Agile. Mobile. Versatile.
They had it in the bag, all the while. And Gillette Stadium is a place, especially to playoff contending visitors…that has also become quite hostile.
What was on display for the Patriots in their 34-9 dismantling of NFC North contender Detroit, was their ability to game-plan for an opponent, and the execution of that plan with perhaps the NFL's best roster depth…if not overall talent. I mean, how exactly does a defense improve like the Patriots have AFTER losing two of its top players in Chandler Jones and Jerod Mayo? And the scary part…Jones might still be back at some point.
They'll figure out a way to make room for him.
A week after pounding the Indianapolis Colts on the ground, Tom Brady led a New England offense through the air against the NFL's #1 statistical defense…and threw for 349 yards with two touchdowns. Last week's AFC Offensive Player of the Week and Sports Illustrated cover boy, running back Jonas Gray, didn't play a single snap – although his practice tardiness last Friday undoubtedly contributed to his bench time. But the Patriots ran the ball only 20 times against a tough Lions' front; the same offense had mashed Indy a week earlier with 44 blasts into the line. Having the ability to game plan – or more specifically – having the depth available to game plan for opponents' perceived strength is a remarkable trait to have.
And a trait that usually defines a winning football team.
"Whatever it takes, we're going to try to figure out, whatever it takes," Brady told the media after pitching his team to the win. "I know as players we always feel very prepared…it's great when we can spread it around to different guys and it makes us tough to defend. There are a lot of guys that are making plays out there."
Indeed, that's the key. A lot of guys making plays out there, on offense and defense. Having those guys in the first place, able to make those plays, is the real key to the current seven-game run of success. You've heard the phrase "he who has the most toys at the end, wins?" The Patriots have a lot of them, players who seem capable of carrying out Darrelle Revis, who referred to his fellow defensive backs as "hybrids" because anyone seems capable of playing anywhere (read: versatile), added "Everybody is being a leader. And everybody listens. We have no egos, and guys want to win."
The New England Patriots take on the Detroit Lions at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, November 23, 2014.
Excuse the obvious play-on-words, but should we add "hum-bile" to the Patriots' profile? This is one team opponents might not want to rile.
Raiola's cut block of frustration – Detroit center Dominic Raiola had to have been frustrated over his team's loss. But to acknowledge attacking the knees of defensive end Zach Moore at the end of the game – over his apparent disdain for the Patriots' scoring a late touchdown – was cheap at best, and dirty at worst. While the Patriots largely looked the other way, this should be addressed in some form internally. Be careful what you dish out…since you might get it back in return. There will be other frustrated players out there who have never or rarely beaten New England…and would like nothing more than to derail the current locomotive from its tracks.
Hankies again litter the field – This subject was avoided last week against the Colts, but rears its ugly head against the Lions. New England is currently the second-most penalized team in the NFL, and #2 in penalty yardage after 11 accepted penalties (for 84 yards in losses) Sunday. Surprisingly, the flying flags didn't seem to affect the outcome with a potential playoff team in Detroit. But how many times can you play with fire, Scarecrow, and not get burned?
Maybe the scoreboard was broken – This is as nit-picky as they come, but the offense – for all of its' current juggernaut status as the #1 scoring team in the NFL – managed to score only 10 points in the entire second half. At home. The penalties certainly had something to do with it (offensive line flags did wipe away first downs, a 30-yard completion to Julian Edelman, plus a 74-yard punt return was called back)…and perhaps Detroit's previously top-ranked defense also contributed to the cause. But if the self-inflicted wounds can be healed here, the Gillette Stadium staff may end up having to replace a few light bulbs on that scoreboard.
Be Careful What You Whine For
There's little doubt LeGarrette Blount, who returned to New England as a member of the Patriots' backfield largely because he pouted about his lack of playing time in Pittsburgh, became an increasing distraction for the Steelers' and their coaching staff. All reports, if not fingers, point in that direction. Rest assured, whatever difficulties that occurred for him in the Steel City have been addressed, in advance, of his arrival and upcoming performances in Foxboro.
Distractions? They don't do those here. And true to form, Blount fit right in this weekend, with the Patriots ably assisted by his 12 carries for 78 yards and two touchdowns.
One man's pain is another's gain? It could be working out that way. Coaching staffs and player personnel folks around the NFL seem to have less tolerance with their malcontented players of late. Former Pro Bowl linebacker Ahmad Brooks didn't play a single snap in the second half of a San Francisco win over the New York Giants recently, and while he hasn't been released…he was benched for that half – he says – when he took out his frustrations on position coach Jim Tomsula. Brooks had been mentioned in possible trade talks with Cleveland. He apologized, but is that enough to get him back on the field?
