By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — OK, look. Is it a good thing to be in a position where the only quarterback on your roster has about five minutes of NFL experience to his name? No. It’s not ideal. Not how you draw it up.
But to properly assess the present as it relates to the New England Patriots, it’s best to look at the recent past. Just two weeks ago, the predictions were in. The prognostications had been made. And entering a very uncertain four-week stretch without Tom Brady, it feels fair to say that some pessimistic people foresaw a 1-3 record, some optimistic folks predicted a 4-0 run, but the largest group of sports psychics felt like 2-2 was a fair expectation, given the circumstances. And at the very least, a 2-2 Patriots team getting Tom Brady in Week 5 would be just fine and dandy. That would be enough to keep the Patriots on track to win the division and host at least one home game this winter.
Well, they’re now 2-0. Even if Bob Kraft himself has to suit up and take some snaps in the next two weeks, the Patriots have already reached the baseline of treading water without Brady. (We know that Bob is more of a defensive back type, though.)
If that feels like a weak consolation, that’s because it is. Losing Garoppolo after the young man looked very much like a legitimate NFL quarterback is a downer, and there’s no real silver lining that can make that particular situation feel better at the moment.
But overall, the Patriots will be fine. They need to survive two weeks at home. They’ll get the Texans, who will present a challenge, and then they’ll get the Bills, who are a mess. The Patriots’ defense will be better. The Patriots’ defense has to be better. Jacoby Brissett has to be serviceable. LeGarrette Blount has to continue to shoulder a heavy workload. The receiving corps needs to alleviate the stresses on the rookie QB. Rob Gronkowski needs to return to the field.
Picking up wins over the next two weeks won’t be entirely easy. But it won’t be impossible. And then like magic, a laser-focused and pissed off Tom Brady emerges from the shadows in Week 5 to decimate the poor Cleveland Browns. Maybe the Patriots will be 3-1 at that point. Maybe they’ll be 2-2. They could be 4-0. Whatever they are, they’re already guaranteed to be in fine position.
This wasn’t in the plans. It’s not ideal. But the Patriots — as they’ve kind of had a knack for doing over the past 15 years under Bill Belichick — will find a way to survive.
That’s the initial thought after the Patriots’ much-too-tight 31-24 victory over the Dolphins. But luckily for you, there are thousands more!
–When the Patriots led 24-0 and were outgaining Miami 6-to-1, I didn’t think we’d be getting into one individual moment and calling it the “play of the game.” Yet, given how things turned out, we must take a closer look at the strip by Jonathan Freeny on the opening drive of the second half. The game still seemed like a rout at the time, with the Fins trailing 24-3, so the strip at the New England 34-yard line looked at the time like it would be of little consequence to the final score.
Alas, the Dolphins ended up scoring on their next three possessions, thus making that turnover the crucial play of the game.
It was really a nothing play. On first-and-10 from the 35-yard line, the Dolphins weren’t trying to break the bank. Ryan Tannehill handed off to Jay Ajayi out of the pistol. Ajayi had a small seam and tried to cut it up the field. Malcom Brown held his own against Laremy Tunsil and thus forced Ajayi to cut and redirect himself a little bit to the left, and Freeny came flying in after easily shedding the block of Anthony Steen. With Brown wrapping up Ajayi’s legs, Freeny was free to go for the strip. He succeeded. It turned out to be quite huge.
Four plays later, the Patriots were in the end zone, scoring for the final time of the day and scoring what proved to be the game-winning touchdown.
–Here’s something: If Jimmy Montana hadn’t lit up the Dolphins, the Patriots would have lost that game. Think about that. Nobody thought No. 10 would be winning games outright for the Patriots. All he was going to be asked to do, we figured, was to not lose the game. But he was letting it rip, and he was making it look easy, despite a frightening crew of large humans looking to take his head off.
There were many impressive plays, but a few that stuck out to me:
He showed off both his poise and arm strength on a 19-yard completion to Hogan on the second drive of the game. He bought some time and then threw off his back foot, like a shortstop in the hole, and delivered a bullet.
That arm strength was on display again on the second Danny Amendola touchdown. The Dolphins brought pressure on a third-and-4, forcing Garoppolo to retreat and preventing him from being able to step into his throw. He let loose another back-foot throw.
It was once again on the money, after Garoppolo recognize the Dolphins left the entire middle of the field open.
He showed solid pocket awareness, stepping up and avoiding trouble several times, all while keeping his eyes downfield. And he never panicked, looking off his first read when needed and going through his progressions. That was on display on the touchdown to Martellus Bennett, when it looked like Garoppolo wanted to go to Julian Edelman but had to look elsewhere when Edelman was covered. He quickly found Bennett and delivered the touchdown pass.
