By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- We're going to start this day with the hottest of hot takes. It is a scorcher.
Bill Belichick is a better football coach than Jason Garrett.
I know, I know, I know. A bit early to be making such leaps of logic and whatnot. Understandable. Let's see it all play out before we arrive at any conclusions. I got you.
But even after the game, I couldn't help but notice a stark difference in the way that Cowboys players and Patriots players talked about the wet, miserable conditions in which they had just played for three hours.
In the losing locker room, you had Ezekiel Elliott asked how the Cowboys can get both their running game and their passing game going at the same time, and how the weather changed what they were trying to do offensively.
"Um, I mean, terrible weather today, "Elliott said. "I mean, it was tough throwing the ball but I don't think the game plan changed much. ... I mean, like I said, it's hard to throw the ball in these type of conditions. I mean, I know it's tough for me just to catch checkdowns, or catch screens, or even handle handoffs. So I mean, I don't know."
A few steps away, in the visitors' press conference area, quarterback Dak Prescott explained how a terribly inaccurate misfire caused him to put on a pair of gloves in the middle of the game.
"I struggled early in those first few series before I put the gloves on. I couldn't get a real grip on the ball, I wasn't driving the ball and that's all me. That hurt the team," Prescott said. "I can't do that. I've got to put the gloves on earlier, figure something out. So, it wasn't anything like that. I eventually got it going."
Prescott was asked why he took so long to decide to wear gloves.
"I just have never worn them. I've only worn them in practice before," Prescott said. "It was cold when I wore them in practice. It wasn't raining and didn't feel like they did anything better than the bare hands, but I found out tonight with the rain, they're pretty helpful."
Having heard Elliott describe the challenges of handling the football in that gross weather, I thought it prudent to ask Sony Michel in the victorious Patriots locker room if it was a difficult day to handle the ball.
"No," he said. "We practice in these conditions. So. We're kind of used to 'em."
Isn't that it right there? Doesn't that tell you all you need to know about the massive mismatch that was Jason Garrett vs. Bill Belichick? One team had a quarterback switching to gloves mid-game, even though he'd never in his life thought to wear gloves in wet weather. The other team? "Meh. We practice in it. Whatever."
Maybe I'm being unfair, because of course, the Patriots talked about the way the conditions impacted the game. Maybe I'm reading too much into a couple of postgame quotes.
But also ... I'm probably not. The fact that the Patriots have now won at least 10 games for 17 straight seasons (SEVENTEEN STRAIGHT SEASONS) is no coincidence. As Belichick shared years ago, he hangs a Sun Tzu quote from "The Art Of War" in the locker room: "Every battle is won before it is fought."
While a little bit more goes into winning football games, that extreme level of preparation makes most of it possible.
All right, now let's hit the Leftover Thoughts from the Patriots' 13-9 win over the Cowboys on a nasty, rainy, windy day at Gillette Stadium.
--One fella who seems to agree with me? That would be none other than Jerry Jones.
"It's frustrating to me to just be reminded that some of the fundamentals of football and coaching were what beat us out there today," Jones lamented in the losing locker room.
The words may have packed a stronger punch if Jones wasn't the one who's employed Garrett for a decade. But nevertheless.
--We should probably talk about those "tripping" calls, right? I mean. Tripping? You don't see that called very often. In fact, prior to Sunday, it had been called just seven times all season across the league. So that's ... quick math ... 161 games ... just under 10,000 minutes of football ... seven calls ... OK. That comes out to one tripping call being made rrrroughly every 1,380 minutes in the NFL.
Yet on Sunday, in Gillette Stadium, two tripping penalties were called within 50 minutes of each other. Both were assessed to the Cowboys.
Time to hit 'em with the thinking emoji.
Now, let's dig into the rulebook:
"Tripping is the use of the leg or foot to obstruct any opponent (including a runner)."
Hm. OK. Probably didn't need the rulebook for that.
Now let's go to the film.
Tripping call No. 1:
Tripping call No. 2:
So the first one ... that' not a trip. Dont'a Hightower ran into Tyron Smith. Smith never even moved his body or stuck his leg out at all. He just had a man fall into his leg. Terrible call. However, its impact is being overstated. That penalty came on an incompletion that was almost picked off. Instead of a third-and-13, the Cowboys had a second-and-23. They were going to punt regardless.
