By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — People always wonder, “How in tarnation are those rapscallion Patriots always so doggone good? Some illegal tomfoolery and chicanery must be afoot, for there is no reasonable explanation for this balderdash.”
It’s true. People really wonder this.
And while there’s no single neatly packaged, easily digestible reason for the Patriots’ unprecedented run of success over the past 17 years, Sunday afternoon’s massacre in Mexico City provided a fairly comprehensive picture of how they do it.
For one, you look at the preparation. They focused on beating Denver, got the job done, spent the week in Colorado Springs to adjust to life in high altitude, and were clearly the better-conditioned team on Sunday. (The Raiders engaged in no altitude training and instead showed up in Mexico on Saturday.)
Then there was the execution of a game plan. Tom Brady started the game by going 12-for-12, easily finding the open man while facing no pass rush. The Patriots knew what they’d be able to do, and they did it.
Those two elements alone had the Raiders essentially tapping out of Sunday’s game before halftime. It was the type of smothering performance we’ve grown accustomed to seeing from the Patriots over the years, and it manifested itself on Sunday with the Raiders looking like they were more eager to get on the plane to get home than they were to even try to compete with their opponent on the field.
It wasn’t all that fun to watch — who really likes watching the bully throw punch after punch after punch on someone who’s not even fighting back? — but it was important in understanding how and why the Patriots are who they are. They plan ahead, and they’re able to execute.
If that doesn’t sound incredibly complex, that’s because it isn’t. Yet for some reason, it’s apparently impossible to replicate.
With that mystery now solved, let’s move on to all of the leftover thoughts from the Patriots’ 33-8 win over the Raiders in Mexico.
–Having Bill Belichick and Tom Brady helps win football games, yes. Of course. But what can often get lost in blowout victories like this is how seamlessly the Patriots deal with injuries all over the lineup. Starting center David Andrews missed his first game since 2015, prompting seldom-used second-year lineman Ted Karras to play out of position and start in his place. You never would have noticed the difference. LaAdrian Waddle, filling in for the injured Marcus Cannon, suffered an injury of his own, thus sending Cameron Fleming in from the sideline. Brady was sacked just once all day.
At one point, when Danny Amendola was being treated for dehydration, the only healthy receivers were Brandin Cooks and Phillip Dorsett.
Despite all of these roadblocks, the Patriots gained 440 yards, scored 33 points, didn’t turn the ball over, and punted twice.
–The internet says that Estadio Azteca holds 87,000 people. But after seeing the crowd shot before the opening kickoff, you could have told me the capacity was 8 million and I would’ve believed you.
–Is “2017 NFL Mexico Game” the best we can do for a name here? What kind of creative genius came up with that one?
–The things Dion Lewis does are just silly. Absolutely silly. I’ve never seen a guy make so many people miss every single time he touches the football.
He just routinely makes real, live NFL players look like feckless henchmen from a Bond movie. Look at poor Karl Joseph here, in position to break down and tackle Lewis. He couldn’t even lay a finger on him!
That’s just one play. There were many.
How about his touchdown? He somehow turned this …
… into a touchdown.
This should be the official logo of Dion Lewis:
–Photo caption: “Weeeee!”
–When Jack Del Rio gets inducted into the Bad Coach Hall Of Fame, this graphic should be projected onto a wall somewhere.
It’s just perfect.
To be completely honest with you, it’s been a trying calendar year for me. Last year at this time, I was facing the fact that Jack Del Rio might be a competent or dare I say good NFL coach. This year, I was wrestling with the reality that Alex Smith somehow no longer stunk as a quarterback.
Fortunately, everything’s been coming up Hurley, thus allowing me to stick to my guns on the beliefs I hold dear.
–Here are some things that the Raiders did in this ballgame. OK, are you ready?
On the opening drive of the game, wide receiver Seth Roberts dropped a pass on third-and-5. Punt.
When Rex Burkhead fumbled, they failed to recover the loose ball, despite having it surrounded. The Patriots went on to score a touchdown.
On a third-and-6 incompletion by Brady on that same drive, the Raiders committed defensive holding on Rob Gronkowski. Automatic first down for the Patriots, who scored a touchdown two plays later.
Johnny Holton let a deep pass from Derek Carr bounce off his shoulder pad. The pass was then intercepted.
On a third-and-5 for the Patriots, Mario Edwards jumped offside, giving the Patriots a free first down.
After catching a pass inside the New England 5-yard line, Roberts held the football as far away from his body as possible.
Surprise of all surprises, he fumbled. The Raiders, who had yet to score at that point in the game, wouldn’t score for another 18 minutes.
Thanks for showing up, I guess.
–One thing the NFL should learn from the Mexico game: The league needs more WWE-style entrances.
Get some intro videos, some music, play with the lighting, and slap a sponsor on there, and the transformation from sports to sports entertainment would be complete.
–The game broadcast informed us that the final Raiders game Al Davis saw before passing away came in 2011, against the Patriots. It’s nice to know that Al didn’t leave our realm of existence before witnessing Vince Wilfork rumbling and stumbling his way up the field in Oakland. It probably put a smile on his face.
