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BOSTON (CBS) — The Patriots lost their home opener Sunday, which is never a positive development for any team. That doesn’t mean, though, that the loss to the Cardinals has to be all about negativity.
The rookies were outstanding yet again. The defense made an unbelievable play to even give the team a chance to win at the end. Rob Gronkowski was Rob Gronkowski, Wes Welker was Wes Welker, and Stevan Ridley had a more-than-respectable follow-up to his huge Week 1 performance.
There’s also the history of the Patriots losing from time to time when you just don’t see it coming. There was the infamous 31-0 loss to the Bills in 2003, as well as the 20-17 loss to the Redskins that same year. The Bills and Redskins would combine to win 11 games that year; the Patriots won 14 … and a Super Bowl.
The following year, the 14-2 Patriots dropped a game against the 4-12 Dolphins. The Patriots won the Super Bowl that year, too. Last year, they lost to the Bills (6-10) and ended the season with 13 victories and a trip to the Super Bowl. The year before that, the Patriots were rolling along at 6-1 before getting steamrolled by the Browns, 34-14. The Pats would win 14 games that year, while the Browns would win just five.
You get the point.
There’s also the unexplainable fact that sometimes, teams just have bad afternoons. The Patriots have plenty of those, but they usually end up winning anyway. They played pretty lousy in their last two AFC Championship Games, but inexplicably won them both, but they were bound to lose one eventually. The fact that they lost arguably their offense’s most dangerous weapon early on even helps explain the lackluster showing, and that’s not even factoring in the Cardinals’ defense being legitimate.
These things happen to good teams over the course of an NFL season. I just hope you didn’t spend too much time debating with your friends this summer whether or not the Patriots could go 16-0.
So if you hear anyone anywhere telling you there’s reason to be concerned about the Patriots or that the sky is falling and they should cancel the rest of the season, know that they are full of it. But let’s be real: The Patriots lost their football game on Sunday because they missed a field goal, but let a full seven days of overanalysis commence!
For me, I’ll just go through the leftover thoughts from the Patriots’ 20-18 loss to the Cardinals.
–I’ll start with what is likely the biggest topic coming out of the game, which is the holding call on Rob Gronkowski that took the game-winning touchdown off the board. I understand the officials may have seen enough to make the call on Gronkowski, but if they want to make that call, they’re going to have to make this defensive holding call on Daryl Washington on a crucial third down in the fourth quarter:
Or this jersey grab by Paris Lenon:
So while the holding call on Gronkowski may have been acceptable (it certainly wasn’t egregious), the fact that it was called but other blatant holds on him were missed earlier in the game give Patriots and their fans enough justification to have their gripes with the outcome of this game.
–Stephen Gostkowski’s opening kickoff went off the goalpost. We should have taken that as an omen of bad things to come.
–At the commercial break heading into the Patriots’ first drive, play-by-play announcer Dick Stockton said, “Tom Brady will come out to perform his magic.” That is why the rest of the country hates the Patriots and their fans.
–Kevin Kolb sure knows how to miss a receiver. I mean, there is overthrowing an open guy on third down, and then there is Kolbing. That’s probably why the Cardinals decided to essentially use him exclusively as a runner in the second quarter until he coughed up the football.
This guy right here got Kolb’d pretty bad:
–You know which kicker didn’t look bad on Sunday? Jay Feely, that’s who. It’s as if he stopped by the Brady mansion early Sunday morning for some of Tom’s terrific pancakes.
–Immediately after the Aaron Hernandez injury, the game immediately took on that awkward feel, as if the 68,000 drunks in attendance knew something was really bad. It wasn’t as bad as when Brady went down in ’08, obviously, but after big plays, you could hear people clapping like it was a golf tournament.
–Do you have any friends who weigh 315 pounds? What percentage of Kyle Love’s energy would you say they have? Maybe 1 percent? Kyle Love is like a 6-year-old kid on a sugar high. It’s kind of awesome to see.
–On the second-to-last play of the first quarter, Stevan Ridley ran it off tackle and had the smallest of holes, but he burst through and outran the entire defense for a 20-yard gain. We haven’t seen a Patriots running back pick up a huge chunk on a play like that in a long, long time.
The same can be said for the back-to-back sequence of runs of 12 and 10 yards apiece, including when Ridley got four extra yards by crawling on one hand. He just has the makings of a special back.
–Remember the way Red Sox fans used to lament the fact that the Sox might never win in their lifetimes? I’m starting to feel that way about Patriots having a reliable kick returner. Ellis Hobbs popped a few good ones, and Bethel Johnson had that one epic day in Indianapolis, but the Patriots at this point might as well let the ball go out the back of the end zone and focus on laying some cheap shots on the kickoff team or something. They’re not accomplishing much else.
–I don’t want to read too much into it, mostly due to the Hernandez injury altering the game plan, but it did seem like Brady was forcing a few too many passes to Brandon Lloyd. On the first play of second quarter, Brady went deep to Lloyd, who was in double coverage. The play had a 0 percent chance of working, and then Brady forced the next one to Lloyd and had to throw it out of bounds due to the tight coverage. The offense looks dead without Hernandez.
