By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- I fancy Jeff Fisher to be a big fan of the film "Office Space."
It's a movie focused on employees of a company, employees who have become so dispirited with their jobs that some of them stop trying before finagling a way to steal some money from that company. It's a plot that sounds vaguely familiar with some stories that you might have been hearing this week.
One story involved Fisher not bothering to know the names of Dion Lewis and James White. The lazy answer of worrying about "Brandon" and "Danny" when asked specifically about the Patriots' running back prompted some poor Rams PR person to get creative in coming up with an explanation. But we all know the truth: Fisher was reclined in his La-Z-Boy, shades on, thinking about anything in the world that didn't involve the Patriots' running backs.
And then, a few days later, an actual football game took place -- though based on the way Fisher's team treated it, you'd never know. The mighty Los Angeles Rams, over the course of 30 minutes in the first half, gained a grand total of 25 yards. Twenty. Five. Yards. Their opponent, the New England Patriots, gained 28 yards on their first four plays. LeGarrette Blount capped off that opening drive with a 43-yard touchdown run.
But the Rams gained 25 yards. And got one first down. In 30 minutes. Against the Patriots, who were allowing 353 yards per game entering Sunday.
Oh, and then -- and then! -- the Rams actually executed a positive play. Jared Goff completed a pass to Brian Quick up the right sideline on a second-and-17, but Quick was ruled to have been out of bounds, thus erasing a 17-yard gain. Replays showed that Quick quite obviously tapped both feet in the field of play before falling out of bounds, so a challenge was the easy call for Fisher.
Except, seconds elapsed, and the challenge didn't come. The Rams lined up for their next play, apparently assuming the coach wouldn't be throwing his red challenge flag, but then the whistle blew.
It turned out that Fisher couldn't find his challenge flag. For real.
That's two examples in one week of a coach being woefully unprepared to do his job. And, because the Rams are the Rams, and because Fisher is Fisher, it was leaked Sunday that Fisher had signed a two-year contract extension before the season began.
Stop trying at work? Check.
Find a way to receive exorbitant sums of money from employer? Check.
Now he just needs to head to an open field to destroy a printer with a baseball bat to complete the cycle.
After Sunday's loss, Fisher is now just one away from tying the all-time record for most losses by an NFL head coach. He already passed Tom Landry ... except Landry coached nearly 100 more games, won 77 more games, and, you know, won two Super Bowls and five conference titles. He's one shy of tying Dan Reeves, who also coached many more games and also won four conference titles.
Fisher has just six postseason appearances over 22 years, and he will assuredly set a new standard for losing by season's end. He's been in charge of a grand total of two winning seasons since 2004. He's coached in just two postseason games in that span; he lost them both. He did coach his team to a Super Bowl ... in 1999. Since then, he's got twice as many seasons with 10 or more losses (four, soon to be five) than he has playoff wins (two).
It's to the point where the transcript from Fisher's postgame press conference showed just how puzzling the whole situation is.
Q: What would you say to fans in Los Angeles who are kind of scratching their heads asking how they could give Jeff Fisher a contract extension?'
Fisher: Well, I would tell them the truth, that this was done well before the season started. It was done well before we had 90,000 people in the Coliseum for our first preseason game. And you know, we're just moving forward, that's what we are doing. Trying to put our product on the field, we've lost some close games, you know, and we are struggling offensively. That's where it is at. That stuff is out of my control.
I don't know what any of that means. But good for Jeff. Snake it till you make it. We should all be so lucky.
That's all on Fisher. Now let's run through some leftover thoughts from that 26-10 Patriots victory over the visiting Rams.
--In the opening minutes of the game, rookie guard Joe Thuney (pronounced "TWO-knee") was called for a hold. Color commentator John Lynch called him "TH-ooney." Lynch must have done his prep work with Fisher for this one.
--Lynch also said "No disrespect to whoever the offensive line coach had been" when Dante Scarnecchia was retired for two years. That is straight out of the Ricky Bobby playbook.
No disrespect to this guy WHOM I CAN'T EVEN NAME, but he wasn't very good.
(His name was Dave DeGuglielmo, and he did a fairly good job in 2014, if I recall correctly. No disrespect to the Patriots, but I forget exactly how that season ended for them. I think it might have been a Super Bowl victory but I'll have to check the encyclopedia later when I get home.)
--Kevin Burkhardt, doing play-by-play, also excitedly credited "Logan White" or "Logan Weiss" with a sack before self-correcting and giving credit to Logan Ryan. Suffice it to say, nobody was excited to do too much prep work for this Rams-Patriots football game.
--Maybe I'm reaching, but was it just a coincidence that the Patriots gave the ball to LeGarrette Blount, Dion Lewis and James White in succession twice on the opening drive? Or was Bill trying to introduce Fisher to the actual running backs who are on the team?
