Philip Rivers

Stew Milne/USA Today Sports

Tomase: Patriots win week after week because they're smart and everyone else is stupid

John Tomase
October 30, 2017 - 12:56 pm
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The Patriots own a massive weekly advantage that boils down to this:

They're not dumbasses.

It sounds so elementary, and yet it's what separates the Pats from virtually everyone else. The Patriots run crisp two-minute drills to score before the half. Opponents put their helmets on backwards and concuss themselves on the goalposts. The Patriots save their timeouts for crunch time. Opponents burn them so they can make fart noises with their armpits. The Patriots race their field-goal unit onto the field in 12 seconds without stopping the clock. Opponents let time expire because they're doing the Whip and Nae-Nae.

That's only barely hyperbole. It's a testament to the tight ship that Bill Belichick runs, as well as the stable leadership of quarterback Tom Brady, that the Patriots almost never beat themselves. But their opponents? A clown show.

Take Sunday's 21-13 victory over the Chargers. The Dolts made egregious mistakes of the mental, physical, and coaching variety to clear an easy path to victory for the flawed Patriots, who nonetheless needed a stop on the game's final play to avoid overtime. Of course, the Chargers obliged by throwing short of the goal line with neither receiver even turning around -- the second victory clinched in such moronic fashion, joining a 19-14 win over the Buccaneers.

The Chargers did so much wrong. Facing a Patriots defense without corners Stephon Gilmour and Eric Rowe, as well as linebacker Donta' Hightower, did they choose to attack the league's worst pass defense? Nope. Philip Rivers threw just five times in the first half. The Chargers considered Melvin Gordon's 87-yard touchdown run the rule rather than the exception and the Pats said, "Thank you very much." The Chargers averaged 3.5 yards on their other 20 carries.

San Diego's coaches clearly didn't study any tape on special teams. Stephen Gostkowski has excelled at dropping kicks on the goal line, forcing returners to make an instantaneous decision about whether to take a knee.

The Patriots own one of the top five kick coverage units in the NFL, with an average starting field position of the 19. If the Chargers had watched tape or perused game logs, they'd have recognized the folly of leaving the end zone.

A week earlier, the Falcons advanced only one of six kicks beyond the 25. The Jets went 1-for-5, starting two drives inside their own 15. The Bucs had the good sense to take five touchbacks. The Panthers chose to return three of six kicks, and none of them reached the 25-yard line.

So what did the Chargers do? They brought two kicks out of the end zone and were tackled at the 15 and 12, respectively, costing themselves 23 yards of field position. Two other returns from the goal line were stopped at the 20 and 21. The evidence is clear: don't leave the end zone against the Patriots coverage units. But teams do it anyway.

That wasn't even L.A.'s worst special teams play. That distinction goes to punt returner Travis Benjamin, who muffed a punt at the 8 and then retreated all the way to the end zone in an attempt to outrace the coverage. That's what the kids call a FAIL, because Brandon King drilled him around the thighs for the safety that gave the Patriots a lead they would not relinquish.

There was more. The Chargers limited the Pats to a field goal and 12-7 lead with four minutes left in the half. After a terrible kick return left them at the 15, Rivers hit Tyrell Williams for 24 yards. Did the Chargers continue attacking the Pats in the secondary? Did they target Keenan Allen on backup corner Johnson Bademosi? Please. They ran the ball twice, threw their first incompletion of the half on third down, and gave the ball back to the Patriots at their own 9 with two minutes left.

Brady then showed them how it's done, marching 73 yards in seven plays -- six passes -- for three bonus points at the end of the half.

Clock management continually separates the Pats from everyone else. The Bucs, for instance, took over with 1:10 left in their eventual 19-14 loss and over the next 40 seconds ran just one legal play. The game ended with quarterback Jameis Winston rushing a throw to the 5-yard line before his receivers had even turned around, which is pretty much exactly how Sunday's game ended. Conversely, the Patriots needed only 15 seconds to run the field goal unit on the field against the Saints without a timeout.

But merely opposing the Patriots brings out the worst in rival play-callers. The Falcons ran a jet sweep from inside the 5 on fourth down and got stuffed. They went for it twice on fourth and long, including pointlessly in the final two minutes of the first half, giving the Patriots and a short field for a back-breaking touchdown.

The Falcons ignored potential mismatches on the outside -- like Julio Jones vs. Bademosi -- to run the ball 22 times. Were the Patriots facing a pass defense allowing over 300 yards to everyone, you'd better believe Belichick would spread it out five wide and throw all afternoon. Eleven years ago today, as a matter of fact, the Pats memorably torched the host Vikings, 31-7, by running the ball only 15 times. That game ended with Corey Dillon spiking the ball after a long pass play, incensed that he had only run it three times for five yards. Knowing the Vikings had two massive run-stuffing defensive tackles, Belichick simply dropped back Brady 46 times, and he threw for 372 yards and four touchdowns.

Other teams seem incapable of making similar adjustments. It's why the Steelers can come to Foxboro for a playoff game and run the same predictable blitzes that Brady has torched for a decade. It's why the Falcons and Chargers can choose the antiquated notion of "establishing the run" over pressuring the Patriots downfield where they're weakest. It's why the Bills never, ever win here.

At the risk of getting too technical, jargony, and inside-football, those teams are dumbasses. The Patriots aren't.

Turns out that's half the battle.

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