FOXBORO (CBS) — You would think that by now, 13 years and more than 200 games into the Tom Brady era, we’d all know better than to count out the Patriots at any point. Even when they’re fumbling the ball away every chance they get, and when they’re falling behind by 24 points to the most powerful offense in the league, and when a steady 20 mph breeze makes passing the ball seem like an impossible feat, Brady and the Patriots are never out of any game.
Yet, if you scanned Twitter and Facebook, or if you stopped into a local watering hole at halftime, you’d find a lot of angry folks, upset with the fact that the Patriots essentially lost in the first quarter and that the much-hyped “game of the week” was a complete waste of time.
I’m not casting judgment on anyone for thinking that way — I wasn’t sitting there at halftime saying a comeback for the Patriots would be a piece of cake — but it is interesting that no matter how many times we’ve seen Brady pull a rabbit out of a hat, there are still nights when almost all hope is lost. It just serves as a reminder of how unbelievable that comeback truly was, and how special it is to witness Brady work his magic.
No. 12 won’t be around forever, but nights like Sunday are the ones that will be remembered long after he hangs up his spikes.
But there were a lot of folks not named Brady who factored into this one, so let’s dive right into the leftover thoughts from the Patriots’ 34-31 overtime win over the Denver Broncos.
—Tom Brady is going to be compared to Peyton Manning forever. It’s unavoidable. And though there will always be a faction of folks on the Manning side of things, the “Brady played his entire career outdoors in the Northeast, while Manning spent most of his career in a dome” argument got a major boost on Sunday night.
Manning’s lack of velocity was abundantly clear, as he couldn’t even hit his receivers during warmups. I watched him underthrow his receivers so badly in warmups, and I thought perhaps he was just getting a gauge on the wind, but that wasn’t the case. He could not throw going into the wind, and it was obvious. So obvious, in fact, that Bill Belichick — the man who once went for it on fourth-and-2 from his own 28-yard line because he feared giving the ball to Manning’s offense — elected to kick rather than receive in overtime, a decision that showed the wind was a much more powerful ally than Manning was a dangerous passer.
I thought it was a great move at the time, given how powerful that wind was, and it undeniably worked, as Manning went just 2-for-5 for 16 yards in overtime. And when you compare the career numbers of the two, the effect of playing outdoors simply cannot be ignored.
Nor can Brady’s 10-4 record.
–Another interesting decision by Belichick came in overtime, when Eric Decker was called for offensive pass interference on a third-and-4 play which came up a yard short of the first down marker for Denver. Belichick didn’t hesitate, accepting the penalty and forcing a third-and-14. It was an interesting call, because declining the penalty would have brought up a fourth-and-inches. But Bill didn’t want any part of that, and Jack Del Rio said after the game that he would have pretty much gone for anything on fourth down that was shorter than the 8 yards Denver ended up facing.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that Bill Belichick is a good professional football coach. OK?
—Julian Edelman had his most complete game as a New England Patriot, and considering it came in Wes Welker’s return to Foxboro, you could say it was pretty good timing. Edelman caught nine passes (third-most in any game of his career) for 110 yards (second-most in a game) and two touchdowns (tied for career high), and he also averaged 13 yards per punt return, including a 20-yard return in the fourth quarter which set up New England at midfield on a drive that would result in a field goal.
Jules also got a new photo to hang above his fireplace:
—Edelman deserved the headlines, but I still think the most important Patriots player not named “Brady” was Mr. Rob Gronkowski. The man was, as always, an absolute freak, catching seven passes for 90 yards and a touchdown, and at one point carrying the entire Broncos defense, the head trainer and a few buckets of Gatorade on his back as he fought all the way to the 1-inch line.
Gronkowski played a major factor, and he seemed to have made a key play in every scoring drive. He made a 33-yard reception on the Pats’ first scoring drive of the third quarter, he had a 13-yard reception to get the ball on the goal line in their second touchdown drive, and he was in perfect rhythm with Brady on their 6-yard touchdown connection to cut the Denver lead to 24-21.
And then this happened. I don’t know what that is, but I think I like it.
–Do you think Belichick saw the “Bon Jovi Interested In Buying Bills” headline on Sunday afternoon and wondered if he might be one of the Bills that The Jove was hoping to purchase?
—If I were in charge of the video boards at Gillette, I would have edited the Dumb & Dumber clip to play between the first and second quarters: “We’re fumbling the ball, the play clock doesn’t work, the game clock doesn’t work, it feels like it’s 6 degrees outside, our pets’ HEADS ARE FALLIN’ OFF!”
I also probably wouldn’t have the job for very long.
–I wasn’t able to make it downstairs for the start of Belichick’s postgame press conference, due to the long elevator lines, so I had to rely on the transcript provided later on. I particularly enjoyed the way it looked on paper when Bill was asked about electing to kick in overtime.
“The wind,” Belichick said. “It was a strong wind.”
