NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

October 28, 2013

Hector Longo's Two-minute Drill

Hector Longo
Newburyport Daily News

---- — BIG SHOWS

1. Logan Ryan — Can’t cover, so the Pats did the right thing, sending him loose on the blitz from the edge. The strip sack of Ryan Tannehill helped set up a key score. Two sacks among his five solos, with one other QB hit.

2. Devin McCourty — Defensive leader at safety. The only guy in the back with a real nose for the football. His tip back into play for Marquice Cole to intercept goes down as one of the great plays of his life. “It was the only play I had,” said McCourty, who defied every defensive tenet.

3. Dont’a Hightower — Five solo tackles and a sack that essentially amounted to three points. The extra six yards from the sack forced Caleb Sturgis’ attempted field goal from 46 yards to drift right just enough to clank off the upright. From 40 yards, that kick was good. From 46, nope.

NO SHOWS

1. Kenbrell Thompkins — The next “Megatron” in these parts played sparingly and didn’t have a catch, with one ball tossed his way.

2. Danny Amendola — Thank goodness, he was cleared to play this week. Tom Brady sent six balls his way, and he caught three for 15 yards.

3. Brandon Bolden — Is he the lead back, the change of pace back or the third-down back? In any of those scenarios, his production was woeful with eight carries for 22 yards and a pair of catches for seven yards.

GRADING THE GROUPS

OFFENSE

Line (B-) ... There seemed to be room to run, especially in the second half. Sebastian Vollmer’s injury brought on Marcus Cannon with little or no dropoff at right tackle. Tom Brady was sacked three times, but there was no real jail break rush on him. They were more of the coverage variety. The O-line delivered a performance good enough to beat a Miami team headed to the bottom of the AFC East.

Receivers (D) ... There is no consistent performance from anyone in the group. Danny Amendola (3 catches, 15 yards) looks slow and out of place. Aaron Dobson had a decent day with four catches for 60 yards and a score. Julian Edelman and Kenbrell Thompkins simply were totally negated.

Tight Ends (C) ... Rob Gronkowski (2 catches on 5 targets for 27 yards and a TD) is simply not himself. Mike Hoomanawanui is. And the result is a mediocre effort.

Running Backs (B+) ... Together, the trio of Brandon Bolden, Stevan Ridley and LeGarrette Blount combined for 33 carries totaling 147 yards or 4.5yards a carry. Has anyone told offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels how good those numbers are?

Quarterback (C-) ... Hand or no hand, receivers or no receivers, Tom Brady’s performance borders on career-worst. Another win that comes with a 69.5 passer rating and 116 yards through the air. This team goes nowhere if the real, healthy Brady isn’t located between now and the playoffs.

DEFENSE

Line (C) ... Were getting chewed up inside for the first half plus. Nice adjustment out of desperation by Bill Belichick/Matt Patricia, moving Chandler Jones down inside to help with the run. The kid is the best defender the Pats have right now and is playing like it. More good things from Chris Jones — after halftime. Old man Andre Carter is here to mentor and did a nice job in his debut. Still, at some point the horrifying first half — no pressure, no sacks and 103 yards on 20 carries for the Miami backs — has to be addressed.

Linebackers (C) ... Have to wonder where Brandon Spikes goes sometimes after the snap, especially in pass coverage. Dont’a Hightower had a huge point-saving sack. You are seeing more and more of Dane Fletcher out of necessity. He’s a special-teamer in linebacker garb. A first-half effort to drop Rob Ninkovich off the line and into coverage worked as expected — miserably.

Secondary (B) ... Maybe it was confusion on Ryan Tannehill’s part, but when the Pats switched to a primarily man set in the second half, the coverage stuck like glue. Even when Tannehill was down late and should have taken chances down the field, he held the football in fear because of the coverage. He should have been airing it out, taking a shot, but he didn’t. That’s a coverage thing. Like the swagger of Devin McCourty right now. He’s getting it done, making plays. So did Logan Ryan and Marquice Cole.

