Midway through the third quarter, with the Patriots about to take a 23-10 lead on the Baltimore Ravens, NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth assessed the Patriots' prospects in the 2020 AFC East and uttered words that will be repeated 1 million times on Boston sports talk radio this week:
"They’re right back in it.''
The Patriots, who were 3-5 coming into “Sunday Night Football.”
The Patriots, who struggled mightily to beat the 0-8 Jets last week.
The Patriots, who have no Tom Brady, who had eight guys opt out, and are decimated with injuries.
Right . . . back . . . in it.
I’m not so sure about this. But after three weeks of hearing about Tanking for Trevor, New England’s narrative changed when the Pats beat the Ravens, 23-17, on a dark and stormy Sunday night at Gillette Stadium.
With seven games left in their season, the 4-5 Patriots trail the 7-3 Buffalo Bills by 2½ games. The Pats are two games behind the 6-3 Dolphins. But suddenly there is hope. Now we are going to hear about Tomato Can Houston (2-7) next weekend, December rematches with both Buffalo and Miami, and an expanded playoff format that rewards mediocrity.
Fanboys, start your engines.
"We keep making steady progress,'' said coach Bill Belichick. "We’re definitely headed in the right direction.''
That’s a verbal cartwheel for the Hoodie.
New England’s stunning win Sunday was just like the old days in so many ways.
Remember when the Pats would win on trickeration? We saw that when Jakobi Meyers threw a 24-yard touchdown strike to Rex Burkhead on a Julian Edelman-esque double-pass play.
Remember when Ty Law or Rodney Harrison or Darrelle Revis or Stephon Gilmore would make a key interception? Undrafted J.C. Jackson did that Sunday at the end of the first half, denying Baltimore a game-tying field goal try. It was the fifth consecutive game in which Jackson has picked off a pass. No Patriot has ever done that.
Remember when the other team would blunder at a crucial moment? Baltimore did that repeatedly. Baltimore dropped multiple passes and did stupid things like failing to stop the clock by getting out of bounds. The Ravens couldn’t execute a clean snap in three key situations, resulting in significant loss of yardage each time.
Remember when Tom Brady said, "Learn the rulebook,'' after the Ravens complained about New England’s trick formations? There was plenty of that. Belichick thoroughly pantsed the estimable John Harbaugh in this one. And the weather was Belichick’s secret weapon.
"It got progressively worse as the game went on,'' Belichick acknowledged. "A little rain there at the end [only a flesh wound]. We practice in that during the course of the year. Whatever we get, we get. The Ravens had some trouble with that, but we executed really well.''
The Patriots were 7-point underdogs. At home. It felt like the Rod Rust days.
Ever aware that this game would be played in horrible conditions (it was like a hurricane in the closing minutes), Belichick eliminated all the fancy stuff and went to ground-and-pound football. Fortunately for New England, Belichick had Damien Harris (121 yards on 22 carries) doing a good impersonation of a young Curtis Martin.
"This is my first real New England game where the weather was crazy the way people say it is,'' Harris told NBC. "We come in every day and have faith. The season is not over. We’ve dug ourselves a hole, but it’s not too late.''
This felt like a return to days when teams were afraid to come into Foxborough . . . when the Patriots would be smarter and better prepared than the visitors.
Remember Napoleon? "Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.''
This was that.
Remember “The Art of War”? "If you stand by the river long enough, the bodies of your enemies will eventually float by.''
This was that.
Poor Harbaugh never knew what hit him. He should have petitioned Roger Goodell to stop the counting when Baltimore went up, 7-0, in the first minute of the second quarter.
The Pats answered with a 75-yard drive to tie the game, 7-7. Before halftime, Meyers — a quarterback for a brief period at North Carolina State — lofted a 24-yard strike to give the Pats a lead they never relinquished.
The Pats led, 13-10, at halftime and dominated the second half with staunch defense and good use of the horrid conditions. Harvey Leonard was Belichick’s 12th Man in this game.
Back-to-back, season-saving victories. Not bad.
It’s pretty clear that the NFL is not very good this year. The 4-5 Patriots have played their best games against the Chiefs, Seahawks, and Ravens. There are no great, dominant teams, which is why this would be a good day for the Patriots and their fans to look around and say, "Why not us?''