The Patriots outchoked the NFL’s biggest chokers and other leftover thoughts

BOSTON — You can start here: Walt Anderson and everybody involved with the NFL’s replay process is full of feculence. Keelan Cole’s foot was out of bounds, and every available angle shows that to be the case. Anyone who thinks otherwise is insane. And certainly, zero camera shots show the foot being in bounds, which is a moderately important element of a touchdown catch being awarded.


Despite that mind-boggling replay decision by a man perpetually under fire for being wrong and/or lying about godawful officiating gaffes, and despite the even-more-mind-boggling decision by Jakobi Meyers to aimlessly chuck a football into the middle of the football field instead of simply going down and heading to overtime, the biggest issue with the Patriots’ collapse was the way they played defense on Las Vegas’ game-tying drive.

Because for as clear and obvious as it was that Keelan Cole’s foot was out of bounds … that touchdown came on second-and-10 from the 30. With 32 seconds left, the Raiders still had time for a couple of shots into the end zone, or they could have cut the field in half and taken their chances from closer.

And with the way New England had decided to play defense on that drive, it’s very possible — likely, even — that the Raiders would have managed to punch in the game-tying score even if the Cole touchdown had been overturned.

Consider this: After the Raiders went on an 11-play, 86-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter, they went three-and-out on their next possession, gaining just two yards.

Then, the Raiders scored after gaining possession at the Patriots’ 20-yard line following the blocked punt.

In the second half, the Raiders came out and got pick-sixed. On their next drive, they moved the chains once, then punted.

Next drive: three-and-out, losing 5 yards in the process.

Next drive: One first down, then a punt.

Next drive: three-and-out.

Next drive: three-and-out, zero yards gained.

The Patriots’ defense was DOM-IN-ATING.

So when the Raiders took over (after Mac Jones’ naked bootleg, which for some magical reason didn’t gain 10 yards?) at their own 19-yard line with 2:11 left to play, it was not at all surprising to see them quickly facing a fourth-and-10 coming out of the two-minute warning.

The Raiders had no timeouts left, so the Patriots just needed to make one stop on fourth-and-long to win the game. Given how they’d been playing, that should have been easy.

But the Patriots’ outside corners gave huge 10-yard cushions to the outside receivers …

Patriots' fourth-and-10 defense
Patriots’ fourth-and-10 defense

Screen shot from NFL+

… allowing Mack Hollins to run a very simple comeback route for an easy pitch-and-catch to gain 12 yards.

It didn’t feel like the Patriots were playing as if they could have sealed a win on that play. 

On the very next snap, the outside corners once again left big cushions on the outside receivers … 

Patriots' defense
Patriots’ defense

Screen shot from NFL+

… which allowed Mack Hollins to run the same exact route and pick up almost the exact same gain.

Seriously, watch these two plays. Here’s the first one:

Derek Carr to Mack Hollins

GIF from NFL+

Here’s the second one:

Derek Carr to Mack Hollins again
Derek Carr to Mack Hollins again

GIF from NFL+

Same route. Same receiver. Same result. Twenty-five quick yards.

On the next snap, the corners played up near the line, and Carr was only able to get a 6-yard gain over the middle out of it. That kind of defense could have been helpful on fourth-and-10.

Then on second-and-4, it looked like the Patriots went into a zone. Nobody accounted for the running back out of the backfield, Ja’Whaun Bentley dropped to deep middle coverage, Myles Bryant came off his man, and Kyle Dugger swung his hips around to look at the quarterback after initially running up the right seam with Darren Waller. Carr waited for Waller to get just past Dugger before releasing a throw, and Dugger was just unable to get a hand on the ball, allowing a huge gain of 20 yards.

Derek Carr to Darren Waller
Derek Carr to Darren Waller

GIF from NFL+

That one was perhaps less about schematics and more about play-making, but Carr nevertheless knew exactly how and when to attack it.

From there, Carr was flushed from the pocket, leading to a throwaway, and then … well, you know what happened from there.

It’s just one element of spotlighting how an insane ruling by Walt Anderson and an even more insane by Jakobi Meyers doesn’t fully tell the tale of how this game was lost. A fourth-and-10 for a defense that was dominating was all that stood in the way of the Patriots improving to 8-6, staying in the playoff picture, and giving the New England region something to follow with passion for the next few weeks. But some soft coverage and some gifted yardage changed the dynamics of those final minutes, allowing for the chaos at the end to take over.

The Patriots were presumably guarding against the deep ball, for fear of giving up an 81-yard bomb to tie the game. Their thinking might have been to force the Raiders to make a half-dozen or so plays, instead of putting all the chips on the table for that fourth-and-10. There’s merit to that thinking, sure, but it backfired in a big way in this one.

Do you want more leftover thoughts from the 30-24 loss that is still hard to fathom? Because I’ve got ’em. You might as well read ’em.

 –Two things stand out to me from the loss. For one, the Patriots failed to score a touchdown after having first-and-goal from the 2-yard line. Not only did they not score, but they didn’t look like they knew what they were doing. Bill Belichick called a timeout just before Mac Jones threw a touchdown pass. They came out of that timeout and ran a slant to Nelson Agholor. Then before going for it on fourth down … they called another timeout. And they weren’t set when Mac Jones took the snap for a QB sneak. It looked like a sequence from a mediocre high school offense.

After a quick meeting with Mac Jones on the sideline, the Patriots’ coaching brain trust was shown on the screen. It didn’t inspire confidence.

Bill Belichick, Matt Patricia, Joe Judge
Bill Belichick, Matt Patricia, Joe Judge

Screen shot from NFL+

What is Matt Patricia looking at? What is Joe Judge writing down? What did Bill Belichick not like about the play setup which led to a touchdown after the timeout call? We may never know.

