The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Colts Beat Patriots 27-17; Taylor Rushes for 170 Yards; Playoff Race Tightens

Posted on | December 19, 2021 | Comments Off on Colts Beat Patriots 27-17; Taylor Rushes for 170 Yards; Playoff Race Tightens

What happened Saturday night to the Patriots in Indianapolis was a brutal reminder that every winning streak must ultimately end. Not only did the Colts break New England’s seven-game winning streak, but it was the first time Indianpolis had beaten the Patriots since 2009, when Peyton Manning was the Colts’ quarterback — a game remembered by every New England fan as the 4th-and-2. Indianapolis running back Jonathan Taylor looked very much like the league MVP Saturday, rushing for 170 yards on 29 carries, including the 67-yard TD run in the fourth quarter that capped the 27-17 victory for the Colts.

Andrew Callahan of the Boston Herald:

Patriots rookie quarterback Mac Jones overcame a pair of interceptions to lead three straight scoring drives in the fourth quarter. He went 26-of-45 for 299 yards, two touchdowns and the two picks. Tight end Hunter Henry caught both scores.
The Pats’ special teams proved disastrous all night, starting with a blocked punt returned for a touchdown in the first quarter. All together, they gifted 10 points to the Colts, who produced just 105 yards of offense outside of Taylor.

The blocked punt near the end of the first quarter followed a perfect third-down pass from Jones to Jakobi Meyers that would have been a first down if Meyers hadn’t dropped it. People who didn’t follow Mac Jones as closely as I did during his championship season with Alabama can’t imagine how frustrating it is for Crimson Tide fans to see dropped passes like that. I mean, Devonta Smith never dropped a ball that I can remember, and he certainly never had a drop that hurt the Tide as bad as Meyers’ drop Saturday hurt the Patriots. After the blocked punt (the third time that’s happened to New England this season), the Colts had a 14-0 lead, and the Indianapolis game plan — shut down the Patriots’ running game and force Jones to throw — was already a success, but that one dropped pass made all the difference. Catch the damned ball.

Excuse me if I seem to be over-emphasizing this, but my dad played end in high school — earning All-Valley honors — and he couldn’t stand to see a dropped pass. The idea of a professional wide receiver dropping a perfectly thrown ball the way Jakobi Meyers did? Man, I hate to imagine what the old man would have said about that play. On the other hand, because I was watching the game with my brother Kirby (it was on NFL Network, so we went to a restaurant and had dinner while watching it on the big screen), I didn’t really have to imagine it. Anyway . . .

Mistakes cost the Patriots the game, pure and simple. For example, with less than five minutes left in the first half, the Patriots went driving down the field — Jones hit Kendrick Bourne for 15 yards, Rhamondre Stevenson ran for 13 yards, and then Jones hit Hunter Henry for 25 yards to give New England a first down at the Indianapolis 22. On first down, Meyer gains nine yards on an end-around, so it’s second-and-1 at the Colts’ 13 at the two-minute warning. Everybody watching the game had to figure that, at a minimum, the Patriots would get a field goal out of it, and go into the locker room trailing 14-3, but the way they were moving the ball, it seemed likely the drive would end in a touchdown. So, we return from the two-minute warning and tight end Jonnu Smith jumps before the snap, a five-yard penalty that turned it into second-and-6. One play later, on 3rd-and-3, Jones tries to throw to Hunter Henry in the middle of coverage — picked off. Mac took the blame for that:

“I just threw it right to him. It was a good play, but unacceptable. You can’t win until you stop from losing. I mean, I handed the ball to the guy. I did that twice, and that hurt us. I thought the defense played pretty well, and I just shot them in the foot myself by giving them the short field and giving them the ball. That’s just my fault and I’ll learn from it, but I’m not going to be gun-shy or anything. (I’ll) just learn from it and move on.”