For Pats, silence is golden

I know it couldn’t have happened in this age of integrity of the National Football League, but if I didn’t know any better, I might have cast the aspersion that the officials were handing the game to the New England Patriots yesterday. Interesting that this week of perceived weirdness might have come a week after the first ever “illegal pushing” call gave the Jets a win over the Pats. Were the Patriots rewarded for their silence about the “vagaries” on that pushing rule? For Bill Belichick taking the blame and saying he was wrong?

In my eyes, the Pats were handed 13 points in the victory.

It started early with a non-existent pass interference penalty to Miami’s Jimmy Wilson on an incompletion to a triple-covered Rob Gronkowski in the second quarter.

Side judge Michael Banks, who flagged the contact, whatever contact there was, was screened by Gronk’s body. Banks was 30 yards away, blown call. Instead of fourth down from the 46, the Pats got a first-and-10 from Miami’s 33 and cashed in with a field goal. Free 3.

Fast forward to the third quarter, with the Pats facing a 3rd-and-5 from the Miami 35.

Tom Brady throws to Gronkowski incomplete. Decision time for Belichick, right? Nope, a little, yellow flag is dropped late on a non-defensive holding call against Miami’s Dimitri Patterson, for breathing too hard on Aaron Dobson. Patterson banged Dobson within the legal 5-yard limit and watched the Patriot fall to the ground.

Finally in the fourth, it’s what will now go into history as the “illegal batting” game as Brady gets strip-sacked. Miami’s Olivier Vernon dives for the football and bats it toward midfield. Was he batting it forward or trying to pull it in? The officials seal this one by knowing for sure it was batting the ball illegally. The 10-yard flag and first down set up the game-sealing TD perfectly.

“What he ruled was that the player batted it forward, which is an intentional act,” explained referee Walt Anderson.

Game over.

But!

All these calls were simply coincidences or correct calls that should have gone the Pats way. I’m sure of that. I just should never let my imagination get away from me.

By the way, the Pats were hit for five flags on the day for 35 yards, while Miami got nabbed 7 times for 61 yards.

Why Belichick is better

Two words, halftime adjustments.

I imagine Joe Philbin sprinting into the Miami locker room up 17-3 at halftime and screaming a real loud, “Yippee!”

Meanwhile, Bill Belichick and the crew are systematically altering their blitz packages and attack at the line of scrimmage on offense.

“A couple times, they played different personnel packages,” explained Philbin about a running game that ground out 103 yards in the first half and only 53 in the second.

They switched from sit-back zone to aggressive man with huge results.

The Pats got zero sacks in the first half, rushing four and playing zone. In the second, they got after Ryan Tannehill with the blitz. No stat was bigger in the comeback than those six second-half sacks.

McCourty defies logic

It’s a play that should come with a warning from the surgeon general or the FCC or somebody: “Kids, don’t try this at home.”

But safety Devin McCourty came up with a monster play, tipping a ball as he was about to fly out of bounds to teammate Marquice Cole, who skirted the sideline for an interception.

It was one of those instinct plays, like Derek Jeter streaking across the infield and scooping a throw to Jorge Posada to beat the A’s in the AL playoffs. A play you tell your kids about.

And he probably will get blasted for it in films today.

You should never, ever tip the ball back into the field of play, right, especially when you’re blindly flying out of bounds. What if there was a Dolphin there? Knock it down. Hold it as you fall out of bounds. But never tip it up for grabs. He’ll be told today.

Still, it was amazing, special and defied logic — just like the Jeter play.

“It was the only play I had,” said McCourty, as he laughed about it.

“That was all ‘Quice.’ He screamed for me to tip it, so I did.”

Interesting outcomes

New England’s win highlighted a tremendous weekend for the Patriots’ backers, considering all three other AFC East combatants tumbled. Now 6-2, the Pats, even with all the injuries and Tom Brady’s suddenly problematic hand, have a firm hold on the division. ...

By the way, did anyone notice how Pittsburgh rolled over and played dead yesterday at Oakland? The Steelers, now 2-5, fall to last, three games off the AFC North pace. You have to wonder how hard fourth-place Pittsburgh will play when it comes to town next week. Three full games behind Cincinnati at 5-2 it will most likely be the Steelers’ last stand ...

Are you watching the league races develop? Can the New York Giants, now 2-6 after an 0-6 start, actually have a pulse in the NFC East? Absolutely. A very shaky Dallas team leads the division at 4-4.