Clearing the notebook from the Patriots loss to the Bills
To paraphrase the late, great Captain Sam Quint:
Farewell and farewell to you, New England Patriots, Farewell and adieu, your 23 team. You’re out of the playoffs, so it’s home to Boston. And then we shall never see you again.
The Patriots saw their season and playoff hopes end yesterday afternoon at the hands of a Buffalo Bills team motivated to win both for the No. 2 seed and their brother Damar Hamlin, and so now it’s time for my final Fan notes of the year.
Thanks Tebow, for being honest. I’ve never had to flex my creative muscles as hard as I have over the past 17 weeks, and I’m ready to call it quits for the year. So to those of you who are still with me, I hope you enjoy it.
1. On Monday, September 25, 2006, the Atlanta Falcons traveled to New Orleans to face the Saints in the Superdome. New Orleans had played the entire 2005 campaign on the road as the city struggled to recover from the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, its storied home stadium turned into a trauma center and crisis center for the thousands of families displaced from their homes. The 2006 Monday Nighter was the Saints’ first home game in over a year, and New Orleans’ first return to some normality after the hurricane. And while the final score of 23-3 might not seem like a total blowout, that game might as well have been 100-3. There was absolutely zero chance of the Saints losing it; the feeling of the crowd, the passion of the players, what that particular game meant to everyone involved… it was inevitable. A blocked punt 90 seconds into the contest put the Saints up 7-0, and they never looked back. It was one of the most amazing and emotional games in all of sports, and the kind of thing that still gives me chills all these years later.
2. And compared to the way last night’s game started, I thought this one would make the Saints/Falcons game look like an early August preseason contest. I expected both of these teams to go into the locker rooms at halftime with the Bills up 42-0. Anyone with a brain knew the Bills were going to win by a million yesterday, but even I didn’t expect it to turn out the way it did.
3. Objectively speaking, Buffalo taking the opening kickoff to the house after an emotional pregame ceremony honoring Damar Hamlin is in the running for the greatest sports moment of all time. Saints/Falcons had Steve Gleason’s punt blocked. Brett Favre threw for 400 yards and four touchdowns the day after he lost his father. Derek Redmond’s father helped him hobble across the finish line at the 1992 Olympics. And Nyheim Hines took the opening kickoff 96 yards for the score as the entire country outside of New England erupted. And to be honest, even in New England the reaction was pretty positive. Just an amazing moment.
4. I really, really could have done without the repeat in the second half. New England held the lead for exactly 13 seconds of this game.
5. That New England basically lost this game due to poor special teams play is pretty fitting, to be honest. It’s still not something I’m used to saying, even though I’ve been saying it all season, but it’s the reality. How this team gave up two kickoff returns, to the point where they had to end up kicking it out of bounds and giving one of the best offenses in the league the ball in the 40s, is just something I’ve completely given up trying . to find out.
6. I imagine most of you, like me, went into this game expecting a loss, and in the wake of what happened with Damar Hamlin, expecting a loss by a million points. I can also imagine that most of you are all more or less numb to losing games at this point, and so when this game ended there wasn’t much of a mourning period for the game, or the 2023 season as a whole. And that probably would have been true even if the Patriots hadn’t played one of their best games of the season — but they did. It was a fun game to watch. I liked a lot of what I saw from the offense. Heavy play, layered concept routes, some deep shots and hard running from the back. A beaten offensive line held up well, and while Mac Jones threw three picks, two of them weren’t on him. The Patriots took the best the Bills had to offer and hung in there.
7. The defense also allowed just one long drive for a score. Two of the Bills’ touchdowns came on absolute crown throws of 42 and 49 yards, and those return TDs aren’t on them. Devin McCourty had a red zone interception and recovered a fumble to give the offense the ball back at the Bills 11 yard line… which of course only resulted in a field goal. This was only a good overall performance of two of the three units.
8. I don’t know exactly why it took New England until Week 18 to realize they have a strong running game, and so using a lot of play-action is the way to go, but better late than never, I guess. I’ve been screaming for more slashes and cruisers all season and we finally got them in what might have been Mac Jones’ best game of the season. He was decisive, (mostly) accurate and in command of the offense. Called solid pre-snap guards and distributed the ball well. Just three three-and-outs for the offense yesterday, which is like a third of what they usually hit. So good for them.
9. I’m also glad it took until Week 18 to see the kind of play we were hoping for from DeVante Parker. If he can do that just four or five times a season, I think he’ll be worth his contract.
10. 36 snaps for Kendrick Bourne and he made the most of all his snaps. He thrives on the flats and curl routes, which seem to be a great tool to have in the toolbox when the offensive line struggles. So of course New England uses it on the day where the O-line plays really well.
11. I guess the theme of these notes so far is that the 2022 Patriots are Michael Scott and Dwight Schrute heading to New York for the Dunder Mifflin Infinity launch party. They spent a lot of time groping around the office, finally decided to take some initiative and meet up, but by the time they got there the party was over. So they stayed and ate sushi in the parking lot on the hood of a Thunderbird.
