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Patriots Monday (WEEI Simulcast) Mon Sep 21 | 08:58 AM - 06:00 PM

Nitpicks and Nitwits: Opening a door, then slamming it shut

Maybe, just maybe, these guys are simply fooling us all and toying with our emotions, as well as those of their opponents.  After all, can you explain the back-door opening foibles in the kicking game during the 3rd quarter, after assuming a once-commanding 23-3 lead over a playoff-contending Baltimore team Monday night?

No, it's not likely Cyrus Jones and Matthew Slater were instructed to feign brain-cramps with a punt return gaffe, followed by a touchdown two plays later - then 11 seconds after that, do it all over again on the ensuing kickoff...which led to another touchdown.  ESPN was certainly thankful, for sure.  All of a sudden, they've got a ball game.

68,000+ fans within Gillette Stadium, all of a sudden, got a case of acid reflux.

The Patriots didn't merely decide to let the Ravens back into the Monday Night Football game just because they were welcoming hosts, or because they hoped ESPN's ratings would receive a sudden jolt.  No, the two 3rd quarter mistakes were simply a snapshot of the bigger picture, really.

The Patriots' top challenger, at least in the AFC, might just be themselves.

ap_393292491893.jpg

The Ravens are a worthy foe, and entered the game with the top-ranked defense in yards and points allowed.  The Patriots did have their struggles, at times, against them.  But as they soon learned - falling behind by 20 points at first, getting tantalizingly close late, then getting the door slammed shut at the end - in the end, the eventual outcome is really up to Tom Brady.

Brady threw for 406 yards, the 9th 400+-yard game of his career.  The offense ran up 496 yards of offense against a #1 defense that was only allowing opponents 296 per game beforehand.  Yes, TB12 has plenty of help.  His receivers, his offensive line, his running backs and his coaches all keep him in position to pull off what the football world saw (again) inside of Gillette Stadium.  

That this latest version of an Air Brady comeback-from-the-brink occurred at home only adds to the overall mystique and legend.  New England will need to figure out a way to take this show on the road to their personal House of Horrors in Denver next Sunday, and try to pull off a similar stunt.

The Broncos may not be as welcoming or friendly at home as New England has been for others.  But then again, don't bet against these Patriots.  Nice guys, maybe.  They might open a door for you, sure.  

Only to slam it shut on your fingers.    

Picky, picky, picky

Not wanting to overstate the obvious, but really, some of this stuff is getting monotonous.

Aside from the obvious miscues on special teams as mentioned above, there's only a few items at hand keeping the Patriots from a relatively worry-free waltz into the post-season.  

Poor tackling, which was noticeable during the first few weeks of the season, reared its ugly head early against the Ravens.  The 40-yard Joe Flacco completion to Kyle Juszczyk in the 1st quarter could have been kept to 10 yards (or less) had someone decided to wrap up the Ravens' fullback.  The unnecessary roughness penalty tacked onto the play from Malcolm Butler was an added case of losing-your-cool.  The over-the-top heroics of Shea McClellin blocking Justin Tucker's 34-yard field goal attempt (snapping the 5th longest streak of made field goals, 35, in league history) helped save the Patriots' bacon.

shea2.jpg

Do we need to mention that even though Joe Thuney has proven to be a find for the offensive line overall this season as a rookie out of North Carolina State, that he still leads the team in penalties-called-against?  His 8th holding call of the season killed a 3rd quarter drive, in the middle of Baltimore's spirited comeback attempt.

And while it was apparent the defensive philosophy was to keep the Ravens' receivers in sight and not allow them to win battles over the top - the secondary did allow that to happen late as Breshad Perriman, Terrence West and Mike Wallace had big gains against Logan Ryan and Cyrus Jones.  Steve Smith also beat Malcolm Butler for a 25-yard gain in the 4th quarter as Baltimore pulled within three points.

Every team is capable of making plays, certainly.  Applaud the other guys.  But repeated gaffes are also certainly worthy of some self-examination, if not self-correction.  

Pot, meet kettle

Couldn't help but chuckle in the aftermath of Sunday's Cincinnati win over Cleveland, thrusting the Browns ever-closer to an infamous 0-and-16 regular season.

pryor.jpg

Why?  Because no less an outstanding citizen than Bengals' cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones called Cleveland's Terrelle Pryor "garbage" for a pregame visit with Cincinnati defensive coordinator Paul Guenther, telling the coach his play would be the reason for the Bengals to cut Jones after the game.

