Things to consider while welcoming Greg Hardy back to football and congratulating the NFL for its commitment to promoting women’s health:
— So fired up are we as the Autumn of Vengeance rolls on, so thirsty for blood, that the Patriots can go on the road for the first time to Wretched Excess Stadium, play a game most of us were chalking up as a potential loss a few months ago, watch them win by 24 points without surrendering a touchdown, and we can come away feeling like they have a bunch of stuff they need to clean up. The standard is so high now that nothing less than total victory marked by a pyramid of human skulls will satisfy us. That’s what you’ve done, Roger Goodell.
— And there were obviously lots of issues with the protection schemes. Pass blocking is very much a game of matchups, and no tackle on the Patriots is equipped to handle that acid-blooded xenomorph Greg Hardy. Nate Solder‘s game is power and leverage, and Hardy repeatedly got the better of him outside with a quick twitch burst off the line to get around him. And when Marcus Cannon came in, he played like a Nate Solder tribute band. Hardy forced that 49-yard long field goal with a sack off a rip move to get enough separation that Solder couldn’t recover. Then while the Cowboys offense was on the field, Hardy stayed loose by going into the ladies room and beating defenseless women with toilet seats. He really does it all.
— And it was no highlight package on the other end, either, where Sebastian Vollmer had a Kellogg’s Variety Pack of problems with DeMarcus Lawrence and Jack Crawford, among others. In fact, the offensive linemen should save the game tape and watch it over some pumpkin ales on their Halloween Scary Movie Night.
— The struggles had Tom Brady fighting for his life. But as much as the Brady Bashers and Internet commentariat love to say that you can rattle him with a pass rush, we all grossly underestimate how good he is at functioning in the middle of the chaos. He had more Cowboys coming at him than Jackie Chan in “Shanghai Noon” and never forced a bad pass or turned the ball over. Probably his finest moment was at the end of the half when Hardy and Lawrence caught him in a classic military-style pincer movement, but he ducked out of it, escaped, stepped up and on the run his Julian Edelman on a drag route to set up Steven Gostkowski’s 57-yarder.
— Actually, that had to be his second best moment. It’s hard to put anything ahead of his touchdown spike and red-faced screaming at the crowd. It was his “Are you not entertained?!!!” moment. And I couldn’t help but picture the decaying corpse of Jerry Jones looking down from his luxury box, utterly helpless to stop it.
— The Cowboys flat out caught the Patriots off guard with their three-down linemen sets, a look they have never shown before. On the first possession, second-and-10, they rushed three, with Dave Andrews and Josh Kline doubling the nose tackle and Shaq Mason left blocking air while Hardy and Lawrence beat Solder and Seabass with mirror-image rushes, forcing a throwaway. On the next play they used the same alignment but blitzed Rolando McClain, who came free up the A-gap before Andrews could respond.
— Once again Dion Lewis was amazeballs. I mean, God won’t be putting his stat line on golden plates and burying them in Joseph Smith’s backyard, but he continues to make people miss and pick up every yard that is there — and plenty that he has no business getting. He should have been dropped for a loss on his run to the 1-yard line that set up Brady’s touchdown. And on his own touchdown he went through the Dallas defense like he was making his way down a hallway filled with security lasers.
— I was not expecting this at all, but according to tweets I was getting from people who were there, the stadium was packed with Patriots fans. And I don’t dispute it since I can’t recall ever being able to hear Brady’s snap counts in a road game before. Certainly not in a place that holds 100,000 people. It’ll be interesting to see if the NFL’s McCarthyist tactics have ended up just encouraging more fans around the country to come out of the closet and live as proud, openly Pats-loving people. We’re here! We cheer! Get used to it!
— I’m sure I’m not the only one who picked up on Phil Simms saying the Patriots had the Dallas fans “deflated.” We’re onto your petty games, Simms.
— I will give Simms credit, though, for not shying away from the elephant in the room. With a feral woman-abuser taking the field for the first time, Simms met the issue head on. He asked the tough question on everyone’s mind: “Is Greg Hardy going to have an impact?” and answered, “Make no mistake, he’s good enough to make the Cowboys a contender.” Way to have the guts to take on the controversy, Phil.
— My condolences to all the Hebrew slaves who lost their lives to build that monument to Jerry Jones‘ glory. But it is quite a stadium.
