By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Here in the land of the good football team, we the people are a lot of different things. But we are not normal. No siree, Bob.
Given the unprecedented run of success of the local football team, we tend to have skewed views of just about everything. It happens. All those wins, all the championships, it all works to distort what serves as the everyday reality for 31 other franchises.
With that in mind, it’s worth taking a deep breath right now, with the Patriots sitting at 7-0, to quickly take stock of what the 2019 Patriots have already accomplished.
For one, they’ve defeated each of their three divisional opponents on the road. The win in Buffalo was tight, but the Patriots were clearly the better team. The wins in Miami and New York came by a combined score of 76-0.
Even when accounting for the tanking Dolphins and the struggling Jets, a combined score of seventy-six to nothing on the road against divisional opponents should not be taken for granted. (Especially when last year’s team was good enough to win the Super Bowl but only good enough to win three games total on the road during the regular season.)
The Patriots have now swept the Jets for four straight years and 11 times in Bill Belichick’s 20 seasons.
The defense is on a historic run, allowing a fraction of the points that the 2000 Ravens allowed. (For the non-history buffs, that is really, really, stupidly good.) They’ve now recorded four interceptions in a game three separate times this year. That is to say, in 43 percent of their games thus far, they’ve recorded four interceptions.
As play-by-play man Joe Tessitore shared Monday night, the Patriots have taken a 24-point lead in five of their seven games. That would be more than 70 percent of their games thus far.
The defense has posted two shutouts, which only the 2003 Patriots have done under Belichick. A third shutout would be a record for the Belichick-coached Patriots, and the Bengals, Bills and Dolphins to end the season should present decent opportunities for more.
Their point differential through seven games is the best that football has seen since something called the Buffalo All-Americans beat up on some jolly old chaps back in 1920. (1920!)
Tom Brady continues to care little about his fantasy value or statistical record, happy to hand the ball off at the goal line time after time for an offense that sits at No. 1 points scored and 10th in yards per game.
They just added Ben Watson, who came up with a tremendous catch to convert a fourth down. They just acquired Mohamed Sanu, who should give Brady a reliable receiving option. And they’re close to being able to activate N’Keal Harry, their rookie receiver who didn’t magically lose all of his first-round talent just by sitting on IR for a couple of months.
The New England Patriots are, quite simply, having themselves a very good time in 2019.
From here, it could go one of two ways. The 2007 Patriots started 7-0; they maintained things all the way until February, when they beefed it big-time in the Super Bowl. The 2015 Patriots started 7-0, too; they stretched it to 10-0 before a muffed punt in Denver by Chris Harper, a group fart against a bad Eagles team, a mystifying overtime loss to the Jets, and the infamous Steven Jackson Game cost them home-field advantage. A gargantuan two-man effort from Brady and Rob Gronkowski in the AFC Championship Game wasn’t enough, and the Patriots kicked away a potential championship season.
So, in that sense, there’s quite a long ways to go for this year’s team. Anything short of a Super Bowl will wipe away most of this recognition. That’s how it works here.
But for now, you can’t help but sit back and be wowed by the fact that the Patriots have seemingly existed in a completely separate league from their competition in six of their seven games played thus far.
One of those games was their most recent contest, which came against the Jets. Let’s dive headlong into some leftover thoughts from that 33-0 beatdown, shall we?
–My No. 1 takeaway from this game was Jakobi Meyers’ involvement in the offense. The defense obviously carried the day, and the offense has been fine, but we all know that Tom Brady’s side of the ball is going to have to be a bit better when the level of competition rises. (I guess that should say if the level of competition rises, because a whole lot of teams currently smell.)
It was significant that Brady looked to Meyers to convert a third-and-7 on the opening drive, with Meyers settling into a soft spot over the middle against a zone defense and Brady hitting him in the chest.
It was likewise huge when Meyers delivered the key block to spring Julian Edelman for a 14-yard gain on a short pass on another third-and-10 on that drive.
Brady and Meyers connected for a 23-yard gain in the second quarter, and they probably would have had an 80-yard touchdown connection if not for a desperation pass interference penalty taken by New York.
In total, Brady was 5-for-5 when targeting Meyers, and the rookie receiver drew a defensive holding penalty on one third down and the aforementioned DPI on another third down, thus giving the Patriots a fresh set of downs on both occasions.
This came a week after Meyers had what I deemed to be the biggest play of the game against the Giants, and it showed a promising step forward for the next potential diamond discovered by Belichick.
This was a significant development.
–Ben Watson getting 10 yards on a third-and-5 and seven yards on a fourth-and-6? Likewise, significant.
–Among the many elements that stood out from the Patriots’ defense was their complete lack of respect for Sam Darnold. I say that not as an evaluative judgment so much, but any time you wallop an opponent over the head with a flood of zero blitzes, you clearly don’t have too many concerns about that guy making you pay.
Sure enough, Darnold seemed happy to abide.
Darnold in his career vs. the Patriots:
27-for-60 (45%), 127 yards per game, 4.2 yards per attempt
0 TDs, 4 INTs
29.4 passer rating
Darnold in his career vs. everybody else:
274-for-459 (59.7%), 229 yards per game, 7.0 yards per attempt
20 TDs, 16 INTs
80.98 passer rating
–The picks were bad, but do you know what were worse? The throws Darnold made after all the picks.
If you want to hum the climactic final minute of the 1812 Overture in your head while watching these GIFs, you’ll really get the full experience.
A true masterpiece.