12. The odds are very high that we all saw Matthew Slater and Devin McCourty play their last games yesterday. DMac finished the game with five tackles, a beautiful PBU, a fumble recovery and a red zone pick. Slater shoved Taiwan Jones into the ball on a punt return to force a fumble and give the Patriots life. They have dedicated a combined two and a half decades to this team and have never played for anywhere else. They each have three Super Bowl rings and a red jacket waiting for them at One Patriot Place. Matthew Slater is in the conversation for best special teams player of all time and has been breaking down after a big win for years now. We all have a little bit of David Andrews in us this morning. Thank you, gentlemen. Thank you.
1. 3. And in case Slater wants to hang around in a coaching capacity, I feel the Pats could use a special teams coordinator.
14. Thanks for nothing, Nelson Agholor. Of your 31 catches for 362 yards and two touchdowns on the season, you also lost two fumbles, and I can think of at least four passes intended for you that were instead intercepted by my head. Six turnovers to 31 catches means that for every five times you caught a pass, the ball ended up going the other way once.
15. Congratulations to Rhamondre Stevenson for eclipsing 1,000 yards rushing, and for being the team’s leading receiver on the year with 69 catches. You know Gronk chuckles pretty heartily this morning.
16. But when a RB between the tackles is your leading receiver on the year, you know something isn’t working.
17. Which once again hammers home how much this team missed not having a true third-down this year. Ty Montgomery never saw the field, James White couldn’t be coaxed out of retirement, and JJ Taylor is simply too small to handle the duties. I will be very curious to see what both Montgomery and Pierre Strong Jr. do this offseason with another year in the system.
18. I just hope Matt Patricia didn’t do just enough to save his job for next year.
19. The most important thing I take away from yesterday’s game — this team didn’t give up. At no point did they send it in, even in an impossible situation. They went blow for blow with one of the best teams in the league like Stephan Bonnar and Forest Griffin and didn’t stop until the final whistle.
20. This weekend’s game overview is a good argument for adopting professional football’s live tables. Football matches still in progress are treated as if the results will stand for the time being, with teams jumping up and down as matches continue. Watching teams bounce in and out of the playoffs in real time while scoring points would be a lot of fun and add another layer to an already exciting weekend, I say. I don’t see why the NFL wouldn’t want to do something like that other than it would make maybe 60 percent of football Twitter completely obsolete.
21. Congrats to the Bills, and good job to the city of Buffalo as a whole, with how… well… everything… has been handled this week. Buffalo should very likely be the No. 1 seed, getting ready to enjoy a well-deserved bye, but instead they’ll play Miami on Sunday while the team they beat gets a week off. It’s the breaks, I guess. But I’ll be rooting hard for the Bills to get out of the AFC.
22. And with that, it’s finally time to take this team behind the shed and put them out of their misery. It was a long, tiring, disappointing season, but they can’t all be winners. There are a lot of questions to be answered over the next few months, but the good news is that there are a lot of young studs on this team, the core of the talent is under contract, the Patriots have a ton of cap space this year, they’re picking at their highest pick in the draft since 2008, and Year 3 is usually when young QBs really come into their own. Much to be optimistic about the future.
23. But since we’re Patriots fans we’re talking about here, maybe I should end on a more pointed note: I’m tired of giving Bill Belichick the benefit of the doubt. He needs to stop playing favorites with the lackeys and completely clean house! Mac is a bust, Bill can’t draft, there is no talent outside of Rhamondre and Judon, and the Patriots will look up to the Bills and Dolphins for years unless Robert Kraft puts his foot down and takes control! This season was a total embarrassment and IMO Belichick should be gone unless he adapts to the new NFL! We will be lucky to win five games next year!
24. Anything else I missed? Maybe something about what an idiot Belichick was for letting Brady go and how I will never forgive him for throwing away McCourty and Slaters last season? I haven’t listened to Felger in a very long time.
And with it another Fan notes in the books. As always, a huge, huge thank you to all of you out there who email me occasionally to let me know how much you enjoy reading these articles and how they make your Mondays a little more bearable. And to those who email me to tell me what a hack I am and how I’ve lost my fastball, thank you too.
That anyone reads my stuff at all continues to baffle me, so I’ll take a hate-read with as much joy as I take someone who actually appreciates what I write. I am extremely grateful for the community here at Pat’s Pulpit, from my fellow writers all the way to the casual readers. In an online (and actual) environment that is incredibly toxic and divisive, where disagreement and debate has been diverted into hatred and ignorance, it’s a privilege to be part of a group of people who just want to disconnect and watch some football each once in a while. I can’t wait to take some time away, recharge my batteries and come back next season as inaccurate and hypocritical as ever. Thanks everyone.
We’re heading towards 2023. Go Patriots.