--People say a lot of things about LeGarrette Blount. They say he just runs in a straight line and is the king of the no gain. But they probably overlook things like this cutback behind the line of scrimmage on fourth-and-1:
They say he's slow, but they ignore when he turns this situation at the 35-yard line into a touchdown:
They say a lot of things. But this week, they have to say that Blount leads the league in rushing touchdowns, and they have to admit that they were ... wrong with damn near everything they thought about Blount. Of course, they probably won't. But they should.
The offense was indeed at work. Safety Maurice Alexander was not.
Alexander isn't the first NFL player who's shown little to no interest in tackling The Garrette on an NFL field. But with that kind of effort, I expect the Colts to pursue him aggressively this coming offseason.
--Earlier this week, Bill Belichick spoke at length on multiple occasions about the looming threat the Rams possessed in punter Johnny Hekker. And, if we're being honest, the guy did put on a show out there. He's a very good punter.
But by far, his greatest feat of the day was his ability to run the Fake-Fake Punt. Oh my, it was a thing of beauty. First, he stood in his normal spot, 14 yards behind the line of scrimmage, before he trotted forward to stand 7 yards behind the line of scrimmage, pretending to be ready to take a super shotgun snap. He then slyly trotted back to the 14-yard mark, took the snap, and punted it.
My goodness. Fisher Magic, folks. That was worth the price of admission alone.
--Bad day for Cyrus Jones, by the way. If Belichick was stressing the importance of not muffing punts and not letting punts get over the head of the return man when he was talking to the media, then it's a safe bet he was driving that point home with his actual return men. Yet Jones did both. I wouldn't be surprised if we don't see him returning any punts for the rest of the year.
--Tom Brady now has 19 touchdowns and one interception on the year. But he really owes a steak dinner to James White. (That is, if Brady can stomach the thought of spending money on normal people food.) After Michael Brockers tipped a Brady pass at the line up into the air, the ball looked destined to be picked off by the 6-foot-2 Alec Ogletree. But the 5-foot-10 White showed why coaches care about those leaping drills at the combine, as he sprung like Super Mario to not only get to the ball but also to hang on to it for a short reception.
Save an INT, get a free steak. It's only fair. Do the right thing, Tom.
--Brady owes Julian Edelman a steak, too, for that matter. You're just not supposed to be able to heave jump balls to your 5-foot-10 receiver. You're not. But Brady can.
That play was no joke.
--For as much as this game was a laugher, the Patriots' offense wasn't exactly rolling. They scored just two touchdowns, had to settle for four field goals, and they went 4-for-16 on third down. Malcolm Mitchell had a couple of drops on third down, but nobody was perfect on the day. One third-and-9 late in the first quarter stands out in particular.
Defensive back Lamarcus Joyner blitzed from the slot, after Martellus Bennett had motioned toward the line after initially lining up on the outside. Brady not only never saw the blitz coming, but he failed to recognize Bennett being completely uncovered up the right seam.
Instead of hitting Bennett for what looked like an easy first-down pickup, Brady threw deep to the left side, where Chris Hogan had broken off his route short. Brady got walloped, having never seen the blitzer, and the Patriots had to punt.
Of course, on that punt, the Rams really Ramsed it up by knocking each other over on the back end ...
... a flub which worked to mask some of the issues the Patriots had on the day. But there's obviously some work to be done for that offense to get to the level it needs to before the postseason begins.
--Speaking of postseason, the Patriots are going to end up there. They haven't clinched yet, but losses Sunday by both the Bills and Dolphins make it a near-certainty that the Patriots win the AFC East for the eighth straight year and for the 14th time in the past 16 seasons. They've now won at least 10 games for the 14th straight season, which is the second-best such streak in history (San Francisco 1983-1998; NFL switched to 16-game seasons from 14-game seasons in 1978). They are 55-10 in the month of December since 2001, good for an .846 winning percentage that is head and shoulders above the next-best team (Pittsburgh, .708).
Obviously, there are many ways to describe the Patriots' incredible run of success. And though everyone is focused on the team winning the Super Bowl, I think that as Brady and Belichick get older, the frequency with which folks around here stop and say "Wow" should be on a slight uptick. Once those two are gone, winning 10 games will not be a given every year.
--"Illegal formation, defense, the defender was lining up over the kick, over the punter, over the snapper."
--Jerome Boger, Dec. 4, 2016
--There are gripes with officiating, and then there are gripes with officiating. And for the life of me, I don't have the slightest clue how head linesman Ed Camp did not see the blatantly obvious, vicious facemask by Trumaine Johnson on Blount after Blount had just converted his second fourth-and-1 of the day.
Look at the facemask here:
Now check out Ed Camp's line of vision throughout the play:
And now, here is proof that Camp does in fact possess two eyeballs.
Bad job, Ed Camp. Bad, bad job. Even Cole Beasley agrees.
