By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Patriots are 2-2. Let’s zoom out from the moment for a second.
Thinking back to the summer, many of us agreed that in the absence of Julian Edelman for the first four weeks, with a somewhat difficult early season schedule, the Patriots would be fine if they managed to go 2-2 in that time.
Well, they did it. At times, it was ugly. At times, the season outlook appeared to be a bit grimmer than we anticipated. And then Sunday happened, and the Patriots are now in position to be exactly where they were a year ago through five weeks. Just when the season appeared to be on the brink, the Patriots took the field and reminded everyone that logic and trends and streaks and everything else wouldn’t matter on Sunday. All that mattered was that the Patriots are the Patriots.
They did it to us again, didn’t they?
It can’t last forever, this ridiculous run of 15 years and counting without having to endure a three-game losing streak. But if it didn’t end on Sunday, when the Dolphins were 3-0 and the Patriots were coming off two flatter-than-flat showings on the road, then it’s not going to end any time soon.
It’s a short week, so let’s stop the bluster there and get right into all of the Leftover Thoughts from the Patriots’ 38-7 thrashing of the first-place Miami Dolphins.
–Box scores are cool. Stats are nice. But they often don’t give you enough. For instance, James White’s 22-yard touchdown looks nice. But there’s just no way that words and numbers could ever properly catalog what White did to defensive end Robert Quinn on the play.
I mean …
Oh no. Just, oh dear.
–Nice blocking upfield from Josh Gordon that play, too:
That’ll earn him some brownie points with the coach.
–The Patriots were good, obviously. But the Dolphins were baaaad.
They went with a wide receiver screen on third-and-12 on the opening possession. It gained five yards. The ensuing punt went just 26 yards. That was a junior varsity sequence.
They committed a defensive holding penalty (admittedly, a pretty bogus one) on a third-and-5 to bail out the Patriots from a three-and-out on their first possession. The Patriots then marched for 64 yards to kick a field goal and take an early lead.
They committed another defensive penalty — this one for illegal contact — on another third down, once again giving the Patriots a free set of downs. New England scored a touchdown three plays later when the Dolphins employed this defense:
It was bad.
Oh, there was also a third-and-13 for the Dolphins to start the second quarter. Ryan Tannehill threw over the middle to a stationary Kenny Stills. It gained seven yards and had zero chance of converting. It was not a very bold approach to play calling.
–This wasn’t even a perfect game from the Patriots. Far from it. Brady threw two picks that we don’t ever see him throw. New England committed six penalties, including an offensive hold that negated a 39-yard gain, a third-down defensive hold that gave Miami a free set of downs, a pass interference penalty for 12 yards, a post-whistle unnecessary roughness penalty following a punt, and a near-comical sequence of three Patriots committing three different penalties on the same play. The Patriots stalled at the goal line on their opening possession and were only leading 3-0 through the opening quarter.
The Patriots left the door open for the Dolphins to at least be competitive. But the Dolphins were so bad that they still lost 38-7. What a gut punch for a team that probably woke up Monday not feeling like a first-place team.
–Do you know who made an excellent football play? Why, I’ll tell you: Phillip Dorsett made an excellent football play. It probably won’t be remembered decades from now, but his touchdown catch in the second quarter was ridiculous. The man caught the football whilst front-flipping in the end zone, and he managed not only to complete the catch but also to land in bounds.
It was a feat.
Athleticism is fun. That play displayed so much athleticism that I wouldn’t be surprised to see the NFL outlaw it before Week 5. Can’t be letting these guys display their freakish talent without getting some replay reviews and penalty flags involved.
–Dorsett also joined James White in the #FerociousJukeBrigade.
We’re looking at a little one-on-one situation out in space here:
And then we’re looking at a simple little cut to the inside, just as Torry McTyer guessed that Dorsett would break outside:
And then we have what is known in football jargon as the “Smell Ya Lata” move by Dorsett:
That’s how a quick little pass on a second-and-3 can go for 20 yards. It was’t really a juke, per se, but it had all the effect of a ferocious juke. And when a defender spends a play lying facemask-first on the turf, you can bet it’ll end up in this story every Monday morning.
–The Patriots played with a lot of power, too. Power blocking. Power running. Power Being Gronkowski And Requiring Five Adult Males For A Basic Tackle-Ing:
Gordon broke two tackles to turn a nine-yard gain into a 19-yard gain:
Dwayne Allen killed a guy:
Trent Brown was Trent Brown. Together, the O-line was a bunch of bullies. The D-line exhibited even more bully behavior.
I’m sure a part of that has to do with playing at home, especially in terms of the O-line getting off at the line of scrimmage to set up some runs. But I think the more encouraging part is that it likely also had a lot to do with pride. The Patriots, quite simply, got manhandled a bit in Weeks 2 and 3. In Week 4, they made sure that it wouldn’t happen again.
–Cordarrelle Patterson tackled himself again. That’s now twice on the year. What a weird thing. An obviously gifted athlete, big and strong, makes outstanding plays with the ball in his hand … but he just falls over sometimes.
(Patterson also had some strong blocking on Sony Michel’s touchdown run in the fourth, to tack on to the previous point.)
