The Patriots are 2-0, they've gained 1,126 yards (first in NFL), scored 73 points (third in NFL), they're plus-4 on the turnover ratio (second in AFC) and they've looked just about as good as many of us expected them to. Yet, all week on sports radio, you'll hear complaints about their lack of pass rush, or how their defense gives up too many yards, or how the team is entirely dependent on Tom Brady or some other bit of nonsense. But that's just what it is — nonsense.
Yes, the Patriots have allowed 958 yards in two games, and they've made Chad Henne look like Peyton Manning Jr., but the defense, at this moment in time, is not a problem. We'll touch on that, plus some more leftover thoughts, below.
– If you were watching Sunday's game hoping for some Patriots sacks, you were mostly disappointed. But didn't it seem like that was by design? For the most part, the Patriots threw a four-man rush at the Chargers without much blitzing, instead opting to play in a defense designed to limit the big play. They were playing with a lead and were more than willing to give up 5-15 yards per snap, as the clock was a bigger opponent than Philip Rivers for most of the second half. It worked — they won by 14 points, if you're keeping track of silly things like "the scoreboard" — so forget about the fact that the Pats ranked second-to-last in yards allowed. Bill Belichick already told you stats are for losers.
– The Patriots' defense isn't the same unit from 2003 and '04, and it never will be again. The league has changed completely since then, and if you're pining for the days of yore, you're going to be waiting a long, long time. The defense nowadays just plays to the game situation, steps up when needed (remember the goal-line stand against Minnesota last year?) and gets opportunistic when it comes to turnovers (they finished first last year with a plus-28 turnover ratio, while the next-best team was plus-17). It can be excruciating at times to watch the defense give up eight yards every play, but to me, it seems like the defense is doing exactly what it wants to do.
– Plus, how can you really complain about a defense that makes consecutive stops on the goal line? Jerod Mayo was picture-perfect on third down, when he shuffled along the goal line before stopping Rivers on the 1-yard line. He was even better on fourth down, when he waited, waited and waited before exploding forward and stopping Mike Tolbert in a 1-on-1, mano-a-mano situation. If you want to teach a kid how to play linebacker, just have him watch film of Mayo.
– If there is one bit of concern for the Patriots, it'd be that they've allowed an opposing receiver to look superhuman in consecutive weeks. Much of the damage done by Brandon Marshall and Vincent Jackson appears to have been on second-year cornerback Devin McCourty, too. That's worrisome, sure, but you have to take into account that both Marhsall and Jackson are absolute freaks of nature. Plus, as Pats reporter Jeff Howe has said several times, the fact that McCourty can play man coverage against these all-world receivers allows the rest of the defense to double other players. Jeff also tweeted, "I can say [with] pretty high level of confidence that Devin McCourty is just about the last person anyone in that locker room is worried about." Moral of the story? Don't worry, be happy.
– You have to be happy with Patrick Chung's impression of Rodney Harrison. No. 25 had the unenviable task of sticking with Antonio Gates, who is something like 7 feet tall and 260 pounds of pure muscle. Gates finished with zeros across the board, and it was Chung who neutralized him for the majority of the game.
– Before I go any further, let's take a moment of silence for the hit that nearly ended Brady's season again. Had his foot been planted in the ground just a little more, had one of those seven spikes been stuck in that artificial turf, had the football gods decided to torment the New England fan base once more, there would be no discussion of anything on Monday except for a devastating knee injury for Brady. If your heart didn't jump out your neck when Brady went down on that hit below the knees, then you might not have a heart. Or you're a Jets fan. One in the same, really.
– Brady was asked why the hit didn't draw a penalty for breaking "the Brady rule" on WEEI on Monday morning. His answer: "I think that's the Carson Palmer rule. I got another one that the Raiders like to remind me about." Ten years later, we're still talking Tuck Rule.
– Last point on Brady: I think he's in cahoots with the knee brace industry.
"I'm glad I had a knee brace on," Brady said on WEEI. "Those are scary, man, when you've been through those ones before. He got me in a good spot and I'm glad the knee brace took the brunt of the force. Why I never wore a knee brace before, I have no idea, and why every quarterback doesn't wear one on their left knee I have no idea. It's just so unprotected."