The second one ... call me crazy, but it's not that hard to see why a penalty was called. Now, would a holding penalty on Zack Martin have been a more appropriate call? Maybe. But Travis Frederick's leg does kick out a little. Probably not to the extent that a tripping penalty had to have been called. But nevertheless, Hightower went to the ground, and it wasn't his own doing, and a half-hold half-trip might have done the job there.
Tough break for Dallas, but that's life in the big city.
--I would imagine that the Patriots might have seen something on tape and asked referee Scott Novak and his crew to keep an eye on it. Not dissimilar to when Rex Ryan made Jerome Boger's crew call a penalty on the Patriots for ... pushing. That's probably not how things should work in the NFL.
--It would also be easier to feel sympathy for the Cowboys for that second tripping call if the head coach hadn't kicked a field goal with 6:08 left in the game.
It's not that a field goal -- while trailing by 7 -- is always the wrong call in that situation. If the score is, say, 37-30 with 6:08 left, then sure, kick the field goal. You've been moving the ball all day, so you should be able to get a stop and a touchdown to win the game. Sure. OK.
But the Cowboys kicked this field goal on their only drive of the second half that crossed midfield. This was their one chance to tie the game. And instead, on a day when they scored zero touchdowns, Garrett kicked a field goal so that his team would ... need a touchdown on its next drive.
It kind of worked out, sort of, somewhat, because the Cowboys got the ball back. But they did so at their own 8-yard line, with 2:38 left to play. Surprise of all surprises, they didn't mount the winning drive.
--Julian Edelman is one tough human being. Yeah yeah yeah, I know, football players, they're tough, all of that. Marcus Cannon was out there playing tackle against a ferocious front while battling an illness. Jeff Heath played with two bad shoulders (and paid the price for separating Jakobi Meyers from the football). And on and on and on.
But there's just something about Edelman that you can't help but respect. A part of it is the licking he's taken over the past decade, entering the league as a somewhat scrawny but fearless player, and developing into a premier wide receiver, a Super Bowl MVP, and a major driver of the offense of the most successful team in the NFL.
And whatever it is that he's dealing with on that shoulder of his, it's quite evidently causing him a lot of pain. That was evident when he caught a 20-yard pass in the second quarter, and instead of signaling for a first down, or getting in someone's face, or doing literally anything, Edelman just slowly walked to the huddle, emotionless, likely dealing with some major pain. It's been clear for the past two weeks when Edelman's been unable to haul in passes, as he's apparently been unable to lift both arms over his head.
Realistically, Edelman probably needs a week or two off. Maybe the end of the year -- the Cincinnati, Buffalo, Miami stretch -- will present an opportunity. But the fact that he's sucking it up on a day like Sunday, in miserable conditions, when two receivers are inactive ... it just speaks to the entire Edelman experience.
--Edelman had eight catches for 93 yards, by the way. He led the Patriots in both categories. It was the ninth time this season that Edelman has led the team in at least one of those two categories. He's led the Patriots in both categories six times.
--Have you begun to embrace the ugly Tom Brady stat line yet? He was 17-for-37 for 190 yards with one touchdown and no picks on Sunday. That's a week after going 26-for-47 for 216 yards with no touchdowns and no picks in Philly.
Normally, 51 percent passing over two weeks would lead to panic in the streets, a flood of "BRADY IS DONE" columns, and mass hysteria in the sports media. But I think -- I think -- that people understand that he's doing all that he can, given the personnel and the conditions.
Assuming Mohamed Sanu and Phillip Dorsett return next week, I anticipate seeing the Patriots resemble the Patriots on offense, as they face one of the NFL's worst passing defenses in Houston.
--I will say, for as rough as it looked out there on Sunday, one Brady throw stuck out to me. No, this wasn't a sizzler, but Brady being able to get enough on this pass to fit it into a rapidly closing window without even getting his feet set showed me that yes, the old man's still got it.
Some sweet escapability there from Brady too to convert that third-and-20.
--There are times where it seems as if Jamie Collins has a turbo button, and nobody else does. This was one of those times:
That's a really good play by Kyle Van Noy to shed the block of Jason Witten and get into the backfield. Great recognition by Jonathan Jones, too, to read run and step up and get involved. But I couldn't help but marvel at Collins' burst through the line.
--I'm going to complain about the Dallas Cowboys some more. I felt like I was piling on a little bit earlier, but, well, here we are again.
The Dallas Cowboys came to Gillette Stadium on Sunday looking like a team that had never even heard of rain, let alone played in it.