Pryor caught one pass for three yards in the 23-10 Cincinnati win.  

It's one thing to talk trash on the field, which Jones has made his career on, but another thing entirely to play like it.  Pryor, who has 63 receptions on the season for the 0-13 Browns, had been a bright spot on an otherwise bleak season in Cleveland.  This may be one instance where his less-than-stellar performance actually backed up his words.

And oh, in case you missed it, Cleveland linebacker Jamie Collins had 13 tackles for the Browns in defeat.  But the Bengals still rushed for 213 yards.  

Miami's vice

There are times when if it weren't for bad luck, you'd have no luck at all.  Case in point - the Miami Dolphins. On the verge of fighting through a difficult schedule and potentially reaching the post-season, the Dolphins won and lost on Sunday.

Yes, they defeated Arizona 26-23, but in the process lost QB Ryan Tannehill for possibly the rest of this season with a sprained ACL and MCL.

matt_moore.jpg

Matt Moore, who hasn't started a game in five years, gets the call from here.  Running back Jay Ajayi will undoubtedly receive an extra helping of work over the holidays...which will include a New Year's game at home against the Patriots to end the regular season, where they've had recent success against New England (winning three straight).

If the fish aren't squished by then and reach the playoffs, they could be a very dangerous team to deal with.  For some team, including the Patriots.  The defense gave Carson Palmer fits, as he turned in another poor performance for an offense that was expected to be one of the league's best.  Two 1st quarter interceptions, a lost fumble and not even 150 yards passing?

For a guy critical of Tom Brady this year - remember when he was asked about Brady's suspension, and responded with "when you get busted, you suffer the consequences?" - karma sure seems to have a way of coming back on you, doesn't it?

No more Rex?

Have we seen the last of Rex Ryan in the AFC East?

For that matter, have we seen the last of Rex Ryan as a head coach in the NFL?  Rumors persist that after a 4-2 start to this season, Ryan may finally be on his last legs in Buffalo, following a 27-20 beat-down to the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday that wasn't as close as the final score might indicate.

While Bills' QB Tyrod Taylor has had some decent-enough play this season (right, Patriots' fans?), of late his game has come up short for Buffalo - prompting media to question whether he's the right guy for the long-haul.  Ryan would only shrug to those questions in the aftermath of the team's loss to the Steelers.

rex_ryan.jpg

"I don't have any idea, guys.  I just got through putting everything into a game that we just got beat.  We'll put in everything we have moving forward, but to answer questions about anything else, about rumors or anything else, I think is ridiculous," Ryan told the media Sunday.

Ryan, if he wasn't before, is now squarely on a hot seat in Buffalo after beginning this season with a "playoffs or bust" mantra.  CBS Sports has reported Ryan's ouster is imminent, while the Buffalo News has already reported offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn could be the choice to finish out the year.

The News also has reported Buffalo owners Terry and Kim Pegula have already made up their minds to send Rex packing, it's only a matter of when to do it.  Ryan is 14-15 in his two years as head coach of the Bills.  With three wins to end the season, it's possible (against Cleveland, Miami and the Jets) Ryan could still finish with a winning record.

Is he the long-term answer to ending the Bills' 16-year (and counting) playoff drought?  Maybe not.  Ryan hasn't had a winning season since 2010, when coaching the Jets.  But is two years enough time to turn things around and win with the Bills, where things are always "rough in the Buff?"  

Say what you want about Ryan and his coaching, or on some of his off-field antics - but he's always made things interesting in New England, and he sure isn't boring.  He's made a mediocre, underachieving team somewhat newsworthy and relevant - if not competitive.

He has also had to share the "nitwit" spotlight with others in Buffalo - most notably, his impatient, billionaire-owner bosses.   Rex Ryan might be the ringmaster on his way out, but the circus still plays on in upstate New York.

*John Rooke is an author and award-winning broadcaster, and is presently in his 24th season as the Patriots' stadium voice. Currently serving in several additional media capacities - which include hosting "Patriots Playbook" on Patriots.com Radio - Rooke has broadcast college football and basketball locally and nationally for 28 seasons and is a member of the Rhode Island Radio Hall of Fame. *

Honestly, the Patriots need to stop being so...so...magnanimous?  

