BOSTON (CBS) – Overreactions are running rampant in New England. Following a lackluster win over the 2-13 Jaguars, folks want to jump to conclusions.
Media outlets are running headlines questioning the Patriots’ postseason viability, the radio talking heads will be busy all week picking through the team’s exposed flaws, and commenters on Facebook and stories? You don’t want to read what they’re saying. It’s ugly.
Despite the desire to turn a bad few hours into something much larger, I urge you to take a step back and relax.
Yes, it was an ugly afternoon in Jacksonville, and no, the Patriots didn’t look like world champs, but however this season ends, be it with a confetti shower in New Orleans or a first-round playoff exit, Sunday’s win over the Jaguars will have nothing to do with it.
The 2003 Patriots went 14-2 en route to winning the Super Bowl. Their losses came against the 6-10 Bills and 5-11 Redskins. They also needed overtime to beat the 5-11 Texans and only beat the 6-10 Jets by five points in Week 16 (sound familiar?).
The 2004 Patriots also went 14-2 and also won the Super Bowl. They lost to the 4-12 Dolphins in Week 15. The 2001 Super Bowl champion Patriots also got their season started with a 23-17 loss to the Bengals, who finished that year with a 6-10 record.
There have been plenty examples of the opposite, too. The Patriots had their fair share of late-season victories from ’05-’11 that had many folks calling for Lombardi Trophies throughout the land, but they still lost to Denver, Indy, New York Giants, Baltimore, New York Jets and New York Giants again.
The sad truth is that as easy as it would be to take this ugly win and turn it into a doomsday prophecy, the game just won’t mean much once the calendar page turns to January. (Special shoutout, though, to any professional writer or analyst who said, “If the Patriots play like this in the playoffs, they will lose.” Thank you so much! Where would we be without that insight? Actually, don’t answer that, because I don’t want to know. Why don’t you go ahead and take the rest of the season off? You’ve earned it.)
That doesn’t mean there’s not plenty talk about, just keep in mind the season did not end in Jacksonville.
Let’s dig into the leftover thoughts.
–Don’t get me wrong though with my calm, collected approach above. That first quarter was as frustrating as any to watch. It got to the point where I started to sort of hate the little girl singing “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” to her grandpop on her iPad. I just wanted to scream, “Oh, goooood for you.”
–Patrick Chung intercepted two passes, including the one that ended the game, so when someone looks at the box score, he or she will figure Chung must have had a pretty good game. He or she would be very wrong. One thing I’ve noticed about Chung over the past two years has been the way he plays the ball when it’s in the air. You’ll often see him standing in place, waiting for the ball to come to him, seemingly unaware that the pass may have actually been thrown at a receiver who will probably jump in front of him and make a catch.
That happened to Chung on the 36-yard pass to Jordan Shipley in the first quarter. This also happened, when he watched patiently as Justin Blackmon hopped on one leg for a few seconds.
There was also the needless personal foul Chung committed on the Jaguars’ final drive, and you put it all together and you can see why those two interceptions won’t do much to guarantee much (if any) playing time going forward.
–One thing I came away impressed with was the Patriots’ clock management before the half. As the clock ticked and ticked, many other teams would have panicked and called a timeout. Instead the Patriots played it in a way they couldn’t have scripted any better, with Danny Woodhead waltzing into the end zone with just 18 seconds left before halftime.
–There was also a point early in the second quarter, when the Jags led 13-3, that Woodhead had a nice 24-yard catch-and-run. He then looked to the sideline and screamed, “Let’s go!” When the smallest member of your team is playing like your biggest, you should maybe step up your game.
–When I rule the world as sports czar, you will be penalized 15 yards and ejected from the game if you ever celebrate the fact that you covered 33-year-old Deion Branch. Yes, I’m looking at you, Derek Cox.
– Does Chad Henne use a voice enhancer of some kind? He sounded like Bane as he yelled out all of his calls at the line of scrimmage, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think it was awesome.
Seriously, this is what his voice sounded like:
–Solomon Wilcots freaked out after Jeremy Mincey was penalized for roughing the passer, claiming that Brady “ducked” into the hit, which led to the helmet-to-helmet contact. “You can’t blame the defender!” Wilcots yelled. Well, yeah, but you can’t blame the quarterback either, which Wilcots seemed to be doing.
