Things to consider while being grateful Rob Gronkowski’s taunting muscles are fully healed:
–As soon as we knew the Cincinnati game would be Tom Brady’s return to Foxboro, I pictured it to be like a Roman triumph. The general riding in on a chariot, his prisoners and animals from the conquered lands driven in front of him. His wife and children riding behind him to the tumultuous cheers of the adoring masses. It’s amazing how accurate I was.
–Here are Brady’s numbers so far, for those ignoramuses who talk about him like he’s standing in his professional grave: 57 of 75, for 76 percent, 782 yards, 10.4 yards per attempt, six touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 135.5. And that’s after being away for a month. Chalk it up to rest. Or the health benefits of avacado ice cream. Or the affects of the solar power of the Italian sun your naked ass. But I call it every Deflategate truther’s worst nightmare because he’s not even playing his best football yet.
–There are certain cultural institutions you can always count on. Politicians will lie and pander. All Bill O’Reilly books will be about killing somebody. Taylor Swift will write songs about her breakups. Every Adam Sandler movie will have a scene where he gets hit in the nuts. And the Bengals will never fail to deliver their own unique blend of dumbassery mixed with punkishness.
–Sunday the goods were delivered by the usual suspects, Vontaze Burfict and Pacman Jones. Burfict started the festivities with a blatant dive at Martellus Bennett’s knee, 25 yards away from a Danny Amdendola catch. A few plays later, Pacman kept a drive alive with a grab on Chris Hogan so obvious it should be used in training tapes for officials to demonstrate defensive holding. But he immediately launched into a tirade so over the top it should be used as a training tape for toddlers to demonstrate grocery store hissy fits. So naturally, the Bengals became so unhinged they couldn’t line up for the subsequent snap and had to burn a time out.
–But those were just the warm ups. The stretching exercises before they started the really Bengally stuff. Twice Gronk caught long passes. Twice he came up yapping. And each time Burfict violated Gronk’s personal space in a way that would have cost Donald Trump four percentage points in the race, and should have gotten Burfict ejected at the very least. First he came at Gronk with a head-butt, and the next time he poked him in the forehead with his finger. In other words, acting like a Burfict d-bag. But the only penalty was on Gronk, for taunting.
–So once again, we got treated to a sideline shot of Marvin Lewis looking like a juvenile probation officer trying to run a program for delinquent kids who can’t keep them under control. The difference is, wayward kids can be redeemed. There is no hope for the collection of goons Lewis coaches.
–As if Brady wasn’t giving defensive coordinators enough reason to get hooked on anti-depressants, Gronk gets healthy. He’s obviously over his hamstring issue. Or Madden cover curse. Or the end of Gronk mating season, or whatever the hell was bothering him.
–He’s as close to peak Gronk as we’ve ever seen him. Running to gain separation. Making all his cuts. Slipping tackles. And his touchdown catch on that low-and-outside slider Brady threw on the goal line was vintage Gronk catch radius. Plus he’s playing with an edge. He came at Cincy like Snake Eyes from G.I. Joe, with Bennett as his Timber the wolf.
–Gronk’s opposite number on the Pats defense was Dont’a Hightower. And what the hell, just to beat the metaphor to death, let’s call him Gung Ho. He has been a force of nature the last couple of weeks. But also probably the smartest player on the field. Time and again you see him moving pre-snap, anticipating where the ball is going before the running back has it, and making nanosecond decisions during the play.
–On the Bengals’ first possession, Hightower read a zone run and scraped behind the offensive line to tackle Giovanni Bernard from behind for a loss. On their last, he engaged center T.J. Johnson, then twisted behind Jabaal Sheard who was slipping inside Clint Boling and both came free for the sack. And his second safety in two weeks was perfection. It’s a classic Bill Belichick scheme for linebackers to read the center, and whichever way he blocks, you attack his gap on the other side. Nick Saban calls it “Rain.” So Hightower waited a beat for Johnson to slide to his right to block Elandon Roberts, then full-throttle blitzed the A-gap to his left and Andy Dalton had no shot of escaping. Brilliant.
–And Roberts was a revelation subbing in for Jamie Collins. I lost count of how many big plays he made, but he was everywhere. When the Pats made the stop on that goal-to-go set of downs, he blew right past Domata Peko on second down for tackle in the backfield. Earlier on a second-and-14, he read Jeremy Hill staying back in pass protection, so he blitzed him (another classic Belichick move because it ties up the running back an prevents him from becoming another receiving weapon) and essentially beat Dalton with him like he was a pugil stick. On a second-and-2 in the red zone, he blitzed the A-gap on an inside run, redirecting Hill into traffic and eventually forcing a field goal. For a rookie I assumed was just a camp body, Roberts couldn’t have impressed me more.
–On that fourth-and-goal from about about the three centimeter line, the Pats put Anthony Johnson and Woodrow “Soon to Be a Tony Award-Winning Musical” Hamilton in the A-gaps and Hightower again anticipated where the ball was going. But the play was made by Chris Long, who hand fought C.J. Uzomah like a Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robot, shoved him into the backfield and made the tackle.