So unselfish?  So welcoming?

ap_392722481461.jpg

Maybe, just maybe, these guys are simply fooling us all and toying with our emotions, as well as those of their opponents.  After all, can you explain the back-door opening foibles in the kicking game during the 3rd quarter, after assuming a once-commanding 23-3 lead over a playoff-contending Baltimore team Monday night?

No, it's not likely Cyrus Jones and Matthew Slater were instructed to feign brain-cramps with a punt return gaffe, followed by a touchdown two plays later - then 11 seconds after that, do it all over again on the ensuing kickoff...which led to another touchdown.  ESPN was certainly thankful, for sure.  All of a sudden, they've got a ball game.

68,000+ fans within Gillette Stadium, all of a sudden, got a case of acid reflux.

The Patriots didn't merely decide to let the Ravens back into the Monday Night Football game just because they were welcoming hosts, or because they hoped ESPN's ratings would receive a sudden jolt.  No, the two 3rd quarter mistakes were simply a snapshot of the bigger picture, really.

The Patriots' top challenger, at least in the AFC, might just be themselves.

ap_393292491893.jpg

The Ravens are a worthy foe, and entered the game with the top-ranked defense in yards and points allowed.  The Patriots did have their struggles, at times, against them.  But as they soon learned - falling behind by 20 points at first, getting tantalizingly close late, then getting the door slammed shut at the end - in the end, the eventual outcome is really up to Tom Brady.

Brady threw for 406 yards, the 9th 400+-yard game of his career.  The offense ran up 496 yards of offense against a #1 defense that was only allowing opponents 296 per game beforehand.  Yes, TB12 has plenty of help.  His receivers, his offensive line, his running backs and his coaches all keep him in position to pull off what the football world saw (again) inside of Gillette Stadium.  

That this latest version of an Air Brady comeback-from-the-brink occurred at home only adds to the overall mystique and legend.  New England will need to figure out a way to take this show on the road to their personal House of Horrors in Denver next Sunday, and try to pull off a similar stunt.

The Broncos may not be as welcoming or friendly at home as New England has been for others.  But then again, don't bet against these Patriots.  Nice guys, maybe.  They might open a door for you, sure.  

Only to slam it shut on your fingers.    

Picky, picky, picky

Not wanting to overstate the obvious, but really, some of this stuff is getting monotonous.

Aside from the obvious miscues on special teams as mentioned above, there's only a few items at hand keeping the Patriots from a relatively worry-free waltz into the post-season.  

Poor tackling, which was noticeable during the first few weeks of the season, reared its ugly head early against the Ravens.  The 40-yard Joe Flacco completion to Kyle Juszczyk in the 1st quarter could have been kept to 10 yards (or less) had someone decided to wrap up the Ravens' fullback.  The unnecessary roughness penalty tacked onto the play from Malcolm Butler was an added case of losing-your-cool.  The over-the-top heroics of Shea McClellin blocking Justin Tucker's 34-yard field goal attempt (snapping the 5th longest streak of made field goals, 35, in league history) helped save the Patriots' bacon.

shea2.jpg

Do we need to mention that even though Joe Thuney has proven to be a find for the offensive line overall this season as a rookie out of North Carolina State, that he still leads the team in penalties-called-against?  His 8th holding call of the season killed a 3rd quarter drive, in the middle of Baltimore's spirited comeback attempt.

And while it was apparent the defensive philosophy was to keep the Ravens' receivers in sight and not allow them to win battles over the top - the secondary did allow that to happen late as Breshad Perriman, Terrence West and Mike Wallace had big gains against Logan Ryan and Cyrus Jones.  Steve Smith also beat Malcolm Butler for a 25-yard gain in the 4th quarter as Baltimore pulled within three points.

Every team is capable of making plays, certainly.  Applaud the other guys.  But repeated gaffes are also certainly worthy of some self-examination, if not self-correction.  

Pot, meet kettle

Couldn't help but chuckle in the aftermath of Sunday's Cincinnati win over Cleveland, thrusting the Browns ever-closer to an infamous 0-and-16 regular season.

pryor.jpg

Why?  Because no less an outstanding citizen than Bengals' cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones called Cleveland's Terrelle Pryor "garbage" for a pregame visit with Cincinnati defensive coordinator Paul Guenther, telling the coach his play would be the reason for the Bengals to cut Jones after the game.

