By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — How do you feel about that one? It’s honestly hard to pick a side.
On the one hand, the Patriots made at least a dozen mistakes that ranged from unfortunate to unacceptable, from penalties to missed assignments to missed tackles to ugly picks to lousy special teams play. Despite that, they had a chance to win the game late in the fourth quarter, on the road. That’s … something.
But on the other hand, they did all those things. And it’s the same issues, by and large, that cropped up far too often during their 2-4 start to the season. While it’s a positive development that the Patriots now have 11 players on the field for every play, they’ve still shown that they are capable of beating themselves on any given Sunday.
In that sense, the gaffes and miscues are a part of the team’s identity. Unlike in mid-October, it’s not their whole identity. But it’s a part of it.
From that perspective, you have to be worried about the Patriots in the long-term, big-picture sense … if you had some sort of Super Bowl hopes for them. (Those hopes were always a bit steep on the optimistic side, but this is America, and you’re free to feel however you want to feel.)
In the short term, though, there’s still reason to like their chances. Sunday’s game against the Bills won’t be easy, of course. But in the de facto AFC East Championship Game, the Patriots won’t have to deal with a road environment, and they should have Damien Harris back, and they should be able to run right over the Bills again. If they managed to be productive while running the ball on 94 percent of their snaps a few weeks ago, they’ve got a good chance to run the ball effectively again next week.
But next week is next week. For now, it’s worth hitting some leftover thoughts from the 27-17 loss in Indy.
–The run defense gave up two huge plays. The second one ended the game, but the more you watch it, the more you have to acknowledge that Jonathan Taylor made a special cut. With Eric Fisher stretching the width of that hole, Taylor had a sixth sense to know that going back against the grain was his best way of fooling Dont’a Hightower, who was blindly hitting that hole at full speed.
The dots really show it best:
Jonathan Taylor reached a top speed of 22.13 mph on his 67-yard game-clinching TD run, the fastest speed by a ball-carrier this season.
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) December 19, 2021
Hightower obviously ends up looking bad, but I think it’s worth recognizing the difficulty of adjusting to a change of direction like that when you don’t see the running back until he’s six feet from your face and changing direction.
That wasn’t bad scheme. It was great actually. It felt more like one of those instances in the NBA when a guy drains a clutch 3 despite a defender right in his eye.
The other big run, though? Yuck, buddy.
Every linebacker bit on the play-fake to the running back, Davon Godchaux was left in no man’s land, and the Colts had two blockers for two defenders on the jet sweep. From there, Jalen Mills and Devin McCourty just had to go into damage management mode rather than trying to make a hero play.
— Locked On Colts Podcast (@LockedOnColts) December 19, 2021
–Some of the penalties made less sense than others. Like, for example, the ineligible man downfield penalty. Perhaps the Patriots just didn’t practice this play too much. Or perhaps there’s just too much going on, with the fake jet sweep/fake inside handoff/fake screen left before throwing the screen to the right. Whatever the case may be, having three linemen downfield on a screen pass is something you’d see more often in a high school game than in an NFL game.
–Know what else didn’t make sense? Mac Jones licking his gloved hands.
When he said he’s never worn a glove before, he must have really meant it.
That lick came after Jones walked under center with 13 seconds left on the play clock and then nonchalantly let the clock expire while calling out an alert for his offense, taking a delay of game penalty.
Just not in the right headspace on that one.
–You can play the “What-If Game” all you’d like for every game ever played. It’s not entirely productive, but it’s natural.
In that spirit … what if Jakobi Meyers catches this dime from Mac Jones on a third down late in the first quarter?
Not an easy catch at all. But plays like that win ballgames.
And … what if Jamie Collins actually makes one of the easier interception opportunities he’ll ever get and then takes it to the house?
