After the Patriots eked out a low-scoring win against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 11, Tom Brady looked like he had just attended a funeral. He sullenly expressed frustration with his offense, a sentiment he continued on his weekly radio show the following day. Former Patriot and current Fox Sports guest analyst Rob Gronkowski offered an honest assessment of Brady’s intensity. “He’s so frustrated, too. It’s like, ‘Yo, you guys are 9-1.’ That’s one part I don’t miss about being there … I’m not going to lie. I don’t miss that,” Gronkowski said Sunday on the Fox pregame show.
New England narrowly won once again Sunday 13-9, this time against the Dallas Cowboys who entered Foxboro as the NFL’s top offense. The Patriots defense was its typical smothering self, containing Ezekiel Elliott and keeping the Cowboys out of the end zone all day. The Cowboys’ top wideout Amari Cooper was held without a catch thanks to unshakable coverage from Pats corner Stephon Gilmore. As for the Patriots’ offense, well, they scored just 13 points. In fact, since Week 6, the Pats have scored fewer points each week than the week before. Against Dallas, Brady threw for 191 yards and a score, decent numbers for some quarterbacks but below expectations for this one.
No one would have been surprised if Brady waltzed into Sunday’s postgame presser with the same grimace he wore last week. But this time Brady was a different man. He was relaxed, had nothing negative to say about the offense, and relished his 17th consecutive 10-win season. “It’s a great win. They’re a good football team and I’m happy we came away with more points than them,” Brady said.
When asked about rookie wideouts N’Keal Harry and Jakobi Meyers, who each showcased growing chemistry with their quarterback but also had drops, Brady continues his positivity. “Proud of those two. They put a lot of effort in and made improvements. It was great to see.”
Could Brady finally be accepting his new reality? The fact is he’s operating without two experienced wideouts in Phillip Dorsett and Mohamed Sanu and a top-flight tight end (it’s unlikely but Gronkowski has until next Saturday to apply for reinstatement to be eligible for the playoffs.). Sony Michel had a healthy 85 yards on the ground but the run game hasn’t exactly been unstoppable, and there’s the reality that Brady is 42. If the Antonio Brown experiment hadn’t been an unmitigated disaster we might be viewing the offense through a different lens. But Brady can only deal with the cards he has been dealt. It appears he’s starting to realize this.
The transition for Brady from central figure of the Patriots to one of many key pieces is strange. It’s strange for fans and media, so it must be extra strange for Brady. For 20 years Brady has not only been the face of this franchise, but the face of the NFL. He still is to an extent but we’re deep enough into the season to realize the shift in this franchise is undeniable. Brady is no longer the primary reason to tune into a Patriots game. There is a plausible reality in which Bill Belichick continues as the grizzled, hooded coach of this team in a post-Brady era. They won’t be as successful because that’s impossible but they will be competitive.
In the coming weeks Brady’s receiving corps will become more robust and Brady’s smarts, work ethic and experience will be invaluable in the playoffs, especially at Foxboro. Yes, they are going to need to produce more than 13 points a game to win a fourth Super Bowl in six years, especially as the road may include offensive powerhouses like the Chiefs or Ravens. But how long the Patriots play this postseason is likely to be determined by the defense. If Sunday was any indication, Brady appears at peace with his offense’s new place in the Patriots’ hierarchy. As long he sees incremental progress, of course.
Stat of the week
15,289. Ageless wonder Frank Gore unquestionably reserved his place in the Hall of Fame Sunday after passing Barry Sanders to move into third on the NFL’s all-time rushing list. The 36-year-old entered the day 45 yards behind Sanders but etched his place in history with 9:28 left in the Bills’ shellacking of the Broncos. Gore has never been splashy like Sanders or Emmitt Smith and Walter Payton, who occupy the top two spots; his career is a testament to longevity, health, and work ethic. Incredibly, Gore now in his 15th season has missed just two games since 2010.
MVP of the week
Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints. It wasn’t the prettiest win for Brees and the Saints but they all count the same. The Panthers missed a field goal that would have given them a late lead, and that’s when Mr Clutch put on his cape and led the Saints to a field goal to secure the win as time expired. Brees’s game-winning drive, the 50th of his career, now has the Saints at 9-2 in a tight battle for the NFC’s top seed.
Quote of the week
“How do miss the last snap of a game because ur taking selfies. That’s unprofessional & wrong.” – Joe Theismann on Twitter.
The former Washington quarterback is referring to current starting quarterback Dwayne Haskins missing the final play of his first career victory because he was taking selfies with fans. Apparently Haskins didn’t realize Lions quarterback Jeff Driskel threw a pick on his final drive and that the rookie would be needed again. When asked about his absence, Haskins told reporters, “I was so hype. I broke a water bottle. But I’ll get it next time.” Weirdness in Washington, even in victory.
Video of the week
Classless display by these Browns fans who spent their tailgate mimicking Myles Garrett’s boneheaded decision to remove his helmet and take a swing at Steelers QB Mason Rudolph in Week 11. Garrett’s shocking lapse of judgement resulted in a season-long suspension, a decision which was upheld after Garrett appealed last week. Garrett insinuated that Rudolph incited the melee by calling him a racial slur but the NFL found no such evidence. Had Garrett connected properly with his swing the possible damage to Rudolph, especially his head, was unfathomable.
Elsewhere around the league
— Here’s a sentence I didn’t expect to type much this season. The J-E-T-S Jets Jets Jets’ offense is alive! They walloped the Raiders 34-3 in Sunday’s biggest upset. Sam Darnold looked mostly sharp, and Le’Veon Bell was used efficiently in the pass game. This win was the Jets’ third in a row, which unfortunately only puts them at 4-7, only enough for a boost of confidence and a less advantageous position in the 2020 draft.
— For the first time since September, the Cleveland Browns looked like a team that deserved their preseason hype in a 41-24 demolition of the Dolphins. Granted the opponent was Miami but Cleveland’s stars came out to play. Nick Chubb rushed for 106 yards and a score, Jarvis Landry put up 148 yards and two TDs, while Odell Beckham Jr added a key touchdown reception.
— Saints coach Sean Payton was again critical of NFL officiating, saying his tilt against the Panthers “wasn’t New York’s best game.” Payton was referring to the Carolina challenge asserting that Panthers WR Jarius Wright was held by Saints rookie corner Chauncey Gardner-Johnson on a third-and-goal from the five-yard line. After review, officials agreed Wright was held and gave the Panthers a new set of downs. It was a rare implementation after a no-call, and a rule that only exists because the Saints were burned by an obvious defensive pass interference that wasn’t called in last year’s NFC Championship game.
— The Chicago Bears are kinda sorta in acceptable shape after a crucial 19-14 win over the New York Giants. The Bears had dropped four-of-five and much of the NFL zeitgeist, including yours truly, had buried them. It was a slog of a game and defeating the Giants and their wretched secondary does not alone signify a turned around season. The Bears need more production out of rookie wideout David Montgomery and a better OL but as it stands they are currently the eighth seed with a Thanksgiving game against the hapless Lions on the horizon. Things could be much worse.
— ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports that no NFL teams have reached out to Colin Kaepernick a week after his workout. Meanwhile we were witnesses to another week of abysmal quarterback play, this time starring Detroit’s Driskell, Denver’s Brandon Allen, and Pittsburgh’s Rudolph. Rudolph was benched in the second half.