Pryor caught one pass for three yards in the 23-10 Cincinnati win.  

It's one thing to talk trash on the field, which Jones has made his career on, but another thing entirely to play like it.  Pryor, who has 63 receptions on the season for the 0-13 Browns, had been a bright spot on an otherwise bleak season in Cleveland.  This may be one instance where his less-than-stellar performance actually backed up his words.

And oh, in case you missed it, Cleveland linebacker Jamie Collins had 13 tackles for the Browns in defeat.  But the Bengals still rushed for 213 yards.  

Miami's vice

There are times when if it weren't for bad luck, you'd have no luck at all.  Case in point - the Miami Dolphins. On the verge of fighting through a difficult schedule and potentially reaching the post-season, the Dolphins won and lost on Sunday.

Yes, they defeated Arizona 26-23, but in the process lost QB Ryan Tannehill for possibly the rest of this season with a sprained ACL and MCL.

matt_moore.jpg

Matt Moore, who hasn't started a game in five years, gets the call from here.  Running back Jay Ajayi will undoubtedly receive an extra helping of work over the holidays...which will include a New Year's game at home against the Patriots to end the regular season, where they've had recent success against New England (winning three straight).

If the fish aren't squished by then and reach the playoffs, they could be a very dangerous team to deal with.  For some team, including the Patriots.  The defense gave Carson Palmer fits, as he turned in another poor performance for an offense that was expected to be one of the league's best.  Two 1st quarter interceptions, a lost fumble and not even 150 yards passing?

For a guy critical of Tom Brady this year - remember when he was asked about Brady's suspension, and responded with "when you get busted, you suffer the consequences?" - karma sure seems to have a way of coming back on you, doesn't it?

No more Rex?

Have we seen the last of Rex Ryan in the AFC East?

For that matter, have we seen the last of Rex Ryan as a head coach in the NFL?  Rumors persist that after a 4-2 start to this season, Ryan may finally be on his last legs in Buffalo, following a 27-20 beat-down to the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday that wasn't as close as the final score might indicate.

While Bills' QB Tyrod Taylor has had some decent-enough play this season (right, Patriots' fans?), of late his game has come up short for Buffalo - prompting media to question whether he's the right guy for the long-haul.  Ryan would only shrug to those questions in the aftermath of the team's loss to the Steelers.

rex_ryan.jpg

"I don't have any idea, guys.  I just got through putting everything into a game that we just got beat.  We'll put in everything we have moving forward, but to answer questions about anything else, about rumors or anything else, I think is ridiculous," Ryan told the media Sunday.

Ryan, if he wasn't before, is now squarely on a hot seat in Buffalo after beginning this season with a "playoffs or bust" mantra.  CBS Sports has reported Ryan's ouster is imminent, while the Buffalo News has already reported offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn could be the choice to finish out the year.

The News also has reported Buffalo owners Terry and Kim Pegula have already made up their minds to send Rex packing, it's only a matter of when to do it.  Ryan is 14-15 in his two years as head coach of the Bills.  With three wins to end the season, it's possible (against Cleveland, Miami and the Jets) Ryan could still finish with a winning record.

Is he the long-term answer to ending the Bills' 16-year (and counting) playoff drought?  Maybe not.  Ryan hasn't had a winning season since 2010, when coaching the Jets.  But is two years enough time to turn things around and win with the Bills, where things are always "rough in the Buff?"  

Say what you want about Ryan and his coaching, or on some of his off-field antics - but he's always made things interesting in New England, and he sure isn't boring.  He's made a mediocre, underachieving team somewhat newsworthy and relevant - if not competitive.

He has also had to share the "nitwit" spotlight with others in Buffalo - most notably, his impatient, billionaire-owner bosses.   Rex Ryan might be the ringmaster on his way out, but the circus still plays on in upstate New York.

*John Rooke is an author and award-winning broadcaster, and is presently in his 24th season as the Patriots' stadium voice. Currently serving in several additional media capacities - which include hosting "Patriots Playbook" on Patriots.com Radio - Rooke has broadcast college football and basketball locally and nationally for 28 seasons and is a member of the Rhode Island Radio Hall of Fame. *

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