BOSTON (CBS) — Welp. I was pretty wrong.
I know that I wasn’t the only one to pick the Bengals to beat the Patriots on Sunday night, but I sure did so emphatically. I wrote “unlike in other years when you think they’ll use an ‘us-against-the-world’ mantra to rally together for a huge win, there have been no signs of cohesiveness or toughness that suggests it’ll be the case this time around.” I shouted for all who could hear that the rested and undefeated Bengals, coming off a bye, were going to come into Foxboro, where the Patriots were down on the mat and on a short week, and roll to victory. It wasn’t even going to be competitive.READ MORE: Weekend heat likely to break records with low-mid 90s in the forecast
Well, at least I was right about that last part. I just had my teams confused.
Obviously, I should have known better than to doubt Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, and it was clear as day that winning this game was of the utmost importance to both men on Sunday night. Brady was electric from the very first play of the game, and though he may never post gaudy statistics with the current roster, he did everything that was needed of him in leading his team to a big win.
Again, the history of the Patriots playing the “nobody believes in us” card and responding with a foot-on-their-throat type of game is well-documented. It was just hard to believe that the same Patriots team that got run out of Arrowhead Stadium just six days prior to Sunday night was going to be able to apply duct tape to all of their problems and execute so harmoniously.
Nevertheless, the Patriots did just that — and then some — en route to a 43-17 victory over the previously undefeated Bengals. I won’t claim to know everything that the future holds, but I’m pretty sure I won’t be picking the Patriots to lose next weekend.
Let’s jump into the leftover thoughts, shall we?
–As I stated, I confidently picked against the Patriots in this game. But when the NBC cameras zeroed in on Marvin Lewis on the sideline just before the opening kickoff, I felt it in the pit of my stomach: I’ve made a huge mistake.
–Is Tom Brady washed up? Is he fed up with Bill Belichick, Josh McDaniels and the rest of the coaching staff? Does he want a trade? Is the Jimmy Garoppolo era nearing?
Nope, nope, nope and nope.
If you love Tom Brady, and chances are you do (so long as you’re not one of those psycho dummies who wanted to trade Brady after 2008 and keep Matt Cassel; if so, get right out of here, weirdo!), then the first two Patriots drives had to make you fall in love all over again. That was the type of performance that endeared Brady to the region so long ago: He came out, refused to be slowed down, threw with authority, ran with authority, jawed with opposing linebackers and, most importantly, got his team out to a 14-0 lead. He didn’t try to do too much, as he knew when to hand it off to Stevan Ridley, and he kept it simple in the passing game, never overextending himself or trying to fit passes into impossible windows.
It was determination, it was focus, and it was excellence.
With his eye black smeared all over his face, it was a performance from Brady that hadn’t been seen in quite some time.
Will anybody ask him if he feels his career is ending this week? Something tells me … no.
–What I loved about the opening drive was that the officials hosed the Patriots on a spot after James Develin had clearly picked up the first down. Rather than wait around and see if the coaches were going to challenge the spot, and rather than barking in the faces of the officials, Brady simply hurried to the line, called a QB sneak, and gained four yards. He had so much fun doing it that he called his own number again on the very next play, and though he didn’t gain any yards, he let it be known that he was not going to be messed with on this night.
–Rob Gronkowski returned to Gronk-level, with a six-catch, 100-yard, 1-touchdown performance. But even more impressive, he completely emasculated veteran safety Reggie Nelson on multiple occasions. First, there was Gronkowski’s 27-yard catch-and-run, which was the one that got Brady over 50,000 career passing yards. The giant Gronkowski was rumbling and tumbling along the left sideline. George Iloka wrapped him up at the waist from behind; Nelson backed away, tried to engage himself with Danny Amendola so as to not have to get involved with the tackle, and then simply watched the two go by, wanting nothing to do with No. 87:
Nelson then acted like a tough guy, shoving Gronkowski as he rose to his feet:
Though Gronkowski picked up a soft unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for jawing with Nelson later in the first quarter after making ever-so-slight facemask-to-facemask contact, Gronkowski made up for it later in the game. Gronkowski hauled in a catch over the middle at full speed and saw only Nelson standing between him and the goal line. Nelson made a weak diving arm tackle attempt; Gronk decided definitively “you are not going to tackle me” and easily shed the safety moments before breaking into a celebratory touchdown waltz.