–Speaking of Michel, I think the Patriots have to feel relieved after that performance. It’s not that they were worried about Weeks 2 and 3, when the blocks by and large weren’t there. It’s more about the team needing that type of contribution from Michel, with Jeremy Hill obviously lost for the year. Proving that he could be depended on for 25 carries on a day when the Patriots ran 30 more plays than their opponent was big.
I think the best thing you can say about Michel’s day was that he just looked right. Watching his debut in Jacksonville and his follow-up in Detroit, it was evident even from the TV screen that it was Michel in the game instead of James White. In those games, White was faster, ran with more confidence, ran routes with better precision, and appeared to be the lone back fully capable of contributing in a big way. (Considering these games were essentially Michel’s entire preseason, it almost should have been expected.)
But on Sunday, you likely had a moment or two where you weren’t positive if it was No. 26 or No. 28 running with the football. Michel’s confidence was evident. We’ll now see how well and how quickly he can recover on a short week after a grind of a game.
–A fun little moment on the field: After J.C. Jackson’s third-quarter interception, the entire defense collectively swayed their arms in sync with “Hip Hop Hooray” as they all excitedly bounced off the field.
–An even more fun little moment came on the most needlessly complex/slow-motion trick play of all time. Tom Brady motioned to the left slot. James White took the shotgun snap. He pitched the ball back to Brady, who was now … in the pocket. Where he always is. Brady looked down the field, scanned his options, and … dumped it off back to White. It went for a gain of nine yards on a second-and-16.
I guess, technically, it “worked.” And I, for one, encourage more trick plays that are lacking tricks. Spice things up a little.
–A truly creative play that stood out to me came on a third-and-7 at the New England 18-yard line in the second quarter. Patterson motioned from right to left, as if he was going to get a jet sweep. Brady faked the handoff to Patterson, drawing some of the defense that way. Brady then rolled out to the opposite side, where James White was open in the flat. Brady hit White, and White handily won a race to the sticks against McTyer and Jerome Baker.
In the previous two weeks, the Patriots’ offense was really lacking a creativity that utilized the players who were actually on the field. It looked like a generic offense not specifically designed for the current personnel. A play like this was a good example of utilizing both Patterson and White to their strengths.
–SPEAKING of trick formations, did you catch John Harbaugh’s Ravens on Sunday night? He was sending guys out for routes from the guard position, but off the line of scrimmage. He was sending other guys out for routes from the tackle position while the tackle hung out in the slot. He was a regular mad man!
(“So clever! Love it!” is such a far cry from the reaction in January 2015 from most people. Wonder why.)
The same John Harbaugh who threw a hissy fit on the Foxboro turf when the Patriots employed similar tactics? Why yes, it is the same man.
What’s wild about the Ravens’ trick formations is that the defense is not even alerted to the trickery, because it does not require a skill position player to check in as ineligible. So the Steelers’ defense didn’t even get the benefit of having the ref inform them of which player they need not cover.
Football, baby. Got to love it.
–Brady threw two picks while trying to force throws out before getting hit, but he also threw two touchdowns while getting clobbered. Here he was on the James White touchdown:
And here he was on the Dorsett touchdown:
Brady ended up taking a pretty good beating on the day, but the Dolphins managed to get zero sacks on their seven quarterback hits.
–Trent Brown has been good. I don’t think he’s an All-Pro or anything, but he doesn’t need to be. He wasn’t replacing an All-Pro. He was replacing a solid, dependable left tackle. Thus far, he’s done that.
–Zooming out even farther than we did to kick this thing off, it really is remarkable that the Patriots haven’t lost three straight games since 2002. It defies all reasonable explanation, as the Patriots are comprised of human beings and thus should be vulnerable to the same frailties and flaws that plague all of humankind.
But the Patriots — no matter which players are making up the supporting cast around Brady and Belichick, no matter how “bad” a team may be in a particular year — have been immune.
The easiest explanation is that the “system” or the “culture” or the “Patriot way” (or however you’d like to describe it) is such that the previous week is simply never allowed to bleed into the following week. “The highs can’t get too high and the lows can’t get too low” is a full-on cliche, but it is nevertheless true in Foxboro. Even on Sunday, when asked about postgame about any added urgency Brady might have felt when he showed up to work that day, the quarterback steered the conversation to next week.
“This game’s great, but you’ve got to turn the page once you learn from it and you get focused on the next game,” Brady said.
He then got into “it’s a long process, it’s a long season,” and he said, “Hopefully, we’re a lot better in October than we were in September.”
Belichick spoke flatly about this team’s response to the 1-2 start, saying, “Yeah, sure. Look, every team is going to face adversity over the course of the season. It’s going to be more than one time, too. We’ll all get challenged on this. We’ll get challenged again. I’m sure it’ll probably be many times. Certainly have a big challenge this week with the short week and Indianapolis and all that, but we’ll have to respond a lot. Today was a good example. There were some not-so-good examples earlier in the year. We’ll see how it goes.”
We will indeed see how it goes. But based on the history of the past two decades, don’t we already kind of know the answer?