— It looked as though the Patriots planned to go with a base 4-3 defense, which they’ve gotten away from for the most part. When Dont’a Hightower went out I was curious to see if they’d go back to playing more nickel packages, but it appeared they subbed Jabaal Sheard into the Will linebacker spot instead and dared Dallas to beat them through the air.
— If Hightower’s injury is anything long term, it would be a loss for sure. The double A-gap blitz he and Jamie Collins are mastering is the most effective play in their arsenal. He used it to go over Darren McFadden like he was a mall parking lot speed bump for a sack in the first. But he’s also been covering sideline to sideline when the Pats ask him to play back in spill technique. Crossing all crossable parts it’s nothing serious.
— That said, Sheard played great as an every-down sub. He’ll shoot a gap with anybody, but his fourth-quarter sack was simply him overpowering a blocker with a straight bull rush.
— And having said that, Jamie Collins is playing at an All-Pro level. Which, by the way things work in the NFL, he only needs to keep it up for three or four more years before he gets recognized for it. I’m fairly certain last year’s All-Pro linebacker was Zach Thomas and this year’s favorite is Brian Uhrlacher.
— For the most part, the Pats played a seven-man box when the Cowboys were in a single-tight end set-up, meaning each guy was responsible for one of the seven gaps. Then when Dallas went with multiple tight ends, Pat Chung would drop down for run support. On passing downs Devin McCourty would drop to double Jason Witten. But there were no real exotic looks behind this zero-touchdown game. Just good execution. And I won’t lie to you, having no Dez Bryant to worry about helped.
— That flag-happy referee was Clete Blakeman. If his name sounds familiar, he’s one of the two officials in the Wells Report who tested the PSI of the footballs at halftime of the championship game. I can’t remember if his pressure gauge was way lower on the Patriots’ balls than the other officials’ and then mysteriously became way higher on the Colts balls or vice versa. All I know is Ted Wells said they must have inexplicably traded gauges in the middle of the proceedings, and that is good enough for me.
— Did anyone else pick up on Blakeman’s particular style for calling penalties? His jam is to build up the drama with little hesistations in his cadence. He’ll give that pregnant pause before he tells you who it was on. As in, “Holding … on the … defense!” like he’s Maury Povich giving the results of a paternity test. And I’m saying there is no way he doesn’t practice that when he’s driving in the car or talking to himself in the shower.
— Kudos to the Cowboys organization for honoring those women who’ve battled and triumphed over cancer. Now I think it would have been nice to have Greg Hardy come out and sing to them. Something appropriate to the moment like, “It’ll be a cold day in hell before your girl tries to play me,” (actual lyrics of his) to pay tribute to these courageous women. Maybe next time they can show how much they care about women’s health by having Nicole Holder come out wearing black and blue and give her flowers.
— If there’s one play the Patriots offense just can’t seem to master, it’s the illegal pick play. Other teams have raised it to an art form. But every time the Pats try, it’s a disaster. The one where Danny Amendola‘s catch and run got called back from Edelman’s pick being a prime example. Although there was a brilliant variation of it where Edelman faked pick on a crossing route by Rob Gronkowski that made Byron Jones flinch just enough to free Gronk up for a first down. That could be really effective until the league catches up to them and makes it illegal to play “chicken.”
— Seeing defensive backs trying to tackle Gronk is like watching Animal Planet footage of a swarm of ants trying to take down a much larger species of bug.
— The weird triangles Greg Hardy drew on his face with eye black explained: It’s how he orders Domino’s pizza.
— I was watching the game at a friend’s house with my Beguiling Irish Rose and her girlfriend. And at one point when the sideline cameras caught Edelman, Amendola, Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo all in one shot, the expression “Mount Rushmore of Handsomeness” did come up. I just would feel better if I hadn’t been the one who said it.
— I’ll happily take 4-0, but I’d be lying if I said some part of me wasn’t disappointed we didn’t get to see the Patriots against Dallas’ varsity squad. And now it could be years before the two teams meet again, and who knows if Jerry Jones can drink enough unicorn blood to sustain him that long.
— This week’s applicable movie quote: “He’s crazy. He’s a cowboy. He’s got too much to prove. You gotta watch out for kids like this.” — Paulie, “Goodfellas”
— The entire New England region has never, ever been on to anything like we’re on to Indianapolis.
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