The Patriots didn't play on Sunday. They still came out winners when compared to the flotsam and jetsam that passes for professional football in most other NFL locales.
Good grief. Save for a few teams like Denver, the brand of football the Patriots play just looks different, like the difference between watching something in standard definition or HD. There's a lot of fuzzy football, lacking in details, around the league.
The Patriots got to 3-0 last Thursday playing with their third-string quarterback. The first notion for some of their NFL brethren is to self-destruct.
No wonder other teams think the Patriots cheat. They're well-schooled by Bill Belichick on the finer points of situational football and doing their job under duress. Simply being consistent in execution and not melting under pressure constitute huge competitive advantages in the NFL.
Without having to fixate on what's happening to the denizens of Fort Foxborough, Sunday was a chance to take a 30,000-foot view of the rest of the NFL:
■ Losing teams find a way to lose. I’m looking at you, Jacksonville, Tennessee, and Cleveland. If Wade Boggs once willed himself invisible, these teams all willed themselves to defeat. Leading, 17-16, late in the fourth quarter, Jacksonville had a 52-yard field goal blocked after Blake Bortles took a 9-yard sack. The blocked field goal set up the winning kick for Baltimore.
Tennessee had a chance to tie Oakland late and was undone by a needless personal foul that pushed the Titans back to the 18 after UMass's Tajae Sharpe hauled in a pass at the 3 with 50 seconds left. The Titans then had the tying touchdown nullified by offensive pass interference.
Right now, the Browns are the most pathetic franchise in major North American professional sports. Thank goodness the good folks of Cleveland have LeBron James and Terry Francona to distract them from this raging bonfire of ineptitude.
Cleveland kicker Cody Parkey missed three field goals, including a 46-yarder on the final play of regulation. The Browns lost to Miami, 30-24, in overtime. Cleveland lost a game that Ryan Tannehill was literally trying to give away. The Miami Mannequin had three turnovers, and his fumble with 20 seconds remaining set up Parkey's potential winner.
Browns rookie quarterback Cody Kessler wasn't awful. But the Browns rookie QB should be Carson Wentz.
■ The AFC East is still the Patriots and the Pretenders — The Patriots have three wins, so does the rest of the AFC East.
Give Rex Ryan and the Bills credit. Staring into the abyss of an 0-3 start and dealing with the fallout from the firing of offensive coordinator Greg Roman, the Bills bonded together for a 33-18 win over Arizona. They're not coming to Foxborough next Sunday as flailing foils.
The Ryan Brothers defense coaxed Carson Palmer into four interceptions and registered five sacks.
But there was no evidence from the Bills, Dolphins or Jets — or their QBs — that they can dethrone the Patriots. Ryan Fitzpatrick threw six interceptions in a shellacking by the Chiefs. Tannehill is a turnover machine. Taylor did his best work on the ground.
Injured or not, Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett might currently be the two most reliable signal-callers in the division.
These teams were supposed to make up ground during Tom Brady's Deflategate suspension. Instead, that suspension has exposed just how wide the achievement gap is between New England and the rest of the "competition."
■ Clock management, situational football awareness, and special teams are sacraments of winning football for Belichick. They’re lost arts around the rest of the league. The Redskins defeated the Giants, but it might have been easier if they hadn’t committed clock management malpractice before halftime.
Instead of using its final timeout after a 24-yard completion resulted in first and goal at the 4, Washington spiked the ball, leaving 12 seconds. On third and goal with six seconds left, Kirk Cousins foolishly tried to extend the play and got strip-sacked. Time ran out. Washington still had that timeout — and a 21-16 halftime deficit.
Oakland's Reggie Nelson could have given his team a chance for more points before halftime. He intercepted Marcus Mariota with less than 10 seconds left. Instead of getting out of bounds in field goal range, he kept going, and so did the clock.
People chuckled at Belichick for drafting long snapper Joe Cardona. The Cardinals aren't laughing. Rookie long snapper Kameron Canaday's low snap contributed to the Cardinals missing a potential winning field goal against the Patriots. Against Buffalo, Canaday's errant snap on a field goal resulted in a back-breaking touchdown that made it 30-7 late in the third quarter.
■ There is always a catch with the catch rule — Where is former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart when you need him? I know a catch when I see it. Thanks to the NFL and its convoluted rule book, officials don’t.
That was evident on Allen Robinson's second TD catch for Jacksonville. It was clear the defender had swiped the ball out of his hand after he had rolled over with secure possession. It was initially ruled no catch because common-sense application of a catch has been mangled so badly that the officials are predisposed to saying incomplete unless you carry the ball back to the team bus. Absurd. The call was rectified by replay.
■ The Vikings are Patriot-like — nothing is going to break the Vikings’ stride, nothing is going to slow them down. Oh, no. Minnesota keeps losing key players, but not games. The Vikings are 3-0 after snapping the Panthers’ 14-game home winning streak.
In back-to-back weeks, the Vikings have made Aaron Rodgers and Cam Newton look like Browns QBs
■ Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian is for real — Sorry, Patriots, you’re not the only team that can plug and play quarterbacks. Siemian has more than poise and nebulous intangibles. He threw for 312 yards and four touchdowns in his first road start, a 29-17 victory over the Bengals.