–And if you’re keeping stats on such things, Peko was the fullback on two goal line plays without ever coming in contact with another human being. Which is hard for anyone to pull off, much less a 330-pound ball of saturated fats. It’s not working, Marv.
–C.J. Uzomah is one of those guys whose name reads like your Scrabble tiles before you start sorting them.
–This was a game of adjustments on both sides of the ball. The offense seemed to try to establish quick, three-step drop timing plays, but Cincy kept clogging the passing lanes, resulting in Brady holding the ball which lead to the protection problems. Like that interminable scramble he made in the first, when time slowed down to the point it felt like we were three levels deep in an Inception, falling backwards and hoping we’d wake up. Eventually they adjusted to the two tight end attack and the Bengals were helpless.
–Which brings me back for a second to Cincy’s punkiness. They’re one of those teams that thinks it’s a pack of hunters. Of predators. Wolves. Or lions. Or bengal tigers, if you will. But they’re really scavengers. Hyenas and jackals. The kind of animal that will pick at the carcass others leave behind and then run at the first sound of a creature higher up the food chain.
–I don’t usually go after Gingers unless they happen to be evil, power-abusing commissioners. But Andy Dalton has gone full Heat Miser with that ‘do of his.
–There were key adjustments on defense as well. It looked like early on the plan was to take away the deep passing threats, force Dalton to check down, keep everything in front of them and swarm to the ball. And it worked for the most part. If you call letting him complete 13 of his first 14 attempts “working.” But then things started to open up. A.J. Green caught a long Dag route (sometimes called “China.” Or in Donald Trump’s case, “Chiiinya”), where the inside receiver runs a deep corner over the top of an in-route by the outside guy, on Logan Ryan. That was followed by a wide open Tyler Boyd and another catch by Green to set up a touchdown. By midway through the third quarter, Pat Chung was brought down to play more of a slot corner role and Eric Rowe started getting significant reps while the offense was putting the game away.
–For all the frustration of watching the secondary’s third down struggles so far this year, I can’t fault them much in this one. The touchdown Malcolm Butler gave up was the result of a great double move by Jojo LaFell with one safety blitzing and the other doubling Green for what amounted to a Cover-0 look. And Rowe made a spectacular stop on Green on a corner route, intertwined with him like an illustration out of Kama Sutra. That’s a still a very dangerous passing offense and there’s no sin in holding them to two touchdowns.
–Poor Rob Ninkovich. He came back last week and no one even noticed. He’s like a really good movie opening the same weekend as “Rogue One.” Yes, he got undressed by Dalton on that read option touchdown run (set up on the first down of that drive when Ninkovich stayed home on the backside as Dalton handed the ball off). But when Roberts went out of the game for a while, Ninkovich was the one who slid into the inside linebacker spot alongside Hightower and was more than solid.
–While I’m talking about Trump – which I really am not, but play along with me – my biggest beef with the man is that for all his money, power and resources, he’s never even attempted to build an Iron Man suit. What kind of billionaire is this guy?
–We had to wait until well after the game ended to find out the Patriots headsets and tablets went on the fritz. Apparently Belichick’s approach is to solve the problem by communicating the way coaches have done for millenia instead of bitching, moaning, accusing and demanding investigations. He clearly has no idea what he’s doing.
–Dan Fouts better realize we know he excused Burfict’s hit on Bennett as “losing his balance.” Right. We’ve all lost balance and in order to regain it, launch ourselves as hard as we can into the back of the knees of the man in front of us. That couldn’t have been a more blatant Code Red if Burfict had used a towel filled with bars of soap. And there’s not a guy in the league with a longer track record or less deserving of the benefit of the doubt Fouts gave him. Even worse, Fouts kept calling Elandon Roberts “Eldon.” And Ian Eagle was no better. I still don’t know how they got Lou Gossett Jr. to play him. Three times.
–Lord, I never thought I’d be looking forward to Phil Simms, but the back of the CBS bench has been killing me this year.
–I’m not ashamed to humblebrag that after the Pats game, I was able to find FS1 on my cable. That should be the new “I stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night.”
–This week’s Applicable Movie Quote: “Man, you are one pathetic loser. No offense.” – Lloyd Christmas, “Dumb and Dumber”
–It’s official. I’m worried about Steven Gostkowski. Which is hard to do, since you have to go all the way back to 1995 to find a time we even had to give our kickers a thought. It’s like having to deal with a smallpox outbreak.
–The only thing better than a game that ends with a token Jimmy Garoppolo appearance is one that ends with a garbage time touchdown. I’ve really missed the good old days of navel-gazing “running up the score” talk and concerns over the feelings of opposing coaches.
Jerry has a book! “From Darkness to Dynasty: The First 40 Years of the New England Patriots” has been called “the perfect book for any reader who is a die-hard Pats fan.” It’s available now online and at bookstores everywhere. Details and scheduled book signings are at JerryThornton.net.