So powerful. So poetic. So wise. So beautiful.
–During the game, Belichick looked like he was about to go sledding.
Bill Belichick sledding is something I want to witness. Is that weird? It’s not weird. Right? Is it weird? I don’t think it’s weird.
–So, Stevan Ridley fumbled. I said last week that I was finished trying to justify how the fumbles were possible, and the feeling this week is that multiplied by 10. It puts the Patriots in a tough spot, because when Ridley gets the ball, he’s electric. But it’s all a big waste if he gives the ball away.
The only solution I can think of is for Stevan to:
1. Get rid of the Mohawk. That’s a bad look post-fumble.
2. Call Kevin Faulk and ask if he has any Goodyear elbow pads lying around. They worked for Faulk back in the day, so maybe they still have some magic left in them.
–Hey, in all seriousness, if you’re one of the 60,000 or so nuts who decided to not only go to this game but stay well past midnight in the freezing cold, then you deserve a standing ovation. I’ve been in a lot of different colds before, but Sunday night was something else. It had that unrelenting wind that never let up and made you want to explode with rage. You were rewarded, obviously, with the best game you’ll ever witness, but I think those in attendance did a lot to fight the “wine and cheese crowd” perception at Gillette.
–These signs are awesome, plain and simple:
–Oh, but hey, this fan is just a big meanie! What the heck, sir?!
Welker played in nine postseason games for the Patriots, catching 69 passes for 686 yards and four TDs. That’s an average of nearly eight catches and 76 yards per game against the top teams in the league. I understand he had the big Super Bowl drop, and another drop vs. the Ravens last year, but in those two games, he caught 15 passes for 177 yards.
Ultimate playoff disappointment? So harsh, dude. So harsh.
–On the Welker note, I think the fans did a good job. The pregame video tribute was a nice touch by the Patriots, and it set the tone for the fans to kind of not boo a guy who took a beating for six years for the Patriots, all while being severely underpaid and never complaining about it. Welker is a football player’s football player, and he didn’t deserve to be booed.
When the fans were chanting “Wellllll-kerrrr, Welllll-kerrrr!” in overtime, that was to try to force him into a mistake on a punt return, so there’s no harm in that. Another good job by the crowd on Sunday night.
(That only warrants mention because Adam Vinatieri has been booed in that stadium. Adam Vinatieri! Have you no souls??!!)
–Robert Kraft is a standup fella, so he’d never do this … but if I were him, I would have given Wesley a big hug before the game and then whispered into his ear hole, “I never loved you. Never.” I then would have shown him my stone face and slowly backed away, never breaking eye contact, just to get into his head.
–Josh McDaniels’ call to throw to Edelman on a go route on third-and-4 in overtime was so much worse than that much-debated third-and-1 last week in Carolina. That was just … what?
–I’m sure Tom Brady doesn’t have many regrets, but agreeing to do that Sunday Night Football photoshoot a few years ago has to make his short list. You know the one I’m talking about — the one where he looks like Dexter …
… and the one where he did this …
… and this one …
He looked like a weirdo, and he probably assumed NBC would stop using the pictures at the end of the 2011 season. No dice. Weird Tom all day.
It’s probably safe to assume Brady doesn’t want to give them any more photos, considering that last shoot didn’t turn out too well for him.
–Shane Vereen is an outstanding weapon out of the backfield, but it might be time to take the wheel route up the left sideline out of the playbook. Brady’s lobbed a perfect ball right into Vereren’s hands in two straight weeks, and Vereen’s dropped them both.
–Credit to the Patriots and Gillette Stadium for doing some cool things to honor veterans. They did the surprise-the-wife-and-kid with Dad showing up thing, which is always nice, and they showed a live feed of military members watching the game in Afghanistan, which was pretty cool.
—Stephen Gostkowski’s game-winning kick might have been good from 75 yards. Dude drilled that thing.
–It was good to see my old friend, The Peyton Face, come back in a big way.
That’s a man that hates playing football in Foxboro, Massachusetts.
–The Monday night fiasco is over, but still, it was pretty telling that Rob Ninkovich got penalized for pass interference when he only had a half-Kuechly on Jacob Tamme. Quentin Jammer got away with a three-quarter-Kuechly on Kenbrell Thompkins in overtime, but there was no call. At this point, I’m not sure what it takes to get called for defensive pass interference if you’re playing against the Patriots, but I’d be worried to find out if I was one of the men who catches passes.
–It was a great win, and though the Patriots have three losses, they do have two wins against arguably the best two teams in the NFL (Denver, New Orleans). Does that make the Patriots the best team in the NFL? No, I don’t think so. But the good news for New England is that there may not be any best team in this league, which should keep championship dreams alive for the Patriots.
And if they do earn that trip to the Super Bowl, they showed on Sunday night that they may be best-equipped to win in the event of bad weather. Manning and the Broncos, meanwhile, need to worry about No. 18’s right arm as the temperature continues to drop.
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