Just asking the question here, but is it possible disgruntled players have figured out a loophole in the system? When the grass ain't greener on the other side, whining, moping and pouting about not playing may be working to the players' advantage in getting out of town…or out of a contract…in order to find a better situation. Running back Ben Tate was waived by the Browns after he sought a better opportunity than he had in Houston, and after other players moved in on his snaps…he was picked up by Minnesota after expressing his displeasure. Same with Carolina receiver Jason Avant, although his rumored dissatisfaction with falling behind younger players at his position may or may not have had much to do with his release from the Panthers. Still, he didn't produce as hoped, and he's gone.
And when veterans-on-the-cheap come open on the market, you can bet there are staffs waiting to pounce, especially with late-season injuries providing needs. One man's problem can become another man's solution. As long as they're not locked in long term, grumpy players who don't like their current situations seem to have found a possible remedy for their truculence.
Complain. Because someone, somewhere will always listen.
Tuck's Pluck bails out Oakland
In a season that has seen, so far, two players sent to the sidelines after injuring themselves during premature celebrations…finally, some sanity enters the picture.
Granted, if you're an Oakland Raider fan, you'll celebrate most anything these days. After defeating the Kansas City Chiefs last Thursday night 24-20 for their first win of the year (now 1-10), doing a dance or two would be understandable.
But after linebacker Sio Moore sacked Kansas City QB Alex Smith with about 40 seconds remaining in the game, Moore took off upfield with a celebration reminiscent of a Super Bowl win. If not for the quick thinking of defensive end Justin Tuck – who seems to remember a thing or two about winning big games from his New York Giants past – calling a time out, Moore and LB Khalil Mack would never have made it back to the defensive huddle in time. They were still celebrating. An ensuing penalty would have given the Chiefs a closer crack at a potential game-winning score.
Moore told the San Francisco Chronicle "You know how they say act like you've been there before – I haven't." His teammates laughed at that, but perhaps only because they won. Tuck's veteran move, and subsequent on-field chewing-out of his teammates afterward, saved another potential embarrassing celebration-turned-disaster.
A smart move – a sane, savvy move – helps Oakland win a game? All things are possible, it seems.
Beast mode is least mode with media, NFL
Marshawn Lynch has never been warm and fuzzy with the media. Supposedly, he's happier just letting his play do his talking for him.
However, what the Seattle running back fails to grasp is providing access to the media – something, a word, anything at all – is part of the job of an NFL player, especially one with the level of success he has accomplished on the field. Lynch walked out of the Seahawks' locker room after a loss to Kansas City a week ago without speaking to reporters…and was fined $50,000 for violating the NFL's Media Policy.
Coupled with another $50K fine imposed upon him for violating that same policy a year ago (and so far uncollected), that brings Lynch's tally to a cool $100K. All of it for simply not speaking to the media. The league policy dictates players must be available to the media during the practice week at the team's facility and in the locker room following all games. Lynch committed his famous faux pas at last year's Super Bowl, skipping Media Day, then showing up late for a cameo where he told the NFL Network he was "just about that action, boss."
The irony here is Lynch's public perception as a malcontent took a positive turn recently, when a Seattle TV station reported Beast Mode had returned a lost wallet he found at a gas station to its rightful owner. Maybe Lynch just doesn't want to talk, and prefers to keep his mouth shut? That's his right…but the NFL, it seems, is now just about opening HIS wallet and collecting those fines they're owed…boss.
Tiki's tongue prompts Eli's retort
Former New York Giants running back Tiki Barber, who has been critical of his former team since his surprising retirement in 2007, told a Los Angeles radio station last week head coach Tom Coughlin needs to go.
When told of his former teammates' opinion on his coach, quarterback Eli Manning responded to the New York Daily News with "That's nice of him. It's good to hear from old Tiki." Manning then took the retort a bit further, when asked if it was a distraction for former teammates to call for the coach to be fired.
"I think," Manning replied, "it depends on your opinion of that player." Zing.
Barber, who just missed out on the Giants' Super Bowl successes of the past few years, might want to plan around that next Giants' reunion with ex-teammates…especially if Manning is on the invitation list.
John Rooke is an author and award-winning broadcaster, and has been the Patriots' stadium voice for 22 years. Currently serving in several media capacities – which include hosting "Patriots Playbook" during the season on Patriots.com Radio for a 14th year – Rooke has broadcast college football and basketball for the past 26 years and is a member of the Rhode Island Radio Hall of Fame.