Blake Jarwin fumbled a ball over the middle late in the first quarter that could have legitimately ended the game for Dallas had he not recovered it himself. Randall Cobb allowed Devin McCourty to punch the ball free on a play where everyone in the stadium except for Cobb knew that the punch was coming. Tony Pollard muffed a kickoff, and Dalton Schwartz muffed another kickoff. On yet another kickoff, this one in the fourth quarter of a 7-point game, the Cowboys didn't muff the kick. Which was good ... but the only reason that nobody muffed it was because nobody even tried to catch it.
That the Cowboys had no idea that the kick would be short in that situation (into the wind, where kicks had been short all day) shows that Garrett is just not the type of thinker who will ever lead a team to a championship. That's elementary stuff right there.
--It was an up-and-down day for Jakobi Meyers, who didn't actually seize the opportunity presented to him (from a big picture perspective) but still contributed in a big way for the win. Most importantly of all, he delivered a #FerociousJuke, which have been extraordinarily rare this season for the Patriots.
Perhaps it was more subtle than ferocious, but the end result was the same.
--Good sports picture:
--OK look, just ONE MORE thing about the ways that good coaching showed themselves in this game. A lot of this has to do with employing smart football players, but still.
--On the previously shown third-and-20 conversion, do you know how deep Julian Edelman ran his route? He ran it 20 yards deep.
--Likewise, on a second-and-5 coming out of the two-minute warning in the second quarter, Edelman ran his out route a yard deeper than the line to gain. He picked up six. The chains moved. It's as if he can see the yellow line on the field.
--While we're talking about sticks, here's the undrafted rookie receiver following Edelman's lead on the Patriots' final scoring drive.
--Defensively, you could see Shilique Calhoun maintaining his responsibility in setting the edge, to help limit Elliott to a short gain on a second-and-10.
These are but a few examples of the little things that the Patriots almost always do every single week. It's the combination of smart coaching and smart players that more often than not puts the team in position to win football games.
--Tom Brady entered this game with a sore throwing elbow. Just a hunch, but I bet he left this game with a sore throwing elbow, too.
He's 42, folks.
--Stephon Gilmore had a pick, and he almost had two more, and he kept Amari Cooper off the stat sheet. I know you've heard that by now, but it was worth repeating. What a groove that man is in right now.
--OK, OK, OK, OK, OKAY! Do you have room in your head for one more complaint about Jason Garrett's Dallas Cowboys??? Just one more, I swear.
OK. Here goes: Third-and-3 from midfield, 1:23 left in the third quarter. Prescott completes a pass to Amari Cooper for a gain of 15. First-and-10 for Dallas at the New England 35-yard line. A field goal cuts New England's lead to a single point. A touchdown gives Dallas the lead. The Cowboys are in business.
But wait. A holding penalty on Tyron Smith negated the catch. Instead of first-and-10, it was third-and-13. Do you think that the Cowboys converted that third-and-13? Reader, I assure you, they did not. Dak Prescott led his receiver out of bounds.
OK then. Time to punt.
After sending out the punt team, the Cowboys forgot to punt. Delay of game. Move it five yards backward.
So now instead of a first down at the New England 35, the Cowboys were punting from their own 35. But, ah, well, one thing: With the Patriots putting 11 men on the line, the Cowboys were confused, once again. They punted and downed it at the New England 18-yard line, but an illegal shift penalty negated the play.
So now the Cowboys had to punt from their own 30-yard line, as the backwards parade continued. On this one, Chris Jones bobbled the snap and then got off a punt that traveled just 32 yards. The Patriots took over at their own 38-yard line.
The Dallas Cowboys need a coach, people.
--Sony Michel had one of his best games of the year. He accounted for 85 of the running backs' 104 rushing yards, and he broke a 12-yard run to set up a new set of downs that should have allowed the Patriots to kill the clock in the fourth quarter (if not for that strange clock situation). That's two weeks in a row that he's come up with a big run late in the fourth quarter to help the Patriots finish out a victory.
Much like when he was asked about the wet footballs, Michel said he is always prepared for such situations, because the Patriots practice them. Because they have a good coach.
--Ho-hum. Just another day at work for these two.
A 10th victory for the 17th straight year (Brady did skip out on the 2008 campaign, of course). Another step toward the 11th consecutive clinching of the AFC East. Another step taken toward a first-round playoff bye. Another day in the life of the most successful dynasty in football history.
What's crazy is, through all these years, the Patriots have looked so vastly different from decade to decade, and even from year to year. Sometimes, the change is week to week. Yet while the appearance and the methods are constantly changing, the winning -- the non-stop, relentless pursuit of winning football games -- remains the same.
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