They certainly made a rough go of it at first, but as usual, NE made the plays that they had to to pull away in the end. Here are a quick smattering of my thoughts on this game.
* Maroney has clearly become a major weapon of late, which validates the few of us that believed in him for the entire season. Frankly, other than being given a few more chances now that he is more comfortable in the pasing game, I really don't see all that much difference between the Maroney out there now and the one there all season. Earlier in the year, NE was being predictible with their playcalling in Maroney packages, which they realized. Because of this, they asked him to avoid breaking an inside run to the outside, which is the primary reason that he was "dancing" and "tentative". He had to wait for the play to develop where it should be even if it didn't look promising. Most of his yardage from this game wouldn't have happened earlier in the year, through no fault of Laurence.
Now that Maroney is a bigger part of the passing game, and he has learned the right body lean, NE is giving him more freedom to trust his instincts. That, along with more carries, is why Maroney looks as good as he has lately. Maroney has clearly improved, but it was NE's coaching that led to much of the complaints about his play.
That said, I do have one bone to pick with my boy. Laurence still needs to react to downfield blocks a little better. Twice I saw him just run up into the back of Kyle Brady when, had he slid a foot or two to either side, he would have run for at least another 5 yards. Another time he broke a run to the outside when it looked like the WR had the defender blocked away form the middle.
* I am really hoping that NE will use one of their 3rd rounders this year to draft Meriweather a new pair of hands. Does this guy just drop everything that he comes in contact with?
* I thought, for the most part that the officating was very good. There were several uncalled holds on Jax in the second half (with quite a few coming when Seymour would have likely gotten to Garrard), but those were offset by the 3-4 holds that I saw NE's WRs get away with. I also don't recall a single hold called on NE's OL so it seems as if that was just the way that they called it.
However, I thought the refs did a lousy job with the personal fouls. Rodney clearly hit a guy too late. That was fine. But Seau didn't touch the facemask on his penalty. Samuel made a perfectly legal strip attempt while still in bounds when he was called. And the chop block was completely incorrect. Mankins wasn't going low on an engaged defender. He was solo blocking a guy and then he fell down. As he was falling, another OL (sorry, I forget who) slid over to pick Mankins man up. That was 45 yards of completely crap calls, one of which was a big part of Jax's first TD and another was the only reason that Jax stopped NE from going up 21-14 at the half.
I will grant you that the RTP on Jax was a little ticky-tack, but then you have to admit that Welker was tackeled by his face mask twice with no flag thrown. Rodney did get away with another late hit OOBs that I thought he was lucky not to be flagged for.
* I am forever befuddled as to why teams act like beating a team where they are weak is a sign of lesser performance. Nelson's garbage about NE winning with a bunch of dump-offs is reminiscent of Ray Lewis yacking about how Pitt went after their young guys in the secondary rather than run on 'em. Hey guys, why in hell should someone try to put their head through the wall when the door is open? And Reggie, if you think Brady's performance is slighted due to not challenging the secondary deep, how do you feel about your offense? Didn't they pass on a defense that was set up to stop the run? Doesn't that devalue YOUR QB's performance?
* I get that NE held Jax to their lowest point total for quite some time. I get that they held Jax to a nice little rushing yardage total. I get that NE held Jax to 6 points over the final 30 minutes to help NE pull away.
That said, I just never felt confident with their defense. Sure, they were selling out to stop the run, but they were passed on far too easily for my taste. In an odd twist of fate, it was NE's offense that was willing to slow the tempo down and limit possessions while milking the clock. It was this offensive clokc killing that was really the best defense, IMHO. Despite Jax ending with mediocre rushing numbers, it seemed to me that they ran or passed whenever they felt like it. They just chose to pass because they were so successful at it.
When a team forces on punt all game and allows drives of 80, 101, 48 and 86 yards on their first 5 meaningful possessions, I can't see how anyone could call that a success. The drive that started after MJD completely flumaxed the KO really irritated me. NE had just made a big play on Jax's prior drive and made it count on offense. Had they just forced a punt on that drive - any time during it, not just a punt from inside the 10 - they would likely have gone up 21-7 and effectively put the game away. Of course, credit needs to go to Jax for the drive as much as NE deserves blame, but NE had the chance to put Jax's face in the dirt and no one stepped up.
* Further on this, I said before the game that NE would rise back up to their early season level of play. Offensively, they did just that. Obviously I can't say the same thing about the other side of the ball. IMO, one of two things are at work here:
1) NE is who they appear to be. A team that can be taken advantage of defensively that - so far - makes just enough plays to give the O the chance to put it away at the end.
2) NE played a rather bland defensive game and still have some things left in their bag of tricks for the teams that they are truly worried about.
Normally, since this was a playoff game after all, I would side with number 1. Bags of tricks don't do you much good if you are sitting at home after being knocked out. However, for some reason the little smirk on BB's face at the end of the game gives me hope that the answer is closer to #2. He just seems a little too satisfied with this win compared to how he looked earlier in the year. No matter how vanilla a scheme is, allowing two long TD drives out of three real possessions in a half is pretty lousy defense, yet BB didn't seem faxzed by this at the end. Yes, yes, I know. Going down the "body language" road is not the best path to wisdom. But I can't express how much relief I felt when I saw just how content BB was with this win.
* Just a little more evidence of this confidence was Chad Jackson returning KOs until the end. By my count, I only saw one return go beyond the 20 - and that one went to the 23! If BB was truly ever worried about this game, I can't believe that CJ would have been in there. I would bet dollars to donuts that Chad doesn't see the light of day next weekend.
I thnk that is it. I'm sure that I'm forgetting something but I doubt that anyone is even still reading at this point.