By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — This is what Bill Belichick envisioned when he went out and acquired Martellus Bennett.
Specifically, he wasn’t exactly picturing a three-touchdown day from the human refrigerator known as Martellus, but he hired employee No. 88 in order to reinstall a two-tight end system that defenses have to take seriously, the likes of which hasn’t been seen in New England since He Who Must Not Be Named was sentenced to life in prison.
While the first three-touchdown day of Bennett’s career (and two of his four career 100-plus receiving yard performances thus far) is certainly something the Patriots will happily take, what they need him to be more than anything else is simple: effective. Be effective, be humongous, and be someone whom defenses can’t ignore. If they do, Bennett’s proven in five games that he can make those defenses pay. If the defenses do account for Bennett, then that takes attention away from Rob Gronkowski, who suddenly sprung to life on Sunday himself. And then, if defenses become overly concerned with Gronkowski and Bennett, it opens up 1-on-1 matchups (and occasionally 1-on-0 matchups) for people like Chris Hogan or James White or Danny Amendola.
The end result is a dynamic passing offense that spreads the wealth and becomes less predictable. It also should be able to stay above water if a key player suffers an injury and misses time. Last year, when Julian Edelman suffered an injury in Week 10 that kept him out for the rest of the regular season, the Patriots went from scoring 33.7 points per game in Weeks 1-10 to scoring 23.1 points from Weeks 11-17. Their record also went from 9-0 to 3-4 in those same periods. That was no coincidence. The offense simply was not diverse enough to withstand that absence.
It’s too soon in this season to state unequivocally that this year’s Patriots could better deal without a player like Edelman for seven weeks. But after just 60 minutes of running at full steam, the early outlook is a good one.
That’s one major takeaway from the Patriots’ 33-13 thumping of the Cleveland Browns in Tom Brady’s return to the football field. Here are the rest of the leftover thoughts.
–Lots and lots of Patriots fans were happy to see Tom Brady return. They were ecstatic. Overjoyed. To the moon. Elated. All of that.
But nobody — no one — was happier than one Mr. Julian Edelman. He sat right next to Tom on the bench pregame:
He caught Brady’s first pass. He picked up first downs on three of his five catches. And he didn’t have to play quarterback anymore.
The best buds are back.
–Among the many scorching hot takes over the summer, one of the fieriest was lit because Tom Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo weren’t playing pattycake and chuckling on the sideline. Bad news for the Hot Take Architects came on Sunday:
–The other scorcher this summer involved Tom Brady — who is a football player — desiring to (brace yourselves) … play football! The football player wanted to play football and thus he must have been acting selfishly. It was a strong to quite strong take. In any event, when Brady stood in the pocket and fired off a pass to Rob Gronkowski on the Patriots’ second offensive snap, he withstood a pretty heavy hit from the 275-pound Carl Nassib. It’s plays like that where it’s helpful to have had some live snaps and to have taken some hits within the past couple of months, as opposed to being contact-free since January. It helps. It’s beneficial to have had that experience in August.
It’s as simple as that. It wasn’t bad for the team that Tom Brady, the football player, wanted to play football. Saying so was simply a bad opinion.
–Aside from the obvious physical reasons, you could clearly see why and how Tom Brady is irreplaceable. In simplest terms, the guy just knows how to control a game in ways that only a 16-year veteran/Hall of Fame QB can.
One example: in the final minute of the first quarter, facing a third-and-1, it looked like the Patriots lined up for a QB sneak. But there’s a reason that Brady is nearly 100 percent successful on QB sneaks in his career, and that’s his knowledge of when to decide when it’s not the right call. That was the case here, as he calmly stepped back from the line, gave a signal to Edelman and Chris Hogan as well as the offensive line, pointed out the Mike, got back under center, barked one more call out to the receivers, and took the snap. He immediately looked left and fired to Hogan.
Tom Brady basically stole that first down. It was one of the easiest of his career. And that drive ended in a touchdown.
Earlier in the game, after a huddle broke, he called everyone back to make sure everyone got the correct call instead of having to burn a timeout. Later on Bennett’s first touchdown, he kept his eyes locked over the middle of the field until the very last moment when he was about to get hit. He knew exactly where Bennett was and how open he was, and he knew he had about .5 seconds before he was going to get walloped from behind.
