The 2019 New England Patriots were a flawed team. The offense was young in the places where they needed to be experienced (wide receiver) and old in places where it pays to be younger (quarterback and tight end). Saturday night in the first half, the Patriots turned the clock back to the late 2000’s and ran screen passes like Kevin Faulk and JR Redmond were still in the back field. And it worked.
It worked in chunks to White, it worked for first downs to Burkhead. The other thing that the screen pass reunion tour did was it brought back “Sony Michel: Platinum Playoff Edition”. But in the second half, Michel’s off-tackle running and the screen game disappeared like a rogue 78-degree day in late October, leaving you to wonder if it actually existed at all.
Before the season the running game looked like it would be a cornerstone of the Patriots offense. After the performance of the offensive line last season and the emergence of Michel down the stretch, it appeared that the Patriots would become a Dodge Power Wagon of a run game pulled by Michel, White, Burkhead, Develin and Alabama rookie Damien Harris. It never came to fruition due to injuries and instability on the offensive line. So it feels like poetic justice that it was this generation’s ultimate power back, Derrick Henry, that blew out all the candles at Gillette Saturday night.
The Boogeymen, I’m pretty sure that moniker can be retired now, made it look fun in October beating Sam Darnold, but once you lose to Ryan Fitzpatrick and Ryan Tannehill, the nickname loses some of its steam.
The defense didn’t play poorly Saturday, although it felt like a bit of a rope-a-dope. Let Henry run until he gets tired and then take advantage of a few quick runs into the line and turn it into points. The defense did its job, they held the Titans to 14 points (I refuse to acknowledge Ryan’s pick-six, even though he could’ve had two.
And while we’re in a sidebar, how does it happen that Eric freakin Rowe took one back last week and this week Logan Ryan makes a house call. Brutal. If the Patriots had won, KC should have signed Kyle Arrington or some other maddening former New England corner, he probably wouldn’t had a pick-six and a scoop’n score.)
The Patriots offense was never the same after the Titans goal line stand late in the second quarter. First and goal from the one, and to come away with a Nick Folk field goal, was a loss. (Nick Folk, the best Patriots kicker since the last time we had Nick Folk.) The closest gasp was a play nobody will remember, but would’ve changed the entire game. Analysts tomorrow will lament Edelman’s drop on 2nd & 6 during the last real drive, but the ineligible man down field penalty on Shaq Mason that negated a long 3rd & 10 completion to Ben Watson in the 3rd quarter was the play this team needed. The Patriots would have had first down from 10 yards inside of field goal range, in a half where until the final 9 seconds, nobody scored a point. Feels significant.
Based off social media, the bloom is off the rose of Tony Romo, at least as it pertains to Patriots fans. “Is this the last time Tom Brady will play in New England?” “Is this the last time Josh McDaniels calls plays for the Patriots?” “This could be the last time Tom blows a snot rocket onto the sidelines of Gillette Stadium? I don’t know Jim.”
Enough Tony, you heard the crowd, we get it. We all know what may be at stake. But Patriots’ fans have always known about the stakes. For every fan who has said “Wait until Brady retires, you’ll be awful!” I’d like to say, we know how fortunate we are as Patriots fans, to get to witness prosperity like no franchise ever has. To do it with one head coach, one quarterback and one owner is remarkable. You don’t have to tell us, we’re still the fanbase that suffered through the first 40 years of this franchise. Just because we’ve gotten to live in a mansion for a couple of decades, it doesn’t mean we’ve forgotten about Rod Rust or Tommy Hodson.
What will Tom Brady do next? My guess is that he’ll probably go to Montana for a while. Maybe he’ll get to play at Pebble Beach. I think he’ll play football next year and I still believe that when he does, it will be in the same place he’s done it for the last 20 years.
BY STERLING PINGREE