BOSTON (CBS) — The Patriots waltzed their way to a double-digit blowout victory on Sunday afternoon, easily disposing the (formerly) NFC North-leading Lions and improving their own record to 9-2. It was the Patriots’ seventh straight victory and fourth to come by at least 22 points. They are on an absolute roll, one of the better stretches of play of the entire Tom Brady-Bill Belichick era.
Yet because this is Boston, where people just can’t have nice things, the afternoon was somewhat tarnished by a perceived case of Bill Belichick being an overbearing disciplinarian by heartlessly benching overnight superstar Jonas Gray for the innocent little mistake of showing up late to Friday’s practice. Commentary from the broadcast crew, tweets from fans, stories written after the game, they all said the same thing: Jonas Gray benched for entire game after being late to practice.
Now, I have no insight into the actual goings-on of Belichick’s brain, and I’ll grant you the possibility that the coach might keep Gray on the sidelines for a series or a quarter or maybe a half as punishment.
But I can tell you this: Jonas Gray was not benched for an entire football game because he was late to practice.
Jonas Gray was benched because he’s Jonas Gray.
He had one incredible game on a night when his offensive line opened up massive holes and the demoralized defense no longer cared to get in his way in the second half. He did a great job, of course, but one night does not turn a kid into Barry Sanders.
And while LeGarrette Blount, likewise, is not Emmitt Smith, he is nevertheless a much better running back than Jonas Gray. Blount has just over 3,000 rushing yards; Gray has just over 300. Blount has rushed for 24 touchdowns; Gray has run for four.
So in the rare instances when the Patriots actually ran the ball on Sunday, they went with the better option in Blount. It is that simple. And it worked, with Blount gaining 78 yards with two touchdowns on 12 carries. He averaged 6.5 yards per carry against the NFL’s No. 1 rush defense, which allows 3.0 yards per carry this season.
Belichick is a coach who is solely focused on winning football games, and wasting an active roster spot on a player he didn’t plan on using would not work to that end.
So stop. Belichick didn’t pull a bully move to embarrass Gray. He made a coaching decision to play a better running back, and it worked. The story can end there.
Of course, the Patriots’ running game was one of the more insignificant stories from the game, so let’s run through all of the leftover thoughts from New England’s 34-9 win.
–I’m starting this thing off with some punting talk, OK? And if you don’t mind, it’s story time.
I once went to a Princeton-Brown game in Providence, and Brown held a 17-point lead in the fourth quarter. Princeton had nothing going all game. So the punter came out and kicked the football, and it checked up on the 1-yard line, and a Princeton player downed it. The punter reacted as if he had just thrown and caught the Super Bowl-winning touchdown. He was jumping in the air, sprinting down the field, his arm raised with a fist over his head all the while. Then he went crazy and started head-butting the kid who downed the punt.
What a nerd, am I right?
Well, in that game, that play actually sparked an impressive turnaround for Princeton, who ended up cutting the lead to six but ultimately lost.
And again on Sunday, it was the play of a punter that really flipped a game in an instant.
For a regular athlete, Ryan Allen showed normal hands and poise while handling a bounced snap, but for a punter, Allen’s handiwork was downright miraculous. That he was able to not only field the bad snap but then boot the heck out of the football — to the tune of a 66-yard gross and 65-yard net on a punt that traveled about 78 yards in the air — was a tremendous play. And it warranted this kind of celebration from a punter.
It came when the Patriots trailed 3-0. Rob Ninkovich sacked Matthew Stafford on the next play, the defense forced a three-and-out, the Patriots quickly drove 64 yards for a touchdown, and they’d outscore Detroit 34-6 from that point on.
Nice job, punter. I promise to never call you a nerd again. My fingers aren’t even crossed right now.
(Just kidding, they are.)
–If Brandon LaFell were to star in his own network TV series, it’d be called “The Drive Starter.”
Of the Patriots’ 12 drives, six began with passes to LaFell. Brady was 5-for-6 for 51 yards on those throws. Three of those drives ended in points. It’s nothing new, but apparently Jim Caldwell didn’t notice it in his film study this week, because he never did anything to really stop it.
–Speaking of Jim Caldwell, I can go no further without discussing this man. If you had the under of 4.5 on “Number of items Mike Hurley would write about before getting to Jim Caldwell,” you can cash in your winning ticket.
I just. Cannot. Understand. How. Or why. An NFL franchise. Would hand the keys. To. This. Man.
Maybe he’s a nice guy with a nice family and all of that, but as a football coach, he’s nonexistent. Or, he exists solely as a physical stand-in as an NFL head coach, and that is it. He wears a headset but he speaks no words into it. His blank stare can simultaneously suggest that the coach is feeling frightened and overwhelmed and also that he’s thinking about puppies.