He went from here …
… to here …
… to here …
And he did it all in the time it took linebacker Joe Schobert to take two steps at full speed.
He also looked like Socrates while holding court on the sideline with his offensive linemen, likely working to make up for some lost time:
OK, so Tom Brady is valuable. Great point. I get it. But the thing is this: As fun as it may have been to watch Jim Garoppolo go all Joe Montana all over the Dolphins, there’s a lot more to moving on to the next guy than just having a guy who can sling a few touchdowns. Whoever the next QB may be, and whether that’s two years from now or five years from now, there’s going to be a significant drop-off no matter what.
–Rob Gronkowski accomplished more on one drive with Tom Brady than he did in two full games with Jacoby Brissett. But more importantly, he found his way back into this space for leaving a trail of human beings in his wake.
The body count was high. Guy looked like Rambo. And it was all on a pass that was thrown four yards by Brady and was turned into a 34-yard gain by Groknowski.
–Oh, and lest anyone start the “Gronkowski will get jealous that Bennett is scoring the touchdowns” story, you can note that Gronkowski looked pretty pumped when he realized Bennett was going to score touchdown No. 3:
–We’ve got presidential debates and social unrest and all of that going on right now, but I’m going to need Barack Obama to step in to address one of the great issues of our time. We’ve got to do something about guys like Terrelle Pryor and Steve Smith putting “Sr.” on the backs of their jerseys. Congrats, guys, for reproducing. But a lot of people reproduce, and if we’re being honest, you didn’t do a whole lot to bring about this child. If your kid grows up and makes the NFL and you’re hanging on to a roster spot at age 46, then we’ll let you sew that S and R on your back.
–This may be a first, but I’m going to rant and rave and hoot and holler about a kickoff. A dang kickoff! Yup. Are you ready for it? Here it comes: WHAT A KICK by Stephen Gostkowski after the Patriots’ second touchdown. It came down here:
And the returner was smothered at the 12-yard line:
That’s some good football, and it’s indicative of why Belichick spends to much money and attention on special teams.
–That being said, Stevie G. needs to start hitting some of these field goals. Obviously, 50-yarders aren’t pieces of cake. But three misses in five games is three misses in five games.
–For a team that was trailing by a lot of points for basically the entire afternoon, the Cleveland Browns were a very animated team. I mean, very animated. I understand there’s going to be some excitement that comes with making a goal-line stand on fourth down, but preening for the cameras when you’re trailing by 16 points at home and you’ve already surrendered 23 points in less than one half of a football game is an odd way to live life.
Though, on second thought, when you’re on the 0-5 Cleveland Browns, you’ve got to celebrate any chance you can get.
–Joe Haden, who got torched on a deep ball to Chris Hogan, also celebrated in a pronounced manner after hitting Hogan later in the game and flipping the receiver head over heels. Hogan writhed on the ground before lying still as trainers tended to him. He appeared to be injured and in major pain. Haden was all jazzed up, slapping fives on his way to the sideline.
–Speaking of Hogan, I don’t know how he stayed in the game after smashing his face on the ground at full speed.
–I do think DeMario Davis let his emotions get the best of him in one particular instance. It came early, when he got in Edelman’s face and started asking Edelman about his 401k, his favorite clothing maker, or whatever it is these fellas talk about down there on the field. In any event, this came after a pass on which Edelman moved the chains. Edelman seemed pretty miffed by the encounter, and ended up yapping at Davis all the way back to the New England huddle.
Two plays later, Edelman again made a catch to pick up a first down. He popped up and shoved an aggressive first down signal right in Davis’ face.
Two plays after that, Edelman was blocking on a James White screen, and Davis sized up his prey:
But, well, Davis was perhaps a bit too amped up at the idea of getting a free shot on Edelman, because he ended up shoving his own teammate, Briean Boddy-Calhoun, which ended up taking Christian Kerksey out of the play.
Whoops. White ended up gaining 30 yards after that.
–You also can’t tell me that Brady’s first-ever Cam Newton-esque celebration had nothing to do with the Browns’ disproportionate level of cockiness.
