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Patriots Replay Thu Aug 22 | 12:00 AM - 11:59 PM

View from Above: This ride ain't over, yet

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10 straight seasons in the NFL playoffs. 

10 straight seasons as AFC East Division Champions, joining the Atlanta Braves (with 14) as the only franchises from the NFL, NBA, MLB or NHL to win at least 10 straight division titles. New England has also claimed 16 of the last 18 AFC East crowns.

Ridiculously silly stuff. Yes, NFL records. We’re getting used to this “hat and t-shirt” thing around here. And just like in those late-night infomercials that keep us company when we can’t sleep, “but wait, there’s more.”

The Patriots have clinched a playoff spot for the 20th time in Robert Kraft’s 25 years of ownership.

The Patriots have won at least 10 games for a 16th straight season to tie San Francisco’s NFL record.

When you consider New England has qualified for the postseason 26 total times in the 59-year history of the franchise, the depth and true meaning of the numbers above should resonate with fans and non-fans alike.

These Patriots have been good. They still may be pretty good this year, or at least good enough to be competitive within the current landscape. So why do many of the headlines you read, or talk show hosts you listen to, or TV-types you watch tell us these Patriots aren’t good anymore?

Because they’ve fallen victim to the same pestilence that has infested many of us – the disease of great expectations. The epidemic of not enjoying the current ride. As we know, it’s widespread.

Ex-ESPN analyst and former Super Bowl-winning quarterback Trent Dilfer’s one-time, on-air pronouncement of “they’re not good anymore!” more than four years ago may finally have a ring of truth to it, if you take what the talking-heads have to say as gospel. 

And that’s fine, if you don’t have the time or wherewithal to dig a little deeper. See above.

From this point of view, I can’t say they’re entirely off-the-mark with the latest ‘end of the dynasty’ decree. Are things the same as in years’ past? Of course not. But I can also say, with relative certainty, that no two seasons are ever exactly alike. Or in the Patriots’ case, no 10 seasons are exactly alike. 

Each year is a season unto itself – filled with different ups, downs, twists, turns, smooth and bumpy roads…like a roller-coaster in an amusement park.

We forget that at the end of the ride, there’s usually a feeling of exultation, right? As in “wow, let’s do that again?”

Maybe, we should let this ride to come to a complete stop first, before unbuckling the seatbelts and exiting the cars to your left. We’re too quick to describe what we think we see as fact, or gospel. The need to be first with information or opinion (think ‘hot takes’) is as much a pox on the consuming public as is the latest strain of influenza.

So, sit back and continue to enjoy this particular ride. ‘Cuz it ain’t over yet. There will be some bumps, even some hair-pin turns perhaps, before we come to a complete stop. 

But when it’s over, I’ll race you to the front of the line, and we’ll get ready to ride it all over again.

The latest ‘hot takes’

It’s too easy to say the passing game was poor-to-bad Sunday against the Bills. It would be even easier to say Tom Brady has lost it, or that Josh Gordon’s absence had anything to do with the paltry performance through the air.

But it wasn’t very good, either. 

From the very first play of the game (an NFL-leading ninth drop from Julian Edelman) to the end, the Patriots’ passing game left a lot to be desired. Chris Hogan never received so much as a single target. Rob Gronkowski got his hands on one ball – and let it slip through those hands into the hands of Buffalo’s Jordan Poyer.

TB12’s numbers were a pedestrian 13-of-24 for 126 yards, with one touchdown, two interceptions and one QB sack. There were tipped balls, others thrown at the feet of intended targets, and flat-out misfires. His passer rating was an un-Pro Bowl-like 48.3, the 6th-lowest individual game rating in his other-worldly career. 

“Yeah, we didn’t have our best game in the pass game, but we won. So, I think everyone’s feeling pretty good about winning,” was Brady’s answer to the passing game questions after the 24-12 win over the Bills.

The running game (273 rushing yards, 2nd highest total in the Bill Belichick-era) more than made up for any lack of production through the air. That’s the good news, especially against a solid Buffalo defense. There’s also one more game in the regular season, and subsequent practices, to continue working on any issues.