--Chris Long was on the Rams from 2008 through 2015. During that time, the Rams went 39-88-1. They had two 2-14 seasons and a 1-15 season. They never won more than seven games in any season. Now, he's on the Patriots, who are 10-2. I think he likes it better in New England:
--I've expressed some concern in this space for the way Julian Edelman plays the game of football. I understand the man's style is the man's style, but man, sometimes that breakneck approach looks like it will become a literal description.
He probably could have protected himself here:
But instead, he fought for more yards and ended up absorbing this hit:
Later, on the opening play of the fourth quarter of a 23-3 game, Edelman took this hit right to the noggin:
And then he spun out of it and ended up getting clobbered by two men for the price of one:
Edelman then popped off the turf and excitedly told Ogletree, "I love that [poop]!" (He did not call the "S" poop.)
I'm not saying this to try to identify a problem. The coaching staff would never advise a player as tenacious as Edelman to alter his playing style one bit. And I'm not trying to put a doomsday mark on it by saying "He won't last!" or anything like that. I'm merely pointing out that the guy plays with some incredible gusto, and between him and Wes Welker, that's a luxury the Patriots offense has had for a full decade. It should not go overlooked.
--Hey, speaking of Welker, does he make this catch?
I kid, I kid! But I did like how Hogan described the process of keeping his feet in bounds when making a catch like this. He said that after turning your body and making a play on the ball, the focus shifts to "kind of letting your feet go dead."
Clearly, in spinning, leaping, catching and toe-tapping, there's a lot going on at once. But he made it look pretty easy.
Great spike, too.
--I understand that Jared Goff is inexperienced at this level of football, but man, I now understand why the easiest level on Madden is "Rookie." To borrow an analogy from the video game world, there were plays where it looked as if Goff's controller had been disconnected. Too often, he just stood there, completely oblivious to the oncoming rush, even when it was right in his face. Like this sack by Rob Ninkovich:
On that play, too, Goff was so dead-set on looking left that he failed to see an easy completion awaiting him on the right side of the field, where Malcolm Butler had two people in his zone:
And there were times that Goff appeared to believe that Jabaal Sheard was his teammate (pardon the blur):
I know, I know. He's a rookie. He's on the road. He's facing one of the best home teams in the NFL. I know Peyton Manning threw 28 interceptions as a rookie, and that future Hall of Famers Tom Brady and Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers and Jimmy Garoppolo didn't even play as rookies. I get it.
But as far as first impressions with a No. 1 overall pick go, I can confidently say that I've had better.
--Malcolm Mitchell has, quite obviously, come on in a big way in recent weeks. And while the raw numbers (17 catches, 222 yards, three touchdowns over the past three games) are impressive, the little things have stood out as well. For example, on a second-and-10 in the third quarter, Mitchell made a catch 5 yards from the sticks with zero momentum at all:
Yet with a quick shimmy and a stiff-arm, he casually turned it into an 11-yard chain-mover ... and it looked like he did it with relative ease.
He's progressed very well, with very little pressure on him to perform over the first few months of the season. Now, with Rob Gronkowski gone for the year and Danny Amendola out for the near future, Mitchell is in perfect position to assume a concrete role in the offense over the final month and going into the postseason.
The whole "rookie receiver" stigma with the Patriots is not a myth. But Mitchell's done a good job of defying that history and becoming a reliable target for Brady.
--Hey, speaking of Brady, he won his 201st football game. Perhaps you heard? He passed Peyton Manning, and he now stands alone in the always-controversial category of "QB wins."
While, yes, it is always too simple to credit only the quarterback for a victory in a sport as complex as football, there should be little debate about the significance of the quarterback. Each and every snap, he's in control of the football. And though a running back or a defensive player may be the one who makes the "play of the game," so to speak, such a play is only possible if the quarterback avoids making the "mistake of the game" with a bad pass or ill-timed turnover.
It's fitting, too, that if Brady is going to secure any record, it would be in victories. Realistically, given Drew Brees' passing haven down in the Superdome, and given Manning's fortunate circumstances to play indoors for the majority of his career, Brady stands little chance to stand atop the all-time rankings in passing yards and touchdowns. With the cold and the wind and the rain and the snow he deals with every year, that's just not going to happen. Those records belong to Manning now, and they'll soon belong to Brees.
But wins? Wins are what matter more than anything, and that is ultimately be how Brady is remembered. He's got 22 playoff wins (and counting), which is twice as many as any other active QB (Ben Roethlisberger). And he should be passing Manning and Brett Favre at 186 early next season for most regular-season victories of all time. Brady currently has 179 regular-season wins; no other active quarterback is even close.
It's remarkable, truly, and this late-career surge of excellence by Brady since 2014 has seriously increased the difficulty of trying to chronicle his incredible career. Fortunately, nobody has to worry about closing that book just yet. At 39 years old and looking as dominant as he ever has, Brady's got a few more wins to pursue.
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