Well, yeah, but that false start penalty hurt. How the hell do you get all the way to the NFL and you can’t remember the snap count? The QB can’t say that in a press conference, of course, but from 2nd-and-1, you almost always get the first down, and that five-yard penalty was crucial to why that drive ended in failure. But as bad as it was — and there are no “moral victories” in the NFL — there were a few bright lights in the darkness.

This Jones pass to N’Keal Harry, for example:

Third-and-6 from his own 42-yard line, Jones drops back all the way to the 31 and then launches a rocket, with Harry making a leaping grab at the Indianapolis 15. A deep pass like that is the perfect rebuttal to the various analysts who keep saying Mac has a “weak arm.”

Also, the critics say, Jones is “not athletic,” but look at him scramble for 12 yards and a first down early in the game:

OK, so that’s not a Lamar Jackson-level run, but the way critics talk about Mac’s alleged lack of “mobility” (translation: he’s white), you wouldn’t think he was capable of running that far or even escaping pressure in the pocket. But now look at this third-down pass to Meyers:

That is an excellent example of football IQ. Jones displayed that eyes-in-the-back-off-his-head sense of the pressure that great quarterbacks have, stepping up away from the pressure and making a tough throw into the middle of the field. As much as Meyers hurt the team with his later drop, he’s usually an excellent receiver — Mac’s favorite target, in fact.

Because Jones is a rookie, and stepping into the gigantic shoes of the GOAT, Tom Brady — “Saint Thomas of Foxboro,” in the eyes of New England fans — the aftermath of Saturday’s loss is going to involve a lot of criticism focused on Mac. This is a week where it will be painful to watch any of the ESPN/Fox News panel shows, as they endlessly discuss whether or not Jones is an “elite quarterback” (a phrase overused by NFL analysts the way “suburban swing voter” is overused by political pundits).

Football is a team sport, and the media obsession with star players — especially quarterbacks — is annoying to me. Whatever anybody says on ESPN, the simple fact is, Mac Jones didn’t lose that game.

Yeah, he threw two interceptions, and his QBR was just 54, but there was plenty of blame to go around. Penalties — dear God, the penalties! The first-quarter drive on which Jones hit that third-down pass to Meyers might have gone all the way, but on 2nd-and-nine, when Jones hit Jonnu Smith for 14 yards, which should have given New England a first down at the Indianapolis 33, Patriots tackle Shaq Mason was called for ineligible receiver downfield. That made it 2nd-and-14, then there was a delay-of-game penalty (Mac’s fault, ultimately), so instead of first-and-10 in Colts’ territory, now the Patriots have it 2nd-and-19 at their own 43. Then on third down, Jones got sacked for a 15-yard loss, so the once-promising drive turned to crap because of mistakes by the offensive line, first Mason’s penalty, and then tackle Isaiah Wynn missing the block that allowed the sack. New England finished the night with eight penalties for 50 yards, which is just unacceptable for a team in the playoff hunt this late in the season. You can’t play sloppy football like that in a crucial game against a team like Indianapolis, which was hungry for a win to keep their own playoff hopes alive. Nevertheless, at 9-5, the Patriots are still very much a contender, leading the AFC East as they get ready for next week’s home game against the second-place Buffalo Bills. Win that game, and the shame of losing to the Colts will be forgotten.

Remember, the only reason I’ve become obsessed with New England this season is because they drafted Mac Jones in the first round, so I now refer to the Patriots with first-person plural pronouns — “we,” “us,” “ours” — the same as I do the Crimson Tide. Jones could become the first rookie quarterback in NFL history to make it to the Super Bowl, and I don’t care what any ESPN “experts” say, I think the kid has what it takes to do it. Oh, he’s not athletic, he’s not mobile, he’s got a weak arm, all the experts say, but look at this clutch pass to Hunter Henry:

Late in the third quarter, trailing 20-0, third-and-four, under pressure and — BOOM! — he makes an incredible throw across the field for a first down. That drive ended in a touchdown, and the Patriots very nearly came back to win. But OK, it’s football, and sometimes you lose. The test of character is whether you can shake it off and bounce back.

Super Bowl LXVI, baby — I still believe in the dream.



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