By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- Anybody who's anybody had the same exact take in the middle of August. When trying to lay out expectations for the forthcoming Patriots season after a busy year of free agency and the drafting of a potential franchise quarterback, the answer was almost unanimous: 10 or 11 wins, and a spot back in the postseason.
Well, here we are. Seventeen weeks deep, the Patriots have 10 wins and a spot in the postseason.
In that regard, it's a job well done. Nice work by the Patriots to go from 7-9 to either 11-6 or 10-7. (The former position is much more preferable to the latter.) A postseason without the Patriots didn't feel right last year, and so order has been somewhat restored in New England, where the standard is obviously quite high.
But ... well. Two things.
For one, you can feel however you want, but I'd feel like the Patriots really messed up their shot to earn the top seed in the AFC by losing at home to Buffalo last week. With Kansas City losing on Sunday, that No. 1 seed would've become the spot for the Patriots heading into the final week. Instead, it belongs to the Titans, who get to host the terrible Texans next weekend.
The Patriots met expectations, sure. But they kicked away a golden opportunity for a week of rest in January. That was huge.
The second and more positive thought: Now it's time for the fun part. Now it's time to see if the Patriots have what it takes to actually exceed expectations -- and to what extent they may be able to do that.
Realistically, the Patriots should win next week in Miami, facing a Dolphins team that was officially eliminated from postseason contention on Sunday. That means they should get the top Wild Card spot in the AFC. Which means they should get a third crack at Buffalo in the Wild Card round of the playoffs.
And let me tell you this, ladies and gentlemen: That. Would. Rock.
We've already seen two completely different styles of game between the Patriots and Bills. In the first meeting, the Patriots' running game was legitimately unstoppable. In the rematch, Josh Allen looked like he had been created in a lab using Aaron Rodgers' and Tom Brady's DNA. (Is that weird? Was that a weird thing to say? The guy was throwing dimes and delivering in the clutch. You get the idea. Not weird. Moving along.)
Seeing the Patriots head back to Buffalo in the playoffs would be outstanding. Buffalo haaaates New England. There'd be some real venom from the fans (and from the head coach) there. The Patriots would be underdogs. But the Patriots could win. Considering how highly we all think of Bill Belichick, you could make an argument that they should win.
And really, though the Super Bowl talk that followed the Patriots' seven-game winning streak was exceptionally premature, the reality is that the AFC is as wide open as it's been in a while. A couple of teams -- Kansas City, Indianapolis, maybe Cincinnati -- may be objectively better than the Patriots. But there's no true powerhouse, and no win will come easily for anyone. (Unless the Chiefs get the Raiders. The point still stands.)
It's just worth keeping that in mind as the season progresses through January. Yes, the Patriots met expectations. But the standards around here used to demand more than that. It's OK to try to maintain that to some degree in this post-Tom Brady era.
Oh, but for now, yes, there's that pesky little rout of the Jaguars to worry about. Let's hit the leftover thoughts.
--This first thought doesn't actually relate to the specific game so much, but I found it fascinating when play-by-play announcer Andrew Catalon relayed a nugget of information that he picked up while watching ... Kyle Van Noy's YouTube show about restaurants. In the latest edition, Jakobi Meyers was Van Noy's guest and revealed that he chose the Patriots as an undrafted free agent because they had drafted N'Keal Harry in the first round, and Meyers wanted to show that he could compete with a first-round receiver.
I found that rather fascinating. So I went and checked out the video for the full quote from Meyers:
"So this is a story that I've never told anybody in my life. So, you know N'Keal is my brother. I love N'Keal, we be with each other every day. But when it came down to picking teams, I had a couple of teams. So I looked at all the teams who offered me [a contract], and it's, Did they draft a receiver? And if they drafted a receiver, where did they draft him? The highest draft pick at receiver was the Patriots. And I said, 'So they drafted a receiver in the first round. I'm going to go in there and show them that I can play with a first-rounder.' I was kind of betting on myself."
Considering Meyers not only made the team but has stuck around and become an important contributor on offense, that's quite the story.
--Meyers also caught a touchdown on Sunday, with a little less fanfare than the last time he did that. He's now up to 796 yards and two touchdowns on 79 receptions this year. He's also amassed 1,884 receiving yards in his career, and he's 4-for-4 as a passer for 88 yards and two touchdowns.