–Cody Kessler’s safety probably won’t go down in infamy with Dan Orlovsky’s running out of the back of the end zone. But it probably should. That looked like a young man who was simply petrified of the NFL player coming to hit him. Not the greatest look for a rookie who’s trying to inspire confidence in his teammates.
–Considering they held Isaiah Crowell to just 1.7 yards per carry after he entered the game averaging 6.5, there’s no need to harp on too many defensive miscues on Sunday. But I do have to say, Malcolm Butler committing pass interference when Charlie Freaking Whitehurst is throwing the football is simply inexcusable. Frankly, the cornerbacks could just kind of lightly jog near the receivers and it would probably get the coverage job done when Whitehurst is throwing the ball. I mean, look, this is Whitehurst trying to throw a football for a few yards over the middle of the field on two separate occasions:
It’s a shame, really, that the guy in Cleveland retired that jersey with all of the failed Browns quarterbacks names on it. It’s still a fiasco. Funny how a basketball championship doesn’t help a football team, as some delusional people believed a few months ago.
–Cyrus Jones got ejected for punching someone. Or at least, that’s what the officiating crew told us. The thing is, there’s no video evidence of this, so we have to take the officials at their word. But here’s the problem: Last week, in a game involving the Cleveland Browns, the officiating crew somehow couldn’t manage to see the football or the man holding the football. Line judge Sarah Thomas awarded the football to the Redskins, even though Duke Johnson obviously recovered the football and obviously was holding the football while Thomas awarded possession of the imaginary football at the bottom of the pile to the Redskins.
It was a clear and obvious gaffe, but compounding matters was NFL head of officiating Dean Blandino going out and saying that no video existed showing clear possession from Johnson. This was yet another case of the NFL A) treating you like you’re an absolute idiot with no brain, and B) lying to your face.
So, on this day, Cyrus Jones got ejected for allegedly throwing a punch. I do believe the officiating crew in this instance, but can you imagine if a key player — say, Nate Solder, or Jamie Collins, or Malcolm Butler — got ejected for something, and we all had nothing to go on except for the word of the officiating crew. We’re supposed to just believe them at face value, even though their boss lies to us on a regular basis?
God, no. I don’t trust officials, nor should I. Officiating in the NFL is a problem. Officially.
–I’m also a little fuzzy on the logic of some of the rules. Last week, I saw Bills safety Aaron Williams hit a Patriots coach in the head. Twice. The coach was only wearing a hat. But in this game, Jones apparently punched a man who was wearing a hard plastic helmet and a metal facemask. Williams was allowed to play. Jones had to leave. Maybe it’s just me, but I sense a logic gap here.
–Brady was spectacular, obviously, becoming the best 39-year-old quarterback in history in just one day’s worth of work. (Or at least, that was my takeaway.) And while he made a number of impressive passes, the one that stuck out to me most came in the fourth quarter. It was a second-and-10 from the Patriots’ 35-yard line, and Brady couldn’t step into his throw because LeGarrette Blount had been pushed backward into Brady’s footspace. Sensing the pressure, Brady put all of his weight on his back foot, reached up high and threw with all arm to Gronkowski, who was streaking up the numbers on the right side of the field.
He couldn’t step into it and he had to get rid of it extremely quickly.
The ball was perfect.
It went for a gain of 37 yards, and the drive led to a field goal. It was the good stuff.
–Expect some more of that good stuff next week, when the Cincinnati Bengals find themselves in an unenviable position for the second time in three seasons: They have to face a miffed Tom Brady at Gillette Stadium. In 2014, they had to feel the wrath of Brady when the whole world was wondering if he was washed up. In 2016, they’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time, as Brady will play his first game at home following the DeflateGate suspension.
On Sunday, the Bengals allowed rookie quarterback Dak Prescott to complete 75 percent of his passes for a tidy 227 yards, one touchdown and no picks. The Bengals also allowed rookie running back Ezekiel Elliot to run wild, as he tallied 134 rushing yards and a pair of rushing touchdowns.
In sum, the Bengals defense looked to be ill-prepared for what’s coming next week in Foxboro. It ought to be an interesting one.