By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — So, did you like that one? Was it fun for you? Supposed to be fun, you know?
Unless you love pain, the answer is probably a big, fat no. But early-season Thursday Night Football is just an unfortunate reality at the current moment, and the Patriots were fortunate enough to survive this time.
To be sure, we’re going to break down and dissect this game as if it were an actual game. Technically speaking, it was.
But really, the thing looked like a joint practice session in August. Neither team was ready to play that game, and it showed. So maybe we shouldn’t get too hung up on the particulars, and we shouldn’t reach grand conclusions on the good or the bad from those 60 minutes of football-like activities that took place in Tampa. This one ought to be graded on a curve.
The game just lacked the energy of a normal NFL game. It felt like a bad dream — one where you’re flying down the highway at 100 mph and non-functioning brakes one second, and then buying buckets of fried chicken with Kesha and Paul McCartney the next. Or maybe that’s a good dream? Depends on one’s perspective.
Either way, that game was grisly. We’re going to talk about it. But let’s not pretend we learned anything great from it, other than the fact that the Patriots were able to avoid dropping to a sub-.500 record here in October thanks to a 19-14 victory over the Buccaneers. Leftover thoughts, let’s go.
–I found this interesting:
Stephon Gilmore’s horrible performance against Carolina was a lot of things, but it wasn’t a media creation. I do believe many fans watching last week’s game could figure out on their own without the aid of the evil media that No. 24 had no clue what he was doing against the Panthers. And frankly, his teammates didn’t have his back after that loss. Devin McCourty said he and Gilmore must have “looked like a couple of idiots.” Duron Harmon said the defensive game plan “can’t get no more simpler than what we’re doing.” The subtle suggestion out of the locker room last week was that Gilmore simply needed to step up.
And on Thursday, he did. Which is good for him and important to the team. But spinning the negative attention on Gilmore as a media creation? Even Rodney Harrison would say that’s a stretch.
–It was a huge night for Carl Cheffers’ wife, as she got to sit at home and watch the referee get more screen time than Tom Brady and Jameis Winston combined. The Patriots were penalized 12 times for 108 yards, while the Bucs were flagged nine times for 70 yards. And though maybe two of those calls were disputable, it did feel like they could have thrown more flags. The poor back judge probably had to ice up like a starting pitcher after a complete game.
But what was absolutely wild about the penalties was just how foolish the Patriots were. Seeing a Bill Belichick-coached team display zero discipline in a number of critical situations was flat-out bizarre.
That being established, let’s go ahead and write out some STUPID PATRIOTS PENALTY POWER RANKINGS from this one. There were many to choose from.
5. Deatrich Wise, roughing the passer
To be honest I don’t entirely fault Wise here, because the penalty was more a result of Winston being aware that refs would be quick to throw a flag on the play immediately following a post-whistle fracas (on which they, for some reason, didn’t throw any flags?). Wise’s momentum carried him into Winston. He bumped the man. Winston went down NBA-style, and drew the 15-yard flag. It wasn’t egregious by any means by Wise, but after the Desean Jackson-Malcolm Butler spat, and with the Bucs at their own 27-yard line and no time on the clock, he should have known that he should not have given any reason for the ref to throw the flag.
4. Cassius Marsh, offside
The Buccaneers lined up for a third-and-20 at the New England 33-yard line. Their chances of successfully converting for a first down were probably close to zero. But Marsh lined up offside. It was clear as day.
How does that happen? Such a careless mistake. Fortunately (I guess) for him, it wasn’t the worst foul committed by the Patriots on this play.
3. Deatrich Wise, illegal use of hands/hands to the face
Not to pick on the rookie too much, but this was a most-egregious penalty on that very same third-and-20. Wise got his hand on the facemask of the right tackle and just never removed it, shoving Demar Dotson’s face backward and making the call easy for the officials. This was not the ticky-tack foul that Gilmore was whistled for last week. This was the real deal. And it gave Tampa a free first down. On third-and-20. And it led directly to one of Tampa’s two touchdowns. Had no penalties been committed, it’s a near-certainty that Nick Folk would have missed the 51-yard field goal.
2. Cassius Marsh, roughing the passer
This play would have been godawful on its own, but the fact that it came one play after Wise’s roughing the passer penalty? It’s just inexcusable. Marsh went flying toward Winston after the QB threw a Hail Mary that landed about 10 yards short of the end zone. It was a nothing, end-of-half play. But Marsh’s dedication to hitting Winston no matter how late it might be ended up giving the Bucs their 30th penalty yard in a span of less than 10 seconds.