I'd like to buy some stock in knee braces, pronto.
– I tweeted this on Sunday: "The Patriots are smarter than everybody else." While that statement may be true several times on Sunday afternoons, what prompted it this time was San Diego's boneheaded defense at the end of the first half. The San Diego Super Chargers gave 18 free yards to the Patriots, allowing Stephen Gostkowski to boom a 47-yarder and the Pats to complete a 10-point swing before halftime. Norv Turner is the man.
– Phil Simms note No. 1: Despite referee Walt Anderson explicitly explaining that Andre Carter was penalized for using the hairline of his helmet when hitting the quarterback, Simms spent a full minute explaining it was a penalty because Carter drove Rivers to the ground. No, Phil. No.
– As a side note, I understand and recognize the desire to protect the quarterback, but if you can't put your head into the guy's chest, what are you supposed to do?
– Phil Simms note No. 2: "The Patriots lead the league in plays where they … just make it happen!" I actually looked this up on NFL.com, and couldn't find any evidence to the contrary. So I guess I can't argue.
– Phil Simms note No. 3: The Patriots were facing fourth-and-4 around midfield in the fourth quarter. Zoltan Mesko was not available to punt after hurting his knee on his last kick. That didn't stop Simms from saying, "I would punt." Again, to reiterate the point here, the Patriots didn't have a punter.
– Congratulations are in order for Chad Ochocinco, who proved that it is possible to have a Twitter account and play football. With too many people in the media blindly shouting, "Get off Twitter and study your playbook!!!" for the past month or so, it was good to see him make an impressive third-down catch on the Pats' opening drive and then hauling in a 30-yarder later on. He's maybe Brady's fourth or fifth option right now, but that's more an indication of how good the other guys are than how bad Ochocinco is. Hopefully Mr. Bruschi is polite to him this week.
– I think Aaron Hernandez's touchdown catch was indeed a catch, but what was the difference between that catch and Calvin Johnson's "non-catch" from Week 1 last year? You have to respect the NFL for always making you wonder the simplest of things, such as "What is a catch?"
– The big-time scoring plays get all the credit, but it's often the little ones that bring about victories. Case in point: Second quarter, third-and-1 at the San Diego 35. A 52-yard field goal into the wind would've been tough, so a first down was crucial. Brady ran an outstanding play-action fake before hitting Hernandez on a quick out for 2 yards. The drive stayed alive, and Rob Gronkowski was in the end zone three plays later. It's the little things.
– Before the Pats-Chargers game even started, how brutal was it when CBS cut away from the Bills-Raiders game just before Ryan Fitzpatrick capped off an amazing comeback in what was the best game of the day? I know there are rules and contracts and rights and all of that, but did they really have to cut away just to bring us 120 seconds of commercials?
– Brady's received a ton of flak for his UGG sponsorship, but more egregious was his choice of sweater in his postgame news conference. Is this Foxboro or Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood?
– Speaking of Brady, I was a lot more interested in a comment Bruschi made about the quarterback last week than what he said about a certain receiver. Bruschi said the following about Brady on ESPN.com:
We're stretching [at the Pro Bowl in February 2005], getting ready to be called, and he looks at us and says "You know what guys, no one has ever won three in a row." We all looked at each other and felt a sense of determination, and were like, "Yeah, that's a goal we should have." But at the same time, part of us thought, "This guy is crazy. We just won a Super Bowl last week, just had a parade, we're vacationing in Hawaii, about to play in the Pro Bowl, and he's already thinking about winning another championship." Part of us wanted to say, "Relax Tom, we'll get to that; enjoy yourself." But that's not who Tom Brady is. He's always thinking about the next challenge to overcome, the next pass to complete, and the next championship to be won.
Tom Brady's pretty much the man, regardless of his choice of cardigan.
– How many times would you say we were subjected to the J.Lo commercial for Fiat? I'd estimate 30, and I'd say that's about 30 times too many. (Sad side note: I had to Google "J-Lo" to find out the correct spelling. I'm now disappointed in myself for knowing that it's "J.Lo." That is all.)
– Last but certainly not least, I present the following photos with no additional commentary.