But I digress…

The offensive line is what I am talking about of course, as far as the injury bug goes.  Nate Solder is of course gone for the year.  His immediate replacement, Marcus Cannon, has also been ruled out.  Cannon is up and down for sure, but he is at the very least serviceable.  So they are left at the tackle spot with Sebastian Vollmer, a good lineman, but playing on the left side instead of his usual right.  And Cameron Fleming, a 4th round pick in 2014, who was waived after only a year with the team earlier in the year (fairly soon for Bill to give up on a 4th rounder, especially a big body on either side of the line.).  Any team could have claimed him for cheap money and they didn’t.  So he ended up back on the practice squad, then back on the active roster and now in the actual starting lineup.  Who is the third guy now?  No one on the current roster.  Chris Barker and Blaine Clausell (who?) are on the practice squad.  TE Michael Williams moving back to tackle for the short-term?  Maybe one of those dudes, but it’s obviously not ideal.

Throw in the fact that Shaq Mason is questionable at one guard spot too.  Maybe Ryan Wendell is ready to play in place of him finally, recovered from whatever illness he had.  But that also leaves Joe Kline and Tre’ Jackson at the other guard position, and although they seemingly have been decent, I’m not excited about them against the Jets’ front four.  Ditto for David Andrews.  He’s acquitted himself well this year, but is still a rookie and faces a major test on Sunday.  Kind of a scary proposition when all things are considered.  The Patriots have no doubt game planned around all this.  But then there is the secondary to be concerned about, what with Darrelle Revis leading the charge back there too.

So why 31 points?  I think the Pats offense is too good to lock down every drive.  I think they will use quick passes to combat the OL issues and try to keep the secondary at bay somehow.  I think Ryan Fitzpatrick will help by giving up a fumble or an interception or two which will lead one or two scores.  Either directly by a defensive score, or indirectly by giving the Pats a short field.  I feel pretty confident in this.

16 for the Jets?  I believe the Pats will game plan around Brandon Marshall and not let him be the one who beats them.  As is said over and over, Belichick seems to be able to normally shut down the oppositions best player.  Some may say that is Chris Ivory.  I think Ivory has the potential to run wild in this game.  But he will get shorter chunks of yards than Marshall would get if they focused on Ivory and not Marshall.  Ivory will get yards, but as usual, the Pats’ “bend, but don’t break” defense will shut him down inside the red zone and thus force the Jets to kick field goals.  Jeremy Kerley always seems to play big against the Patriots.  And he may well do so again, but his will be of the shorter variety as well.  But will he play a big role?  He hasn’t played much this year.  Some dude I’ve never heard of was actually their 3rd receiver but was suspended earlier this week.  So maybe Kerley does take his spot.  Eric Decker?  Good player, but not afraid.

Should be a fairly decent game for the country to see I would say.  As long as the Pats get a win and Tom Brady doesn’t get killed, that’s about all we can ask for I guess.  But I wouldn’t mind some sort of fireworks coming out of this game to juice up the second meeting later in the year…

Observations from Week 3…and more…

The New England Patriots are 3-0.  Awesome.  But I agree with Bill Belichick when he said “big deal”.  They’ve played a team with no D (Pittsburgh), a team that is probably not as good as they appear so far (Buffalo) and a cream puff (Jacksonville).  Sure, the Pitt and Buffalo games both had close final scores, but anyone watching the games knew that those finals were misleading.  There was never any danger of losing those games.  So the record is nice, but there really hasn’t been any kind of test yet.

And of course that is ok.  September and October are usually a time for the team to mix and match and figure out where the pieces fit.  With all the shuffling in the game against Jacksonville, as well as the two trades this week where Jonathan Bostic and Akiem Nicks came in and the Hoo-man departed, this is apparently still the plan.  But with the soft schedule, it just doesn’t seem it.  Oh, just in case you were wondering, I am not counting the hundred or so practice squad transactions that are par for the course every year.

In any event, life is good, though I am not going to get completely giddy and all…yet.  Here are some more random thoughts, again in no particular order:

*Perfect season.  PLEASE STOP!  There’s only over 80% of the season left, so nothing like getting ahead of ourselves here.  Sure, the Dallas game looks different now that they are battling injuries to key players.  The Indy game looks different as well, since they have their own issues.  And the division could even be weaker than originally suspected.  But there is too much time left and too many things can happen…specifically injuries to Brady and/or Gronk.  Or other key players.  So let’s see if they can get to 10-0 or so and then we can start chatting about a perfect season.

