Things to consider while appreciating thatTom Brady is finally back in the wretched hive of scum and villainy that is the NFL. And all of Roger Goodell’s hokey investigations and disciplinary weapons are no match for a quarterback with a good blaster at his side.
–This is how we dreamed it up. In our wildest fantasies, Brady’s return looked like this. Irish folklore tells of the land of Tir Na Nog, a magical realm where no one ever ages, life is perfect, there are rainbows and unicorns and Katherine McPhee proves her love for me in the back seat of a mint condtition 1967 Mustang. And in that land, Brady comes back from a humiliating and unjustifiable suspension to throw for 400 yards and three touchdowns and at the end of the game, doesn’t even look like he needs a shower. Perfect.
–And just to improve on the perfection, we get Jimmy Garoppolo in at the end. Not only to prove to the world he’s healthy and start the offseason bidding war, but as a way for Jimmy G to have “the talk” with Patriots fans. The one where he says he really loves our mom a lot and wants us to get along, but he’s not here to replace our dad.
–I truly expected Brady would need some time to adjust and shake off the layers of cobwebs. But he came in like he was never gone. He made all the throws. He hit on deep balls. He was in full command of the offense, making micro-adjustments to his receivers’ alignments. Moved well in the pocket. If it wasn’t for that loss to Buffalo last week going on the Pats’ permanent record, I’d say he should take every September off.
–But Brady’s best moment wasn’t even a throw. It was that diving scramble on the sidelines where he got up and gave the Usain Bolt-ish “first down” signal. That was him letting the world know who’s in charge now. It was Daenerys Stormborn locking herself and all the Khals in the great hall, then kicking over the fire cauldrons and burning the place to the ground. They tried to take everything from him, and someone’s going to pay.
–Donald Trump says that when you’re famous, you get to grab women by the Goodell.
–What we saw in Cleveland was the beta test of the offense Josh McDaniels has fantasies about. An Optimus Prime attack built around two massive, versatile tight ends that can morph from power run blocking to dual verticle threats at will. That can force defenses into a particular set, then exploit the mismatches. We caught stretches of it before Aaron Hernandez decided to go all Dexter on us. And flashes of it with Scott Chandler last year. But neither Chandler or old Orange is the New Uniform there ever brought to the table what Martellus Bennett does opposite Rob Gronkowski.
–It was all there on display against the Browns, rendering their defense defenseless. The Patriots line up in Posse (one running back, one tight end, three receivers) with Gronk inside Julian Edelman. He runs a slant with linebacker Christian Kirksey on him, and Brady (with a free rusher charging at him) hits him for a big gain. A few plays later, on a third-and-8, Gronk runs a drag route, makes the catch and starts one of his patented Parkour runs, breaking tackles down to the goal line. Then with goal-to-go, the Pats go with a Jumbo package, and Gronk sets the edge block to free LeGarrette Blount up for the first score.
–But the Bennett touchdowns were the true picture of what the McOffense can be. Take his last one, the score that made it 30-7. The Patriots ran a perfect execution of what I’ve heard referred to as “packaged” plays; where your line actually run blocks to sell the play action but your wideouts and ends release. Packaged plays are normally quick-hit timing throws, but on this one, both Bennett and Gronk were in three-point stances on the playside and went deep. The fake got the whole Cleveland secondary to bite, Ibraheim Campbell tried to get back on Bennett, but he had no shot. Any defensive coordinator who watches that play is automatically qualified for a medicinal marijuana prescription.
–On Bennett’s first touchdown, the Pats were in what they call “50” pass protection, meaning seven blockers. (Their six-man protections are numbered 51-59.) Bennett got a chip on the outside rusher Derrick Kindred but then released him to get picked up by Blount. Brady went through all his reads before finding Bennett all alone in the flat, completely ignored by anyone not named Tom Brady. That’s exactly the kind of chemistry I assumed would take time to develop, but Brady and Bennett already have it. I guess you could say, [takes out aviator sunglasses] on that play … they were [puts them on] Kindred spirits. “Heeyaaahhh!!!”
–Not to be lost in all the tight end talk though, is the play of the receivers. I confess to stereotyping Chris Hogan as a “possession” receiver. Of slot-shaming him. Of just assuming he was another Danny Amendola-type and doing everything just shy of compaing him to Wayne Chrebet and calling him “scrappy.” But he is a legitimate deep threat. He set up that third touchdown with a brilliant sight adjustment. The Browns were in a cover-2 until the strong safety bit on a play action. That left a single high safety and the middle of the field closed, so Hogan, who looked to be running a post, stemmed off his route across the safety, which Brady read to hit him in stride. And had the safety stayed with him, Malcolm Mitchell would have been left open on the deep cross he was running.
–And the other bomb Hogan caught was a straight up 9-route where he simply blew past Joe Haden. That would be the one Trent Green put on the telestrator and said “You see him take the inside route” as Hogan runs straight up the sidelines to the outside. Because for some reason Tom Brady’s return isn’t worth CBS’ A-squad. But I digress. Anyway, Hogan is a burner and perhaps the deep threat we’ve been looking for since Randy Moss went all Broken Arrow six years ago.