It technically didn’t “matter,” because Nick Folk made the worst kick in NFL history and missed by a solid 20 feet to the right. But if this is a real game, where both teams are functioning properly? That’s a back-breaker.
1. Brandon Bolden, offside
The Bucs lined up to punt from their own 32-yard line and Bolden went bursting across the line early as if he was going to block the punt or something. His odds to block the punt must have been about 1 percent. The odds of giving Tampa a free first down by sprinting offside was 100 percent.
The Bucs ended up punting four plays later, but Danny Amendola had to make a fair catch at his own 10. The penalty cost the Patriots maybe 20-30 yards of field position. But like the Marsh penalty, if a penalty like that happens in a real game, it could make the difference between a win and a loss. So bad.
–In the bogus penalty department, shame on whichever official (umpire Clay Martin, likely?) decided to bust out the illegal peel back block on Nate Solder? That’s just workplace negligence right there.
A peel back block penalty was designed, basically, for broken plays or plays where the quarterback or running back breaks outside of the tackle blocks and a pursuing defender is chopped down at the knees from the side or the back. It came into effect after Brian Cushing was injured on Monday Night Football, I believe. On the play when Solder was called for it, Brady was in the pocket, and Solder blocked from the front, and it was not below the waist.
This is the actual language in the rulebook: “If the near shoulder of the blocker contacts the front of his opponent’s body, the “peel back” block is legal.”
Romo said, “You can’t do that.” It was interesting analysis. Because you can definitely do what Solder did.
We saw a lot of bad penalty calls in this league, but I admire the creativity and aggressiveness of that one. That was a special kind of blown call, the one you don’t see too often.
–Leaders lead. And one way of leading when the whole world is doubting your secondary is to do what Devin McCourty did. The man had 11 solo tackles in this one. Nobody else on the Patriots had more than five solo tackles.
I think McCourty was outright embarrassed by everything last week, and so he took it upon himself to ensure it absolutely would not happen again.
–Tom Brady is not going to survive the season at this rate. Point blank, no doubt about it, period. No quarterback — whether he be 20, 30 or 40 years of age — can survive at this rate. The man is getting pummeled with a capital UMMELED. pUMMELED.
Here’s a little collage for you:
Carl Cheffers might have missed a roughing the passer penalty here:
–I’m willing to bet this was an unpleasant conversation for the men being spoken to:
–It didn’t help matters that on one of the plays when a pass rusher wasn’t ripping off Brady’s head, Tough Guy Tom™ decided to drop a shoulder into 243-pound linebacker Kendell Beckwith. In doing so, he looked like he could have suffered a season-ending injury to either his back, ankle, and/or brain:
The Patriots might be a winless team without that man. Brady has to know that. Yet he’s out there trying to Romo himself. Can’t be doing that.
–I did notice Brady stayed down on the field for an extra tick last week before getting helped up by Nate Solder. I thought he was checking his finger or hand, but some people on Twitter told me he was fixing his sock. Perhaps. But this week he seemed to take extra time to look at his throwing hand after taking big hits. You take that in conjuction with the absolutely brutal misfire he had on his first quarter interception, and you wonder if something might be happening there, either with the hand or forearm.
A screen cap isn’t exactly deep evidence, but here he is holding his right forearm to his chest after taking a big hit from two defenders:
He also held his right arm a little funny and took extra time to get up while grimacing after getting sacked by Clinton McDonald:
But considering he went 30-for-40 for 303 yards, it’s probably something that can heal over the next 10 days. Or it could just be his sock. Hard for this fake doctor to diagnose.
–I find it interesting that for all of the NFL’s billions, Brady’s towel was hastily labeled “12” with a Sharpie.
–Elandon Roberts blitzed up the gut and forced Winston to throw the ball about 30 yards out of bounds from his own end zone. It furthers my belief that the only — only — time in NFL history that intentional grounding was called for such a play was on the Patriots’ first offensive snap of Super Bowl XLVI.
What tomfoolery that was.
–The Packers’ white-on-white looked phenomenal last week:
The Patriots’ white-on-white looked like a bunch of boys playing in their underwear:
–Tony Romo had a subtle burn of Brandin Cooks, after the receiver straight-up dropped a pass while open over the middle. Romo said, “That’s why he plays outside of the numbers most of the time.”
