It's hard to find much wrong with a juggernaut offense scoring an average of 40 points per game. Or especially 51, as the scoreboard read Sunday at Gillette Stadium.
The season is still quite early, just three weeks into the schedule. But it is already becoming crystal clear – the Patriots (still) have one of the best quarterbacks in the game today, orchestrating the show on that side of the ball in Tom Brady.
One of four QB's in NFL history to accomplish 400+ career touchdown passes? Check.
Connecting on 72% of his passes thus far for 1112 yards, nine TD's and zero interceptions in the first three games? Outstanding.
The 9-to-0 TD/INT ratio ties TB12 with Peyton Manning (2010) and Dandy Don Meredith of the Dallas Cowboys (1966) for second-most TD tosses without a pick through three weeks in a season. Another check.
Brady led his offense against Jacksonville with the efficiency of a symphony conductor, standing before his musical charges and calling for a full, unrelenting crescendo when it came time to put the ball in the end zone. Nine possession, no punts, except for two kneel-downs at the end of the game. A franchise record-tying 35 first downs. This confluence of renewed purpose and energy on offense has become quite the sight to see thus far this season, in a year of redemption – or revenge – as some are calling it.
So why then, was Brady on the field in the 4th quarter against the Jaguars?
Great question. He didn't seem to have any rust that needed knocking off of his game, nor did it seem like the offense as a whole needed any additional tweaks or adjustments on the way toward hanging "half a hunnerd" on the scoreboard, as former Dallas Cowboys and Oklahoma Sooner coach Barry Switzer used to say.
The game was no longer in doubt, at 44-10, with TB12 still throwing passes in the final quarter. And, he was sacked, too. So why keep on gunslingin', why take chances when four things can happen when a QB plays the game...and three of them are bad?
Incompletion, interception...or injury?
"Well we wanted to play," Brady reasoned after all was said and done. "Last week I thought we played pretty well for the first 50 minutes, and then the last 10 minutes, it wasn't our best football. So we talked all week about, you know, from start to finish, being at our best execution-wise, concentration, being disciplined out there, and I think we accomplished that."
Is this, however, an occasion for the coaching staff to step in and take more of a big-picture view, perhaps protecting a valuable asset from needless injury in a suddenly-rendered meaningless game? It's an interesting question, one that seemed to be on the minds of many in the aftermath of a 51-17 blowout.
Perhaps there were personnel groups on the field that needed the extra attention to detail. Maybe players like running back James White needed the game-experience of playing with Brady, since all hands are eventually needed on-deck during the season. Maybe it was a simpler reason – guys were just playing the game, and no one on the sideline noticed?
Okay, that last part is doubtful. It's part of the job to notice these things. But with the suggestion from Brady that a less-than-60 minute effort came from the Buffalo game, the emphasis on playing through to the end of this one was certainly apparent.
"That was one of our big themes this week was to start fast, play 60 minutes and play hard all the way through," Bill Belichick said post-game. "We obviously didn't do a very good job of that last week, but I think this week, that was something that we talked about during the week and as the game went on at halftime and into the third and fourth quarter, we just kept everyone reminding themselves about playing 60 minutes and finishing the game and playing well all the way through.
"I thought the players did a good job of that," he added.
It's trite, it's cliché, but it's true. Football players play football. So why come out of the game when you're having success? And, how do you keep an overpowering, destructive juggernaut-like offense humming along like it has?
By keeping the maestro in front of the orchestra, at his podium.
Every machine needs a tune-up
Certainly, it's easy to see different sides of the story when it comes to Brady's playing late in a suddenly-meaningless game. The fact he was in there with the game no longer in doubt is a legitimate gripe, complaint or nitpick.
Another side to the argument, however, could come from the fact this was only Week Three. It would be difficult to expect mid-season performance from a team, or an offense, when mid-season is actually still a month away. On offense, the 3rd scoring drive netted only a field goal when the team had a 1st-and-goal at the Jaguars' 6-yard line. Not exactly a steamroller there, were they?
Timing, play-calling, precision in carrying out assignments – they all need work and adjustments as the season moves along. The 2nd quarter drive that stalled with a first-and-goal at the six is a good example of why players play on, even when the game is no longer in doubt.
Defensive backfield in motion
Was it a couple of weeks ago we mentioned the secondary would be talked about for a while? Again, in the bigger picture it's tough for much criticism when you win by 34 points. But on Jacksonville's touchdown drive in the 4th quarter, Jaguars' tight end Clay Harbor beat two defenders and broke a couple of potential tackles on his way to the end zone.
No matter the score, every moment on the field is a chance to stand out. That goes for the bad, as well as the good. And for the guys getting fewer reps, every moment you play, whether you play well or not, is magnified that much more.
Offense gets Gronked
Getting "Gronked" isn't usually a small thing, and it usually doesn't happen to the Patriots. But on the second drive of the game (it happened later in the game as well), Rob Gronkowski was whistled for offensive pass interference. The play ended up forcing a field goal, rather than a potential touchdown being scored.
Again, it's no big deal in the overall scheme of things where Jacksonville is/was concerned. But undoubtedly, the offensive staff will (and should) take notice of Gronk's presence and potential use as a decoy.
Gronkowski himself, being used to being a primary option, also needs a reminder when it comes to plays away from the ball.
Guns a'blazin in Carolina?
Referee Ed Hochuli, known for his football-like physique perhaps more than he's known for his football knowledge, might have a mouth to match his oversized biceps.
If, of course, what Carolina quarterback Cam Newton says is true. Newton thought there were grounds for a roughing penalty against the Saints in the 4th quarter of the Panthers' 27-22 win over New Orleans, when he was hit hard out-of-bounds by defensive tackle Tyeler Davison.
No flag came from Hochuli, who was the lead official for the game. When Newton asked Hochuli about the no-call, reportedly the ref answered "you're not old enough to get that call."
Newton is only 26 years old, but he has been to the Pro Bowl twice in his young career. Besides these facts, shouldn't rules be rules for everyone? Yes, rules and judgment calls are sometimes interpreted differently by officials, and that may have been the case in this instance. The league has since defended this particular "no-call."
But if Hochuli actually said what is alleged (and he has denied saying anything), the NFL has another issue on its hands – namely, the pseudo-reality that certain players get certain calls, while others don't. It's one of the great unsaid, unstated rules that has been around for years, but no one will admit exists.
We've been engaged in discovering quite a bit of dirt under the rug in the NFL over the past few months, and one thing is certain. It's messy under there. Seems to me that a thorough house-cleaning might be the only way to really clear things up.
*John Rooke is an author and award-winning broadcaster, and is in his 23rd year as the Patriots' stadium voice. Currently serving in several media capacities – which include hosting "Patriots Playbook" on Patriots.com Radio – Rooke has broadcast college football and basketball locally and nationally for 27 seasons and is a member of the Rhode Island Radio Hall of Fame. *
Follow him on Twitter - @JRbroadcaster