–Speaking of Mark Davis eating Cheetos … here is Mark Davis wolfing Cheetos.
–Brady spent a lot of time using hand signals, which worked. My favorite was his little showtune performance on the opening drive:
The footage didn’t show whether or not he gave some accompanying leg kicks, but for the sake of the show, I hope he did.
–Tom Brady and the offense are making a lot of things look easy. Take, for example, a third-and-6 on their opening drive. Dan Amendola lined up wide left before motioning toward the line, behind Brandin Cooks in the slot. He ran upfield for about two yards before just breaking across the middle. He was wide open for a gain of 12.
In the pre-snap minds of the involved parties, there was most likely zero doubt that this play would work.
Prior to Amendola’s touchdown, as Brady was barking orders to everybody else on the field, the quarterback simply told Amendola what to do:
The end result is just a remarkable efficiency for an offense that ranks second in yards per game and fourth in points per game.
–Still not quite sure how Dwayne Allen recovered this fumble.
The world may never know.
–Some people will say that Duron Harmon’s interception was just the result of a lucky bounce. Some people would be wrong!
Jonathan Jones was running step for step with Roberts, so the receiver was unable to properly adjust to the ball as it traveled toward him. Harmon was coming over and was in good position to make a play if the pass was anywhere near the numbers. The duo of Jones and Harmon played the pass perfectly.
And then they caught a lucky bounce.
–I’m not sure how people felt about Brandin Cooks early in the year as he worked his way into the offense, but it’s safe to say he’s been a worthwhile pickup by Bill.
With six catches for 149 yards and a touchdown, Cooks now ranks fourth in the NFL in receiving yards. If he is to maintain that production, he’ll be the first Patriots receiver to finish in the top five in receiving yards since Wes Welker in 2011. Prior to that, it was Welker in 2009 and Randy Moss in 2007. (Coincidentally, in all three of those seasons, the Patriots receiver finished second in the league in receiving yards.)
Cooks is still on pace to set a career high in receiving yards (1,258), and considering the start to his career was on the historic side, this kid really might be in the midst of building the base for a truly remarkable career.
–It provides a magnificent boost to your production as a receiver when you can go from here:
Getting yourself this open with ease:
–Altitude schmaltitude. If you hit the net on a 62-yard field goal, I’m going to be impressed. The physics of that, no matter what air the ball is traveling through, make it pretty impressive.
I mean, look at how high up this ball was when it crossed through:
That’s just silly. And it’s a shame the opportunity never arose for Belichick to send Gostkowski out there to try a 70-yarder. I would have watched.
–Haven’t talked about the defense much, which is probably not right. It’s worth noting that they’re still dead last in the NFL in yards allowed, though the gap between them and the next team is just five yards. And in points allowed — where it really matters — they now rank 13th. That’s plenty good enough when you’ve got an offense as potent as New England’s.
I think my favorite defensive play of the game came when Malcolm Butler wrapped up Amari Cooper and appeared to have no leverage whatsoever:
Butler then managed to ride the momentum of the play to swing his base around and get his feet set:
Then he launched Cooper like a slingshot:
Butler, as he tends to do, let Cooper know about it, too. With all the confidence he displayed vs. Oakland, you’d never know Butler had a rough game the previous week.
–After Ricky Jean-Francois’ clothesline takedown of DeAndre Washington, it was weird how badly Jim Nantz wanted Tony Romo to be talking about “The Longest Yard.”
Romo: “A little clothesline. A little of a 30 For 30, he had a little, what’s uhh … ”
Nantz: “The Longest Yard?”
Romo: “The Nature Boy this week.”
Nantz: “The Longest Yard?”
Romo: “Yeah … The Longest Yard.”
I guess the lesson is that if Jim Nantz wants you to be talking about “The Longest Yard,” then you are going to be talking about “The Longest Yard.”
–I enjoyed Sean Smith’s swagger-filled celebration after Brady threw incomplete on a third down in the fourth quarter, when the Raiders trailed 30-8.
Life is too short to not celebrate, even if you’re celebrating the seventh incompletion of the entire game.
–On to the weekly comparison of Brady in 2017 to Brett Favre in 2009 in the battle for the coveted title of Best Season By 40-Year-Old Quarterback Of All Time:
Brady, through 10 games in 2017:
261-for-380 (68.7 percent)
22 TDs, 2 INTs
110.9 passer rating
Favre, through 10 games in 2009:
216-for-310 (69.7 percent)
21 TDs, 3 INTs
112.1 passer rating
A part of me thinks Brady could not care any less about this distinction. But another part of me thinks in his crazy brain, he’s got a Brett Favre dartboard hanging in his mansion that inspires him when he wakes up at 3:45 a.m. every morning.
–Oh, and then of course, there was the moment where the entire season flashed in front of the faces of Patriots fans:
While Patriots fans worried if Touchdown Tom was OK, Brady himself was only interested in looking up at the video board to see if he completed his pass.
(Spoiler alert: he did.)