–Not as bad as what Jay Feely said about Nick Folk: “I watched [Folk] in warmups going this way, Jim. He missed six kicks and really struggled, missing most of them to the right.”
So mean! So accurate. So prescient. But mean!
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a kick with the “rotation” of those two gag jobs by Folk. They went flying in like helicopters. The physics of such magic, I understand not. But it was majestic to watch. Thursday Night Football Forever!
–Dirk Koetter’s face said so much when he reluctantly sent the field goal unit onto the field early in the fourth quarter with his team trailing by nine points.
“I’m making the sound football decision. But given the man I’m putting on the field to do it, I am making a terrible mistake and I already regret it and I won’t sleep for days and I’ll eat nothing but Hungry Man frozen dinners until Thanksgiving.”
–I did think Koetter made a somewhat careless coaching mistake. The situation: Patriots leading by five, driving in final minutes. Mike Gillislee is tackled after two yards on first down, with 2:03 on the clock. Bucs call timeout.
You should never call timeout in that situation. You should wait three seconds, then call a timeout after the second down play.
It’s simple: By giving the Patriots a snap at 2:03, you eliminate any and all risk of an incompletion stopping the clock, because the clock is going to stop anyway for the two-minute warning. While yes, the Patriots could still pass coming out of the two-minute warning, the risk-reward ratio is in a different stratosphere.
Sure enough, after the timeout, the Patriots came out like this:
If you’re defending against the Patriots, would you rather they come out in 21 personnel or have to deal with Brady in the shotgun with five wide? Why put that stress on your defense if you can avoid it?
It ended up not mattering because Brady threw an incompletion, and then — the Patriots being the Patriots — they passed again on third down, despite the risk of an incompletion stopping the clock when Tampa was out of timeouts.
But it’s just, to me, poor management by Koetter.
(That being said, if I’m running an offense and I get that opportunity, I’m going with a play-action pass 11 times out of 10. There’s no better opportunity than when you appear to be in an obvious running situation.)
–Sports are bananas because Tom Brady was insanely accurate — he went 18-for-22 in the first half and 30-for-40 overall — and yet he missed Chris Hogan by a country mile on his opening-drive interception:
That came with no pressure, either. Just a straight-up 15-foot misfire, like 50 Cent’s famous first pitch.
Sports. You just don’t know. When it comes to sports. You do not.
–Can we have some “What Is A Catch?” talk for a moment? Because, like, look, we all watch a lot of football. And, well, sometimes we see guys make catches in the end zone, and they tap their toes, and they secure the ball, and then they take a step out of bounds and then fall to the ground, and then upon landing they slightly bobble the football, and the rules state that this man did not catch a touchdown. Incomplete. And we say, “Well, OK, I guess.”
Other times, we see a receiver catch the ball in the end zone and possess it, only to have it knocked out by a defender — like Sterling Moore did in that AFC title game, or like Malcolm Butler did to Odell Beckham two years ago. These men are ruled to have not scored touchdowns. And we say, “I get it, I guess, sure, whatever.”
So it was strange to me when Chris Hogan caught a ball in the end zone but was pushed back into the field of play before his feet could touch the ground:
That was ruled a touchdown.
I understand the concept of forward progress, but it’s just strange that possession can be awarded in the end zone when Hogan’s feet never actually stepped into the end zone. He never actually possessed the football in the end zone, you know what I’m saying? Had Hogan made that same catch but gotten pushed out of any of the other three imaginary boundaries of the end zone, it’d be incomplete.
It’s just a strange quirk, I guess. Add it to the list.
–While we’re talking about Hogan, it’s time to give him and Amendola their due for stepping up in a big way in Julian Edelman’s absence. Here are some #STATS and #FIGURES for you. Please buckle your dang seatbelt.
Last year in his first season with New England, Hogan caught 38 passes for 680 yards and four touchdowns — a career high in yards, and a tie of his career high in touchdowns.
This year in five games, Hogan has caught 23 passes for 288 yards and five touchdowns. That’s a new career high in TDs, and it also is tied for most in the NFL. Hogan’s on pace for over 900 yards, but if we reasonably assume his numbers will dip a bit as the weather turns and whatnot, he’s still in line to have the very best season of his career.
