Welcome to the Unconventional Review, an instant reaction to standouts, stats, and storylines from the Patriots’ most recent game . . .
As usual, Al Michaels summoned the right words to fit the moment.
“I’ll tell you,’’ he said with a chuckle at the start of Sunday night’s Patriots-Buccaneers broadcast on NBC, perhaps the most anticipated regular-season game in NFL history, “after the breathless hype, it’s so great to have a football game.”
What he didn’t know, but what we would find out over the tense, thrilling ensuing three-and-a-half hours, is that this game would somehow live up to the hype.
No, Bill Belichick and the Patriots did not get the outcome they desired in their first encounter with Tom Brady. But they came closer than most expected. Nick Folk’s 56-yard field goal attempt with 59 seconds left ricocheted off the left upright, and the Super Bowl champion Bucs held on for a 19-17 win.
A moral victory will never mean nearly as much as a real victory — the Patriots are staring at a 1-3 record now, with all three losses at home — and there will be valid debate about whether Belichick should have gone for it on fourth down and 3 from the Tampa Bay 47 rather than attempting a long kick in the rain.
But there are reasons to feel good about the way the game unfolded, even if the ending was a gut punch. (Ah, so this is what it feels like to be on the opposite side of Brady when the stakes are high.) Rookie quarterback Mac Jones was outstanding, trading jabs with Brady, completing 19 passes in a row at one point, and never backing down. The defense, at times, stumped Brady, a quarterback who has the answers to the test.
The Patriots put up the good fight. They didn’t get the reward. But the hype — every syllable and sound bite — was justified by the game.
Some further thoughts, upon immediate review . . .
THREE PLAYERS WHO WERE WORTH WATCHING
(Players suggested in Unconventional Preview: Devin White, Antonio Brown, Isaiah Wynn)
Mac Jones: I don’t usually like acknowledging the quarterbacks in this section of the review. They get most of the attention as it is. But we have to talk about Jones. He handled the pressure of this night extraordinarily well, and in every sense. How many rookie quarterbacks could carry the weight of facing Tom Brady on his former turf, in front of fans who have adored him for 20 years, and not shrink in the moment? And then there’s that other pressure, the kind the Bucs’ championship-winning defense laid on him again and again. He took every hit he had to take, with no help whatsoever from the running game, and kept delivering, finishing 31 of 40 for 275 yards, with touchdown passes to tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith. The Patriots have their quarterback of the future, and he’s already damned good under the toughest circumstances in the present.
Leonard Fournette: The Jaguars discard, who found his sea legs in the postseason for the Bucs last year, was Brady’s most reliable weapon Sunday night. Fournette contributed 91 yards on 20 carries, caught three passes for 47 yards, and drew an enormous 31-yard pass interference penalty on Kyle Van Noy on the winning drive.
Matthew Judon: Analyst Cris Collinsworth made some bizarre, meandering reference to Deatrich Wise being the Patriots’ most complete defensive player last night. Huh? That’s not even close to true, though he might be in the top eight. The Patriots’ best defender without a doubt is Judon, who had seven tackles (two for a loss), a sack, two QB hits, and drew a hands-to-the-face penalty that negated a 44-yard completion to Antonio Brown.
GRIEVANCE OF THE GAME
In the third quarter, special teams ace Matthew Slater was flagged for running out of bounds on punt coverage and not returning to the field of play soon enough. The penalty negated a Bucs fumble — forced by Slater — and ended up being a turning point in the game. The mild-mannered Slater continued to argue the call even after the Bucs had driven down the field for a touchdown on the ensuing set of downs. It was just the fourth penalty of his 14-year career. If a ref was ever going to listen to a player’s plea . . .
Patriots coach Bill Belichick versus Bucs quarterback Tom Brady
Again: What else could it be? The duel of the greatest quarterback and greatest coach of all-time, working in opposition for the first time, is the matchup of all matchups. And it was as fascinating as we’d hoped. Brady got the W in the end, of course, driving the Bucs for Ryan Succop’s go-ahead field goal, and he probably would have done the same thing again in the final 50-something seconds had Folk’s kick been good. But Belichick frustrated him for most of the night, and at times Brady was wearing that look on his face like he was going to explode if he threw one more incompletion. But Belichick put to rest any of those silly, drooled notions by those with short memories and no capacity for perspective that Brady deserves the brunt of the credit for their mutual success. Belichick drove Brady nuts Sunday night.
THREE NOTES SCRIBBLED IN THE MARGINS
(Predicted score: Bucs 27, Patriots 20)
(Final score: Bucs 19, Patriots 17)
The audio on NBC’s broadcast was sharp. The crowd noise — and this sure sounded like one of the most raucous Gillette Stadium crowds in years — was clear and loud. Maybe you noticed you could also hear Mac Jones calling out plays or formations. One was “MJ.” Another “Pedro.” And “Superman.” Was there an all-time greats theme? A legends theme? Another call: “Linda.” Hmmm . . . With 11 minutes left, James White understudy J.J. Taylor fumbled at the Tampa Bay 28. Wonder if Taylor will be relegated to Exiled Fumblers Island with Rhamondre Stevenson . . . Tough loss. But you know what would have been worse? Had the ever-obnoxious Antonio Brown been able to haul in either or the two deep passes Brady threw to him in the end zone on the Bucs’ eventual winning drive.
More Patriots-Buccaneers coverage
Buccaneers 19, Patriots 17: Tom Brady delivers late, per usual, this time to get his Buccaneers past the Patriots