And call me crazy, but the Brandon Lloyd wide receiver screen doesn’t look nearly as effective as the Deion Branch wide receiver screen. They ran three screens for Lloyd in the first three quarters. They didn’t work. The first went for two yards, the second went for five yards and the last one went for four yards. Why run the play that many times? I don’t think it’s wrong to expect a little more creativity form Josh McDaniels.
–I’m trying to think of the proper comparison for when Chandler Jones puts his stutter step/juke/swim/rip move combo together. The best comparison I can think of is Allen Iverson’s crossover in his prime. You just sort of feel bad for the guy who has to try to stand his ground and defend it.
–I liked John Lynch as the color analyst, and I kept thinking he must have had some never-ending conversations in Jon Gruden’s office in Tampa. Maybe that’s why the Bucs had to release him.
–If you want to complain about the replacement officials (and you should), you should focus on the false start called on long snapper Danny Aiken. To me it looked like the right call (Aiken definitely flinched a full second before snapping the ball), but you saw every official run toward the referee to offer his own interpretation of events. The side judge came running in calling offsides on Arizona, the back judge ran through the line and pulled a Leslie Nielson with his demonstrative false start signal, and I’m pretty sure a random guy in a referee outfit came running onto the field from the stands to call a delay of game. Then, when the referee finally announced his call, his microphone cut in and out and he called the penalty “on the snapper.” Watching these guys is just plain difficult at times, and that play made it look like all the replacement officials just graduated from clown college.
League-wide, officials are having problems with things as simple as false starts. It’s a serious problem. They’re used to officiating games with players who are 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds, not the craziest physical specimens on planet earth. Oh, and some of them are Saints fans. So while you’ll hear some gripes from people who no longer want to hear about the replacement officials, the fact remains that the NFL has itself a real problem.
–You could also rightly be curious why a Larry Fitzgerald catch was ruled a catch on the field and then magically changed into an incompletion. The only reason it wasn’t overturned via replay was because there was no conclusive evidence showing it was a catch, but there was also no conclusive evidence to suggest it was not a catch. It’s not a good look for the league when the people in charge of making calls can’t agree with each other.
–What an incredibly athletic play by Chandler Jones to strip the ball from Kevin Kolb in the second quarter. Jones absorbed the chip of the tight end Todd Heap (and actually delivered a bit of a shot in the process) then was smart enough to break free from being engaged with the left tackle to begin chasing down the scrambling QB. Vince Wilfork dived low to wrap up Kolb’s legs, and Jones was athletic enough to leap at full speed over Wilfork and then punch the ball free with his right hand immediately upon landing. It was vicious, and it was fast, kind of like an eagle attacking its prey with its talons out.
(I’ve now compared Chandler Jones to Allen Iverson in his prime and an attacking eagle, if you’re keeping track at home.)
–OK, look. I hate — hate — the fact that it’s a 15-yard penalty when a defensive player touches the quarterback’s head and it’s deemed “delivering a blow” to the noggin, mostly because I feel it’s going to hurt the fingers much more than it’s going to hit a head. Still, it is against the rules to touch the quarterback’s head these days, yet this call was missed:
Sam Acho had his left hand on Brady’s facemask and he used his right arm to club Brady in the head. We’ve all seen much, much less contact called. Instead of 15 free yards and a first down, the Patriots were punting two plays later.
Later, they called this a “blow to the head” of the quarterback:
That penalty call didn’t matter, because a Steve Gregory late hit penalized the Pats 15 yards anyway, but it does matter if you’re someone who considers competency a key trait of the NFL’s officials.
–I’m all for fans “having the right to boo the home team” and all of that, but if you were booing the Patriots in the second quarter, you’re a lousy human being and I hate you. Go be a fan of the Dolphins for a few years before you go on booing Tom Brady and Co. like a spoiled brat.
–Was it the most Patriots moment ever when Wes Welker made the catch to pass Troy Brown’s franchise record? I mean, you had Brown giving him a standing ovation from Robert Kraft’s luxury box, and rather than have the game stop for an “everybody clap for Wes” moment, the players all scrambled to get back to the line for the next play. Do your job. Stats are for losers. All that stuff.
–Will there be continued Wes Welker/phase-out conspiracy talk this week, even though he led the team with 95 receiving yards and the second-most targets? Yeah, of course. It’s already started, actually, even from very fair-minded, very respectable reporters. But maybe instead of overreacting to a slightly lessened role for Welker, we could talk about an increase in workload and reliability for Julian Edelman. I feel that in most other NFL cities, that would be considered a positive development, not a reason to stir up controversy.
–Brandon Lloyd: athlete.
–Gostkowski’s 51-yard field goal was as perfect a kick as you could ever see. Well, until his 53-yarder, which was just as perfect. They just make the shank job even harder to digest.
–Is this a bad time to mention that Adam Vinatieri drilled a 53-yarder to win a game for the Colts on Sunday?
