By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- You know, these days, every NFL game feels like such an event. The week of build-up, the press conferences, the story lines, the debates, the talk shows ... it really feels at times like there's a Super Bowl every single weekend.
Unless the 2016 San Francisco 49ers are involved. Then it just feels like a scrimmage.
And so, while it's certainly a positive development for the Patriots to get in and out of Santa Clara with a convincing victory, it's hard to have too many persuasive feelings coming out of a game like that against an opponent that is just not good.
But the otherwise unremarkable win was significant in that it gave the Patriots their eighth victory of the year, thus guaranteeing the Patriots a .500 or better record for the 16th straight year. Think about that for a moment -- the Patriots, a moribund franchise that had managed to garner very little respect in its previous 40 years, have become the most consistently successful franchise in the hyper-competitive NFL, where rosters turn over every year and coaches are lucky to get three years on the job.
In New England, a .500 record is no longer anything that makes fans happy or excited, which is a credit to the team's success. But it is worth noting that no other team -- zero -- can boast of having a .500 or better record every year since 2001.
In fact, no franchise has had 16 such seasons in a row since the San Francisco 49ers from 1983-1998, and only five teams total in history have matched that streak.
Again, it's not much in the grand scheme of things, and if a .500 record is all this team accomplishes in 2016, folks around here will be angry. Very angry. But when the Patriots go on the road and play a largely forgettable game against a 1-9 team that's going nowhere, it's always worth taking a step back to take a look at the culture of winning that has become the status quo in Foxboro for the better part of two decades now.
That being said, we're not going to forget the game completely. Let's take a plunge into the leftover thoughts from that 30-17 Patriots win.
--I appreciate some physicality on the football field, and in that category, two plays stood out. One came when DuJuan Harris brought back the famed TV series "Pros Vs. Joes" and showed us what it would like if any of us tried to block a blitzing Dont'a Hightower:
Hightower, undisturbed by Harris' presence, continued into the backfield for a strip-sack on Colin Kaepernick, who is like Velcro to sacks.
The other came when James White finished his catch-and-run by dropping the shoulder and bowling over Rashard Robinson at the pylon.
That's just some fun, old-fashioned bully football, folks. Nothing wrong with that.
--Neither of those plays compare to the brutal physicality of the Minnesota Vikings taking the field, though.
--The Malcolm Mitchell touchdown was really one of the cooler passes Tom Brady has thrown in his 17-year career. He wasn't under pressure in the pocket so much as he just knew he needed more time and wouldn't be able to have that time if he stayed still. So he took his eyes off the receivers to scan his space before running to his right:
He knew Mitchell had a step on his man, and he was able to get off the throw about 5 centimeters from the outstretched hand of Ahmad Brooks:
And then the throw was just perfect. I imagine it's difficult to hit that bull's-eye when there's another receiver in the same area and two defenders to avoid as well:
A lot of factors go into receivers picking up yards after the catch, but it certainly helps when the quarterback can throw a dart while on the run to hit his receiver in stride on the hands.
--Rookie receivers, obviously, don't tend to play major roles in Tom Brady-led offenses. But Mitchell showed why he's earned a decent level of trust with his work in the run game. When LeGarrette Blount found daylight and broke through the line late in the first quarter, Mitchell was hard at work on the outside. He engaged cornerback Jimmie Ward at the Patriots' 44-yard line:
Mitchell bullied that man for 20 yards up the field, helping Blount turn a big run into a huge run.
Chances are the coaching staff appreciated that play even more than the touchdown reception.
--Mitchell also came up with a fairly large catch on a third-and-9. He found some space in the middle of the defense, made the catch and turned it up the field for a gain of 21 and a first down.
The Patriots would go on to score a touchdown on that drive, opening up a 10-point lead early in the fourth quarter. Just another solid play for the rook.
--Dion Lewis returned and managed to juke a would-be tackler out of shorts to pick up a third-down conversion on his very first touch of the season. It was funny, too, because James White was more open than Lewis on the play, running an identical route on the opposite side of the field. But if Brady threw to White, we all would have been robbed of the first #FerociousJuke of the season for young Dion.
--The Patriots' defense has a lot to feel good about, especially their five sacks. But it's not all positive. One play in particular that didn't highlight particularly keen awareness came when center Daniel Kilgore let the ball slip out of his hand, leaving the wet ball exposed on the turf for a precious few seconds.
