To be kind would be to call it “tedious.’’
To be fair would be to classify it “abominable.’’
The New England Patriots are 10-0 on the season, but the latest win to extend that unbeaten start turned out to be about as satisfying as a ramekin of jello, the latest display of the NFL’s popular, yet laborious, product this year.
Oh, sure, in the end all that matters to New Englanders is that the Patriots got past the Buffalo Bills Monday night, 20-13, and that they can still clinch the AFC East next weekend with a win at the Denver Broncos, coupled with a New York Jets loss to the Miami Dolphins. But this was a victory to feel good about in the same way you find glee in buying sandwich bags.
This was a train wreck in Foxborough, a three-and-a-half hour affair marred by referee incompetence, another injury to a key Patriots contributor, a New England offense clearly out of sync, and a litany of Monday Night Football TV timeouts and commercials that made the game borderline unwatchable save for fans of each team and those with fantasy or gambling interests on the line. In other words, the ratings will be stratospheric.
“What a screwed up night of plays and officiating this was,’’ ESPN’s Mike Tirico said as he and Jon Gruden — mercifully — said farewell from the booth.
That about summed things up, for this game and the NFL in general.
We’d ask where to begin, but it’s seemingly too easy to begin and end at the same play, the now-infamous, “inadvertent whistle’’ in the third quarter, when Brady found wide receiver Danny Amendola for what looked to be a large gain, and perhaps a Patriots touchdown. Instead, a whistle ruled the play dead, giving the Patriots the ball at the spot of the catch, plus 15 yards for a penalty on Bills head coach Rex Ryan. That drive ultimately ended with Stephen Gostkowski’s first missed field goal in 32 tries.
“Just one of those plays. I don’t know what happened,’’ Brady said about the inadvertent whistle. “I wish we could have converted it into more points.’’
It was that kind of night.
The assumption that Amendola was going to score is perhaps a bit foolhardy, as there was a Bills defender in the vicinity, albeit one that had already slowed down on the play. That could have been a product of hearing the whistle blow. But the inadvertent whistle illustrated just how poor the on-field officiating has gotten in a year when the officials are making fans miss the replacement refs from a few seasons ago. There may be whining about the refs on a weekly basis, but there’s also rightful exhaustion on the part of the viewing public, which on Monday alone watched officials bungle a play on what seemed nearly every series.
If the league didn’t waste so much time on deflated footballs, perhaps it could address the percolating problem it has on its hands with its clueless cacophony of whistles.
Brady shook off most questions about the play during his post-game presser, essentially shrugging his shoulders when asked if he thought the ref had erroneously thought he stepped out of bounds. The quarterback seemed more concerned with the plodding progress of his offense in the absence of both Dion Lewis and Julian Edelman. In the first full game the once high-flying Patriots were without their stud running back and wide receiver, Rob Gronkowski was invisible for much of the night, getting his fingertips on a handful of balls, but uncharacteristically not hauling them in. Marcus Cannon was a turnstile on the offensive line, the source of Brady’s, um, let’s say, concern, caught by cameras on the sideline, where the quarterback berated the unit in an expletive-filled tirade translated by lip-readers everywhere.
But most concerning was the fact that Amendola went down with a knee injury, officially putting his status for Sunday’s showdown in Denver in question. Aaron Dobson, who showed up on the injury report on Monday, left the game as well, after making a circus catch, with an ankle injury.
By the end of things, Brady was throwing to Chris Harper, just signed from the practice squad. That wasn’t a big deal on Monday. The fact that Harper will likely be counted on to be a key contributor against the 8-2 Broncos? Yeah, that sort of is.
“I don’t think that’s an excuse,’’ Brady said after losing Amendola. “I think we can play better. We’ve just got to do things better if we want to score more points.’’
Perhaps encouraging was the fact that running back James White scored both touchdowns for New England, the first two of his career, and perhaps a harbinger of what he can deliver in the absence of Lewis. But without Edelman and now Amendola? It’s hard to figure how the Patriots’ offense can revert to the level it was at in the weeks prior to their game against the New York Giants, when the funk began in earnest.
“I think we’ll keep fighting and figure out a way to win,’’ Brady said. “Any way you can get these wins is a positive.’’
That’s the saving grace for nights like these, evenings of ineptitude that can result in a lack of recognition for a team that remains one of just two still undefeated in the entire NFL.
“We’ll take it and move on to Denver,’’ head coach Bill Belichick said.
Take it and forget it. Burn the film from this one. Hey, it’s what the NFL is going to do anyway if it realizes there’s something on it that makes it look bad.
Unfortunately, in 2015, there’s plenty of those instances to go around.
Pictures from the Patriots’ win over the Bills