(Harry, who was a healthy scratch on Sunday, has 598 receiving yards and four touchdowns on 57 receptions in 32 career games.)
--OK, in a 50-10 romp, we can't look at all the good plays. We'd be here forever. The Jaguars aren't worth that kind of time.
I liked Rhamondre Stevenson running right through this fella on the Patriots' opening drive:
Now combine that thunder with the quickness he showed in getting to the outside and winning a race to the pylon on his touchdown, and you've got one heck of a rookie back:
I like the design on Kristian Wilkerson's second touchdown (a phrase we were all ready to see prior to kickoff). Feels like something the Patriots identified as a potential spot to exploit the Jags' defense jumping the WR screen. Credit to Wilkerson for doing his job.
I don't know that I liked or disliked this, but I definitely noticed Brandon Bolden's unusual spot right behind the line of scrimmage on an early third down. He lined up one step behind the right guard, stayed in to pass protect, and quickly escaped as an option for Jones. (The QB went to Meyers for 14 yards instead.)
I liked Bill Belichick and Mac Jones guffawing in the middle of a football game. You don't see that too often from Belichick.
And I liked hearing John Madden talk about Bill Belichick in 1990.
--Didn't see this coming:
Now you could rightfully point out that the 50-burgers came against the Jets (puke) and Jaguars (puuuuuke!). But. You know. It's not like other teams don't get to play brutally bad football teams, too.
--It's also worth noting that while the Jaguars are very bad, this was by far their worst loss of the year.
Their previous biggest loss was a 37-7 thumping from the Rams. This one on Sunday was a 40-point shellacking, and really should have been a 47-point whooping if not for the garbage time TD.
It was also the third-worst game of Trevor Lawrence's rookie season, based on passer rating. And even that depended on some helmet catch miracle level of magic on some of his bigger completions.
So, yes, you're not going to get crazy and book the Duck Boats because the Patriots beat the Jaguars. It's just worth noting that it wasn't a run-of-the-mill win over a bad team. It was an exceptionally dominant win over a bad team.
There's a difference. I think. I dunno.
--The Bills also lost to the Jaguars. What in the wide world of sports??
--It didn't matter in this particular game, but the NFL still needs to resolve its cockamamie rule for penalties for initiating contact with the helmet. Myles Bryant was flagged for a play where he went in to make a tackle and his head collided with the ball carrier's head -- the ball carrier who also lowered his own head. But this hit on Kendrick Bourne wasn't a penalty.
If the rule exists for player safety, shouldn't it have some sort of impact in that area? It's been a bad, unenforceable rule since it came along a few years back. It remains a mess.
Don't worry, though. Bourne is a G.
--You're surely familiar with Zero Humans Defense (or else you wouldn't be here). But it's way more exciting when you get to see the Zero Humans Offense:
--This was funny.
You are simply not getting this football out:
--If people were saying that Mac Jones had hit the rookie wall (a not-made-up thing that definitely exists), then what has Matt Judon hit? He had 12.5 sacks through Week 13, blowing away his previous career high of 9.5 and looking like a real difference maker on defense. But he's now gone three games without a sack. On Sunday, after missing all week due to COVID, he didn't even make the stat sheet. No tackles, no QB hits, no passes defenses, no nothing.
This week can probably be excused. It's hard to play well when you haven't practiced all week. But if the Patriots are going to do anything beyond Week 18, they'll need the Judon from the first two-thirds of the season to reemerge.
--On the sack front, Dont'a Hightower picked up his first full sack of the season. It was a pretty cool twist with Ja'Whaun Bentley.
Maybe we devalue it a little because of the opponent. But that was still nifty.
--Matthew Slater is 36 years old and is an impending free agent. It's possible that he played his last home game as a Patriot.
Fortunately, his exit was captured on camera:
--I'm going to end with this, because we've done enough yakking about the Jaguars, but mostly because it's very nice.
Football fans can't agree on anything. NOTHING! But this week, while it was obviously tremendously sad to see John Madden pass away, it was at least heartening to see football fans unanimously agree that John Madden was just the best. There are few people in the history of the sport who can say that, and it may be the greatest thing you can say about the man.
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