By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Nothing can bring everybody back to reality quite like a good old-fashioned thumping. And make no mistake: What took place Sunday afternoon in Jacksonville was a thumping. THUMP-ING.
The question that will be asked now in New England is whether or not this one is any different from the previous September thumpings that have become a bit of an annual ritual for Bill Belichick’s team. Looking back through the years, they really aren’t rare occurrences, with last year’s season opener against the Chiefs and 2014’s losses at Miami and at Kansas City standing out the most. The 2012 Patriots slipped up with back-to-back losses to Arizona and Baltimore, and the 2011 Patriots managed to lose a September game in Buffalo — somewhat of a throwback to the 2003 Patriots’ 31-0 loss in Buffalo.
Clearly, these things happen. But again, the question becomes whether this time is any different. Answering that question definitively would be a fool’s game. But there’s at least enough to grab on to for those looking to say that this is finally the year that the Belichick/Brady Empire is crumbling. The lack of receivers is a real problem, as is the defense which at times looked like a carbon copy of the unit that took the field against the Eagles in February. Throw in a long missed field goal (that missed the entire net and handed the Jaguars excellent field position), a questionable coaching decision, and there’s certainly enough there for anyone who wants to sound the panic alarm.
But doing so would probably be unwise — at least not yet. While yes, Sunday was a reminder that the majesty of employing Tom Brady and Bill Belichick is not enough for the Patriots to automatically pick up W’s in tough games, there’s enough of a track record established for us all to provide some leash with regard to the team going through some growing pains. Now, if it’s mid-November and the same issues keep cropping up every week, then it’s probably time to start making larger-scale projections on the 2018 Patriots. But for now, we should just state the obvious: The Patriots got thumped.
Oh, and the Jaguars are a very, very good football team. That shouldn’t be overlooked.
With that, it’s time for some leftover thoughts from the Jaguars’ 31-20 win over the Patriots on a steamy day in Jacksonville.
–Blake Bortles had his very best game as a professional quarterback. The story starts and ends there. The Patriots saw that Leonard Fournette was out and then basically dared Bortles to beat them. He succeeded in a way that only Bortles’ parents could have predicted. He completed 64.4 percent of his passes for 377 yards, four touchdowns, and one interception (which was the receiver’s fault).
Statistically, Bortles has had some better games (it’s true — look it up!), but never before has Bortles delivered in a game of this magnitude when the whole franchise depended on him. If nothing else, it’ll give the Jaguars an added level of confidence should these two teams meet again in the postseason. And it’ll give the Patriots something to chew on as the deal with the reality that they made Blake Bortles look like Dan Marino.
–The Patriots’ offense was very bad, as well, a reality which was perfectly described in two simple words: “Visor off.”
You know it’s a big deal when the visor comes off.
–Did you catch the nugget from Tracy Wolfson about the Jaguars putting thermometers on the Patriots’ sideline? That would seem to be a tit-for-tat response to the Patriots’ penchant for reminding visiting teams of the temperature as often as possible.
Football is so petty and stupid and awesome.
–The Jaguars’ defense largely came as advertised, shutting down most of Tom Brady’s receiving options throughout the game. And even though they didn’t hit Brady all that much, the quarterback appeared to have been affected somewhat by the rush. He unleashed a number of throws without stepping into them, opting to noticeably throw off his back foot or at least throw while ducking away from a rush. That is the effect of getting walloped by Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue on the opening drive.
–Speaking of Ngakoue, isn’t this the “burping” rule that came into play to save Kirk Cousins from throwing a game-losing interception on Sunday?
I don’t know. It feels like each referee has his own interpretation of the rules. For a league that is so dependent on officiating … that seems not good. The Green Bay coaching staff may want to send video of this hit to the league, with a hand-written note that just reads: “¯\_(ツ)_/¯”
–A true Classic Belichick™ moment came in the fourth quarter, when the Jaguars lined up to punt in an 11-point game. Though all of New England has spent months debating and wondering who will return punts for the Patriots, Belichick responded in classical Belichick fashion:
Punt returners? Punt returners are for cowards.
–What was not Classic Belichick™ was the decision to punt while trailing by 11 with 8:01 left to play. Granted, most people do overstate the ease with which Tom Brady can convert on a QB sneak. No matter how exceptional Brady has proven to be at running the play in his career, it is actually difficult for Brady to pull it off when the defense knows it’s coming. But still, with the defense struggling as badly as it was against Bortles and Co., giving the ball back to Jacksonville at that point felt like a losing decision.
Plus, these numbers are hard to ignore:
Sure enough, the Jaguars scored on a 61-yard touchdown pass on the very next play.
–I haven’t a clue what Jason McCourty was doing on the 61-yard touchdown to Dede Westbrook:
That “blitz” — if you want to call it that — left an entire half of the field open, with THREE Patriots defenders stuck on the other side of the field:
Throw in a complete whiff of a tackle attempt by Kyle Van Noy, and this was a truly dreadful play from the Patriots’ defense. A five-yard pass on a crossing pattern should never lead to a receiver going essentially untouched for 61 yards.
–In a game that wasn’t all that close, there’s no use spotlighting questionable calls for having any impact on the game. But it is worth remembering that on Sundays, there’s a set of rules for everyone else, and there’s a set of rules for Rob Gronkowski:
Being big and strong has its drawbacks (or so I hear), like being expected to work through a clear jersey pull and an early wrap.