Brady definitely ducked, but his head dropped maybe an inch at most.
Here’s Brady standing straight up:
And here’s Brady bracing for impact:
And here’s Mincey celebrating like a superhero after illegally hitting the quarterback’s head and getting penalized 15 yards:
–Many reasons why the Jags are 2-13 were on display Sunday, but perhaps the most telling came on the final drive, after Toney Clemons hauled in a 17-yard pass. The Jaguars rushed to the line to spike the ball, but they couldn’t before the referee blew the whistle for a replay review.
It was clear the completion would be confirmed via replay, but instead of setting up their next play, the Jaguars sat around and apparently discussed politics or pop culture. I don’t know what they discussed, but they didn’t discuss what play they’d be running after the review, and they instead went to the line after the 3-minute delay and spiked the ball.
It may have only cost the Jaguars a second or two on the clock, but it made them look inept.
–It’s also not a good look for the head coach of a 2-13 team to blame the opponent because you’re bum tight end jumped early when you had the ball a few inches away from the goal line. That is buffoonery at its finest, Mr. Mularkey.
–I said to open this story that the outcome of the season won’t be affected by Sunday’s performance, but I do think there’s at least one major takeaway: The defense simply stinks without Aqib Talib.
The cornerback was visibly limited with a hip injury, and it was clear the Patriots hoped the defensive backfield of Kyle Arrington and Devin McCourty at corner and Patrick Chung and Steve Gregory at safety could handle the bulk of the load. The struggles of the pass defense, though, forced Talib into action, and even with one good hip, he was the best corner on the field for New England.
It was no coincidence that the entire defense turned around after the Pats acquired Talib, and there’s no question he’ll be a vital piece of this team come playoff time, provided that hip can heal.
–Wes Welker is very good at returning punts, and there’s no doubt he’s the best man for the job, but you saw Sunday the toll it can take on a guy who’s so important to the offense. When he emerged from under a pile of black jerseys after getting walloped on his first return, you had to wonder if the 10 yards he just picked up were worth it.
–The hits may have slowed down Welker just a step, but that didn’t stop him from being the offensive MVP of the Patriots. He caught 10 passes for the 18th time in his career, which is more than any other player in history, and he increased his season totals to 110 receptions and 1,260 yards. This is normally the part of the story where I mock you if you believed the Patriots were phasing him out after Week 1′s output, but I’m telling you, I’m totally above that now.
–Because it interested me, I made it a point to find Vince Wilfork’s personal foul penalty on replay. The big D-lineman spoke almost pridefully about getting penalized, because he did it to stick up for a teammate after what he perceived to be a cheap shot.
That cheap shot was delivered by Steve Vallos on Trevor Scott after Chung was down following his interception return. It happened right in front of Wilfork, and, well, you don’t want to see him when he’s angry.
Vallos had no idea what hit him.
–Calvin Johnson was awesome on Saturday night, and Dez Bryant and Jamaal Charles put on shows on Sunday afternoon, and as a football fan I always enjoy watching performances like those. But it pained me inside knowing fantasy doofuses the world over were celebrating those performances as though they had something to do with it, and it likely led to those fantasy doofuses talking trash, and it made me very sad as a human being.
–On the topic of fantasy, feel free to tell people at your Christmas gathering that you won your league, but spare them the play-by-play details of just how you won your league. Trust me, nobody cares. Nobody.
–Say what you will about this Patriots defense, and I’m sure you’ll say plenty, but the fact is they still lead the league by a large margin with a plus-23 turnover ratio. You’ve seen it directly lead to the sealing of victories against Denver (Rob Ninkovich forcing a Willis McGahee fumble), Buffalo (Devin McCourty interception in the end zone), the Jets (Ninkovich strip sack and fumble recovery in OT) and Jacksonville (Chung’s end zone INT). It also nearly saved them against Arizona (Brandon Spikes forcing a fumble by Ryan Williams), and the Patriots still are the only team with three players in the top 20 in forced fumbles.
Depending on turnovers is no doubt a risky way to live, but the Patriots are unquestionably excellent at doing it.
–And … wait … yup. Another official has just thrown a flag on Patrick Chung.
Screen shots courtesy of NFL.com/GameRewind.