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Patriots vs. Cardinals: Fan Notes from the Game

And the season that makes absolutely zero sense rages on.

I’m more or less done trying to figure these Patriots out. They should have found their identity weeks ago, but it seems like they’re a completely different team from drive to drive, let alone game to game. The defense sputters, then it plays lights out. The offense puts together great drives, then doesn’t get anything going. They lose games we think they’re going to win and win games we think they’re going to lose.

But at least they weren’t trying to convince one of their coaches to strap on a helmet, right? As enjoyable as it would have been to see Steve Belichick’s mullet sticking out from under the back of it.

  • If you haven’t realized it by now, it was as clear as day yesterday: this Patriots offense is extremely limited in what they’re able to do. Toss plays, the occasional screen, an end around or trick play here and there, and maybe a few passing plays in there for good measure. If you can set the edge to take away the stretch run and shed the receiver block, you’ve more or less eliminated all but four or five Patriots plays that have a chance of working. Other than designed runs, yards just never come easy for this offense.
  • The Cardinals, on the other hand, seemed to be an offense that just couldn’t ever really get into a rhythm. They looked amazing at times, but I also couldn’t shake the feeling that they’ve built their entire playbook around Kyler Murray’s legs and his amazing ability to extend plays. New England was singularly focused on keeping Murray in the pocket and not letting him gash the defense for big plays, and they did a phenomenal job of that. Five carries for 31 yards is a huge win for the D.
  • And make no mistake: defense and special teams won this game for the Patriots. Good field position coupled with a turnover and big stops in clutch situations allowed the offense to do just enough to win. Usually when a quarterback has 84 yards passing, he’s a practice squad callup who hasn’t played the position in years and a team is forced to start him out of sheer desperation because the league doesn’t care about the product on the field. But Newton bucked a trend in that respect.
  • And if you didn’t notice, the Cardinals watched how effective Houston was against the blitz last week and did a lot more of the same against Cam Newton. New England was much better in blitz pickup this week, but against pressure the timing of the patterns were thrown off.
  • That’s not to say that Cam had a bad game; for the second week in a row, he was (in my opinion) solid.
  • All the way back in the Tom Brady era, there were two camps who were constantly vying for the most obnoxious, idiotic group on the planet. In one corner were the apologists, for whom Tommy B could do no wrong. It was the playcalling, or his lack of weapons, or the refs, or the league, whenever he didn’t play well, and it was all Brady when things went right. In the other corner were those to whom nothing Brady ever did would ever land him any credit. He was always the benefit of a lucky bounce, or a timely penalty, or a great coach and defense, that carried him into the spotlight. You just couldn’t win with either of these camps – and you’re already starting to see them re-emerge, in shiny new clothes, for Cam Newton. He’s now either constantly sailing passes high or into the ground or he’s doing great considering his supporting cast. Good at times, awful at times? No room for that take here. Glad to see some consistency in 2020.
  • What are we supposed to feel when we realize that Jake Bailey is having a phenomenal year? Should we be proud of all the punting he’s doing?
  • A Gunner Olszewski Jet Sweep on third down which got stuffed followed by an option run to James White on 4th that led to a score is a great example of the edge experience in this league gives players. Gunner actually had a first down, possibly a score, had he cut out of his run to the edge and sliced back into the middle of the field. Instead he followed a James White block and couldn’t turn the corner. On White’s carry, though, he saw that he wasn’t going to be able to get to the sideline so he turned north early and found a hole for the score.
  • I also imagined that I would have been able to spell “Olszewski” by now without having to look it up – but alas, he hasn’t done much this season to warrant earning a spot in the coveted Fan Notes, second only to earning a cush parking spot after a great week of practice.
  • He should have been well on his way, though, had an 82 yard punt return for a TD not gotten called back by one of those penalties that, while technically correctly called, once again illustrated that this game no longer looks anything like the sport we all fell in love with. Anfernee Jennings threw almost the exact same block that Michael Floyd threw to spring Julian Edelman for a 77 yard TD reception. The difference is that where Floyd came in at almost full speed to level the defender, Jennings stopped, established himself as stationary, lowered the shoulder, and threw the block right into the pads. You know…everything you’re supposed to do there. Jennings doesn’t throw that block, Gunner gets caught from behind, no doubt about it. But apparently what you have to do now instead of throwing a block is to throw a pick, which basically means he has to stand there and let a 250 lb linebacker plow him over.
  • This is what he was supposed to do. Seriously.
  • Sony Michel, active off IR, didn’t get a single carry yesterday. But he did still rush for more yards than N’Keal Harry.
  • I’ve got a pretty hurculean task ahead of me today defending N’Keal Harry as anything more than a solid downfield blocker at this point in the year. Not only was he once again a ghost, but his biggest contribution to the game came on a 3rd and 14 where Cam was able to scramble out of the pocket hoping to make a play, Harry was in a sitdown route well short of the sticks, and as Newtow desperately tried to get him to make a run he collided with two Cardinals defenders and fell over as the ball sailed out of bounds. No offseason, sure. New QB, definitely. But UDFA Jakobi Meyers has picked up the offense pretty damn well and Damiere Byrd is making plays as well. So Harry either needs to get it together by this time next season or I never want to see the Patriots draft a receiver before the 4th round again. I really don’t want to be saying this to Harry anytime soon.
  • One of the best things to come out of yesterday’s game was the unveiling of a new (at least I think it’s new and I’m too lazy to look it up) package that motions Damien Harris out wide with Jakob Johnson as the FB and Cam in shotgun behind him for a designed run behind Johnson up the gut. It adds an extra blocker and creates a good mismatch. I’m guessing there will eventually be some passes called out of that formation.
  • Remember all those throws that Tommy B used to make where a free defender came in on the blitz and Brady threw the ball off his back foot while falling to the ground and 70% of the time it ended in a pick? Thanks to Kyler Murray, I now know what that throw is supposed to look like.
  • Damien Harris continues to be a monster. He can make cuts and run through tackles, and almost always falls forward. His stats yesterday are very pedestrian, but that’s yet again another reason why judging ability based on stats or some kind of spreadsheet is a fool’s errand.
  • It’s weird, though, looking at everyone’s numbers yesterday and figuring out how this team put up 20 points. The leading rusher had 46 yards and the leading receiver at 52. Only three players caught a pass. Only one player on defense had double digit tackles.
  • Adam Butler was the best player on the field for either side yesterday and it wasn’t even close, in my opinion. Absolutely blew up the center of the field like toilets nationwide following Thursday’s big meal and forced the Cardinals to alter a rushing attack that never found its footing.
  • If you want to knock Stephon Gilmore for for giving the best receiver in the game the cushion that forced all of his catches to come on comeback routes, go right ahead. But Hopkins only had 55 yards on the day, right on par with Jakobi Meyers, and nothing he did changed the complexion of the game at all.
  • The least penalized team in the league for 2020 kept multiple drives alive with stupid penalties. The Patriots used to take advantage of the opportunities they were given and win games. The 2020 Patriots seem to thrive on giving their opponents multiple opportunities to beat them. Tommy B used to get the ball in his hands with two minutes left in the fourth quarter and drive down the field to score. The 2020 Patriots get the ball in their hands with two minutes left in the fourth quarter and give it right back to the opponent.
  • Very curious decision kicking a 45 yard FG on 4th and 1 rather than go for it to milk the clock even more and get closer to the end zone. I mean I get it, especially after that goal line stand earlier in the game, but when you have one of the best running QBs in the game who basically just need to fall down to pick up the first and you have a notoriously shaky kicker, I wonder if Kliff Kingsbury at least gave it some thought.
  • How crazy is it that the current coach of the Cardinals got drafted by the Patriots two years after Tom Brady did?
  • And how crazy is it that the Cardinals let Cam run for a first down on 3rd and 13? People are griping about the personal foul because of course they are, but the real story is giving up the first there.
  • Anybody who reads lips and know what Hopkins said after that personal foul?
  • Nick Folk has become something of a…um…folk…hero in New England this year. The guy has yet to miss a potential game winner and he’s hands down this team’s most consistent opportunity to get points.
  • With the win, the Patriots saw their chances of making the playoffs jump by a whopping 25%. Their odds now sit comfortably in the double digits at 12%, up from 8%. If that’s not cause for celebration, I don’t know what is.
  • And a preemptive thank you to whoever will inevitably be pointing out that it in fact isn’t a 25% jump at all because I didn’t do the math properly. I’m glad you could take a break from reminding the teacher that she forgot to collect the homework to call me out on my idiocy.
  • In yet another weird week of football, one of the weirdest things I experienced yesterday was this Tweet from Adam Schefter:

