Judgements 11: Patriots, Brady separating selves from pack


(Tom Brady photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Here we go again.

The New England Patriots have separated themselves from the pack. They’re not just the best team in the AFC. They may be the best team in the NFL.

No, they don’t have Julian Edelman … or Chris Hogan … or Dont’a Hightower … or much of a pass rush. But they do have Tom Brady, and look what’s happening there. The 40-year-old quarterback is playing at an MVP level, with 22 touchdown passes and two interceptions this season and 50 TDs and four interceptions the past two, and his defense — ranked 30th in the NFL entering Sunday — hasn’t allowed more than 17 points in each of its last six games.

All of which it won. Get used to it, people.

Unlike Kansas City, which destroyed the Patriots in the season opener, New England is surging to the finish line — seldom looking better than the past two weeks when it hammered Denver and Oakland by a combined score of 74-24. Throw in defeats of the Chargers and Atlanta the two weeks before that, and you have New England outscoring its last four opponents, 118-44.

But there’s more. They haven’t committed a turnover during that stretch. Their opponents committed five. They won all five road games this season and their last 14 regular-season road starts dating back to 2015. And where Brady was sacked 16 times the first five games, he’s been sacked just seven the past five … and only twice the past two weeks.

So, let’s see, you have the game’s best quarterback … few mistakes … a retooled and revitalized defense … a team that doesn’t lose on the road … and a schedule that includes just one remaining opponent (Pittsburgh) with a winning record. This is why the rest of the country can’t stand the Patriots. Because the Patriots can’t stand losing.

CAN VIKES BUCK SUPER BOWL JINX?

Once upon a time it was hard to buy the Minnesota Vikings as a legit Super Bowl threat for two reasons: 1) Case Keenum and 2) the Super owl hex.

The hex you can’t do anything about. Teams that host Super Bowls historically don’t make it to the finish line. And, yeah, I know, the 1984 San Francisco 49ers did, but that game wasn’t at Candlestick Park. It was at Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto. And Super Bowl XIV, which featured the L.A. Rams and Pittsburgh Steelers, was held at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, 14 miles from the Rams’ home — the L.A. Coliseum.

This season’s Super Bowl is in Minneapolis — at the Vikings’ U.S. Bank Stadium –and it’s easy to toss the Vikings as the NFC rep because … well, because teams don’t play Super Bowls in their home stadiums and because the Vikings are trying to do it with a backup quarterback who, entering this season, was 9-7 as a starter.

Except this just in: The Vikings are playing their tails off. Keenum won’t sit down for Teddy Bridgewater, opponents can’t seem to stop Adam Thielen and the Minnesota defense is hermetically sealed — shutting down the league’s highest-scoring offense in what was supposed to be a showdown of NFC heavyweights.

Well, the Vikings showed. And the Rams went down.

And that’s an encouraging sign for what’s ahead. Because what’s ahead are, in order, three road games at Detroit, at Atlanta and at Carolina. One is its only competition in the NFC North, and the other two are the most recent NFC champions. Minnesota just proved it’s legit. Now it can prove it can challenge Philadelphia as the team to beat in the conference.

TEN THINGS TO BE THANKFUL FOR THIS THANKSGIVING

  1. Vontaze Burfict isn’t in your touch football league.
  2. You don’t car pool with Jameis Winston.
  3. Johnny Manziel is off the radar.
  4. Your Mom didn’t invite Jerry Jones and Roger Goodell over for Thanksgiving dinner.
  5. Your dog has better curbside manners than Odell Beckham Jr.
  6. You’re not a Giants’ fan.
  7. Zeke Elliott’s lawyers gave up.
  8. Tony Romo turned to broadcasting.
  9. Cleveland still has the Cavs and Indians.
  10. Tom Brady.