As a defensive lineman, the situation calls for you to treat this football like a flat-screen TV on Black Friday: Wrap your mitts around the thing and do not let go. Instead, Trey Flowers decided to try to pick up the football and, in his mind perhaps, take off on a glorious touchdown run, after which he'd unleash the touchdown celebration he's been practicing. Or something. I don't actually know what Flowers was thinking about, but I know that he failed to pick up the football, and thus failed to make a very simple play.
Flowers for some reason was not thinking about the fact that an entire football team stood directly in front of him and that if he had picked up that football he would have gained, at most, a foot. Bad football. Granted, it's an uncommon scenario to pop up for a second-year player without much NFL experience. But his response was not ideal.
It doesn't matter much against a team like San Francisco, but a play like that in a playoff game could be monumental.
--If you paid attention to the NFL on Sunday, then you know that around the league, kickers missed 12 PATs. It was the most missed PATs in one day ever. That's really saying something. Obviously, the kick is longer these days, but in the '60s and '70s, I'm pretty sure that kickers spent their afternoons ripping butts and slugging Michelobs on the sideline. It wasn't until the '80s that teams realized it might actually be beneficial to hire athletes to kick footballs for them. (I'm not positive on this information, but please don't feel compelled to fact-check me. Thanks.)
--How about rookie big man Vincent Valentine showing up in a big way late in the first quarter?
Anything that an interior D-lineman does for the Patriots will immediately get compared to the work of Skinny Vinny from 2004-14. That's an unfair standard to hold anybody to ... but Valentine's Wilfork impression was spot-on with this one.
--Here's a fun fact: Tom Brady threw for four touchdowns. It was the 21st time he threw for exactly four touchdowns in his regular-season career. He did it by throwing to four different receivers. It was the ninth time he's had a four-touchdown regular-season game with four different scoring receivers.
The Patriots noted that Brady now ranks second all time for having the most touchdown targets at 63. He's seven behind Vinny Testaverde.
He also has 21 games in his career with at least four touchdowns and zero interceptions.
What I'm trying to tell you is that the man knows how to spread the ball around. He knows how to find that open man. He can sling it, man. He's good at being a quarterback in the NFL, in my opinion.
--I felt like the 49ers were awfully deferential to Brady with the way they passed up a few opportunities to hit him hard. In the third quarter, he scrambled up the middle on a third down to move the chains, and he did so by diving head-first. It was an opportunity for a free shot on Brady; nobody took it.
Maybe I was just imagining things, but I felt like no 49ers player wanted to be the one to injure Brady in his first (and likely only game) in San Francisco.
--Danny Amendola has really provided a solid bang for the buck this year. He only has 19 receptions, but he has four touchdowns, which is a career high. He also has 12 first downs on those 19 receptions. They use him somewhat sparingly, but when they need him, he seems to be a favorite target.
--Chip Kelly makes $6 million per year, but he apparently buys his team jackets from knock-off vendors outside the stadium for 10 bucks.
Not a good jacket, Chipward.
--They say football is a game of inches, but it's also largely a game of circumstance. Take, for instance, Kyle Van Noy's sack of Kaepernick in the second quarter. It initially looked like a blown assignment on the part of right guard Joshua Garnett, but further review showed that Garnett's left leg ended up getting pinned between the 308-pound Kilgore and the downed Flowers. As a result, Van Noy was able to find a crease, and Garnett couldn't get in position to stop him.
--The niftiness of Julian Edelman's toe-tapping touchdown reception was only matched by this photograph of the play:
That's a nifty photograph.
--You watch Edelman play, and you respect the hell out of his style. He's a fighter. He never goes down without a fight. He is the very opposite of Brandon Lloyd. You can't help but be impressed by the fortitude to reinvent ways of fighting through tackles, like this:
But it does have its downsides, like when breaking that tackle turns into this:
In his eighth NFL season, Edelman's already more than doubled the average NFL career. But you can't help but wonder if his eagerness to get hit six times on a play when most ball carriers would get hit once will take its toll. At the same time, a player can't exactly turn that style of play on and off, and it's exactly that mind-set that resulted in a Super Bowl victory two years ago.
--We're going to end this one with some #Rainbow #Sports #Photos, people. OK? OK. Without further ado, I give you #RainbowSportsPhotos.
Those are some of the most #RainbowSportsPhotos you'll ever see. No doubt about that. Now, we all move on to ... the Jets. Should be another barn burner. Can't wait!
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