That one snap aside, the Jaguars did what every defense should do when it comes to limiting Gronkowski: throw everything at him, mix up the coverage, and don’t forget about him for even one snap. There are times when defenses appear to actually forget how dominant Gronkowski can be (Looking at you, Steelers), but the Jaguars made it look easy to basically shut him down completely (two catches on four targets for 15 yards).
–Credit to this photographer for capturing the Patriots’ defense in one single snapshot:
–What’s this guy’s deal? Did he want Tom Brady to suffer a career-ending injury or something? That’s not very cool.
Not cool at all. That guy in the Brady jersey looks like he’s fixing to make it this Jags fan’s last game.
–For as much as the overall picture shows a butt-whooping, one can’t help but wonder how differently things would have gone had the Patriots done better at “the little things.” That may be a tired football cliche, but it is generally an area where the Patriots own a distinct advantage over their opponents on a regular basis.
In this game, the “little things” distinctly showed up three times.
1. First quarter, Second-and-7: Sony Michel breaks out of the backfield, has loads of open room in the flat, but stops running his route:
Brady threw the ball where Michel was supposed to be, leading to a drop. Michel got a talking-to on the sideline from running backs coach Ivan Fears. The Patriots did convert the ensuing third-and-7 (thanks to James White), but needless missed plays like this are indicative of an offense that’s not functioning properly.
2. Fourth quarter, third-and-4: Cordarrelle Patterson catches a pass from Brady in the backfield, has a chance to convert, but … falls on his tuchus.
Patterson reacted as if he caught a cannon ball to the bread basket. Not a winning play.
3. Fourth quarter, fourth-and-1: The questionable decision to punt on a fourth-and-inches nearly looked to be the work of some Belichick mastery, as Telvin Smith jumped into the neural zone before the snap. While this is generally a free first down for the punting team, nobody on the Patriots’ line so much as flinched, allowing Smith to get back to the Jaguars’ side of the line of scrimmage before the snap.
It’s easy to watch on TV and say that a Patriot should have flinched, but it is a bit more difficult than that. It requires a certain level of instinct and feel to have a split-second reaction time. But still, for a team that places such an emphasis on special teams and a commitment to “the little things,” this was a major miss.
–That being said, I still can’t believe how much uncertainty exists among fans, media … and color commentators about offsides rules. There is “offsides,” where a defensive player either lines up or steps into the neutral zone at the time of the snap. There is “encroachment,” where a defensive player makes contact with an offensive player prior to the snap. And then there is a “neutral zone infraction,” where an offensive player moves prior to the snap while a defensive player is in the neutral zone.
That play would have been a neutral zone infraction had a Patriots player flinched. But there was no movement from the Patriots, ergo no penalty. Fairly straightforward. But still there were scores of people complaining about a “missed call,” and the situation wasn’t aided by Tony Romo talking about an official “wanting” to throw a flag but being unable to “grab it” while also saying that offensive players are coached to touch any defensive players in the neutral zone.
It really wasn’t all that complicated. I’m sure that some day, the mystery of the neutral zone infraction will be solved by all football spectators … at which point the NFL will most likely change the rule.
–Eric Rowe owned up to his poor performance after the game, and he’ll probably be all right going forward. But man … getting picked on by Blake Bortles … that’s going to be tough one to bounce back from.
–Greatest catch of all time?
Greatest catch of all time.
–It was interesting that despite not having many wide receivers and having a thousand running backs, the Patriots decided to give Patterson an inside handoff. It’s not necessarily a bad choice, as Patterson is a talented runner with the ball in his hands. But there figures to be a plethora of options for some between-the-tackles running without calling upon Patterson for such duties.
–I don’t know what happened to Deatrich Wise’s finger/hand late in the game, but it must have been pretty gross. He completely stopped participating in the play, which gave a free pass for center Brandon Linder to light up Wise. But instead, Linder just sort of let up, showing some mercy for a guy who was clearly in tremendous pain.
Any time a football player shows mercy like that, I always assume something pretty nasty happened.
–Speaking of D-line injuries, it couldn’t have been much worse for the Patriots with Trey Flowers. The team has to hope that the brunt of Keionta Davis’ weight was absorbed by Flowers’ back and not his head, but based on Flowers’ being sprawled out on the turf, it appeared as though his head injury may be serious.
–Pretty much everybody knew these first four weeks of the season would be tough for the Patriots, as they await the return of Julian Edelman from suspension. But realistically, Edelman alone cannot fix all of the Patriots’ problems, and Sunday’s loss will at the very least serve as a wake-up call to a team that got outplayed and outcoached in an important AFC matchup.
And, as the entertainment gods no doubt arranged, their chance for a rebound will come on national TV, against an 0-2 Lions team coached by Matt Patricia. Falling to 0-3 would essentially kill the Lions’ playoff chances. Falling to 1-2 would lead to mass chaos in New England. Belichick will obviously show no mercy against his longtime assistant, and we’ll see if Patricia has a McDaniels-in-Denver type of plan for his former boss.
The Patriots should win that game, but the result of Sunday’s game in Jacksonville serves as a reminder that even the Patriots can have a very bad day in a very big game.