1. Prepare yourself, presuming you’re not a willing participant: There’s going to be a lot of hand-wringing and FM-radio caterwauling about the Patriots’ 30-17 victory over the Niners. Some of it might even be justified. The Patriots defense couldn’t force a single turnover against Colin Kaepernick in miserable, rainy conditions. It’s going to be easy to speculate, in the absence of 2009 Adalius Thomas imitator Jabaal Sheard, whether there’s something going on attitude-wise with the defense. The offense stagnated for the middle quarters after scoring on its first two drives. At times, Tom Brady locked in on Julian Edelman like he was the only receiver running a pattern. Fans were expecting a blowout against the now 1-9 Niners, and perhaps a reason to gain confidence in the post-Jamie Collins defense. I get it.
2. But looking at it through clear eyes and with context – I know, novel approach – the only truly troubling conclusions that can be drawn belong to those who live to draw troubling conclusions. The miserable field conditions were something of an equalizer. The defense got its act together in the second half after making Kaepernick look like his old self – you know, the one who was considered Russell Wilson’s equal — in the first half. They did it without Rob Gronkowski and Chris Hogan, two of the three receivers in the league averaging more than 20 yards per catch, who remained back on the east coast. They got out of there with the win, and under those conditions, that’s enough. Not many teams get to have frustrating wins.
3. I know that Brady’s crucial touchdown pass to Danny Amendola, which capped a 10-play, 80-yard drive to give the Patriots a 20-10 lead early in the fourth quarter, was some Matrix-level stuff, and I’ve never even seen the Matrix.
4. Rolling to his right, Brady simultaneously released the pass and melted to the turf to avoid danger as a Niners pass rusher (might have been Mean Fred Dean, not sure) had him lined up but arrived a split-second late. I can’t imagine there are five quarterbacks in league history who can make a pinpoint throw and dodge onrushing danger basically in the same motion.
5. I’m not going to go all Pro Football Focus on you, because as much as I appreciate baseball data, I don’t think many football analysts know what they think they know. But Amendola has to have one of the best big-play-to-targets ratios in the league, doesn’t he? He has just 18 catches for 208 yards this season, but it feels like every one of his catches – especially the four touchdowns – have come at a huge moment.
6. The four touchdowns are a career-high for Amendola – he had three in 2012, his final season with the Rams in which he had 63 receptions. Seems like he’d have had a season with more, but I figure that’s because he’s had a few memorable ones in the postseason, including three in three games during the title run in 2014. He sure does make them count.
7. Play of the game, at least among those that didn’t result in an immediate six points? How about this: With the Patriots leading 13-10 and a little more than three minutes remaining in the third quarter, the Patriots faced what could have been a pivotal third-and-9. Their last five drives had produced not a single point, and the suddenly capable Niners defense looked like it should have been rated about 25 spots higher than its sad-sack No. 32 ranking coming into the game. It felt like a big moment before it became one.
8. The play didn’t have a good vibe as it was developing – Brady had to work his usual footwork magic in the pocket while going through his progressions – but then he hit rookie Malcolm Mitchell for a 21-yard gain and a first down. Five plays later, the Patriots had their first touchdown since the first quarter and a 20-10 lead. That’s the kind of play a receiver must make to gain Brady’s trust.
9. Mitchell later added another huge play, a 56-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown to put the Patriots up 27-10 in the fourth quarter. I’m not sure that play, as spectacular as it was, will gain as many Trustworthy Points with Brady as the earlier third-down play, though. He was in the same area as Amendola on his route, and I’m always going to assume it’s the veteran who is in the right spot in such circumstances.
10. It wasn’t shaping up this way early in the game, but this was a quietly brilliant Julian Edelman performance. He had 8 catches for 78 yards and a touchdown, which are relatively pedestrian stats by his standards. But he was targeted 21 times, and seemed to break at least that many tackles during the Patriots’ prolonged drives in the second half.
11. Not sure that bringing Dion Lewis back on a sloppy field was the best idea, but he got through it, and it sure was great seeing him back. It was cool to hear, “Dion Lewis breaks it outside …” again. Curious to discover whether Josh McDaniels has a few tricks to utilize Lewis and James White at the same time.
12. When Gumbel mentioned that Brady’s second touchdown pass was the 200th of his career, how long did it take you to realize he was wrong? I started doing the math – 200 touchdowns in 16 seasons? WHUT? – but realized the genesis of the mistake quickly, just about when Gumbel did. He meant, I think, that this could be Brady’s 200th win. Turns out that wasn’t correct, either — it was his 199th win, tying him with Brett Favre for the second-most all-time. Call it a premature acknowledgment of a heck of a milestone.