FIRST-AND-20

  1. Good news, Eagles’ fans: Of the 50 teams that went 9-1 before this season, 23 — or nearly half — reached the Super Bowl, and 11 won it.
  2. The Chiefs will win the AFC West, and they should: There’s not an opponent with a winning record left on the schedule. But they won’t go deep in the playoffs. Not unless they can untrack an offense stuck in neutral and a rookie running back (Kareem Hunt) who hasn’t scored in seven games.
  3. Guess DeDe Westbrook and Blake Bortles weren’t on “the same page.” Westbrook finished 165 yards short of his prediction.
  4. And that, people, is why you have to like the Saints. When their defense has hiccups … which doesn’t happen much this season … the Saints always have Drew Brees to bail them out.  On his last two drives of regulation, Brees was 11-for-11 for 164 yards and two TDs.
  5. Now the question: Saints or Rams? The two meet next weekend in L.A.
  6. The Browns’ second straight 0-10 start isn’t the most stunning development of this season. Hey, it happened before, so how can it be surprising? Nope, it’s the play of the Raiders’ defense. Over the past 11 games, including the playoffs, it has zero interceptions. You heard me … zero. It’s the longest NFL drought since 1940.
  7. Owner Mark Davis should have kept that custom shovel he used last week to break ground on the Raiders’ stadium in Las Vegas. He can use it to bury the team’s playoff hopes.
  8. Keenum or Everson Griffen isn’t the MVP of the Vikings. Adam Thielen is.
  9. Bad enough the Dolphins lost their last four, as well as their starting quarterback. But it gets worse. Two of their next three games are vs. New England. Check, please.
  10. Let’s be honest: The Jerry Jones-Roger Goodell feud isn’t about Goodell’s extension. It’s about Zeke Elliott, pure and simple. Jones didn’t get what he wanted … or needed … so he threw a tantrum.
  11. Scratch Alex Smith from the MVP guest list.
  12. Best team in the AFC North isn’t in the AFC North. It’s in Jacksonville. The Jags are 4-0 vs. the division, outscoring opponents 116-30.
  13. I guess the Lions aren’t all about Matt Stafford after all. D.J. Hayden’s touchdown was the team’s seventh return for a score, setting a franchise record.
  14. Best thing that ever happened to the Saints’ Mark Ingram was the trade of Adrian Peterson. Ingram has eight touchdowns in the 36 days since.
  15. Imagine if the Ravens had an offense. That’s the sixth time in 10 games they failed to score a first-half touchdown. Nevertheless, it not hard to imagine them … yes, I’m talking the Ravens … reaching the playoffs. Four of their remaining six games are home — including one of the two opponents (Detroit) that has a winning record.
  16. Not sure what makes Giants’ fans happier — seeing Dallas lose or watching Chris Christie go down with them.
  17. I swear, I’ve never seen Lambeau that empty in the fourth quarter. Ever. That should tell you what Cheeseheads think of the Packers’ playoff chances. They don’t. And they shouldn’t.
  18. Once upon a time the AFC West looked strong. No more. Now, the division leader lost four of its last five, while the other three have a combined record of 11-19.
  19. The Chargers play in the second-largest market in the NFL, yet can’t sell out a 26,000-seat stadium? Yes, NFL owners ought to think about disciplining one of their own, but forget Jerry Jones. Start with Dean Spanos for moving to a city that told him he wasn’t welcome … then proved it.
  20. So the NFL extended its agreement to play in Mexico through 2021. Good. Tom Brady should be in his prime by then.

WINNERS

GIANTS’ COACH BEN McADOO. Maybe he should have a “brutally honest” meeting with players every week.

JACKSONVILLE RB LEONARD FOURNETTE. He may hate the cold, but he’s gotta love the Browns. He put up 111 yards running against them.

ARIZONA WR LARRY FITZGERALD. He’s now fifth on the all-time list for receiving yards, passing Tony Gonzalez, but only 51 yards behind Isaac Bruce at fourth and 135 behind Randy Moss at No. 3.

TAMPA BAY QB RYAN FITZPATRICK.  I can’t believe I’m saying this but … the guy’s playing so well (he won his last two starts) they’re talking about a quarterback controversy in Tampa.

NEW ENGLAND. For the second straight week, all of the AFC East not named New England lost.

HOUSTON QB TOM SAVAGE. That’s the first time the Texans’ offense produced three touchdowns in a game (and they finished with four) since Deshaun Watson exited.

LOSERS

MIAMI QB JAY CUTLER. At the end of the day, he’s Jay Cutler. As Chuck Noll would say, “time to get on with life’s work.”

GREEN BAY COACH MIKE McCARTHY. So this is what you show for three years of “developing” a quarterback? Pathetic.

HOUSTON RB D’ONTA FOREMAN. The rookie scores two touchdowns, then goes down without getting touched. Now he’s out for the season. D’Onta, meet Deshaun Watson.

OAKLAND RB MARSHAWN LYNCH. He sits for the Star Spangled Banner. Then he stands for the Mexican national anthem. As that noted philosopher, Forrest Gump, once said, “Stupid is as stupid does.”

