Columnists, Sports

First and Goal: In a wacky NFL week, the Patriots Stood Out

Week nine of the NFL season was the strangest one yet. Sunday brought us some of the weirdest football we’ve watched this year.

The tanking Miami Dolphins scored 26 points en route to a win over the hopeless New York Jets. At this point, it’s clear the Jets made the wrong decision in the offseason when hiring coach Adam Gase and it’s clear through a series of embarrassing performances that he should be fired.

A 33-0 shellacking at the hands of the New England Patriots isn’t great but the Jets were not supposed to win that game. But an eight point loss to a Dolphins team that has shipped off multiple starters is unacceptable. After the loss, Gase said that he wasn’t embarrassed by the loss because it’s the NFL, but calling that loss embarrassing is an understatement. It’s not nice to talk about someone’s job, but Gase should be fired for his performance this season.

The wackiness of this week doesn’t stop there, it just gets weirder.

Aaron Rodgers, one of the best quarterbacks to ever do it, was completely shut down by the Los Angeles Chargers in a way that has never been done before. At the start of the fourth quarter, Rodgers had a measly 61 yards to his name, a career-low through three quarters for the QB. Defense continues to be the theme of the season, but to shut down a transcendent talent like Rodgers is unexpected and yet, it wasn’t the only strange moment of the game. The first half featured only nine points on the board — three field goals from LA — despite featuring two dynamic offenses and two future hall of fame QBs.

Another oddity of this game was the low number of punts for such a low-scoring game. The Green Bay Packers scored 11 points, but only punted five times, which is low considering how ineffective the offense was. The Chargers punted only once in the game, but the offense seems to forget they were professional football players anytime they stepped inside the Green Bay 30-yard-line leading to Michael Badgley attempting a career-high five field goals.

In a week with strange events happening all around the league, the weirdest thing to happen was the Patriots’ uncharacteristic performance in Baltimore on Sunday night.

Unforced mental errors and poor coaching is not the Patriot Way, but it looked like it for most of the game Sunday night.

On the Baltimore Ravens’ first drive of the game, the Patriots’ vaunted defense was pushed up against their own endzone, but in typical Patriots fashion, were able to force a field goal attempt.

Then the first uncharacteristic moment of the night happened: the Patriots caused a neutral zone infraction on the field goal attempt, giving the Ravens a first down inside the five. Holding the Ravens to three points there wouldn’t have been the worst thing, but allowing an opening drive touchdown revved up the crowd to playoff levels and put New England in an early hole.

A quick three-and-out on the Patriots first possession led to a field goal from Baltimore and the Patriots’ ensuing possession was one of their ugliest in recent memory.

Running the hurry-up offense, the Patriots lined up and gave Michel the ball again for another three-yard gain. Keeping with the high-tempo offense, the Patriots hurried to the line and were stuffed on another run play for Michel. Why offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels called another run plays to the right side after getting stopped is beyond me and it somehow got worse from there. After Michel was stopped on second down, the Patriots hurried to the line again for no reason and Tom Brady was sacked to force fourth down.

What was McDaniels trying to achieve with such basic play calling and at such a high-tempo when the defense needed a rest?

The Patriots do not look incompetent very often, but they did Sunday night. The offense is limited by injury and maybe McDaniels and Bill Belichick don’t want to show their hand before a potential playoff matchup in the future, but the Patriots looked completely lost.

Give credit to Ravens coach John Harbaugh, he easily outcoached Belichick last night and it is not the first time he’s done it either.

Even New England’s star players made uncharacteristic mistakes. James “Sweet Feet” White wasn’t so sweet at the end of the first half. The Patriots had a golden chance to tie up a game that looked like it was going to be a repeat of 2014’s Monday Night Massacre at Kansas City, but White tripped over his own feet at the goal line on third and goal, forcing the Patriots to call a timeout and kick a field goal.

Julian Edelman wasn’t immune to making mistakes either. The go-to receiver caught a pass in the flats on the Patriots’ first drive of the second half, made a defender miss, and then was promptly stripped of the football, which was then taken to the house by Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey.

That scoop-and-score effectively buried the Patriots as they would score one more touchdown before stalling at 20 points. The Ravens went on to shock the Patriots 37-20 and then foolishly proceeded to take a team picture on the field like they had just won the Super Bowl.

Baltimore has proved that it belongs with the Patriots and Chiefs at the top of the AFC, but let’s pump the brakes on celebrating the demise of New England.

All NFL fans, including Patriots fans, cannot handle the thought of the Patriots losing a single game — everybody is quick to say that the dynasty is dead after one loss through nine games.

Let’s not forget they lost five games last season, their most losses since 2009, and we all know how that season ended.

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