By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- As outsiders who aren't on the field or in the huddle, we sometimes go overboard with our evaluations. We sometimes apply certain explanations for events based on emotional swings or distant perceptions. Sometimes they're not entirely accurate.
Such was potentially the case on Sunday afternoon, when the mighty Patriots found themselves in a bit of a pickle against the Bengals (of all teams) in Cincinnati (of all places). Trailing 10-7 in the second quarter and dealing with another potential Bengals scoring drive, things were not looking peachy for the Patriots against the worst team in the NFL.
It was slightly troublesome for the visiting team.
And it was precisely at the midway point of the second quarter when Bengals head coach Zac Taylor wanted to really make it hurt. Instead of kicking a 48-yard field goal to try to stretch the lead to 13-7, Taylor had his offense attempt to convert a fourth-and-inches from the Patriots' 30-yard line. Wisely, he decided to use Joe Mixon to pick up the necessary yardage. To that point, Mixon had carried the ball 13 times, gaining 81 yards and picking positive yardage on each play. He also had two catches for 16 yards, proving to be a problem for the Patriots' defense.
So Taylor had reason to believe Mixon would gain the necessary inches, thus giving the Bengals the chance to continue the drive and potentially take a 17-7 lead over the defending champs. What a world that would be.
The problem for Taylor and Mixon was that Danny Shelton had other plans. Danny Shelton is, obviously, a big strong man. He's 6-foot-2 and 345 pounds. He was a top performer on the bench press at the 2015 NFL Combine, putting up 34 reps, and though he's had an up-and-down career after the Browns spent the No. 12 overall pick on him, he's gotten a bit stronger over the past four years.
That could not have been more evident on this play, when Shelton lined up over the left guard, a man by the name of Michael Jordan. (Great name.) Jordan is a big strong man himself, standing at 6-foot-6 and weighing 315 pounds. He is, though, just a rookie, and he only put up 19 reps on the bench press in this year's combine. That's strong to most people, but not to Danny Shelton.
With Tom Brady throwing passes on the sideline, eager to get back into the game, Shelton lined up between the center and the left guard. Jordan, at the guard spot, blocked down on Shelton, hoping to clear a hole for Mixon. It would have been a great plan, if not for the fact that Danny Shelton had very little interest in being blocked by Jordan.
Shelton not only completely eliminated Jordan from the play, but he knocked the guard onto his back on the turf, freeing himself up to wrap up Mixon behind the line of scrimmage. From there, linebackers Ja'Whaun Bentley and Elandon Roberts swarmed to the ball carrier, pushing Mixon back and forcing a turnover on downs.
Watch the play, in all of its big strong man majesty.
Mamma mia! That is one spicy meatball.
Now, watching the game from afar, it looked like a momentum-shifting play. The Patriots would immediately drive 47 yards and kick a field goal to tie the game, and they'd shortly thereafter kick another field goal to take a lead, all as part of a 20-0 run that turned a slight deficit into a dominant lead. A monstrous play like that from Shelton seemed to be a spark.
Yet in the age of analytics and spreadsheets and percentages and everything else, one can sometimes be seen as a fool for espousing such values.
Caught between determining this to be the watershed moment of the game or just one of dozens of plays that contributed to the final score, I decided to go to a source who would know. Jerod Mayo is in his first year as a coach, just four years removed from his career as an All-Pro and Pro Bowl linebacker for the Patriots.
Mayo understands the game on multiple levels, so he made for a good person to ask: Would it be overstating things to say that the game turned around for the entire team on this play, or would it be accurate?
"Definitely. I definitely think it's accurate," Mayo said.
But Mayo continued.
"Guys, when they came to the sideline after that fourth-down stop, you look at that like a turnover," Mayo said. "So after an interception, after a fumble recovery, it always brings energy and hopefully swings momentum. A turnover on downs like that is a huge play, a huge momentum swing. And you could definitely feel the energy rise on the sideline."
As for the play made by Shelton, Mayo said such dominance is always noted and appreciated by the linebackers.
"Oh, for sure. Any time those guys up front play physical and play vertical, the guys at the second level definitely appreciate that," Mayo said. "They see it, especially after a play like that. You know, you look up at the Jumbotron, you see what exactly happened. And you know, those guys all year, Danny and Lawrence [Guy] and all those guys up front all year have made huge plays that don't really show up on the stat sheet but definitely pay huge dividends on the team."
Obviously, dozens and dozens of plays had to be made after Shelton's in order for the Patriots to win the game by 21 points. But it all had to start somewhere, and both from afar and from the sidelines, it seemed like the turning point came from one burst of physical dominance by Danny Shelton.
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