Thoughts on the game that made it a 14-2 regular season, the third of the Belichick era...
- The Law Firm of Benjarvus Green-Ellis was pleased to announce his passage of the 1000-yard mark today. And I am pleased for him. He seems like a lunch-pail kind of guy, and bent over backwards to show humility in his postgame press conference today, pointedly opening with a remark crediting the offensive line and the rest of his teammates with his success.
- As it turned out, the press conference with Beni today to discuss the milestone was more interesting than the routine play where he actually made the achievement. We don't often see him at the podium, and while like every Patriot he adhered strictly to the Bill Belichick Ground Rules for Media Relations, he was also affable and warm. He offered rare anecdotes about what things are like inside the huddle, too, nothing top secret, of course, but not something we're used to hearing Patriots players discuss.
Specifically, Green-Ellis said of Tom Brady, as have many before him, that he's a fairly calm and unflappable sort in public, but as we've seen in some of this year's sideline footage, the on-field Brady is a different animal. The comments from Beni that had the whole press conference audience leaning forward in their chairs contained the revelation that Brady not only talks a lot at the line before the ball is snapped, reading the defense, adjusting protections and sometimes changing plays, but also talks to Beni sometimes while the play is actually going on, directing him where to go or what to do, usually when Green-Ellis is not the ballcarrier. And sometimes even when he is.
After learning this about Brady, the phrase "coach on the field" sprang to mind. A huge swath of his overall value is in the way he elevates teammates, like Beni, like this year's young tight ends, like newcomer Danny Woodhead, like the various fill-ins on the offensive line.
Here ends my "Brady for League MVP" pitch. You can come back now.
- Oh, but I didn't say the Brady talk was totally over. The QB played far too many downs today for some people's taste, remaining until the second series of the third quarter. Agita about this, which I expect to be ongoing, was heightened after Danny Woodhead apparently suffered a concussion in the first quarter. And there was also the matter of his weird switching off with Hoyer just before halftime.
The Patriots were up by a very surmountable two scores, and backup QB Brian Hoyer came in on a first and ten at about the 33 yard line, once Brady had dug the offense out from the 16. Hoyer saw one first down (on an encroachment penalty), and finally stood facing third and ten with the Dolphins set to bring the house. Meanwhile, on the sideline, Brady never took off his helmet, continually consulted his wristband, and generally looked like a dog choking itself at the end of a leash.
But Brady would say later that despite appearances, the whole thing was pre-planned, an effort to make Hoyer, in a relatively controlled situation, prove he could be called on at any time.
In fairness, the Dolphins also platooned Chad Henne and Tyler Thigpen today, and I obviously wasn't on the Patriots sideline, so I don't know what kind of conscious decisions were actually made. Ultimately, I still think we'll never really know the whole story. And I know for a fact Brady's statements are not going to stop the debate and the wouldacouldashouldawhatifs from going on about this curious stretch of plays.
- Last Brady thing, I swear. I just want to say, I am a sucker for info-graphics like this...especially when there's nary a Manning in sight.
- So Brian Hoyer, right? Comes in in the second quarter, gets chased around and generally shut down, gets sent back to the bench with his tail between his legs. On comes Brady again to finish out the half. After halftime and another touchdown drive, Hoyer finally heads back out onto the field with a comfortable, nearly comeback-proof lead in the third quarter...and suddenly it's like he and Brady have undergone a Freaky Friday-style brain exchange. Hoyer's suddenly reading the defense, squeezing passes into tight coverage for Gronk. Next thing you know, he's going for it on a 4th and 1 near midfield, and the kid just unleashes a 42 yard BOMB, which drops into the hands of Brandon Tate in the end zone for another Patriots touchdown.
I'm not sure I have any analysis on this...just...holy shit.
- And how about Julian Edelman's record-setting 94-yard punt return for a touchdown? He was caught on the sidelines afterwards rocking very Brady-esque hair, and strolled out for an appearance at the postgame podium, still partially in uniform, looking like he'd just been pulled out from under a car in a mechanic's garage somewhere, all smudged eyeblack, stringy tangled hair, stubble and sleepy platitudes. But hey. Regardless of his personal style choices, today we were reminded once again: it pays to have a backup Welker.
- I had no idea that Vince Wilfork colleced his first sacks of the season this game. At one point he was flagged rather unfairly for crushing Henne like a steamroller on legs, or else it would've been three. Meanwhile, Wilfork became "possibly the first NFL player in history to conduct a post-game press conference in a SpongeBob T-shirt," according to ESPN Boston's Mike Reiss. This, on top of a blowout win to make it a 14-2 season? Pretty much made my day.
- In his press conference, Wilfork talked about there having been "something different since the Cleveland game." I definitely think it's abundantly clear by now that the mid-season dismantling at the hands of the Mangenius was a turning point for the 2010-11 team. We all derided Michael Gee years ago for suggesting the Patriots should drop one, just to relieve themselves of pressure to continue a streak, but this year it's looking like there's at least something to be said for that philosophy. That Cleveland game was a big, fat, steaming Humble Pie fresh out of the oven, deposited under the noses of every Patriot, and it seemed to come at a perfect time. Clearly, fires have been lit under asses ever since.
- The extraordinarily balanced offense is the team's strength this year, but the defense has been able to make plenty of hay finding ways to get the ball back to them in the second half of the season. There's plenty of room for doubt about this strategy as the Patriots head in to the playoffs, but that's another post for another time.