No, The Ravens Did Not De-Throne The Patriots

Taylor McCloud — Pats Militia

Last night’s game happens every year. Some AFC team comes into Gillette looking to knock the Patriots off and all of the analysts think it’s possible. Then, the Patriots bring whichever team it is behind the woodshed and football fans realize that Belichick, Brady, and everyone else wearing the Flying Elvis sits upon the throne atop the NFL.

Now, I’m sure you read that and said “But Taylor, those two special teams plays! They were horrrrrible!” and I agree — they sucked. If you’ve read any of my blogs before, you know I appreciate special teams more than the average football fan. They’re such an underrated part of the game and are taken for granted, until something like last night happens.

In a matter of fourteen seconds, Cyrus Jones and Matthew Slater tried to throw that game away. Two turnovers leading to two touchdowns and a twenty point lead almost disappeared. That’s not good, and I say that in regards to more than just the game.

For Cyrus Jones, I think he’s gotta go back into the doghouse.

Coming into the season, he was a huge blip on my radar. The Pats took him in the second round and it looked like they finally had a returner to keep Edelman and Amendola off of the field. Sure, he had some shaky performances in the preseason, but rookie jitters are to be expected. Garbage play continuing fourteen weeks into the season, however, is not. I blogged before yesterday’s game that I was nervous about the Amendola injury because that put Jones back returning punts, and it turns out that nervousness was merited.

When that third quarter punt hit the ground and Jones was standing right over it, I knew exactly what was going to happen. I’ve watched a million football games and it seems like every time a returner has orders not to field the punt but stands around to watch it, the ball hits them. It’s just like when a guy subs into a baseball game — the ball finds them. And that’s what happened to Cyrus Jones. That’s not an excuse, just the truth.

One guy I will make an excuse for, though, is Matthew Slater.

Yeah, I get it, he fumbled. And yeah, out of the three times he’s returned the ball this year, he’s fumbled twice. But you know what? The Patriots know he struggles holding the ball on kickoff returns. Since 2011, Slater has returned eleven kicks and he’s fumbled on four of them. His job has been to watch the actual returner, tell him to take a knee in the endzone or get out in front of him and drop a block from hell on some opposing special teamer. He is a professional football player and he should not fumble on plays like that, but returning kicks is not his job. He was put there because Cyrus Jones couldn’t get it together. Does that make it acceptable to give the ball away, and compound an earlier mistake? Of course not. But you’re nuts if you don’t see that that situation shouldn’t have even happened. (Yes, I have a soft spot for Matthew Slater, give me a break.)

So, now that we’re past that debacle, let’s talk about the good stuff.

For weeks, every game brought an onslaught of tweets complaining about the Patriots’ defense, but during the past three games? Crickets.

Since beating the New York Jets in a low-scoring, defensive game, this Pats’ D has been lights out. In three games, they’ve turned their opponents over five times. That certainly isn’t a world-breaking number, and there are certainly other squads who can generate double digit amounts of turnovers in the same period of time, but the Patriots hadn’t turned anyone over in a month leading up to that Jets game. Five turnovers in three weeks is a monumental step ahead for this group.

Also, if you take away the two touchdowns following special teams’ mistakes, the defense only gave up a handful of field goals. This Ravens team, the group that was supposed to come to Foxborough and give the Pats fits, could not put together actual scoring drives against this defense. Unlike Cyrus Jones, that is good.

And, the Patriots are second in points allowed per game this season. I know I discounted that stat a couple of weeks ago after the Seattle game, but if you look at their group as a whole, they’re in, or close to the top-10 in every other category. That’s a good defense, and they’re hitting their stride at exactly the right time. It’s nice when the Pats can just out gun everyone and score a ton of points, but the fact that they’re also able to win lower-scoring, more physical games has me feeling very optimistic.

Another source of my optimism is LeGarrette Blount.

Last night, LG ran for 72 yards, one touchdown, and hit two big milestones.

First, he scored his fourteenth touchdown of the season.

Then, he eclipsed 1,000 yards for just the second time in his career.

To be honest, I did not see this coming at all. I thought Blount would have a good season, and I thought he’d have a ton of endzone production, but after watching him run into the offensive line and fall down for over three years, a thousand yards was hard to fathom. But now we’re here, and I couldn’t be more excited. The Patriots haven’t had a thousand yard rusher since 2012 and it’s been a problem. Yes, Tom Brady is the greatest of all time and he is able to carry this team on his back, but teams do not win championships without a run game. It just doesn’t happen. But this year, it’s happening. The Patriots have a strong run game and it’s obvious just how important it’s been for the team’s success. And, because Blount’s killing it, we get to see him do cool things like obliterate Eric Weddle.

In addition to Blount’s solid outing last night, the wide receiving corps balled out.

Four guys had more than seventy yards. Three different guys had touchdowns. Against the best defense in the league, this group showed up and showed out.

Julian Edelman caught seven balls for seventy three yards. Sure, he hit some rough patches, one of which prompted this response from one TB12…

but he’s still the number one target. When Brady needs him, he’s there, and that’ll prove to be huge later on in the year. (Note: I know he dropped some balls last night, but I’m beginning to wonder if some of that is a result of Brady forcing the ball to him. Definitely something to watch.) And Martellus Bennett will prove to be huge, too.

Last night, Marty ran a seam route and Brady found him. I can’t pinpoint the exact time it happened, or find a video clip of it, but I know it was big. When Rob Gronkowski runs down the seam and controls the middle of the field, the Patriots are nearly unstoppable, so when I saw Marty run that route and gain a chunk of yardage, I jumped out of my seat. It may have seemed insignificant, but it’s the farthest thing from that. Controlling the middle of the field is exactly what needs to happen for the Patriots to be successful. Although, plays like this will suffice too…

So will touchdowns from Malcolm Mitchell.

I said it last week, and I’ll say it again, Malcolm Mitchell is blossoming before our eyes. Put up another TD last night, his fourth in four weeks, is proving to be a legitimate threat at wideout, and is gaining the complete trust of Tom Brady. It’s not often that the Patriots make the correct choice with receiver draft picks, but this is beginning to feel very exciting. He’s gets open, he catches the football, he scores. What more can you ask for?

Well, another touchdown, I guess.

This was it. This was the play that solidified how I feel about this Patriots team. After giving away two touchdowns and a field goal, this is the response. A Chris Hogan 79-yard touchdown on the first play of the drive. Doesn’t get much better than that.

And it doesn’t get much better than Tom Brady.

I’ve already talked about the touchdown passes, and I’ve already talked about that dagger, but I haven’t really talked about Tom Brady. However, I think I know why: I don’t really have to. That performance he turned in last night didn’t surprise me. Not at all. That’s what I expect from Tom Brady. Obviously 400+YD & 3TD against the best defense in the league is incredible, but that’s just what he does. I sit here in awe every time he walks on the field. Nothing phases him. Nothing affects him. He just goes out there and proves why he’s the best, day in and day out. Plus, he’s still furious about DeflateGate and the fact that 198 players were drafted before him in 2000 so we get moments like this.

Brady losing his mind after sealing a victory against his rival makes my insides tingle. Love it more than anything. He’s the best to ever do it, and as Randy Moss said…

P.S. Don’t ever think I’d forget about Sweet Feet. 

Go Pats.

 

 

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