The only place you could feel safe from getting doinked in the melon by an errant Darnold pass in the second half was on the field of play. Everyone on the sideline? Head on a swivel.
(That’s the same man who lit up the Cowboys on that same field eight days earlier.)
–The total offensive performance was muted, which tends to happen when you hit the second half with a 24-0 lead on the road. But really, I could probably sit here and write a book about Brady’s touchdown pass to Phillip Dorsett.
I mean. There is perfection, and then there is this completion:
Tom Brady with a 26-yard touchdown to Philip Dorsett. The GOAT is looking to get his team to 7-0. What a pass. pic.twitter.com/sKyKmc1yvg
— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) October 22, 2019
— Michael Hurley (@michaelFhurley) October 22, 2019
Was some luck involved with the football somehow not hitting Trumaine Johnson’s arm? Sure, of course. But the throw traveled some 40ish yards in the air and would have hit a dime on the field had Brady been aiming for one. (They ought to make a cool saying out of that.) And Dorsett’s ability to somehow see the pass over Johnson, secure the ball against his body and then gain firm control of the ball, all while rapidly running out of room in the end zone.
That was art, man. It was art.
–Likewise, the stat sheet looks gross for Sony Michel from a raw rushing perspective. He had 42 yards on 19 carries, for a 2.2-yard average.
But … three of those rushes concluded in the end zone, and he also did this to the Jets’ best run-stuffing linebacker:
— Michael Hurley (@michaelFhurley) October 22, 2019
You’d never know it by looking at the stats, but that’s a nice night for the running back.
(Fun fact: In just 20 games played, Michel is already tied for 23rd on the Patriots’ all-time list for rushing touchdowns. He’s tied with Sammy Morris, who played 47 games in New England. Also with six touchdowns in last year’s playoffs, Michel is tied for 20th all time in NFL postseason rushing touchdowns. The kid’s on the accelerated course for scoring touchdowns, to say the least.)
–The lack of stats not matching the impact of a player can work on defense, too, as Jamie Collins’ presence was certainly felt by the Jets. On the stat sheet, Collins only recorded an assist on one tackle. He had dashes everywhere else.
But watch how Collins forced Darnold to throw his first pick of the night (on his first pass of the night):
That is an absolutely brutal job by right guard Brian Winters to recognize Collins, but even if Winters had picked up the block, Dont’a Hightower shot through the other side of the line untouched, too.
Now watch how the mere presence/threat of Collins forced right tackle Brandon Shell to block him, even though he wasn’t rushing. That move rolled out a red carpet for John Simon to get a strip-sack:
It was Jamie Collins’ quietest day of the season in terms of stats. But it was far from a quiet performance.
–I’m not a MAJOR conspiracy guy, but how could the flag festival midway through the second quarter be perceived as anything but a blatant attempt by the officials to try to keep the game mildly interested to a neutral viewer?
J.C. Jackson was called for defensive holding, which was a wholly legitimate call. But two plays later, he was flagged for pass interference on a ball that certainly was not catchable.
It also wasn’t clear that Jackson actually committed pass interference, because no replay was shown.
After the gifted 19 yards on that penalty, the Jets got another 15 yards after Danny Shelton hit Darnold with mild violence after the QB had released an incompletion.
Perhaps that call was legitimate? Hard to tell if Shelton made contact with Darnold’s head or neck. But given the circumstances, and the calls around it, it felt like a bit of a bailout.
Two plays after that free 15 yards, this was not called a hold on left tackle Chuma Edoga:
None of this mattered on the scoreboard or in the grand scheme of life, obviously. But after last week’s mayhem in Green Bay … the officiating on this drive in particular — plus a bad block in the back call on Edelman that negated a touchdown, PLUS a missed defensive holding penalty when Edelman was clearly yanked — certainly didn’t smell right.
–Fortunately, Darnold made it all REALLY not matter when he threw the ball … where, exactly?
That came after mics caught Adam Gase telling Darnold that he needed to get the ball into the end zone before halftime. Perhaps Darnold thought simply throwing the football there would complete the mission.
–Gase’s message there was that the Jets could score going into halftime and coming out of halftime, thus turning the 24-0 blowout into a game. Potentially, anyway.
Instead, Darnold threw that pick before halftime, and then threw this pick coming out of halftime, on a pass when there was only one person looking at him and/or expecting a throw. (Hint: It was not a member of the New York Jets.)
–Dont’a Hightower is an adult.
That is all.
–We’d be remiss if we didn’t praise the Zero Humans Defense employed on a pass to James White that probably should have been a long touchdown.
–I found this to be humorous.
The 3,577-day gap between Watson's Patriots catches is the 4th-longest between catches for a single team by any player since 1932.
Longest gap on that list? That would be @TomBrady (5,096 days).
— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) October 22, 2019
I’ll give you a shiny quarter if you can name the passer on each of those passes to Brady?
It’s not difficult, really.
You should get it.
If you don’t, you have to mail me a quarter.
Hint: One came in 2001. The other came in 2015.
If you don’t know it by now, the final hint will give it away: In ’01, it came vs. the Dolphins. In ’15, it was vs. the Eagles.
OK, here you go, cheater. Kevin Faulk threw the first one (it went for 23 yards) and male model Danny Amendola threw the second (which went for 36 yards in one of those really perplexing Patriots losses).
Stats are fun. History is fun. Good time.
–“Hey. Hey, Ernie. Can you believe we actually did that? What a laugh.”