–Before I get off the subject of CBS, is there a chance that next time they have more than one camera pointed at the field? We’d all like to have seen the play that got Cyrus Jones kicked out. But instead we had to rely on Green’s pure speculation and guesswork. Maybe someone in the stadium could tell us what happened? Or we could go to Huggy Bear and get the word on the street? Maybe CBS could hire a courtroom artist to sketch what happened, I don’t know. But maybe next game, just leave the lens cap off the other 127 cameras you brought and leave them pointed toward the field.
–Edelman might not have had a huge statistical day, but he did nothing less than throw four blocks on that James White screen pass. FOUR. First he chipped Jamar Taylor, then flung himself in front of three defenders out in front of the play. I just assumed no one was more excited to have Brady back than Minitron. And on that play he was like a dog bringing home a dead critter in his mouth to impress his master. Who’s a good boy, Jules? That’s right, you’re a good boy.
–You have to respect Bill Belichick going right back to the aggressively ugly sweatshirt/undershirt combo he lost 16-0 in last week. That’s a savage move by a man who won’t be intimated by failure in either fashion or football.
–But then again, when you’re facing the Browns, you go in knowing you can’t possibly be the worst dressed person in the stadium. The old Browns unis were classics of understatement. Simple, yet elegant. These have the color scheme of a bowl of Halloween M&Ms.
–I just can’t wrap my brain around the level of futility the Browns have achieved. I heard the other day that in Joe Thomas’ career, he’s had seven different general managers. Seven. It’s incomprehensible. And yet they go into a game with Cody Kessler and Charlie Whitehurst as their quarterbacks. One who sounds like the title character on a Disney Channel tween show and another who looks like the guy who wrote my name on a coffee cup the other day.
–Speaking of Thomas, it speaks volumes about the state of the franchise that he is the guy I watch most during a Browns game. He was his usual steady self, though I was surprised how often he was getting double team help in pass protection, particularly against Chris Long. And he flat out missed a Devin McCourty run blitz that dropped Isaiah Crowell for a six yard loss. On the very next play, Jamie Collins blew up an outside run to Thomas’ side to eventually force a punt. Not that I’m blaming Thomas. He’s still the best in the business. And the Pats did run a lot of eight-man and even nine-man boxes, daring the Browns to beat them through the air.
–The play that knocked Kessler out of the same and resulted in the safety was a perfect read by Dont’a Hightower. Cleveland was setting up a screen. He timed his blitz with the precision of the Hadron Particle Collider. John Greco let him come free, but by the time he crossed the line of scrimmage he was in full sprint and there was no way Kessler could react in time.
–Beyond that play, the defensive stars of the game were the tackles. Malcom Brown, Alan Branch and Jabaal Sheard did their usual algorithim of different combinations, mainly playing “under” fronts, but moving around, alternating positions, inside and out, hands up, hands down. But throughout they plugged gaps and gave the Browns nothing up the middle. We were even treated to a play or two by my favorite Patriots name this side of Barkevious Mingo: Woodrow Hamilton, who mixed in a tackle for a loss when he wasn’t writing the Federalist Papers or forming the League of Nations. Brown especially stood out, with one sack coming off a dog blitz against Greco and another when Branch collapsed the pocket and Brown finished off the play. Just a great perfomance by the interior line.
–If Lily from AT&T waited on me and I walked into the door on my way out, it wouldn’t be my face that hit it first.
–While we’re looking at the trenches, the Patriots offensive line has really come together. Cameron Fleming stepped in for Marcus Cannon without a hiccup. Against Ray Horton’s decent 3-4 front with Danny Shelton anchoring the middle, they got push and opened holes. My favorite play was an early Blount run where they suckered Shelton into penetrating, Dave Andrews and Shaq Mason bounced up to the second level to take out linebackers and Blount took it for 13. And the run game will only get more effective when they don’t need the run game.
–Last week I wrote “One more miss and I’m changing my relationship status with Stephen Gostkowski to ‘Worried.’” Even though it was a 50-yarder, consider it done.
–This week’s Applicable Movie Quote:
Chaire Holloway: “Here in Cleveland? I didn’t know they still had a team!”
Jake Taylor: “Yup. We’ve got uniforms and everything. It’s really great!”
– “Major League”
–So Bill Belichick passed Curly Lambeau on the all time wins list. Lambeau, a man so legendary they’d rather leave his name on a stadium than make $50 million slapping some company’s name on there instead. Tell me again why I’m supposed to get upset when he’s grumpy at some reporters? I’d forgetten the reason in the midst of all this awesomeness.
–In many cultures, they’d find a way to process a thing like Tom Brady’s return into pill form and sell it as an aphrodesiac.
–Although it’s been said, many times, many ways, we’re onto Cincinnati.
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.