13. Love watching LeGarrette Blount (19 carries, 123 yards) run. Not sure I said that at any point last year.
14. I don’t believe in sports jinxes, particularly those that are based or blamed on an announcer, like talking about a no-hitter in progress or something. But when Greg Gumbel mentioned that there were nine extra-point misses in today’s early games right before Stephen Gostkowski made it 10, I don’t think many of us were especially surprised, though we might have muttered, “Thanks for bringing it up, Gumbel, you junior-varsity Bryant.”
15. It’s frustrating when a kicker misses one, but there’s going to come a point where it feels more commonplace. It’s not automatic anymore, and it shouldn’t be, and ultimately it adds more suspense to the game than the extra point did when it was an afterthought all those years. Hopefully it leads to more and more teams going for 2.
16. The Patriots’ amazing run of kickers the last 21 years – co-starring Adam Vinatieri and Gostkowski, of course, with a cameo from Shayne Graham – also includes those they didn’t keep. The Patriots had Niners kicker Phil Dawson, an 18-year-vet on their practice squad at the beginning of his career in 1998. And Giants (and former Bears) kicker Robbie Gould was in camp with the Patriots in 2005.
17. Had no idea Chris Harper – you may remember him from such box-office disasters as Just Catch The Dang Punt, Kid a year ago in Denver — was on the Niners until he caught a pass midway through the first quarter. Then again, I think I fell asleep while looking at their depth chart this week, once I realized Jeremy Kerley was their best receiver. You know Jerry Rice believes he could crack this lineup, and he’s 54.
18. Harper did have a spectacular, leaping 16-yard catch in garbage time on an cross-field heave from Kaepernick. So apparently he does catch passes that look like punts.
19. There’s not much skill to be found on this Niners offense, though Rod Streeter has the name of a receiver who should average 22 yards per catch. But Carlos Hyde runs hard, and Patrick Chung got the cleat marks on his chest to confirm it on the Niners’ field goal drive in the first quarter.
20. I hope the Patriots find a way to keep Martellus Bennett in the offseason. He’s a much more athletic pass catcher than I expected based on his 8.3 yards per catch average last season, not to mention a willing and dependable blocker. But the suggestion from the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport that he’s an offseason priority had better come with a caveat – he should be a priority after franchising Dont’a Hightower, finding more linebacker help, and hopefully extending Malcolm Butler and even Rob Gronkowski.
21. You never hear the name anymore unless you’re watching Quick Slants (and you should be), but the Patriots kind of miss Jerod Mayo this year, don’t they?
22. CBS did a nice job of flashing back to Tom Brady’s northern California roots during the broadcast. I’d watch a 30 for 30 on Brady’s childhood and the environment that led to him becoming the greatest quarterback of all time.
23. For those among us who expected the Patriots to put this away early – and I expect that was the vast majority – the first two drives served as temporary confirmation that it was going to happen. Both took six plays, lasted slightly less than 3 minutes, and resulted in touchdowns.
24. The second, a 9-yard-touchdown pass to James White, capped off a longer journey, that drive covering 77 yards to the first drive’s 27. The Niners wouldn’t have had answers if the drive had covered 1,000 yards.
25. The Niners did hang around, though. I thought Belichick’s line about Kaepernick being an accurate passer was the second-most-disingenuous thing he’s said at a press conference lately. But the Niners quarterback threw the ball well – he was 8 of 9 for 116 yards in the first half — and created plays with his legs, and his team trailed by just three points at halftime.
26. The Niners sideline got hit with a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the third quarter after picking up a warning earlier in the game. Gumbel suggested on the broadcast that it was because Chip Kelly kept coming out too far on the field. If that were the case, Pete Carroll would get a dozen penalties per game for overzealous on-field strutting.
27. Heard a few suggestions today that the Patriots should try to extend Marcus Cannon’s deal soon. He played today like he disagreed with those saying it.
28. I’m not giving up on Kaepernick as a quarterback. His arm is one of the strongest in the league, he’s not just fast for a quarterback but fast, period, and he has had real success in the past. It’s puzzling what has happened to him since the Super Bowl loss to the Ravens, but he’s salvageable.
29. I’d take Niners safety Eric Reid on my football team. He was out there to inflict pain, and with a Niners-high seven tackles, he surely did, at least before leaving with a late injury.
30. Always good to see Drew Bledsoe, who traveled down from Washington for the game and had a hug and a chat with Brady before the game. Still looks like could go out there and sling it, though in his shades and pastel sweater he also looks like what he is nowadays — a rich dude who runs a successful winery.