FOXBORO (CBS) – There was a lot of talk Monday night of Tom Brady cementing his case as league MVP, and you know, he just might get that award. That’s cool and well-deserved and all of that, but if you watched the Patriots dismantle the Texans in front of a national TV audience, you noticed at least one more MVP wearing a New England uniform.
His name was Vincent Lamar Wilfork, and though he’d never admit it publicly, it looked pretty clear that he didn’t really enjoy listening to the media all week gush about the wondrous talents of one Mr. J.J. Watt.
It’s not as if Watt wasn’t worthy of the praise, it’s just that Wilfork, the old guard of sorts at defensive tackle at 31 years old, might have believed he’s pretty good himself.
Wilfork, who along with Brady is one of just two Patriots to have actually won a Super Bowl with New Egnland, showed he knows how to rise up for big games, finishing the night with four tackles, a sack and a knockdown of a Matt Schaub pass on a J.J. Swat impression at the line of scrimmage — and the stats were hardly indicative of the disruptive force he was in the trenches all night long.
There’s no doubt that Brady, who threw four touchdowns and zero interceptions in a game for the 14th time of his career, will end the season in the thick of MVP discussions, and at this rate, he’ll probably win it. But as fun as that offense is to watch, don’t discount the value that No. 75 brings as the anchor of a defense that suddenly looks like it won’t be pushed around any longer.
Now let’s get into all the leftover thoughts from the Patriots’ 42-14 thumping of the Texans.
–After the blowout, there should be no questioning the top team in the AFC right now. But just to make that point abundantly clear, the Texans went ahead and wore their goofy letterman jackets on their walk from the locker room to the bus.
In case you missed it, the Texans all got letterman jackets this week, like they were a high school team. They’re admittedly awesome jackets that look like they cost about $1,000 each (probably more, I don’t know because I don’t have nice things), and it was a pretty cool team-bonding type of addition to the locker room heading into what Andre Johnson called “the biggest game in the history of this franchise.”
But when you just got embarrassed on Monday Night Football and you wear your goofy varsity jacket for your postgame interviews and on your walk to the team bus, you’re just kind of proving the point that when it comes to teams that will compete for a Super Bowl, you’re just not one of them.
–The Texans made that much clear in the fourth quarter, though, when they punted on fourth-and-1 from their own 39, trailing 35-7. Fittingly, the punt went just 29 yards, and on the following Patriots drive, the defense collectively rolled over to let Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen combine for 57 yards on eight rushes. It’s always a sad sight to see an NFL team flat-out quit when there’s still time on the clock.
–Credit to Jerod Mayo for not only wearing a cool cartoon King Kong-inspired T-shirt after the game, but also for being honest about the Texans hype affecting the Patriots’ mind-set going into the game.
“Obviously, we came into this game with a chip on our shoulders, everyone talking about the Houston Texans. And I think our defensive line went out there and played well today,” a very pleased Mayo said at the podium. “We always talk about ignoring the noise, but you hear it. You hear it walking down the street. It was a little bit of a motivational factor for me, at least. I’m sure the rest of the guys felt the same way.”
–Of the many incredible athletic feats I’ve seen out of Wilfork over the years, his two plays in the first quarter will go down as some of his best.
With the Texans on the New England 23-yard line on first down, Wilfork shed his block, shuffled to his right and perfectly wrapped up Arian Foster with a textbook form tackle at the line. Wilfork weighs more than 325 pounds, and Foster is one of the game’s most elusive backs, but that didn’t matter on that play.
Then, on the final offensive play of the first quarter, Wilfork broke through the line and was essentially tackled on his path to Schaub. Wilfork still managed to put his arm on the football and knock it free from the quarterback’s grip, all while falling to the turf, setting up Houston with a not-so-manageable fourth-and-32 from their own 19.
In case it wasn’t already abundantly clear, Wilfork is simply a freak.
–I’m not going to be an alarmist, but Ridley’s fumble on the 4-yard line had the potential to be very, very bad. Aaron Hernandez recovered it and caught at touchdown on the next play, so all was quickly forgiven, but I was reminded of Edgerrin James fumbling on the goal line back in Week 1 of 2004, which pretty much cost the Colts a win. A running back has the freedom to do a lot of things, but losing games isn’t one of them.
–No criticism is really necessary for Danny Woodhead’s fumble. That was just an awesome play by Watt. Plus, any time you can just toss the ball in the end zone and have a teammate fall on it for a touchdown, why not, right?
–Tom Brady is good at a lot of things (spoiler alert, I know), but he really showed off his play-fake ability on Monday night. On a first-and-10 from the 50, Brady faked an inside handoff, drawing a blitzing linebacker to chase after Ridley, unwittingly passing up the easiest sack of his career. Brady then casually hit a wide-open Hernandez for a 13-yard gain.
The play-action worked so well that they went back to it on the next play, drawing 10 white jerseys to bite on the fake stretch play to the right, leaving Brandon Lloyd free to run wild to the left side of the field for a 37-yard score that looked much, much too easy for Tom.
As most things go with the Patriots, the emphasis on play-action was no accident.
“That was definitely a scheme play,” Lloyd said after the game. “We worked hard on that all week. When the opportunity presented itself, Coach [Josh] McDaniels called it at the right time, we were able to take advantage of it.”
— There are certain things we kind of take for granted here in New England. For me, as someone who expected a close game, it hit me late in the first quarter when ESPN showed Gary Kubiak shuffling through his note cards, followed immediately by a shot of Bill Belichick, standing stoically on the Patriots’ sideline. When you see that sequence, it doesn’t take long to feel silly about your pregame prediction.
–I’ve never once in my life said, “You know, right now I would like to listen to ‘Welcome To The Jungle’ by Guns N’ Roses. Yes! That is the song I would like to listen to right now!” Yet, I would estimate that I’ve heard the song 571 times. Probably 300 of those times have been at Gillette Stadium.