When Gronkowski is treating free safeties like mere speed bumps … look out, NFL.
–I liked Gronkowski’s postgame words of support for Brady (check them out here), but I loved Gronkowski’s look of self-satisfaction when he got his name and college right in the pregame introductions: “Rob Gronkowski, Arizona (face that says, ‘Yes! Nailed it!’)”
(I kid, I kid. The man is smiling because the man was fired up to play on national television. We should all be so lucky to love anything as much as Rob Gronkowski loves playing football.)
–Ryan Wendell returned to the offensive line, and boy did he help shore things up. The line deserves a ton of credit for figuring it out on a short week, and the left-to-right quintet of Nate Solder, Dan Connolly, Bryan Stork, Wendell and Sebastian Vollmer is obviously the best combination the Patriots have at their disposal. As long as they stay healthy, that should be the line for the rest of the year. (I’m sorry, Jordan Devey. You can play tuba in the high school marching band, but you can’t play guard in the NFL.)
You know the offensive line had a very strong night when you see that Brady was sacked just one time, which was the only time he was touched all night, and when you see that the Patriots ran for 220 yards on 46 attempts (4.8 YPC). But stats aside, you finally saw Tom Brady comfortable in a functioning pocket, and for the first time all year, Brady stood in his patented pose: Standing straight up, shoulders relaxed, feet still, head scanning the field. When he’s really feeling in the zone, it sometimes seems as if Brady is blissfully unaware that a very violent game is taking place all around him. It is when Brady is at his most lethal.
And the end result is that for the first time all year, there are photos of New England offensive linemen smiling on the sidelines.
(I didn’t know Bryan Stork smiled. That’s terrifying. I wouldn’t be even remotely surprised to learn he ate that tablet whole shortly after that photograph was snapped.)
–If I may, allow me to climb my soapbox and rail against the “work” of Jerome Boger and his officiating crew. Boger suffered from a severe case of Hochuli-itis, which is defined as:
Hochuli-itis, noun: The condition by which an NFL referee decides that the national television audience would much prefer seeing yellow flags thrown to stop play and ruin the viewing experience rather than simply watching and enjoying an NFL game.
When used in a sentence: “Man, these officials seem to have absolutely no idea what they’re doing out there tonight. Looks like Boger has caught a case of Hochuli-itis.”
Here’s a photo of Boger trying to read the notes he jotted down on the back of his hand:
Here he is counting his fingers:
(Yeah, I know he’s looking at the loop on his finger to make sure he calls the correct down, but what does it say about Boger that no other referee visibly does this when making announcements?)READ MORE: 2 Burlington driveway workers seriously burned when dump truck contacts live wires
I know Roger Goodell has bigger fish to fry, but from what I’ve seen in recent weeks, I’d send Hochuli’s and Boger’s crews on a 12-week, no-expenses-paid vacation to Uzbekistan. They can spread their love of the game to a country that might not know what a football is, but more importantly, they’ll get off our televisions for a few months.
–Whoever took this photo deserves to win at least three prizes:
–Brady received a lot of praise for his performance, but even still, his best pass of the night might have been an incompletion. Early in the second quarter, Carlos Dunlap came in free from the right side. Brady recognized it and quickly lofted an arching deep ball up the right seam for Julian Edelman. The receiver made an admirable effort to making a diving catch, but alas, the ball fell to the turf. Regardless, that was Brady’s prettiest pass of the night.
–Cris Collinsworth is an excellent color commentator. His nod to Bill Belichick’s statement on the Aaron Dobson-Josh McDaniels report was an awfully sly move: “Bill wants to challenge everything this week.”
It flew over Al Michaels’ head, but not mine. Well played, Cris.
–Brandon LaFell caught the first pass of the game, and then was done producing for the night. That was at least in part his own fault, as his decision to simply stop running a route without even looking for the football was curious to say the least.
When you hear of Brady lacking trust with some of his receivers, plays like that stand out.
–Are we sure that Tom Brady is the resident male model on the Patriots? Looking sharp here, William.