Amendola, meanwhile, was once again Brady’s go-to guy. He caught eight passes for 77 yards. he picked up five yards on a second-and-4 early. He picked up 10 yards on a third-and-5 in the middle of the second on what became a touchdown drive. He gained 10 yards on a third-and-2 before halftime to help make for an easy field goal. He gained 14 yards on a second-and-13 to make up the yardage for his own penalty and get the Patriots out of the shadow of their own end zone. He picked up 13 yards on a third-and-8 early in the fourth quarter to allow the Patriots to drain two precious minutes off the clock.
This is the Edelman role. Chain mover, tough as nails, holding on to the football at all costs. The guy has been outstanding — and that’s without even factoring his punt return work, where he broke off a 40-yarder on Thursday.
Amendola has already matched last year’s reception total (23) and improved upon his yardage total (243 last year, 267 so far this year). And that’s despite missing Week 2’s game.
With Edelman obviously out and with Rob Gronkowski missing in Week 5, Amendola and Hogan did the dirty work to keep the offense afloat.
–Brandin Cooks being able to casually contribute with 85 yards on five receptions helps, too.
–There was a drive where rookie tight end O.J. Howard had himself 20 yards of penalties. First, he committed the most poorly timed and poorly planned block in the back of all time, and six plays later he got tagged for holding.
What’s wild is that he should have had 30 yards of penalties on that drive, if the officials had seen him tackling Kyle Van Noy’s on Doug Martin’s TD-that-ended-up-not-being-a-TD:
Folks, we have got a silly goose on our hands here. Thirty penalty yards over three plays in the same drive would have been pretty spectacular. We were robbed.
–I don’t know if you caught his (ha ha pun intended, you’ll see soon), but James White pulled a Jason Varitek on his catch up the right sideline in the second quarter.
Brady lofted a ball for White, who was running past defensive end Ryan Russell. White had it lined up with his eyes, but he kept his arms at his side, as if the ball wasn’t about to drop into his bread basket:
If White had his hands up, Russell could have easily extended the left arm to interfere with the catch. Instead, White played it cool, hung on for the catch and picked up 24 yards.
I mean, I suppose it’s possible that he was late to pick up the ball. But it reminded me of when Varitek used to stand nonchalantly at home plate to lull the runner into a false sense of security before springing into action, catching the baseball, blocking the plate, and applying the tag all in a split-second.
I’m giving White credit for this one AND THAT’S FINAL.
–It didn’t count due to an iffy OPI call (yeah he got his hand on the guy but watch it in real time and tell me where the push-off is), but man, this was a juicy catch by Amendola:
I have decided to COUNT IT. Also a final decision. Not negotiable.
–People often wonder what it is that makes Brady so great. He’s obviously talented and smart, but what sets him apart from every other quarterback who’s ever played? The dumbos will say “CHEATING SPYGATE DEFLATED FOOTBALLS I’M UNHAPPY WITH MY LIFE AND THAT SADNESS MANIFESTS ITSELF IN THE FORM OF MY PATHETICALLY SAD SPORTS ARGUMENTS ONLINE.” But the more reasoned, sophisticated, handsome person will tell you that one of the biggest reasons has been his sixth sense in the pocket.
Yes, he’s never been Michael Vick, but it’s not about running away from pressure. It’s about sensing it and then subtly shifting in the pocket while remaining upright, locked and loaded with his eyes down the field, ready to fire off a pass when the window opens.
We saw a great example of that in the first quarter. It was a third down, on the road, backed up on his own 7-yard line. Brady took a shotgun snap and dropped back into his own end zone:
With just a subtle little slide, Brady slipped up in the pocket, avoiding two rushers whose eyes were likely the size of watermelons as they caught a whiff of a safety:
And he bought himself enough time and space to wait for Chris Hogan to spring free wide open over the middle for a first down pitch-and-catch:
It’s just one of those things that isn’t visually spectacular or anything, but to me it’s always been what sets him apart. Not many quarterbacks remain that cool when facing pressure while standing in their own end zone.
–Winston firing a 120 mph fastball at a tight end who wasn’t looking for the ball and was surrounded by three Patriots was a perfect way for a game like this to end. Let’s never speak of it again.
The good news is, after this 10-day break, we’ll finally get to see the Patriots test their mettle against a real NFL team on a real NFL Sunday when they take on the … hold on, let me check my schedule … when they go on the road to face the … aw, hell, it’s the freaking Jets. Dang it.