Anyways, the part that stands out is that the Raiders were the single worst goal-to-go defense in the NFL this year, and they had not come up with one single stop when an opponent got a first-and-goal. And the Patriots weren’t back at the 9 or 10-yard line. They were at the 2. And they failed to score. That’s a failure on such a high level that it can’t be overstated.

Raiders defense

Screen shot from NFL+

The other bit that stood out? The Raiders had already blown four double-digit halftime leads this year and were all too happy to have blown a fifth. But the Patriots managed to outchoked the biggest chokers in the NFL. It’s almost too much to process.

–The Patriots also went 2-for-13 on third down. They now rank 29th in third down offense, 29th in fourth down offense, dead last in red zone offense, and 30th in goal-to-go offense. The three teams worse than them on third down: Denver, Houston, Carolina.

–Probably not a day for too many positives in New England. Understandable. But it must be noted that Rhamondre Stevenson was special in this game.

This is one of the cooler 4-yard runs you’ll ever see:

Rhamondre Stevenson
Rhamondre Stevenson jump-cuts his way to a 4-yard gain.

GIF from NFL+

If you can stomach the sight of Stevenson running a draw play, watch his bulldozer finish on this run in the second quarter:

Rhamondre Stevenson
Rhamondre Stevenson

GIF from NFL+

So there’s the change of direction ability, there’s the raw power, and then there’s the speed:

Rhamondre Stevenson runs for 26 yards.
Rhamondre Stevenson runs for 26 yards.

GIF from NFL+

Just a special player. (Who shouldn’t try laterals with no time on the clock in a tie game.)

–We are a quarterback-obsessed nation, so when the Patriots’ offense spiraled into the toilet this season, Mac Jones obviously received a ton of blame. I didn’t think most of it was warranted, because he hadn’t been an issue.

In this game, he was an issue.

Jones was just off all game. He missed two out routes on the opening drive. He missed an open Jonnu Smith in the end zone. He overthrew a wide-open Jakobi Meyers streaking up the left seam. He led Tyquan Thornton out of bounds. He completed just two of eight passes on third down, only converting one of those.

He just wasn’t good.

His stats bear that out, as he was 13-for-31 for 114 yards, with no picks or touchdowns. This Raiders team does not have a good pass defense, either, ranking 26th in passing yards allowed per game and dead last in opponents’ passer rating at 100.1. And that’s after Mac Jones’ dreadful day is factored in to the numbers.

Jones had a 52.1 rating on this day, his worst of any game this season — outside of his brief appearance vs. Chicago. As stated, he’s taken some misdirected blame this season, but on Sunday, he was a big part of the problem.

–This was also strange:

The Patriots clearly wanted to go fast and snap the ball so that Josh McDaniels wouldn’t challenge Nelson Agholor’s (obviously out of bounds) catch. But referee Ronald Torbert simply wouldn’t let him.

Typically, you’ll see an official stand behind the center and allow the defense to substitute after the offense has substituted, but the Patriots kept the same 11 players on the field and rushed to the line for that snap.

A bit odd. Torbert may have been giving the replay official until the 20-second mark on the play clock to stop the game, but you don’t often see a team not being allowed to run a hurry-up after a close call.

–It wouldn’t be a Monday without some Matt Patricia analysis. Two things that were bothersome about the Patriots’ offense showed up on back-to-back snaps in the third quarter.

On second-and-9 from the Raiders’ 28-yard line, the Patriots dialed up a fake swing pass left to Pierre Strong, with Nelson Agholor streaking up the left sideline, Hunter Henry leaking over the middle (into two defenders), and Rhamondre Stevenson swinging out right (into two defenders). Strong was probably the only open player on the route to begin with … before Agholor was left totally uncovered. But the play design didn’t call for Jones to even look deep. Instead he dumped it off to Stevenson, who lost five yards. It was perplexing.

Then on the next play, a third-and-13, the Patriots ran … an inside draw. Playing it safe for the field goal.

Field goals aren’t going to win too many games in the NFL. Not against decent to good teams. I don’t know if the Raiders qualify as one of those, but regardless, more shots to the end zone are obviously needed. 

–The Patriots weren’t the more penalized team. In fact, the Raiders had 13 to the Patriots’ six. But the Patriots managed to really make their penalties count.

Two false starts pushed the Patriots back and immediately led to punts. One false start was more of an illegal procedure, and the moves the fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line to the 6-yard line and cost the team four points. A delay of game also turned a second-and-9 into a second-and-14, leading to a punt. And back-to-back penalties on defense — illegal contact and defensive holding — gave the Raiders free first downs on one of their touchdown drives.

Mistakes, mistakes, mistakes.

–Watch Keelan Cole (lined up in the left slot) try to block Kyle Dugger.

Kyle Dugger
Kyle Dugger blows up Keelan Cole’s block.

GIF from NFL+

I know Dugger missed the tackle. But the point is, 194-pound receivers can not be tasked with blocking Kyle Dugger. Can’t happen.

–When it was Mac Jones vs. Chandler Jones in the open field, I was wondering if the NFL has an adaptation of the NBA’s clear path foul or the NHL’s penalty shot rule. Like if Mac simply rolled over and kicked Chandler’s feet to knock him down, it would have been a tripping penalty, but would there have been any other repercussion? Can the game end on an offensive foul that’s actually a defensive foul after a turnover? Probably not. I’m guessing it’s a tripping penalty and the Raiders get to line up to kick a field goal to win it. I’m not going to look it up, though, because it doesn’t matter, because the Patriots lost a football game in the most unimaginable fashion, and the season is now all but over.

Happy holidays, though.

You can email Michael Hurley or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.

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