Say what you will about Belichick, but the man knows how to rock the hell out of that ’80s visor and ’90s turtleneck, and don’t think I didn’t notice those lineman gloves in Cleveland, Mr. Fashion.
–I propose a rule: When Tim Wright makes a play, nobody — not one person — is allowed to immediately draw some sort of comparison to Aaron Hernandez. Yes, they theoretically play similar roles in the Patriots offense while wearing No. 81, but the comparison needs to end there. Hernandez was one of the shiftiest, most dynamic players when the ball was in his hands. He was also a pretty terrible human being. (Allegedly.)
Wright might line up in similar spots and make catches up the seam or over the middle, but he’s nothing like Aaron Hernandez. So please, don’t compare the young man to Aaron Hernandez. On multiple levels, he deserves better than that.
–The final score tells you that this game was a blowout, but that wasn’t always going to be the case. When the Bengals made it 20-10 early in the third quarter, they followed it up by stuffing Patrick Chung on the kick return at the 14-yard line and then stopping Ridley at the line of scrimmage. It was gut check time for New England, as a three-and-out followed by a score from the suddenly confident Bengals would have made it a three-point game with plenty of time to play.
And the Patriots responded in a big way. Brady to Gronk for 17 yards. Brady to Wright for 25 yards. Shane Vereen up the gut for 14. On a third-and-16, Vereen weaved his way through traffic at full speed to gain 19. Then Brady hit Gronk in stride over the middle for a 17-yard touchdown, and the Patriots once again held a comfortable lead.
Brandon Bolden followed it up by forcing a fumble on the ensuing kick return (Brandon Tate: not a smart player), and in just six seconds, the Patriots turned a 20-10 nail-biter into a 34-10 laugher.
It was an impressive team response when things got tight in the second half, and it shouldn’t go overlooked in the wake of a blowout.
–Even though the game was over and the Bengals had no chance to come back, Andy Dalton was still celebrating his touchdown passes as if they mattered:
Come on, Andrew. Unless that TD pass gave you a win in your own fantasy matchup, maybe calm down a little bit. And hold off on the first pump. You threw a touchdown pass to A.J. Green when he was matched up with Logan Ryan, and you’re still going to lose by a lot.
–Speaking of silly Bengals, I liked when Shawn Williams absolutely cranked his own teammate, long snapper Chris Harris. I mean, Williams really laid the wood when hitting his own teammate with a torso torpedo for a helmet-to-helmet shot:
Williams, unaware that he just decked (and possibly concussed) the Bengals’ only long snapper, got up and taunted Edelman:
Harris looked at Williams, as if to say, “Dear God, you are a stupid, stupid person.”
–I thought that Green’s crotch-bobbling touchdown pass should have counted, and it did, but I also think I was in the minority. It was just the latest evidence that no, nobody in the world knows what constitutes a “catch” in the NFL. Maybe some day we’ll know, but … probably not.
–This photographer was probably like, “Oh, sweet, this will be a nice picture of Tom Brady coming off the field, celebrating a touchdown.” Then Bryan Stork was like, “Haha, nope. Photobomb!”
–The Patriots have won 69 consecutive home games when they’ve led at halftime, and they’ve also won 32 consecutive games at home against AFC opponents. Both of those facts are hard to believe.
–There was an excellent exchange in Bill Belichick’s press conference. It was obviously a trying week. The Pats got steamrolled on Monday Night Football. The Dobson stuff. The “on to Cincinnati” deflections. The questions of whether the quarterback position will be evaluated. The derisive eye roll. Clearly, the Patriots were ticked, and Bill Belichick was chief among them. So a reporter asked Belichick a very fair question — essentially, was this win more satisfying, given all of the criticism this week?
“Criticism from who?” the coach muttered roughly eight minutes into his press conference.
“The media, some people in this room, fans…”
Belichick cut him off.
“With all due respect,” Belichick said, “I mean … really? Look, we have a job to do. We’re focused on doing that job. We’re not going to sit around and listen to what everybody else says.”
And with that about 20 seconds of silence ensued before Belichick walked off the podium. The night started with vintage Brady, and it ended with vintage Bill.
–Now that Bill Belichick has established that he doesn’t have time to read or listen to what anybody else says, I can write this in confidence: Bill Belichick is a cotton-headed ninny-muggins.
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