But there are issues, make no mistake. That much is evident.

Feeding a fed horse?

Sorry, PETA. But we’re going to beat a dead horse, albeit briefly. It’s a figurative phrase, not a literal one.

Mental mistakes. Penalties. And now, turnovers?

Normally, when all three occur in the time frame of a single game, they prove deadly. The Patriots have to know how lucky they were facing the Buffalo Bills Sunday – and not Pittsburgh or Kansas City.

Three-for-12 on 3rd down conversions. Five accepted flags for 49 yards in penalties – and that’s a significant improvement over recent weeks. Three turnovers – two interceptions and one fumble – resulted in a mere three points’ worth of damage on the scoreboard.

Like I said, they were lucky to be facing the Bills, not the Saints or the Rams.

And just for good measure, winning the coin toss and deciding to defer the possession to the 2nd half was met with a resounding ‘thud’ once again. The defense got a three-and-out on the opening Buffalo drive, but it took the offense most of the 1st quarter to get untracked. And the first possession of the 2nd half?

One play. Picked off. How long are we going with this here?

There’s still a bit of time left in the regular season to continue ironing out these wrinkles, as mentioned several times previously. But animal rights activists are going to complain if these problems aren’t fixed. 

Because it won’t be just me beating this horse.

Thinking before acting

It happened in the kicking game this week, at least on a couple of occasions, during return attempts. Three return attempts for a mere 41 yards gained?

Cordarrelle Patterson was faced with decisions to return-or-not on his two attempts and opted to give it the ol’ college try. Neither got the ball as far as the 20-yard line, much less the 25. Sony Michel took the other attempt, bobbled it, and was lucky to get beyond the 10-yard line. He was tackled at the 12.

Special teams play has been a mixed bag of goods for the Patriots this season, blocking some kicks and getting hands on a few others. But in the return game? Special teams have largely struggled. 

Acting, before thinking, hasn’t helped a Patriot offense that could use an assist every now-and-then.

Friends or foes?

The irony was hard to miss. Patriot players were pulling for Nick Foles (last year’s SB MVP, remember?) to fly his Eagles down the field in Sunday’s waning moments against Houston. 

Foles was successful, as was Philadelphia in their 32-30 last-second win over the Texans. As a result, a huge cheer erupted in the locker room as the Patriots once again gained control of their destiny for a first-round playoff bye. All that’s required now, is a win over the J-E-T-S next week to secure that coveted slot.

Thanks for the fun moment, Lane Johnson. We don’t get enough of those around here.

Not too rough in the Buff

With Sunday’s win, Tom Brady now holds a career record of 30 wins and three losses against the Buffalo Bills.

Let that sink in for just a moment…30 wins over a single opponent, in a parity-driven sport like pro football, isn’t just remarkable.

It’s darn-near impossible.

No other quarterback has 30 wins against a single team in NFL history. Next best is Brett Favre, who managed 26 wins against the Detroit Lions during his Hall of Fame career. 

Oh, and I forgot to mention. Brady also has 26 wins against the J-E-T-S, and he’ll be looking for career victory #27 next Sunday at Gillette Stadium. 

Say what you want about would-be tomato-cans-in-residence within the AFC East, but the won/loss record for the Jets, Dolphins and Bills – minus the division winners – is better than the runner-up teams have had in the AFC South, AFC West, NFC North and NFC West over the past 20 years. 

The AFC East has had six wild card winners since Brady and Belichick began their reign of terror – equal to the NFC West and South divisions, and one more than the AFC West has had. The AFC East had a wild card team last year (Buffalo) and arguably may have been the NFL’s best division overall – top to bottom – in 2017.

You want real tomato cans? Go west, young man. Which makes TB12’s consistent beatdown of Buffalo all the more impressive.  

And rare.

John Rooke, an author and award-winning broadcaster, is in his 26th season 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 more than 30 years and is a member of the Rhode Island Radio Hall of Fame and RI's Words Unlimited Hall of Fame.

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