DENVER DB BRADLEY ROBY. Bad enough that he was stung for two touchdown passes. Then he throws in a pass interference on a critical third down that leads to Denver’s sixth straight loss and seventh in eight games.

BUFFALO DEFENSE. It surrendered 109 points its first seven games, leading Buffalo to a 5-2 start. But it has absolutely cratered the past three weeks, or since the Marcel Dareus trade, allowing 135 points – or an average of 45 per. Get ready for another early winter, Buffalo.

ANDY REID. He was 16-2 following byes entering Sunday. Now he has to explain this. And while he’s at it he can tell us why having a tight end launch a downfield bomb late in a 6-6 game was a good idea.

SUNDAY REPORT CARD

A

BALTIMORE LB TERRELL SUGGS. So he’s 35. He’s still the leader of this defense. And the Ravens just pitched their second shutout in the past three games, with Suggs producing two of the unit’s six sacks.It didn’t matter who tried to block him; they couldn’t handle him … and what’s new there?

PHILADELPHIA QB CARSON WENTZ. The MVP race will come down to two candidates, Wentz and Brady. And neither is faltering.

B

CHARGERS’ QB PHILIP RIVERS. He not only played his 195th straight game after entering concussion protocol; he played well, leading the Chargers to a demolition of overmatched Buffalo before sitting down early in the fourth quarter. As San Diego Union-Tribune columnist Nick Canepa said, “Think of the StubHub Center as a giant barrel, with Philip Rivers shooting fish in it.” Precisely.

C

ARIZONA QB BLAINE GABBERT. No, he didn’t win. But he was good enough to retain the starting job when Drew Stanton is cleared.

CINCINNATI QB ANDY DALTON. So the Bengals only had 12 first downs. Dalton at least converted a couple of turnovers into touchdowns.

D

RAMS’ WR COOPER KUPP. His goal-line fumble was a first-half turning point. But then he committed a second-half drop that could’ve led to a scoring drive when the game was still in doubt.

DALLAS QB DAK PRESCOTT. He took eight sacks last week. He threw a career-high three picks and lost a fumble Sunday. The guy simply can’t carry this team alone, not with Tyron Smith … and Zeke Elliott … and Sean Lee … and Dan Bailey out. The Cowboys are toast.

E

KANSAS CITY QB ALEX SMITH. He’s seldom looked worse. He had one interception entering Sunday. He has three now … plus a horrid loss to the woebegone New York Giants. Expect calls for Andy Reid to start rookie Patrick Mahomes. Ain’t happening, people. Not in the middle of a playoff chase.

GREEN BAY QB BRETT HUNDLEY. Not a good weekend for UCLA. The Bruins lost to USC. Then they fired their coach. Then their former star quarterback stunk. Again. The more I see of Hundley the better Aaron Rodgers looks as an MVP write-in.

F

BUFFALO QB NATHAN PETERMAN. Four interceptions on your first nine throws and five in your first 14 is not how you want to start your pro career.

HOUSTON PASS DEFENSE. In four weeks, it’s been shredded for 452 yards and four touchdowns by Russell Wilson; 308 yards and two TDs by Jacoby Brissett; 355 yards and 3 TDs by Jared Goff and 257 yards  and three TDs by Blaine Gabbert.

SUNDAY’S HALL OF FAMER

NEW ENGLAND QB TOM BRADY. It doesn’t matter where games are played … Foxboro, Denver, Mexico City … it doesn’t matter. The guy doesn’t lose. He hasn’t thrown an interception in a month and he hasn’t lost in two — with Sunday’s beatdown of Oakland his latest conquest. The guy’s 40, for crying out loud, and it shouldn’t be this easy. But it is.

SUNDAY’S HALL OF SHAMER

BUFFALO COACH SEAN McDERMOTT. You’re 5-4 and still alive for your franchise’s first playoff berth since 1999. So what do you do? Sit down your starting quarterback, of course, for a rookie who’d thrown 10 passes before Sunday.  Yes, Nathan Peterman stunk. But what did you expect? For the life of me, I never did understand what Sean McDermott was thinking with this decision. Then I realized he wasn’t. He was panicking. Bad enough that he started Peterman. Worse that he wouldn’t rule him out as next week’s starter after Sunday’s debacle. You can’t make this stuff up

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