In the end, the best thing to say about this game is the Patriots came away with a win…barely but it was a win and now they have 10 days to prepare for the Jets.
The game on Thursday night was a prototypical Thursday Night Football contest, ugly, ill-disciplined, sloppy played affair, punctuated with those hideous uniforms the NFL insists making the players wear. But perhaps it is a good move, for the players and the game scarcely resemble an NFL product at times during these Thursday contests.
In the end, the Patriots escaped Tampa with a 19-14 victory and are back in the win column. But this one won’t be highlighted as one of those quintessential New England wins since they seemed for much of the game to be trying to keep the Bucs around long enough to give it away at the end, which they almost did. Stephen Gostkowski was a perfect 4-4 on his field goal attempts while Nick Folk of the Bucs?…. Not so much.
But some quick observations from tonight’s game while they are still fresh in the mind before calling it a night:
Secondary Played Much Better: In the end, Jameis Winston threw for another 300 yard game against the defense, so there remains much work to be done. But thru three-quarters Winston had just 110 yards passing and the unit scarcely resembled the one who couldn’t get out of its own way for the first month of the season.
The coaches did what they needed to do and put Don’ta Hightower back in the middle for much of the game, and allowed cornerbacks Malcolm Butler and Stephon Gilmore to do what they do best, play man coverage on Tampa’s two top WRs Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson. The results were much better. They both competed hard and Gilmore had his best day in a Patriots uniform holding Evans, who was a non-factor for the vast majority of the game to just five catches for 49 yards.
Baby steps….to be sure but a positive one for the defense.
Brady was Sharp But Missed Gronkowski: Tom Brady was his usual very efficient self, completing 30-40 for 303 yards with one TD and one interception, his first of the season. Brady was especially sharp in the second quarter where he constantly moved up and down the field and completed all 10 of his throws and added a touchdown.
With Tampa’s defense missing some key personnel in the middle of the field, Brady and Josh McDaniels consisted isolated mismatches on the linebackers and made the Bucs pay. But once they got close, the offense couldn’t finish and ended up with just a single touchdown on the day. It was here that the offense, already without Julian Edelman for the year, missed Rob Gronkowski as they moved easily into scoring range and then seemed to be operating in the mud. Having no production from the tight ends was an issue that kept Tampa in the game.
Brady could be seen taking rookie tight end Jacob Hollister to task after a red zone stall. Obviously, there was a disconnect there that needed to be worked out.
Offensive Line Woes Continue: Brady was hit hard several more times and was obviously in a lot of discomfort after several plays tonight. Tampa scarcely resembled the team that couldn’t generate any pass rush and had just one sack entering the game. They had three on the night and frequently flushed Brady from the pocket or knocked him down. After being sacked just 15 times in 2016, he’s already been sacked 16 times in five games. This is a trend that needs to stop.
Brady will use this 10-day break for some much-needed rest and recuperation. He’s taken far too many big shots this season and despite his fourth straight 300-yard game, he’s under duress far too often. Avocado ice cream on the menu for this weekend.
The OL did do a better job at times in the running game. The team rushed for 113 yards against a team that had been allowing just 72.5 yards per game. Again it wasn’t great but it can be used as a building block to build upon down the road.
Dion Lewis Steps Up: In a short week, the team will have to rely on different players to pitch in and take on expanded roles. One of those players was Dion Lewis, who has been conspicuously absent in much of the offense’s game planning through the first four games. But as we pointed out in our pre-game key matchups earlier today, Lewis could give the offense a boost in the running game and did just that.
Lewis saw the most action he’s seen this season and had a very solid game running the ball. He looked a lot like the 2015 version of himself, at times giving an eel-like ability to slip tackles and get yards after contact. He rushed seven times for 53 yards and added two receptions in the passing game.
Coupled with Mike Gillislee’s 12-carry, 52-yard night, the two gave the Patriots a nice building block in the running game. Was it perfect? Nope, but it does add some intriguing possibilities down the road as the team will try to find that better balance between the passing and running games.
Who Are You Guys And What Did You Do with the Patriots: Once again, the Patriots were guilty of some extremely stupid gaffes resulting in penalties that cost the team. One of the hallmarks of a Bill Belichick team is excelling at situational football. Taking dumb penalties when your defense stops an opponent on a 3rd and 20 that results in a touchdown is inexcusable. Taking not one but two roughing the passer calls in the final minute of the first half and allowing Tampa to attempt a field goal was also unconscionable.
Had the Bucs made the field goal there and scored on their first possession of the second half, this game may have had an entirely different outcome. It didn’t but these are the kind of dumb mistakes that we’re used to seeing opponents make against New England. To put it another way, these are the dumb mistakes that losing teams make. And it needs to get nipped in the bud.
Yardage Total Shouldn’t be the Driving Factor Tomorrow: As I sit here minutes after the game, I think that while the Patriots defense wasn’t perfect, it was much better. But I have a feeling that the narrative will be driven by Winston’s yardage total rather than the end result. And that is wrong.
Once again there was a mistake made, a correctable one where Duron Harmon took a poor angle on DeSean Jackson’s quick slant and it resulted in his busting a 42-yard play. And part of the issue in the 4th quarter was the coach’s decision to lay back farther and trade space for time. Up until that point, the secondary had been very, very good for the majority of the game. Granted, they almost got burned by that strategy late but the yardage shouldn’t drive the train on Friday.
Mike Evans was a non-factor and Stephon Gilmore deserves a lot of credit for playing a very solid game. Likewise, Malcolm Butler on Jackson also did a solid job in coverage. Pat Chung had his best game of the season.
Moving Hightower back to the middle (another one of our keys) worked much better. Doug Martin had 74 yards rushing but 48 of them were on the one scoring drive in the first half. After that, the run defense tightened up.
The defense still has a long way to go, but on a short week, after the Sunday debacle, this was good enough…
Wide Receivers Have Big Games: Despite Tom Brady being under pressure all game long, the Patriots wide receivers had a very solid game. Chris Hogan had 8 catches for 74 yards and a touchdown and was wide open in the second half running down the sideline for what would have been an easy touchdown. But the pressure got to Brady and the pass sailed high into the sidelines. He’s become a scoring machine this season, notching his fifth touchdown of the season.
Danny Amendola made several tough catches in traffic in the highly contested areas and also had 8 catches for 77 yards. His best catch (one of three) was wiped out by a penalty. He made a leaping one-handed grab down the sideline He also busted a big punt return (yes we called that in our keys too) to set the Patriots up with excellent field position.
Brandin Cooks chipped in with five catches for a team-high 85 yards and James White, operating out of the backfield kept the chains moving with 7 catches for 53 yards.
Thursday Night Football Stinks: I’ve never been a fan of this (can you say player safety Roger?) as it consistently fields an inferior product. Tonight’s game was no exception. Teams are beat up from Sunday and play sloppy.
Example? There were 21 accepted penalties in this game, 12 by the Patriots. Unfortunately, they are here to stay, it is a money-maker for the league who owns Sundays and Monday nights and now Thursday’s as well. Off the soapbox…
We’re on to the Jets.
Posted Under: Patriots News
Tags: 2017 Patriots Season Bill Belichick Danny Amendola Dion Lewis Dont'a Hightower James White Malcolm Butler New England Patriots Patriots Rob Gronkowski Stephon Gilmore Tampa Bay Bucs Tom Brady