Now I can’t say for sure, but I read this as Schefter praising the NFL for the way they’ve been able to keep playing games throughout this global pandemic. This Tweet comes on the heels of more positive cases, multiple postponements, testing protocols the league won’t share with anyone, teams playing with decimated rosters, and teams literally trying to get a coach to strap on a helmet to play quarterback because not a single QB is available. It’s not that hard to play a full slate of games if you decide to just plow ahead no matter what. But if that’s all it takes to seek some kind of praise these days, I’m beyond proud to announce the following:

  • I’ve gone out and gotten hammered hundreds of times in my life and never once lost my wallet or keys.
  • I almost always scrape all the cheese out of the pizza box before I put it out for recycling.
  • I’ve flown hundreds of times and I no longer hover in front of the boarding gate even though I’m in Zone 5 and my group will be the last one called and I’ll likely have to check my carry-on because people seem to think that an overstuffed mountaineering backpack counts as a “personal item.”
  • Congratulations to all of the factory owners out there who, by forcing their employees to come to work sick, injured, grieving, starving, and desperate for fear of the repercussions, have never missed a production deadline.
  • Integrity!

Looking ahead at the schedule, the Patriots have the Chargers, Rams, Dolphins, Bills, and Jets left on the slate. Can they go 5-0 down the stretch? Honestly, yes. Can they go 0-5 down the stretch? No way, the Jets stink. But they could lose the rest of those games easily. I don’t know anything anymore, so may as well keep on trying to enjoy it.

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