Patriots games also account for 100 percent of the Bon Jovi listening of my lifetime, so thanks for that, Patriots.
–With the Texans desperate and forced to attempt a fourth-and-5 while trailing 21-0 in the second quarter, you’d think the center Chris Myers might have taken a peek up to see No. 51 lined up right in front of him. Instead, Myers snapped the ball and slid to his left to double-team … Justin Francis. The good news for Myers? Justin Francis got nowhere! The bad news? Jerod Mayo ran free up the middle, decked Schaub and forced the quarterback to throw the ball to nobody. Oops.
–In the won’t-make-a-highlight-reel department, Alfonzo Dennard did a great job of wrapping up and tackling in the defensive backfield all night long. For that matter, the entire Patriots secondary did a great job in that, but it stood out for Dennard early in the third quarter when Andre Johnson (No. 8 in the NFL in yards after catch) caught a pass over the middle on third-and-9. Dennard flew to the ball and brought down Johnson a yard shy of the first down, forcing a Texans punt that led to the Patriots’ fourth touchdown drive of the night.
If the rookie had been run over by the 230-pound Johnson, nobody would have criticized him. And if the Texans kept that drive alive and made the score 21-7, nobody would have blamed Dennard for allowing it to happen. But instead, he stepped up and made a sound play. It didn’t make SportsCenter, but you can bet it’ll get its proper due in the film room.
–Steve Gregory also did this to Lestar Jean, which still has me reeling in pain just from watching:
–After the Ryan Mallett interception, I was really hoping for a quick Houston score so Belichick would re-insert Brady, just for the slight chance of hearing a repeat of my favorite Belichick press conference ever. That moment came in Miami in ’07, when Belichick put Brady back into the game after Matt Cassel threw a pick-six to cut the Patriots’ lead to (coincidentally) 42-14 with 10:30 left in the game.
“One more turnover and it’s a 14-point game in the middle of the fourth quarter,” Belichick angrily (and inaccurately) answered a reporter. Remember, this was during the height of the running-up-the-score controversy, so Belichick wasn’t having any of it when a reporter kept telling the coach that Brady went back into the game after being taken out. It all led to the most legendary of legendary Belichick comments:
“I was at the game.”
Sadly, there was no such re-emergence of Brady on Monday night, but Belichick did provide a great answer when asked if any player in the league as valuable as Brady.
“I don’t know,” the coach nonchalantly answered. “We don’t play everybody in the league.”
Bill is the best.
–Here’s a quote from Donte Stallworth:
“Some guys might have like, what, a career game? Tom, he had like what would be considered an entire career by some guys, in what was less than a game. For one half, it was unreal, man. He started hot and he stayed hot the whole time.”
The funny part of that quote? It’s from that October 2007 game in Miami. Some things never change.
–On that note, the Patriots have 97 more points than any other team and are on pace to score 581 points this year. In case you forgot, the Patriots set the record for scoring in ’07 with 589 points. And the Patriots have games against the Dolphins and Jaguars left on the schedule, so …
–If you’re a regular reader of the leftovers, first of all, thanks! Second, you know there’s usually a steady supply of screen shots from the game. NFL Game Rewind doesn’t let folks watch Monday night games until Tuesday night, so those screen shots are all being saved for Wednesday morning. Check back to the site Wednesday if you much prefer pictures to a long, aimless stream of words from an idiot.
Update: Check out the film review by clicking here.
–A lot of people were harping on Wes Welker for dropping a couple of passes. To those people, first I’d ask, what is wrong with you? Second, I’d say that Welker caught the infamous “Super Bowl drop”play for a 25-yard gain in the first quarter, so who cares about the rest?
–There is no negative spin to this game, there’s just not, so I feel for sports radio hosts who have to find something to criticize all week. Don’t take this next point the wrong way.
But essentially, if a few plays go a different way, this game looks a whole lot different. For one, the Patriots were bailed out on their opening drive when Brandon Harris decided to hug Welker for 10 yards down the field and give the Patriots a free first down after a play when Brady badly overthrew an open Lloyd.
Next, there was Devin McCourty’s pick, which was a great play by him but doesn’t erase the fact that nobody covered Arian Foster. A decent quarterback might have noticed his all-world running back wide open for an easy first down that would’ve set up a goal-to-go situation, but Schaub didn’t.
There was also the defensive pass interference call on Danieal Manning on a pass that sailed 10 yards over Wes Welker’s head and was the definition of “uncatchable,” a word that left officials’ lexicon years ago. Instead of punting, the Patriots were set up with a first-and-10 from the Houston 31. Three plays later, they were in the end zone with a 21-0 lead.
Then there are the two fumbles inside the 10. It’s nothing but dumb luck that Hernandez and Lloyd were able to jump on those balls, as the fumbles really could have wiped 14 points off the board for New England.
None of that is to try to make you feel like the Patriots shouldn’t have won the game. It’s just to warn that should these two teams meet again in January, a similar shellacking is highly unlikely.
–If there is a reason to feel great, though, it’s that even though the players were obviously excited to win this big game, they didn’t treat it as the Super Bowl and they didn’t feel it was the biggest game in franchise history.
It was perhaps summed up best by Devin McCourty.
“Coming into this game, we understood that this wasn’t the end of the season,” McCourty said. “This wasn’t going to decide anything. We still have a tough game coming in next Sunday night [vs. San Francisco], so we understand that. It was another game. It was a big game [against] an AFC team and we were able to come in and get a win tonight, but this season is far from over.”
Thanks to that performance on Monday night, it does look like the season ending any time earlier than late January or early February would be a real shocker. But hey, at least the Texans have those cool jackets.