*Secondary.  Speaking of seeing where the pieces fit.  Still ugly back here, and that is putting it kindly.  Malcolm Butler always seems to be around the ball, but hasn’t made a ton of plays.  Bradley Fletcher was benched after only 2 weeks.  Tarell Brown started the first 2 games, then didn’t appear in Game 3.  Logan Ryan got a start.  Justin Coleman and Jordan Richards got significant PT against the Jaguars, even before garbage time.  Yikes!  Keep the faith…keep the faith…

*Aaron Dobson.  I wanted so much to give this guy some time this year to see if he could finally put it all together.  Not only was he a 2nd round pick and you certainly do not want to give up on a high pick sooner than you want to.  But as a rookie he showed some promise.  And it just looks like he can play.  But maybe not.  He played most of the game Sunday and came up short…yet again.  A drop…another play where he drew pass interference, but still should’ve caught that ball as well.  Just a disappointment.  Not to mention that he has never been able to develop any chemistry with Brady.  Of course it doesn’t help that Brady throws mostly to Gronk, Edelman and Dion Lewis, but maybe there is a reason for that.  Then again, a guy they acquired like a week and a half before the Jags game, Keshawn Martin, caught 3 balls on 3 targets from Brady.  Seems to be another strike against Dobson.

*”Scorched Earth”.  Hey, no one loves a good blowout more than me.  But to leave guys like Brady and Gronk in late in games with like 30 point leads…I’m just not in favor of that.  I get how Brady is pissed at the league…and many players and coaches within it.  With the whole Deflategate saga and all the people in the league taking free shots at him, etc.  It makes sense that Brady wants to bury everyone.  And that the coaches and the team in general wants to as well.  But to risk injury to indispensable players, just seems counterproductive to me.  Also to risk games while trying to run up the score, as what almost happened against the Bills, is kind of inexcusable also.  Hopefully, the Bills “scare” kind of taught them a little bit of a lesson.  Though I admit, it’s nice to shut Rex up.  That guy is such a blowhard, but that’s a story for another day…

*Bye week.  Too early!  But maybe this is the early challenge the Pats need?  Certainly haven’t been any real challenges in the games thus far.  Of course, I would guess that most teams would like the bye later in the season, to kind of take a breath, rest up some banged up players, evaluate what has happened in the first part of the season and adjust going forward for the second part, etc.  Not an option for them here.  There is a long way to go.  Not having a bye late in the season is probably not the biggest deal in the world.  But something to consider down the stretch.

*AFC East.  Sorry.  Not buying the Bills or the Jets at all right now.  I was never buying the Dolphins, but many others were.  As for the Bills, beating the Dolphins and the Colts was not that impressive to me.  Coming back against the Pats was not either.  Rex has a nice D over there, but the vaunted D-line hasn’t seemed to really been the reason.  LeSean McCoy has been banged up.  Tyrod Taylor has played better than expected, but over the long haul?  Remains to be seen.  Just not buying the hype.  The J-E-T-S?  Well, Ryan Fitzpatrick is running the show there.  And we know what he is all about.  Chris Ivory was getting rave reviews in the preseason.  Talking about a huge breakout year for him.  But guess what?  Injured again.  The D may be headed back to the success they had during Rex’ good times.  But again, too early for me to be worried about that team.

*Dion Lewis/RB’s.  Where did this Lewis guy come from?  Better yet, how did he not have a job last year?  Understand he was hurt in 2013.  And didn’t play much in 2011-2012 with Philly.  But this dude has some serious “shake n’ bake”.  Surprised he didn’t get a sniff while off last year.  Maybe fumbling was a problem, I don’t know.  Not putting the guy in Canton by any means…or even Hawaii for the Pro Bowl.  But if he is the real deal, what a steal.  I’m not a LeGarrette Blount guy really, but if Lewis continues what he is doing and is a legitimate part of the backfield, I can live with what Blount brings to the table as part of a combo.  As long as Brandon Bolden stays far, far away from any part of the backfield.

That’s about all I got…

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