He lacks general football awareness of things like clocks and downs, and yet he was once in charge of telling Peyton Manning what to do.
Let me say that again: Jim Caldwell used to be in charge of the most prolific passer of all time. In real life!
It’s truly hard to fathom.
Caldwell’s challenge early in the fourth quarter on Sunday was vintage Caldwell. The Patriots completed a pass that left them short of a first down. The Patriots were leading by 18 points and were at their own 29-yard line. They were not going to go for it on fourth down. Yet Caldwell didn’t wait around. He saw the offense hanging out on the field and panicked, tossing the challenge flag onto the field.
He “won” the challenge, an obvious overturn, thereby forcing the Patriots back a whopping three yards before their punt.
That wasn’t even Caldwell’s greatest moment. I’d give those honors to the head coach deciding to go for it on fourth-and-14 from the New England 31-yard line. But then he called timeout, wasting what would have been an important timeout if he and his team were capable of actually coming back. Then he sent out the field goal unit.
Jim Caldwell, everybody. The man in charge of a pro football team. He’s the best.
–Don’t think I didn’t heartily chuckle about a minute after that challenge, when the cameras showed about a half-dozen shots of sad, sullen faces on the Lions sideline.
Sideline reporter Erin Andrews said, “There’s just been no expression, no life, no energy out of these guys.”
Gee, I wonder why the players have no emotion. Might they be following their leader? Hmm …
–Based on the brilliance of the head coach, it was not shocking to see Matthew Stafford pull off the most boneheaded of bonehead plays, sliding a yard short of the first-down marker on fourth down:
If the Lions convert there and score a touchdown, then suddenly it’s a football game. But nope. Matt didn’t feel like possibly getting hit. Turnover on downs. I wonder if Caldwell knew what was going on.
–Tony Corrente, I am sick of you. You’re the worst.
The referee actually said these words: “Hands to the face. Actually, the chin.”
Corrente loves calling penalties so much that he’s just making ’em up as he goes!
(Seriously though, 20 penalties, Tony? You’re the worst.)
–At one point, Troy Aikman said, “Belichick and Matt Patricia always seem to have their best on the guy Stafford’s looking for.”
During Tom Brady’s press conference, a reporter asked him, “Do you feel like you guys have a competitive advantage in the areas of coaching and preparation?”
–Here’s something I didn’t think I’d be saying: That was a heck of a game from Patrick Chung. There multiple moments when I let out audible “ew!” sounds after he came crashing into a ball carrier. His pop on Jeremy Ross helped keep the receiver a yard short of the marker, thereby forcing the Lions to punt after they had just picked off Tom Brady.
Chung finished with six total tackles (four solo), but I don’t think that properly tells the story of his impact on this game.
–OK. OK. OK. This one I wasn’t ready for: Robert Kraft uses a flip phone?!?!?!?!?!?
How? (Literally, how? Where can you find a quality flip phone these days?)
Why? (I get that Bob doesn’t need a smartphone to waste his time reading tweets or sending Snapchats to his friends, but might he not find some use in a finance app? And he could take some funny pictures if he had his own Instagram account.)
When? (Is it 2004 and somehow we’ve gone back in time and I just didn’t notice? That must be it. There’s no other reasonable answer.)
–Here are some facts to put in the “Man, The Patriots Have Been Otherworldly For A Long Time And Sometimes People Lose Sight Of That” department.
With their ninth win, the Patriots secured their 14th straight season with a winning record. That’s two seasons behind the all-time leaders, the 49ers from 1983-98 and the Cowboys from 1970-85. Those are the only two teams in history with a record of sustained success better than the Patriots from 2001-14.
The Patriots have the most seasons with nine or more wins in the NFL since 2001 with 14. The Colts rank second with 11.
Since the 1970 merger, the Patriots have the second-most winning seasons with 29, which comes as a bit of a surprise. Only Pittsburgh (31) has more.
Since 2010, the Patriots are 32-3 in the second half of the season. Not a typo: 32-3.
This one’s fun: Since 2009, the Patriots are 8-1 at home against teams that finish in the top five in points allowed. They average 31.6 points in those games.
The Patriots just won their fourth straight game by 21 or more points, which matches their best streak from 2007.
–Football is beautiful:
–Think LeGarrette Blount is happy? Yeah, sure, it’s never good when the whole world knows you’re pouting about playing time, but at least he proved Sunday that he was actually worthy of getting that playing time. He doubled his season total with two touchdowns, and he rushed for 78 yards — which is more than he’s gained in the past calendar month. Those 78 yards represent more than 22 percent of his season total.