Regardless of whether Garoppolo was only looking left to keep the safety from keying on Bennett, or if he was working through his reads, the end result was a very nice touchdown. Thanks to that extra space, he gave himself more room for error on the throw. But he didn’t need it.
Yes, it was Jimmy Garopp-HELLLOOoo!! indeed.
–It’s too bad that the CBS broadcast reported that the Dolphins’ communication issues stemmed from a dead battery. This region could always use a little bit of cheating controversy to stoke the fire. Granted, if the team were going to yank some wires around, I don’t think it would happen when they were leading by 21 over a Dolphins team that looked dead in the water.
All in all, a missed opportunity. I love me some good headset chatter.
–There are a number of things about the game of football that we all just kind of accept. But why? I have to tell you, I’ve got a problem with illegal hands to the face by a defensive player resulting in an automatic first down for the offense. I recognize that if you’re a wide receiver, it’s very difficult to run your route if the corner jams you in the facemask. It’s hard to run when your neck is getting snapped back. It should be a penalty. But at the same time, first downs should be earned. Nobody gets hurt when a hand meets a facemask. Can we just go with a five-yard penalty and play the down as it is? Why the automatic first down there?
It happened in this game on a third-and-5, when Cameron Wake sacked Garoppolo but the Patriots ended up getting a free first down because Xavien Howard let his hand slip up on a receiver’s facemask for a half-second. It ended up being inconsequential — Amendola fumbled three plays later — but it just rubbed me the wrong way. I’m tired of those free first downs when the offense hasn’t done anything to earn it and the defense hasn’t done anything egregiously dangerous.
–Forget the play of Garoppolo or Jacoby Brissett, forget the coaching, forget everything about the game. The single biggest development of the game came in the middle of the second quarter. After the Patriots forced a turnover, the Gillette Stadium speakers blared with Adele’s “Hello.” It makes no sense contextually. It’s random as all heck. But you can’t help but laugh as you imagine how frustrated opposing players are already just by fumbling, but now they have to hear, “Hello from the other siiiiiiide!” as they walk to the sideline with their heads down.
Outstanding. Really. That’s the outside-the-box thinking that professional sports venues are lacking these days. We need less “Welcome To The Jungle,” and we need more British pop vocalists belting out the hits.
–I won’t pretend to know if Brissett is up for the challenge of starting and winning an NFL game. But I’ll just say that I was impressed with him all summer. He did not look like a rookie throughout the preseason. Physically, he looks to be an NFL quarterback. He’s big, he’s strong, he stands tall, and he throws the ball 300 mph.
Of course, 500 people just like him have come through the league and have proven to be unspectacular at the quarterback position. We’ll have to wait and see how he handles the pressure of Thursday night, but he’s at least offered some reason to believe he’s capable. He seems mature both mentally and physically, and it’s up to the coaching staff to modify the game plan to his current abilities at the NFL level.
He likely won’t go all Garoppolo on the Texans, but he should be all right. And all right just might do.
–I got a distinct Tim Donaghy vibe from the officiating crew. When the Patriots were up big, the Dolphins got away with a number of actions that are almost always flagged for personal fouls. When Jamie Collins picked off Ryan Tannehill, he was tackled five yards deep on the sideline, yet there was no call for a late hit.
A minute later, Jarvis Landry punched Justin Coleman upside the head after Coleman had the audacity to tackle Landry during a football game. No flag. That happened at least twice in the second half, too.
Look, as a spectator who loves to be entertained, I actually support a league where the officials maybe look the other way so that games don’t get too lopsided and, thus, boring. But if that were my neck on the line, or if perhaps I was a person with some fiscal concern regarding the game, or if I were one of those teams simply trying to get a victory, I’d be a little miffed by this.
Elsewhere in the NFL, Marcus Peters got penalized 15 yards and got himself one step away from an ejection for … wagging his finger.
Tackle someone five yards out of bounds or punch them in the head? Play on! Wag your finger? Not in my league, son!
To say the NFL has consistency issues with its officiating is like saying Prince wrote a few songs.
–Speaking of that Collins interception, I think we all need to give a round of applause to Tannehill for that read.
It looked like Tannehill was playing Madden and hit the L1 button instead of X. We’ve all been there.
–Things got so bad for the Dolphins that at one point, somehow through the miracle of Twitter, they were getting absolutely roasted in France.
Yoooooo, Miami. You just got roasted. By French people. In France. What a disgracieux.
–That being said, labeling the Patriots’ defensive performance as anything but a cluster would be wrong. That was bad. Obviously, when you’re up big, the other team is going to get their yards. You’re going to give them the short stuff, let them drain some clock, and then you’re going to stiffen once they get inside your own 30. You’re going to stop them there, hold them to field goals, and you’re going to walk away with a relatively easy victory.
