By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- I was wrong. I was dead wrong.
All summer, after Tom Brady accepted his punishment, I thought several things. One of those several things was this: Well, hey, at least the first four games of the year will be very intriguing with Jimmy Garoppolo at QB. I looked back to the 2008 season, when you really had no clue heading into any game what was going to happen. Nothing was a guarantee. The Patriots went from winning via blowout every week in '07 to being locked in 60-minute battles in 2008. It was a lot of fun to watch.
I thought we were in for the same. I was wrong.
If Tom Brady had been under center in Arizona, then perhaps the Patriots could have won by a slightly larger margin. But there was little chance that the Patriots would stroll into Glendale and blow out the Cardinals. Though Week 2's game was close on the scoreboard, that had nothing to do with Brady's absence. Garoppolo's best Brady impression opened up the massive lead, and the drama was sorely lacking despite the Dolphins' late charge.
And then there was this. Short week. No Brady. No Garoppolo. Barely any Rob Gronkowski. Jacoby Brissett -- who last year at this time was playing against the likes of Old Dominion and South Alabama -- at quarterback.
Yes. This was going to be the tight, defensive, drama-filled battle that will keep us all intently tuned in from the opening kick till the final whistle.
Nope. The Patriots did everything right. The Texans did almost nothing right. Bill Belichick wins again.
All that's left for this strange four-week period is a home date against the Bills, who are a complete mess, and then it's back to normal.
But that's looking ahead a bit too much. It's Friday, baby! Time for some leftover thoughts from the Patriots' 27-0 win over the Texans.
--We can get into the game specifics more as this goes on, but let's start right here: The Texans called the Seahawks' goal line play! The same exact one! And even without Brandon Browner there to hold his ground against the receiver on the line, Butler made the same exact read and the same exact break on the ball that he made in the final minute of Super Bowl XLIX.
I mean, just look:
The fact that Butler didn't intercept this one only drives home how mystifyingly insane it was that he ever caught the ball in the Super Bowl. If he had made this play instead of the one he made vs. Seattle, it wouldn't have been enough. Marshawn Lynch would've had two chances to score from the 1-yard line to win the game.
That's why for as much as Ernie Adams and Bill Belichick deserve credit for practicing that play in the week leading up to the Super Bowl, all the credit goes to Butler for making what was truly an absurdly difficult play that changed history.
--The Patriots ran the ball 39 times. They passed just 19 times. I'm not joking in the least when I say they should try that more. I understand that when you have Tom Brady, you typically want to air it out as much as possible, because he's quite good at that. But really, "balance" is not overrated. If you hardly run the ball all year long (they ran the ball 24 times per game and passed 39 times per game last year), then it's going to be difficult to pick up yards on the ground when you really need them -- like, say, on the road in the AFC Championship Game (44 yards on 17 carries).
In the words of arguably the greatest caller in Felger & Mazz history, "Run the friggin' ball!"
--Malcolm Mitchell only made one reception, but he made it count. He's almost single-handedly responsible for the Patriots' first point of the evening, as he turned a simple quick slant on third-and-2 into a 27-yard gain.
He was first contacted here:
He broke free and then broke a second tackle here:
And he was fast enough to burst up the sideline from a dead standstill to gain an extra 16 yards:
Between Mitchell making that play (and finishing his block on Brissett's rushing touchdown), Brissett making a number of smart plays, Joe Thuney playing solid at the guard position, Cyrus Jones getting his feet under him in the return game, and Vincent Valentine getting playing time on the defensive line, it certainly feels early on like the Patriots did a rather fine job in this year's draft. Perhaps that lack of a first-rounder helped up the degree of difficulty and thus sharpened the focus of Belichick and his crew. (Or, perhaps, the draft is largely a crapshoot, even for men who dedicate their lives to it. It's one or the other.)
--Jacoby Brissett was very good. He did what was asked of him, didn't try to do too much, and he made some plus plays. The finish to his touchdown run was excellent, yet on other runs he also showed the intelligence to go into a slide, protect the ball, keep the clock rolling and live to see another day.
That being said, there may be no worse way to be welcomed into the NFL than to be at the bottom of a Vince Wilfork belly flop in the middle of the field.
My goodness. I would still be in that very spot, drowning in my tears until I reached my ultimate demise on this planet. Brissett, however, didn't seem to be bothered. He must work out.
