By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
FOXBORO (CBS) — That one was … a little bit ugly. But the 10-1 Patriots don’t mind one bit.
The driving rain and wind made for an unpleasant day for just about everybody who packed into Gillette Stadium on Sunday. But with some well-timed execution and an avoidance of major mistakes, the Patriots were able to fend off the Cowboys 13-9.
As one might expect in such a sloppy affair, things didn’t go perfectly for the home team. So here’s a rundown of who shined on a rainy day, and who will have some things to think about in the coming days.
The rookie is finally on the board.
After Matthew Slater blocked a punt to set the Patriots up deep in Dallas territory, Brady threw a back-shoulder ball to the rookie up the left sideline in the end zone. Harry had to make an A-plus play on the ball, and he did just that, hauling in a touchdown to give the Patriots a 7-0 lead.
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) November 24, 2019
Harry became the 75th different player to catch a touchdown from Tom Brady, extending the QB’s record.
That was the plus side. On the down side, it was Harry’s only reception of the game, and he let a ball slip through his arms on what would have been a 20-yard gain. Harry said after the game that he plans to “turn it up a notch” going forward.
With both teams stuck in the (rubber-pelleted, imaginary) mud to start the game, the Patriots and Cowboys were looking for a spark. Matthew Slater was the man to provide that for the Patriots, sneaking through the Dallas line and artfully extending a hand to block Chris Jones’ punt late in the first quarter.
It was the Patriots’ third blocked punt of the season, and it was a big one, leading directly to a Patriots touchdown.
“Yeah,” Bill Belichick said after the win. “Probably the difference in the game, really, when you come right down to it.”
Just to really reiterate a point, offense was exceptionally tough to come by on this wet, rainy day, so turnovers figured to massive in terms of momentum-shifting. While any turnover would have been welcomed by the Patriots, they probably didn’t mind seeing an acrobatic, Superman-esque play that Stephon Gilmore made on a pass intended for Amari Cooper. It was a play straight out of The Matrix.
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) November 24, 2019
Gilmore held Cooper without a catch in the first half, playing lockdown defense against one of the NFL’s best wide receivers.
To put into context Pats CB Stephon Gilmore’s importance: When facing man coverage, Amari Cooper is near top of NFL in most major stats. Yet today, he was just held without a 1st-half reception for just the 2nd time in 20 games, per @ESPNStatsInfo. And Gilmore also has an INT.
— Jeff Darlington (@JeffDarlington) November 24, 2019
Pretty good pic.twitter.com/0QmLHLYTZw
— Tucker Boynton (@Tucker_TnL) November 24, 2019
Stephon Gilmore: Still very good.
Though Cooper caught one pass that was negated by a penalty and nearly caught a pass that could have made things interesting in the fourth quarter, Gilmore held Cooper without a catch for the entire game. It was just the second time in Cooper’s career that he’s been held without a catch in a game where he was targeted at least twice.
He’s not the biggest name in the Patriots’ secondary, but the fourth-year corner is an immense member of the best secondary in football. That much showed on the opening drive, when he had great inside positioning on Randall Cobb to break up a third-down pass over the middle and force a Dallas punt. It showed up again in the third quarter, when Dak Prescott completed a pass to Cobb that looked like an easy first-down pickup. But Jones swooped in at full speed to wrap up the receiver a yard shy of the sticks, forcing another Dallas punt.
BONUS: Sony Michel
On a day when running the football took center stage, Michel had one of his best days of the season. He rushed for 85 yards on 20 carries for a 4.3-yard average, and he came up with a huge 12-yard run to give the Patriots a fresh set of downs, thus allowing them to drain the clock to just 1 second in the fourth quarter.
With the Patriots entering this game very thin at wide receiver, the undrafted rookie out of NC State had his greatest opportunity of the season. Jakobi Meyers did not exactly make the most of it. But he also played a big role in the win.
Meyers did catch some passes and make some plays — most notably breaking a tackle and juking his way out of another for a big gain in the first half, and then picking up nine yards on a third-and-7 in the fourth quarter — but also made a series of mistakes. He dropped a pass on a crossing route early, he ran the wrong route on what turned out to be a 23-yard gain for him, and he couldn’t hold on to what would have been a huge gain on a deep ball up the middle of the field, dropping a pass while taking a heavy hit from Jeff Heath.
Again, Meyers was productive in spurts, but with a huge stage to step forward and assert himself in the Patriots’ offense, Meyers’ mistakes stood out. Thus, the young man is Up, and he is also Down.
Kicking conditions were not ideal, of course. But misses are still misses.
Folk missed his first kick as the Patriots’ kicker in the second quarter, missing wide right on a 46-yard attempt. Just before halftime, Folk missed again, once more to the right side, on a 48-yard attempt. In a game where points were at a premium, those would have been big.
Folk went 2-for-4 on field goals, and he connected on his only PAT. Considering his counterpart, Brett Maher, also missed a field goal, it shouldn’t sound any alarms. Nevertheless, some made kicks in those situations would have changed the shape of the game.
Coverage Bust/Devin McCourty
The biggest play of the game for either team came when the Patriots’ defense dropped into a zone in the fourth quarter, trying to protect a seven-point lead. Randall Cobb ran a deep over, positioning himself just far enough behind Devin McCourty for Prescott to drop a perfect pass in to the receiver in stride.
McCourty almost made up for the mistake, as he burned up the sideline and punched the ball out of Cobb’s grasp. But Cobb caught the loose ball and went down, after what turned out to be a 52-yard gain.
The defense held after that, and Jason Garrett somewhat foolishly kicked a field goal with 6:08 left to play to cut New England’s lead to four. But that coverage mistake was a rare misstep for a defense that remains the best in the NFL.
Jake Bailey (until the end of the game)
The rookie punter out of Stanford will not be winning his third AFC Special Teams Player of the Week for his work on Sunday. Again, the conditions were a real factor, but Bailey was not at his best.
Bailey was called on quite a bit, punting six times. Just two were dropped inside the 20, and one of those was downed at the 19 after a punt from near midfield. He punted one ball into the end zone from the Dallas side of the 50, booted another one into the end zone from his own 42, and he had a 30-yard punt that gave Dallas possession at their own 28-yard line.
Of course, as is the case with many Patriots, he showed up when it mattered most, carefully dropping a ball inside the Dallas 10-yard line with just 2:48 to play, when the Patriots were clinging to a four-point lead. That forced the Cowboys to have to travel the length of the field in order to mount a winning drive, and they were unable to do so.
It’s not often that you see a Bill Belichick-coached team make a game-changing mistake, but that’s what happened late in this one. With just five seconds left in the game, Brady took a snap from the Dallas 15-yard line and tried to throw a pass into the night sky to kill the clock and end the game. The clock, though, stopped with 1 second remaining, thus giving Dallas one last chance to try a miracle play.
That miracle play never came, but it was still uncharacteristic for the Patriots to be in that position.
While it was unclear why the clock didn’t run out on that final heave, the Patriots put themselves in that position by calling a kneeldown with 1:33 left to play. After that, they ran a rushing play to Michel, and then another kneeldown on third down, but the math on the play clock and game clock didn’t check out.