The Patriots systematically strangled the Bills on Sunday, once again leaning on Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead on the ground to take the heat off of Tom Brady. It wasn’t a great 60 minutes, the penalties and sloppiness marred any positive vibes we might’ve had coming off a divisional win.
Now we get to weigh and debate Gronk’s punishment instead of the 10-2 Patriots team that will now play for the division title in Miami on Monday Night Football. Or maybe, if the Bills lose, they’ll already have it. Regardless, the Patriots’ juggernaut roars on and if Gronk has to sit a game (that keeps him away from a certain coach who won’t take his starters out of blowouts ;)) so be it.
As the Patriots’ regular season becomes less consequential with each passing week I’m always amazed how the conversation turns to a pile of bullshit. It becomes less about breaking down the game and more about things like when to take starters out and strength of schedule. Those are the kind of things the pundits will discuss and debate, meanwhile the fact that the Patriots are rolling again despite a bunch of injuries and turnover is just brushed under the rug. Everyone just expects it now, just like I expect to hear talk focusing on questionable minutiae like how good is Bill Belichick really at drafting in the second round. Sigh…
More on all that and the Pats’ 10th win of the season in the Posits.
Dion Lewis just killed a guy pic.twitter.com/uKwvzqo6dw
— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) December 3, 2017
— I felt overwhelming pressure to have a Gronk hot take and no surprise I don’t really have one. Gronk was fined $8K in 2014 for throwing Sergio Brown out of the club and I think that could be a factor that leads to Gronk sitting a game. When Tom Brady got four games for being generally aware of something, nothing really should surprise us as far as the league and discipline. Obviously Gronk said all the right things after the game, from being sorry to pointing out the obvious double standard for him and his defenders. He’s right, and it was still a really dumb play by the big fella. But again, not putting him out there against the Dolphins wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. Then unleash rested Gronk vs. the Steelers, there’s another big fat storyline to discuss and everybody wins.
— Eric Lee jumped in for Trey Flowers and was the feel good guy on defense for the afternoon. He played a mind-boggling 85 percent of the snaps. There’s something about him I find unique and I can’t quite place my finger on it. It starts with the “robots” facemask he wears usually reserved for defensive backs and wide receivers. Then it’s his body, limbs moving in many directions but all propelling him forward with a strange gait. Who doesn’t enjoy when Belichick plucks a guy off a team’s practice squad then turns around and beats them with him? I’ve mentioned a bunch that the Pats need another defensive end to emerge and Lee has put together two pretty good weeks at an important time of the year. Is he a building block for the defense? I wouldn’t go that far yet, but he’s had a strong couple games out of the gate and given the Pats need on the edge he could find himself playing a significant role. He just has to keep getting to the quarterback.
— Dion Lewis put up another special week, while it was Burkhead who had his second strong performance of the last three weeks. Together, they’re one of the best duos the Patriots have ever had. They’ve turned Super Bowl hero James White back into a situational player. Either one can shoulder the load and the rotation was really effective this week, rotating within drives rather than giving each their own. Of course credit must go up front where Cameron Fleming (aka their third right tackle) did an outstanding job, as did Shaq Mason who is becoming a weekly run block highlight film by himself.
— Thuney and Solder seemed to have the most significant breakdowns on first glance. I hate when a dormant Bills pass rush suddenly happens to come to life against us. Brady too some shots, but he hung in there like he always does, especially in Buffalo. The game felt closer than the final scoreboard. The key were some huge third down catches by Gronk who, outside of the dumb hit after the whistle, has looked like vintage dominant Gronk the last two weeks.
— The defense gave up just three points and is now under 20.0 average for the first time this season at 18.6 points-per-game. It’s just amazing that without Trey Flowers and just spot use of Kyle Van Noy the defense still executed the gameplan. They bent, sure, but three points is nothing to dismiss. It’s remarkable how the defense keeps rolling no matter who is in there. This was an effective game against a mobile quarterback along with some gimmick packages designed to attack the Pats’ second level. Even the fill-ins did a fine job despite a few third down breakdowns on scrambles by Taylor.
— Buffalo certainly used some toss sweeps to test the Pats’ defense. They had some significant struggles on those earlier this season but overall they were pretty good against them.
— Stephon Gilmore is coming on and I think he’ll start to find a special place in Patriots’ fan’s hearts if he keeps playing like he did against Buffalo. He’s a really interesting cornerback to watch, just so smooth in man coverage, he looks effortless. When the results are bad it’s easy to hate effortless, when they’re good, like they were many times on Sunday, they’re easy to love. He may not be the most physical guy he’ll play an important role in the playoffs.
— Another week, another flawless Stephen Gostkowski. He’s really enjoying a solid bounceback season. He’s missed just one extra point and three field goals this season (two came against the Chargers) and has been a perfect 3-3 from beyond 50 yards.
— Quiet game for Brandin Cooks but the Pats made up for it with Burkhead. One guy to be a little disappointed with is Philip Dorsett playing 69 percent of the snaps and not getting a single target.
— Malcom Brown‘s full time return to the lineup was a huge underrated boost and he finished with seven tackles, a half sack and a half tackle-for-loss in 69 percent of the snaps. He’s a big cog up front and with Alan Branch chipping in with a nice push on the interception, and Lawrence Guy playing his usual solid game, the interior tackles are doing a good job upfront.
— Elandon Roberts became the de facto leader of the defense upfront playing 73 percent of the snaps. I’d like a little more than just three tackles out of him though. He’s one I’ll focus on during the rewatch.
There will be plenty of non-football talk this week, with the main debate centering on Gronk. For me it’s pretty cut and dry unless he’s suspended for more than a game, which would be overkill. But hey, overkill punishments is what the NFL does best. Either way it’s all we’ll talk about this week, while the fact that the peaking Pats are winning without firing on all cylinders will go under the radar because everyone’s bored with that.
With one quarter of the season remaining the playoff nerves are starting to rumble a bit for me. There are plenty of reasons to look at this like any other season in recent years, with the Pats having a great chance to get back to the Super Bowl. Still, there’s more unproven with this team than those recent season, so there is something novel about this group. We’re not just gonna sit back and watch vets like Ninkovich and Hightower make the big plays to get us to Minnesota for SB52. New guys will have to do it, especially on defense, and that’s the great unknown of the 2017 season.