For some perspective, the Patriots were in a pass-heavy mode, so Blount’s 12 carries represented a low figure. But those 12 carries were the most Blount has gotten in a game this year.
Yeah, he’s happy to be back in New England.
–The Patriots traded Logan Mankins for Tim Wright. Everybody with Google knows that. Also, anybody with a roster sheet knows that Tim Wright is a member of the Patriots, and he wears No. 81, which means he’s eligible to catch passes.
Yet, somehow, nobody on the Lions was privy to this information on Sunday.
Touchdown No. 1 for Wright:
And Touchdown No. 2:
There is losing track of somebody, and then there is being completely unaware of somebody’s existence. The Lions seemed to be guilty of the latter.
I also took issue with Detroit’s strategy of covering Rob Gronkowski on this play late in the second half, which went for 24 yards:
“Eh,” you say. “Just a breakdown in coverage, it could happen to any team.” Oh really? This was the very next play:
Those two breakdowns — during which the Lions lost track of the game’s most dangerous receiving option — gave Gronkowski 47 receiving yards in about 10 seconds of game time, and the Patriots were able to tack on a field goal before halftime.
That’s the NFL’s best defense?
–This is not a Patriots thought, but it’s an AFC thought, so hear me out. ESPN reported Sunday morning that two Broncos executives approached the scoreboard operator for their home stadium and gave a stern talking-to. In case you forgot, Peyton Manning threw an absolute hissy fit during his last home game, flapping his arms in disgust and screaming “SHUT UP!” at the fans. Even though his team was up by two touchdowns and the fans were just happy at the two-minute warning and therefore made some noise, Manning was not having any of it, and in his postgame press conference, he called out the scoreboard operator for riling up the crowd.
Now, most adult males would say, “Hey, Peyton. Sometimes during a football game, it’s going to be loud. Rather than complaining like a spoiled brat, and rather than publicly call out a guy who makes in a year what you make in about 30 minutes of work, why don’t you just deal with it and prove you can adjust to different environments?”
But the Broncos apparently don’t employ most adult males. The Broncos employ Yes Men who will go speak to the scoreboard operator and tell him not to do things that might bother Peyton.
That’s a loser organization mentality. Nobody in the Broncos organization has the gusto to step up to Manning and tell him what needs to be said. Now, just because Peyton Manning has never had fun in his life, fans aren’t allowed to have fun either.
I honestly feel like that, as much as anything that’s happened on the football field, speaks volumes to the Broncos not being a real Super Bowl contender right now.
–Darrelle Revis is just so, so good:
–The Lions may have come a long way from the days when Ndamukong Suh was regarded as the league’s dirtiest player and the team was considered the dirtiest in the NFL, but they still pull some cheap garbage out there.
First of all, you should get ejected for attacking the long snapper. That’s the most vulnerable player in the game, and C.J. Mosley is dive-bombing him to prove … what, exactly?
Then you’ve got Dominic Raiola. This guy’s a piece of work. He felt personally offended that the Patriots ran for a touchdown after that Mosley personal foul, rather than just take a knee and run out the clock. The guy is 35 years old and has been in the league since 2001, but he’s not smart enough to understand that it was his own teammate’s dirty play that gave the Patriots that set of downs. The Patriots scored a touchdown on the play that followed Mosley’s dirty hit, and Raiola decided to take out his own frustrations about his sorry offense being unable to score on Zach Moore.
On the game’s final play, a kneeldown from Stafford, Raiola took a dive right at Moore’s knees. This play followed yet another personal foul on Detroit, this one from tackle Cornelius Lucas, who blocked Jamie Collins to the ground and then made a swan dive on top of the defender. Seemingly unsatisfied with the number of dirty plays from Detroit on the day, Raiola decided to dive-bomb Moore. And Raiola was pretty proud of himself for doing so.
“I cut him. We took a knee, so I cut the nose. They went for a touchdown at two minute. They could have taken three knees and the game could have been over,” Raiola said. “I mean, it’s football. You want us to keep playing football? Let’s play football. No big deal — it’s football.”
So in Raiola’s mind, he’s fine with playing football. Unless he thinks you shouldn’t be playing football. Then he’s going to try to end your season.
–Here’s a little three-part story for you all:
1. Moments after LeGarrette Blount runs for 33 yards, Ndamukong Suh stops Blount in the backfield before getting in Tom Brady’s face and yelling, “Don’t [expletive] run on me!” (Video with some naughty language here.)
2. Two minutes later, LeGarrette Blount plows his way into the end zone:
3. Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski look Glover Quin in the eyes and together say, “This ain’t your fight, kid. Stay out of it. It’s not worth it.”
Screen shots from NFL.com/GameRewind.
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