--Also on the list of players who made impacts on the game despite having stats that barely show up on the sheet is Danny Amendola. Or maybe it's Danny Man-emdola. Because he's a man. Like a man? I don't know. Might need to workshop that one.
Anyway, he only had two catches for 23 yards, but they were immense.
The first came on a third-and-15 when the Patriots were backed up on their own 13-yard line and were at risk of losing some footing in the field position battle early on. Amendola caught the ball there yards from the line of scrimmage before turning upfield and seeing four white jerseys between him and the 28-yard line ...
... and managed to turn it into a first down anyway:
The Patriots did punt to end that drive, but when they did, they pinned Houston on their own 10-yard line. That played a big role in keeping the Texans from scoring before halftime. It's the little things, folks. You know? You know.
The second catch again came on third down, this time in the red zone, and it again kept the drive alive. From the right slot, he ran a seven-yard out and made the catch while getting hit by Kareem Jackson. Though the Patriots ultimately had to settle for a field goal, that was only because Julian Edelman let a sure touchdown go right through his hands. The point is, plays like that by Amendola are the ones that (in close games) make a major impact in winning or losing.
Nice job by Amendola. Man-emdola. Mandola. Man-ny Amendola. Whatever, guys.
--Some people got a little testy on the Twitter machine when I noted that J.J. Watt drove Rob Gronkowski backward five yards off the line of scrimmage. Hachi-machi, there's some sensitivity out there!
The point of the observation was to say that Rob Gronkowski was simply not Rob Gronkowski on this night. And when the broadcast showed him with a heat wrap on his leg early in the game, you had to figure that No. 87 wasn't quite as healthy as he might have felt around 5 p.m.
Fortunately for him he's got more than a week to recover, and even longer if he wants. It's just kind of startling to see the Patriots at 3-0 without getting anything from their two offensive MVPs.
--I'm not a special teams coach, so take my opinion for what it's worth. But I'm telling you, I would not want my kick returner to be carrying a towel while he is ... returning the kick. Nope. I would not.
Twitter was roasting this poor young man. To those critics I would say this: It's called a lucky blanket, folks. Ever heard of it? Maybe read a book for once. ("Owen," I believe would be a good choice.)
(In all honesty, he accidentally pulled the towel out of one his blocker's pants, and for whatever reason he hung on to it. It was not his best move. But credit to Nate Ebner for getting his dome right on that ball, and to Brandon Bolden for punching the ball out on the earlier kick return fumbles. Those really were the keys to the game.)
--Dear, CBS -- how can I get one one of these blazers?
How many leftover thoughts must I write before I am bestowed with such a piece of duddery???
--How long did they make this a capella group sing the 10-second Thursday Night Football theme?
--I never knew how much I needed this photograph in my life!
--I thought Bill O'Brien was a decent head coach ... but then he took the advice of his punter and (after a commercial break) challenged a play to save eight yards on defense. That's not what challenges are for. Then he called his second timeout with 1:00 left in the half, when he had no chance of getting the ball back. It didn't matter, per se, but it showed that he wasn't exactly owning the moment there in Foxboro.
--Ryan Allen is getting a lot of praise, and rightfully so. He was outstanding. He did have a bad game vs. Miami, so you always like to see how guys respond, especially on a short week. And so concludes today's chatter about the punter.
--Bill Belichick was absolutely elated after the big win. Don't believe me? Look at this exchange:
Q: Did anything stand out to you about the energy in the stadium and the enthusiasm of the fans?
Belichick: Yeah. It was good.
--OK, look, I don't know who's going to make the argument that these victories prove that Brady is just a product of Belicihck's system, but some people will. So here goes.
Yes, Brady is a beneficiary of "the system." But this is what "the system" is: it emphasizes every player's strengths and minimizes every player's weaknesses. Tom Brady is outstanding at so, so many things. The Patriots get every last ounce they can out of that. Tom Brady does have some flaws -- he's not supremely mobile, for one, and he's not an exceptional deep ball thrower. The Patriots limit those limitations.
It's not that complicated. The fact that Belichick is a great coach who devises outstanding game plans doesn't detract from the abilities of Brady. That applies to Garoppolo, who really wowed everyone last week, and to Brissett on Thursday. There's a reason the Patriots don't run option plays and designed QB draws when Brady is under center.
Belichick is an all-time great coach. Brady is an all-time great quarterback. These two facts are both mutually exclusive and eternally intertwined.
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