But that didn’t happen. At the point of the aforementioned forced fumble by Freeny, the Dolphins had gained 181 yards. They had as many turnovers (3) as points, and they also had punted five times. They were getting nowhere, and the Patriots’ defense looked like the unit that’s capable of being top five in the league.
But then … the Dolphins drove for 75 yards and a touchdown. Then they drove for 88 yards and a touchdown. Then they drove for another 73 yards and another touchdown.
Ultimately the Patriots’ defense came up with the interception in the end zone to seal the win in the final seconds, and the four turnover total looks good. But that second-half performance is just not going to cut it. Again, if it weren’t for Jimmy Marino going HAM in the first half, the story this Monday might be very different in New England.
–For perspective on the defensive issues, there’s this: Ryan Tannehill threw for 389 yards. Not a typo. Three-eight-nine. He also completed 71.1 percent of his 45 passes. He’s got a career 62 percent completion rate, and he averages 243 yards per game.
If you’re Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, Justin Coleman, Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung and Duron Harmon, you’ve got to take that one personally.
–For the second time in as many weeks, Martellus Bennett has made an opposing player look like a school child.
Oof. As if always wearing long sleeves wasn’t a bad enough look for Byron Maxwell. It’s hard to come back from that one.
Bennett also left Kiko Alonso looking like this on one play:
–Not Byron Maxwell’s favorite day on the gridiron, probably.
Blount ran for 129 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries. Good football player.
–Listen. I’m no macho tough guy here. I’m just your average Joe. Or Mike, technically, I guess. You get the point. But look, Mr. Umpire. I won’t use your real name to protect you, but what in the world happened to you in the third quarter? You went down as if a blow dart sniper in the stands missed his intended target and instead clipped your Achilles. You went down hard my dude. And so I felt bad. “Ouch,” I figured. “Ruptured tendon? Torn knee? This poor man.” No. Not at all. After several trainers and doctors sprinted to your rescue, after you delayed this football game for several minutes, you simply popped back up, and you trotted around that football field like nothing ever happened.
I’m going to need you to be better than that, Mr. Umpire. You’re simply going to have to be better than that.
–With less than five minutes left in the game, Greg Gumbel said, “Mario Williams, and we haven’t even whispered his name today.” It tickled me. I just remember when Williams signed with the Bills back in 2012, he posted a silly little thing on Twitter about how he was going to beat the Patriots and whatnot. Since posting that, he’s 1-8 in games played against the Patriots, and that only win came in Week 17 of 2014 when the Patriots rested all of their important players.
It’s funny. Ha ha. But then you remember what Williams’ bank account looks like. And those L’s probably don’t sting quite as much as you might think.
Ah. But it was fun for a moment, wasn’t it?
–My favorite play of the game came when the Dolphins rushed to the line on a third-and-1 to try to catch the Patriots off guard with a QB sneak. Adam Gase tried to outfox Bill Belichick. I’ll give you two guesses as to who won that battle of coaching wits.
You have to give Gase this: He’d definitely win the award for Most Anonymous Looking NFL Head Coach, if such a thing existed.
–Umm, excuse me Mr. Blount, but this sure looks like a choreographed demonstration.
No flag? I guess it’s fair game when you celebrate with people dressed up like Revolutionary soldiers circa 1777. But if you dance with a man dressed in football pads, we’re hitting you with that flag, child.
I love football!
–Stephen Gostkowski’s field-goal miss was bad — it was bad I tell you, bad! But, I think it may have been slightly blocked. I think.
Big 6-foot-6 Jordan Phillips extended a giant mitt right in the trajectory of Gostkowski’s kick at the line, and though I’ve yet to see any close-up or angle, I think it’s possible that he nicked the football just enough to affect it’s path/rotation/whatever it is that makes that oblong thing fly through the air as the kicker intended.
If the kick was indeed tipped, it explains the miss. If it was not tipped, that was a bad one, Stevie G.
–I feel like if you play professional sports, you’d really like to have an iconic photo taken of you. You know, one that you can print out and hang in the office to represent your time with a certain team.
So congratulations are in order for Deathwish Danny™, who decided to score a touchdown without his helmet on Sunday afternoon.
Cheers to you, Dan. You wild animal.
(I am moderately surprised that Deathwish Dan™ didn’t go for the headbutt of Edelman. A helmet-less headbutt just seems to be in DWD’s nature.)
–You’ve got to respect David Ortiz showing up to Gillette in a Tom Brady jersey. On the day of a Red Sox game.
It was more than likely a scheduled off day for Ortiz anyway, but it was odd nonetheless for him to serve as an honorary captain while he’s still playing baseball. I’d have to double-check this but I do believe the football season extends beyond baseball’s.
–Short week. One healthy quarterback, and a rookie no less. This is what Bill Belichick lives for. Thursday night is going to be fascinating. I’ll probably watch.