By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
FOXBORO (CBS) — The sun just always seems to shine on Bill Belichick.
OK, maybe that’s not true, and there are a handful of Sundays in January and February from the past 15 or so years that may disprove the theory.
Nevertheless, it is remarkable at how well things worked out for the New England Patriots on Sunday.
Before they even wrapped up their own victory in Foxboro, they won the AFC East, thanks to the Dolphins losing at home to Jacksonville. Then the Patriots earned their own 24-12 victory over the Bills.
Maybe 10-15 minutes later, after Deshaun Watson pulled off a fairly incredible go-ahead touchdown drive in Philly, Large Richard Nicholas Foles rose from the dead after getting bodied by Jadaveon Clowney. Foles for a moment looked like he had been Drew Blesdoe’d, and he had to exit the potential game-winning drive to give way to … Nate Sudfeld. But somehow, miraculously, Foles recovered quickly and missed just one snap; he promptly got the Eagles into field-goal range, and the Eagles beat the Texans — thus propelling the Patriot up to the No. 2 seed in the AFC.
Now, all the Patriots have to do to secure a first-round playoff bye is beat the 4-11 New York Jets next week at Gillette Stadium.
That’s it; beat the Jets, and earn yourself a week off from work in the playoffs. The stakes are massive. Tremendous. Heavy duty.
One might think such a win would be a cinch, considering all that’s on the line for the Patriots and also how little is on the line for the Jets, who may be most concerned with staying healthy so as to not ruin their offseasons. Yet, after being dished a double serving of humble pie in Miami and in Pittsburgh, nobody on the Patriots is taking anything for granted with regard to next weekend’s game.
It has become a de facto playoff game, and even in the minutes following the emotional surge of the victory and the Texans’ loss, the Patriots had their focus on the task at hand.
Tom Brady: “It’s just hugely important to finish strong. We’ve got a great opportunity. We’re playing against a team we know pretty well, but they played really well today [against Green Bay] and it’s going to be a tough game. So, get our minds right for a very important game that’s huge for us and I’m sure they’re going to play hard. We’ve got to grind it out and figure out how to win.”
Jason McCourty: “Division opponent next week, obviously a Jets team that’s gonna come in here ready to fight, ready to end some things for us. So, enjoy this, Christmas is coming up, enjoy a little bit of time with the family, and then get right back to business.”
Rob Gronkowski: “We’re going to have another big game next week so we’ve just got to focus and finish out the year strong.”
Duron Harmon: “The main thing for us is just to win football games right now. We have to make sure that we’re playing our best football, next week, the week after, and whenever we have to play. … Our approach right now is play the best football we can play. We know what time it is, the end of December, last game of the year. We need to be playing great football right now. No matter what seed we’re going to be, it’s all about us. We know that.”
Trey Flowers: “We still got to take care of business and take care of the Jets next week. We’re not looking too far ahead and whenever their time comes around, we also got to be well prepared. Nothing is really won today. The ultimate goal is not won today, but as long as we keep doing our job, we’ll be where we want to be.”
Normally, when the Patriots have the Bills and Jets scheduled at home to close out the year, there’s not a whole lot of intrigue surrounding the matchup. This year, though, isn’t normal — except for the fact that the Patriots once again find themselves in close-to-ideal position entering the postseason. No matter how much things change, some things simply stay the same.
Now, on to an abbreviated, Christmas edition of the leftover Patriots thoughts from their 24-12 win over the Buffalo Bills.
–Everyone’s talking about Tom Brady, you know? They’re all like, “Gah. What’s up with Tommy Boy?!” Or they’re like, “Beh. He’s hurt, right???!!!” Or, they’re like, “He got old FAST! Man I wish we kept Jimmy G, kid!”
It is, at the very least, always interesting that any time Tom Brady has a bad game, dramatic conclusions are drawn. The man’s had bad games before. He had bad games when he was 25 years old, he had bad games when he was 30 years old, he had bad games when he was 35 years old, and, lo and behold, he’s had bad games when he’s 41 years old.
Plus … when the run game was working with as much dominance as it did on Sunday (271 yards on 39 carries for a 6.9-yard average while Brady was in the game), there wasn’t a pressing need for the Patriots to force the passing game against the NFL’s No. 1 pass defense. That’s how the Patriots have been THE PATRIOTS for two decades; they beat you where they can beat you.
