Things to consider while harboring the kind of rage and resentment that no meme or even emoji is powerful enough to convey, so I’ll have to use words:
— In the grand scheme of things, it’s not like this is the worst loss you can suffer. To go on the road, against a first-place team with the No. 1 defense, have a rookie muff a punt to give the home team a short field while losing one of your key components and repeatedly getting pantsed by the officials and still you only lose in overtime? There’s no shame in that. The world might be trying to bathe in the Patriots’ blood right now, but everyone has to admit it took a good team, a series of horrible calls, a code red on Rob Gronkowski and a nation of millions to bring them down. And if reports are accurate and Gronk’s knee injury is not season ending, then he’s coming back and bringing hell with him.
— Still, when Gronk went down, you know somewhere in a secret chamber in NFL headquarters there were men in dark robes sitting around a pentagram of candles and goat heads cackling with glee.
— In a year of bad officiating, this game set a new standard that may never be duplicated. I can take that the officials have been consistently atrocious. But Sunday night they were something far worse: atrociously inconsistent. Gronk gets called for yet another pass interference penalty for touching a defender with his chicken wing (which the league has said is perfectly legal). Pat Chung lays an open palm on a receiver for a nanosecond and draws a holding call that negates a sack. But in overtime Aqib Talib grabs JoJo LaFell to the point I thought he might need an anatomically correct doll to show us where he was violated, and there is no call. And the very next play after the terrible Gronk call, Tom Brady took a blatant shot to the head but the officials couldn’t find their flags. Just as bad was Denver’s Todd Davis running into Ryan Allen but apparently in a perfectly legal way, raising the existential question/Riddler clue, “When is running into the kicker NOT running into the kicker?”
— The worst, obviously, was the Gronk penalty. It’s painfully obvious by now that as the NFL continues its downward spiral into complete NBA-ification, the refs are taking over games and applying rules differently to different players. Gronk has such a size and strength advantage that they’re willing to call everything on him and practically nothing against him in order to level the playing field. They see him as Liberty Prime from “Fallout 4,” and if his probability of mission hindrance against corners and safeties is zero percent, then by god the communists in the striped shirts will slow him down with flags.
— As of this writing, we’re hearing things like Gronk walked out of the locker room under his own power, without crutches or a brace on his knee, so there’s hope. I’ve reached my limit on catastrophic injuries already this season. And I’d rather face a wilderness survival situation with Charlie Sheen, Johnny Manziel and Jared from Subway than live through that moment he was on the ground writhing in pain again. Hopefully the Pats have laid enough tribute upon the altar of the Football God of Lower-Leg Injuries for one season. If not, I’m willing to try human sacrifice. Believe me, I’ve got plenty of people in mind.
— The damned shame of it is that Gronk was the focal point of Denver’s coverage and he still was well on his way to a 100-yard night. On his catch-and-run touchdown, Darian Stewart wanted no part of trying to tackle him. I saw Black Friday shoppers on YouTube going after bargain-priced vegetable steamers with 100 times the aggressiveness Stewart showed on that one.
— On the bright side, I’ve been looking for Scott Chandler to elevate his game and he did step up. Granted we could use a little more fight going after balls at the top of his routes, but he got open in crunch time and made catches. And his touchdown was perfect execution. He read Von Miller was shading him to the inside so he used his size and speed to break it off into a corner route for a simple pitch-and-catch. Textbook. And file that play away next time you’re tempted to want the Pats to go after a Johnny One Note edge rush specialist like Miller. Ask him to do anything other than pin his ears back and go after the quarterback and he’s useless.
— Another shame of losing this one is it wastes a phenomenal game by Logan Ryan on Demaryius Thomas. Giving away four inches and almost 40 pounds, he nevertheless out-physicaled Thomas and clung to him all over the field. Occasionally he had help from Chung, and early on it looked like they were playing some quarter-quarter-half coverage (where one safety takes a deep half of the field and two DBs split the other half). But for the most part he was singled up in man. And aside from that one crucial deep ball Thomas high-pointed, Ryan won every battle. If the NFL doesn’t take the rest of the Patriots’ picks away before the draft, I’m ready to go all in on Scarlet Knights.
— How is it that if the eligible receiver rule is so crucial that they use a method of declaring yourself to the ref as simple and archaic as rubbing your belly when you come on the field? By that standard, every guy on my couch after Thanksgiving dinner was declaring himself eligible.
— I didn’t stick around for the postgame, but I assume NBC gave a game ball to the officiating crew?