–On the play when Dont’a Hightower tackled Beanie Wells for a two-yard loss early in the third quarter, it would have been enough for Hightower to simply have burst through the hole and force the running back to change direction. That Hightower was able to wrap him up in the open field shows you the kind of play-making ability the kid has, even at the NFL level. As John Lynch said, “You aren’t supposed to be able to move like that at 270 pounds.”
–When did Matt Damon get a job with the Patriots? Or was he just on the sideline filming an awesome scene from a new Bourne movie or something?
–I love the Nate Ebner story as much as anybody. I mean, how could you not? The rugby player-turned football player catches Belichick’s eye and gets drafted and somehow makes the team. A real-life Rudy, minus the steel mill scenes probably. Still, he could not have looked any more overmatched than he did when he gave up the blocked punt to Quentin Groves which cost the Patriots seven points. It looked like a varsity linebacker rushing on a poor freshman who ends up quitting football before Halloween.
–There’s no way Danny Woodhead head-butted Darnell Dockett intentionally after the play when Dockett tackled Woodhead for a loss of eight yards, right? Woodhead’s not that crazy, is he?
–Normally, when Gillette Stadium plays that foghorn sound, the feeling is, “That’s stupid because that is for Bruins games.” Well, sadly that sound will be heard exclusively in Foxboro this fall. A moment of silence for the hockey season, please.
–How in the world does Early Doucet hold on to that ball at the end of the third quarter when Jerod Mayo hit him like a Mack truck? Not only would I have dropped the pass, but I would have laid there crying for about 15 minutes as I lamented my final moments on earth. I suppose that’s why NFL players play football and I work behind a keyboard.
–I’m a big fan of X and O analysis, but what I like even more is analyzing big plays by Rob Gronkowski, like his 22-yard catch and run early in the fourth. It generally goes like this: He is bigger, faster and stronger than everybody else. Sadly, though, those factors may have been why he got called for holding on what should have been the game-winning play.
–Coming out of the huddle for the failed two-point conversion attempt, did you have some frightening flashbacks when Brandon Lloyd broke the huddle and ran to the wrong side of the field? I’m still not convinced all the bad voodoo has been removed entirely from that 85 jersey.
–It’s too bad the Patriots lost, but they had no business even having a chance to win it after Ryan Williams broke that 13-yard run after the two-minute warning. That was just an incredible play by Brandon Spikes, driving his head through the running back’s arms and jarring the ball loose. It was very reminiscent of the 2001 defense — smart, aggressive and clutch. The fact that Vince Wilfork was there to pounce on the loose ball after Chandler Jones couldn’t grab it was wildly fortuitous as well.
–Ken Whisenhunt gave the most “football coach” answer ever when asked to analyze the Williams fumble.
“You know what?” Whisenhunt said. “I’m still traumatized by seeing the ball pop out. I couldn’t really tell you until I look at it on tape.”
–I’m not one to make excuses, but there’s a chance Gronkowski was simply exhausted in the fourth quarter, and maybe that helps explain the false start. Gronkowski was targeted five times on eight plays in the previous drive, which ended in him catching the touchdown. It’s still early in the season, but it’s not outrageous to wonder whether conditioning was a factor that led to the mental mistake that pushed the Patriots from the 18-yard line to the 23-yard line.
–A quote from John Lynch, as the Patriots were letting the clock run down to set up the winning kick: “That shows the faith that Bill Belichick has in Stephen Gostkowski, who’s been perfect today.”
–If you’re a Patriots fan and you’re really upset about the loss, I suggest you give Tommy Hilfiger a call so you guys can chat about the awesome Patriots victory. I’m pretty sure he has no idea that Woodhead’s touchdown didn’t count.
–I hate fantasy football. The most. Sometimes people don’t understand that feeling, so maybe this will help explain it. I know when Aaron Hernandez left the game with what looked like a bad injury, there were plenty of Patriots fans who own Welker or Gronkowski or Lloyd and were happy to see Hernandez get out of the way of fantasy point production.
Also this: I was out during the game and had to watch on DVR later. Late in the game, though, I did hear someone approach another person and announce the Patriots had recovered a fumble with less than two minutes left. The other guy had the normal reaction of a football fan: “Yeah, baby!” Then he had the reaction of a fantasy doofus: “I got the Pats’ defense and I got Brady. Let’s go, bomb to Lloyd and I win!”
Do these people even like football at all, or is it all about fake, stupid, fantasy points? And why the need to announce these in public? These are the things I’ll never understand.
–This is a real question: Was that the worst kick of Stephen Gostkowski’s career? His entire life? I didn’t catch too many of his games at Memphis, but I imagine he didn’t miss the protective net too often.
Ultimately, I don’t think the miss will shake his confidence too badly. He had made 38 consecutive fourth-quarter field goals, and there’s no reason to question whether he can start a new streak next week. But man oh man, was that one terrible kick.
Gostkowski’s philosophy after the game was perfect, though, so perhaps it can serve as a guide to help calm the media mayhem over the next week.
“I looked up and saw it was left,” Gostkowski said. “Sometimes, the ball doesn’t fly your way.”