I’d agree that the Patriots’ passing offense looked out of sorts on Sunday. No doubt. If you really want to fret about it, I won’t stop you. But should they have run for 300 yards and passed for 300 yards? That’s asking a lot.
–Speaking of which … Hey, Buffalo. Hey, defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier. Hey, guys in the white jerseys. I’m going to let you all in on a little secret: When that big, strong, fast fellow wearing No. 84 in blue goes in motion? The quarterback has a 50-50 chance of handing him the ball on a jet sweep. Go ahead and try to defend that. K? K. Cool.
–I was particularly bothered by the Bills’ dialing up of a deep ball up the right sideline in the first quarter. It was, in a vacuum, a great call, because it worked. Robert Foster toasted Stephon Gilmore, which is no small feat. Josh Allen made a rare accurate pass, putting it on the money to his receiver. It should have been good for an 82-yard touchdown.
They ran the play up the sideline where the sun was obviously going to play a factor.
During warmups, the sun was clearly beaming strongly on that area of the field. Fielding punts and catching deep balls in that area was going to be a problem. It doesn’t take Ernie Adams to see that.
Alas, the Bills didn’t see it. And Foster didn’t see the pass. And the Bills had to punt.
–Josh Allen actually did make a number of impressive throws throughout the day — throws neither I nor the real league thinkers believed he could make entering the year and even earlier this season. He was, oddly, the best quarterback on the field Sunday.
That’s weird to say.
NEVERTHELESS! He also made some throws that were, for lack of a better word, pure buttocks. There too many to share them all, but here are some of the greatest hits.
Third-and-6, opening drive:
First-and-10, late first quarter:
Third-and-6, later first quarter:
Third-and-10, third quarter:
There were more, but we need not share every one. I suppose that’s a good snapshot of what a 20-for-41 day looks like for a rookie QB with accuracy issues.
–Just kidding, we’re going to run this one again:
–We can also, of course, run some greatest hits of the Patriots’ passing attack. Clearly on Brady’s first pick, he thought Rex Burkhead was going to break to the inside of the field rather than to the boundary. But … why?
Why throw that ball at all?
Earlier in the second quarter, Rob Gronkowski was open for a quick and easy short gain — and possibly much more if he could just break one tackle on a quick out route:
But Brady never looked his way. Instead he stood in the pocket and got absolutely clobbered by The Ghost of Christmas Past, The Ghost of Christmas Present, AND The Ghost Of Christmas Yet-To-Come:
In the fourth quarter, Christopher “The Invisible Man” Hogan ran a great route up the right seam to get inside his man and burn past him. Brady never looked at Hogan (a recurring theme of the day), instead opting for this simple option to James White over the middle.
Fair enough. Must have gone for a big gain, eh? Well, no:
Oh, and of course, there was the rare occasion when Brady did decide to throw to his mammoth tight end. It didn’t work out, either:
Should make for some fun time in the film room this week overall.
–The theme of this story is pretty negative, but that’s only because we’re not running extensive breakdowns of the running game. It was kind of straightforward, really. The Patriots bullied their way up and down the field all day long.
“It’s like practice. It’s like we’re practicing — practicing the run a lot,” Gronkowski said. “Games like that happen. I’m on year nine now, and I’ve been in games where we just run the ball the whole game if it’s working. I’ll just tell you this, whatever it takes to win a game that’s what we’re doing.”
–I’d be remiss if I didn’t share this lovely work by Robert Foster, who made a catch and COULD have cut up the field for a big YAC opportunity. But that would have been boring. Know what wasn’t boring? Running backwards and straight into a defender.
That was the most “It starts with one Buffalo” play of the day, I’d say.
–I tried really hard after the game to find a picture of Brady smiling, or being happy, or fired up, or celebrating. Could’t do it. Found a bunch of shots of Brady working on his Blue Steel.
I did think it was actually notable that Brady didn’t jog all the way to the corner of the end zone for his pre-game pump-up yell to fans. If it’s something he always does … why not do it on this day?
Just a weird afternoon at Gillette Stadium all around.
–OK, well. Week 17 is coming up. Jets. Sounds boring. But it’s not. Now wait patiently for another week of surprisingly meaningful AFC East football.