— What should not get lost in the shuffle is the loss of Dont’a Hightower. The main reason the defense had survived Jamie Collins’ bout with the bubonic plague or the zombie apocalypse virus or whatever he’s contracted has been Hightower. He’s not only held the middle of the front seven together, he’s been great off the edge, messing up blocking schemes by flipping the defense so he goes from Will ‘backer to Sam just before the snap. And while Jerod Mayo still is faster than anyone at making the reads and has that knack for being the first one flowing to the ball carrier, guys continue to slip tackles on him, as Ronnie Hillman did on that first Denver touchdown. Mayo’s head and heart are in the game, but his body hasn’t been since before his two injuries.
— Speaking of tackling, this loss isn’t all on the officials or the injury gods. This as good a run-stopping secondary as I can ever remember the Pats putting on the field, one through five. But on both those C.J. Anderson touchdowns, the backs suffered total breakdowns. On the first, they had Devin McCourty in run force on the edge, with Chung and Ryan outside. The pass routes ran those two off the play and when McCourty got sealed off, they never were able to recover. On the overtime touchdown, they simply didn’t have the bodies on the play side of the field.
— While the defensive line struggled at times with filling cutback lanes on inside zones (see: Anderson’s 8-yarder in the second quarter, Hillman’s big gain on second-and-10 in the third and a few others), I feel like right now it’s the best unit on the team. The rotation is confusing enough just watching the linemen every week, I can’t imagine how it is to game plan against a scheme that will move anyone to any slot along the line on any given down. Chandler Jones made his interception from the nose. Jabaal Sheard will play middle linebacker on one play, then run a stunt with Jonathan Freeny from three-technique tackle to force the incompletion that led to the missed field goal. And Alan Branch made Matt Paradis look like he was riding one of those douchebag sideways skateboards.
— Those virtual numbers that superimpose the yard markers over the snow might be the greatest invention since the voice on my phone that gives me directions. Now if only NBC could give us a virtual Cris Collinsworth that doesn’t watch Talib keelhaul Mathew Slater to the ground and call it “a little jersey pull” or shamelessly orgasm at the end of the game like he did.
— And you’d think that after all the years of working together, Collinsworth and Al Michaels would be better at the mindless banter. Like when they showed the obligatory Denver ski resort footage and, running out of things to say about it, started talking about how it’s making them look forward to the Olympics. Not for nothing guys, but there will be precious little in the way of Alpine ski events at Rio 2016.
— In case you missed it, Bob Costas conceded at halftime that Brady’s career has been slightly better than Peyton Manning‘s. I can’t confirm it, but I imagine counselors were made available to anyone who needed to work through the grief.
— Still, the good news on Manning’s injury is it gives him more time to sell the Papa John’s five-meat pizza. I’m glad to see he’s doing his share to keep America constipated.
— Though I’d rather watch a hundred ads where Pay-me-a-ton is shilling for things he doesn’t use than see one more clueless sports dad driving his family around in a Sorrento. I don’t get why Kia thinks it’s good marketing. But I guess the company is trying to capture the growing emasculated father demographic.
— This was only Brady-Osweiler Bowl I, and part of me wasted no time hating Brock Osweiler’s stupid Edward Cullen face. Since Brady will be around another 10 years at least and it will be the first of many meetings, why wait?
— I confess I was getting frustrated with the McOffense relying on nothing but go routes and ineffective runs. Right up until Josh McDaniels managed to get Brandon Bolden open deep on a wheel route over Danny Trevathan. It was one of those times I’m glad no one listens to me.
— Jon Gruden Nickname of the Week: “I gotta tell ya, there’s no guy in the league who gets calls against him the way Rob Gronkowski does. I call this guy ‘Magnum’ because he does the best P.I. work in the business. Plus I’m sure he buys ’em because he’s a big guy with huge hands and feet.”
— Another way first-person shooter games are way better than real life: By now the Patriots would have picked up enough health packs to have Collins, Julian Edelman and Dion Lewis back.
— I thought nothing this week could bother me after suffering the loss of Clara on “Doctor Who.” But with all due respect to my adorable pretend TV nerd wife, this was worse. Sorry, Impossible Girl. At least you died a hero. We lost Gronk and Hightower and saved no one.
— Every time Carrie Underwood does the Sunday Night Football theme, I can’t help but picture poor Taylor Hicks watching from his stool in the corner of a Not Your Average Joe’s somewhere, weeping quietly to himself.
— This Week’s Applicable Movie Quote: “I’ve been around, ya know? There was a time I could see. And I have seen. Boys like these, younger than these. Their arms torn out, their legs ripped off. But there is nothing like the sight of an amputated spirit. There is no prosthetic for that.” — Lt. Col. Frank Slade, “Scent of a Woman”
— At least this 18-1 won’t hurt as much as the last one. We’re on to Philadelphia.
DraftKings has your shot to play for FREE in the $1 Million Fantasy Football Contest THIS SUNDAY! First place takes home $100,000! FOR FREE ENTRY, CLICK HERE.