Again, it’s not a productive exercise. Because, say, what if Carson Wentz hits Michael Pittman on the opening drive? What if Wentz doesn’t throw too high to his massive tight end in the end zone? What if Gunner Olszewski’s fumble doesn’t squirt out of bounds? Etc., etc., etc.
Yet these two plays are spotlighted just to point out that if you want to win road games where you’re not operating at the highest level, you have to make these plays. The Patriots did not.
–You could probably file this one in the “What-If” category too:
N’Keal Harry was WIDE OPEN on the flea-flicker 👀 pic.twitter.com/vezHpTxmWc
— PFF (@PFF) December 19, 2021
That’s unfortunate. But the flea flicker took a solid 15 minutes to develop in the backfield, so it’s understandable that Jones didn’t exactly have time to progress through his options and step into a deep throw.
"Buzz, your flea flicker. Woof!" pic.twitter.com/xFccUt3MmP
— Chris Mason (@ByChrisMason) December 20, 2021
–OK, so this play technically didn’t matter, because the Colts converted the QB sneak on fourth-and-1 that followed. (Stop some of those QB sneaks next time, by the way.) BUT. This is just an incredible feat of strength and athleticism by Lawrence Guy on a third-and-1, and it warrants a spotlight.
Guy is lined up over the right guard. Watch this man:
–I’m sure Patriots fans don’t want to see it or hear this, but this is just some excellent graphic design here:
Watching football today with a W. pic.twitter.com/yQ59HDv3QR
— Indianapolis Colts (@Colts) December 19, 2021
In a world where memes rule the day, that is a good-as-heck meme. Respect.
–Just want to make sure everyone is aware that Carson Wentz took issue with some Patriots players using swear words. Sure, he likely objected to getting hit in the junk more than that. BUT. He also didn’t like the naughty language.
As long as we are airing our language grievances, I’d like to say that I was offended when Wentz awkwardly said, “I always thought that was swag” on Hard Knocks a few weeks ago.
As long as Carson Wentz is opening the dialogue about language he finds offensive, I’m finally comfortable stating that this clip deeply disturbed me. Rattled me to my bones. pic.twitter.com/fcb0grGFIX
— Michael Hurley (@michaelFhurley) December 20, 2021
Glass houses, Carson. Glass houses.
–I still can’t believe this:
tackled by the left tackle pic.twitter.com/0HWy3nHONh
— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) December 19, 2021
Now, listen. Sports are hard. They happen so fast. I understand and respect all of that.
I still can’t believe that happened.
–Something worth noting: Hunter Henry set a new single-season career high in touchdowns with nine. After playing four seasons with Philip Rivers and one with Justin Herbert, that probably says something good about Mac Jones. We won’t say too much in that department, because the pick to Darius Leonard was so bad. But the connection with the big free-agent signing is worth acknowledging.
Also … that second TD? That pass was sllllliiiiiiiick.
Mac being unafraid to throw in Leonard’s direction (in a spot nearly identical to where the pick was thrown) shows that he’s willing to take some risks even after making huge mistakes.
–Can’t help but feel like the Patriots actually employed the strategy laid out by Colts linebacker Bobby Okereke last week. Stop the run and force Wentz to try to beat you. It ALMOST worked, despite all of the catastrophes early on, and despite a 20-0 deficit entering the fourth quarter. It ALMOST worked.
That’s just crazy. I don’t know what the feeling in Indy is about the QB right now, but after that display, I’d be a wee bit worried about the playoffs if I were them.
–That’s pretty much it. If they don’t commit a bunch of unforced penalties and give up a blocked punt for a touchdown and throw a hideous pick in the red zone, they probably win. But, again, they did all those things, and it was reminiscent of their issues from earlier in the season. So there’s always the chance that another night like this crops up and kills their season.
Does it happen Sunday vs. Buffalo? Week 18 vs. Miami? In a playoff game? Or not at all. That much is up to them. For now, they’ve got a rather big one awaiting them the day after Christmas. From an entertainment perspective, it is going to be a dandy.