Monday, November 24, 2014

End game etiquette epitomizes direction of Patriots, Lions

One play.  That's all it took to define these New England Patriots.

As for the Detroit Lions, well, they were the same old Lions.

While the Patriots haven't necessarily been searching for an identity on offense - and why should they when, as Detroit Lions' safety James Ihedigbo said after New England had just hung 34 points on his defense, "When you have a quarterback like Tom Brady, you can do whatever you want." - and they really can't be pinned down to any particular motif.
Blount scores his second touchdown of the game

So what they gained with 1:53 left in a blowout win over the Lions wasn't an identity that had any sort of tangible entity with a statistic tied to it.  Rather, it is a reputation - a reputation that will precede the Patriots by six days to the locker room and meeting rooms of every next team that they're on to, and will settle in and foul the hearts of their fans like a disease.

Leading 27-9 and having just taken possession of the ball at their own 34-yard-line (courtesy a Logan Ryan interception of Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford), Brady got under center with every intention of running some clock.  Behind him, fullback James Develin with newly re-signed power back Legarrette Blount dotting the "I"...

...Brady took the snap from rookie center Bryan Stork, turned to his right holding the ball tightly against his chest pads as Develin rifled past him, then extending his arms to tuck the ball into Blount's breadbasket.  Following Develin through the hole created by left tackle Nate Solder and left guard Ryan Wendell, Blount hit the second level, let a few would-be tacklers bounce of off his 250 pound frame, then exploded toward the left hashmarks.

Thirty-three yards later, the Patriots were in business at the Detroit 33-yard-line.  Brady, Blount and the rest repeated the process six more times, with varying degrees of success and a clutch third-down pass and catch to Brandon LaFell sprinkled in - the four minute offense working just the way it's drawn up until the Patriots found themselves lining up for a chipshot Stephen Gostkowski field goal on a 4th and goal from the two.
Blount takes off for 33 yards deep into the 4th quarter

Gostkowski drilled the kick, but Lions' tackle C.J. Mosely cracked long snapper Danny Aiken on the top of the helmet, driving him to the ground and producing yellow flags for committing a most egregious personal foul.  Things had been getting chippy all the way down the field as the Lions appeared not not appreciate that New England was challenging their run defense... defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, the most vocal of the Lions, at one point shouting his disapproval into the Patriots backfield and letting them know that they would not be doing any more running on them - the issue, as apparently Suh and the rest of the Lions' defenders felt, was that the Patriots had already proven their point and should have had the decency to take a knee and run out the clock.

But Suh's constant chirping compelled Patriots' head ball coach Bill Belichick to take the three points off the board, pull the field goal unit off the field and send his offense back out, with a 1st and goal at the Detroit one.

Blount off guard, right at Suh, would cover the yard and pound his way into the end zone on the next play, adding insult to the beating that they had just laid upon the tired Detroit defense - but not without encountering a little thuggery that the Lions were infamous for under former coach Jim Schwartz, linebacker Tahir Whitehead pinning Blount's helmet to the turf.  Blount jumped to his feet like a jack-in-the-box and gave Whitehead an emphatic shove in retaliation.

There are two schools of though when it comes to end-game etiquette.  First, is the one that Suh apparently subscribes to, in that teams that are blowing out the other should take a knee and not run up the score - the other side of that notion is that taking a knee is actually more of an insult to the team that's getting their heads handed to them.

So while it is uncertain as to which end of the spectrum Belichick was leaning toward as the clock ran down to that point, Suh's mouth pretty much left him no choice but to step on the Lions' collective throat - and the chippiness didn't quite end there, as Lions' center Dominic Railoa decided that his team had been disrespected by the Patriots' refusal to show mercy, and took a cheap shot at the knees of Patriots' rookie defensive lineman Zach Moore on the ensuing Detroit possession.

And that was after he used Moore as his personal punching bag, slugging Moore in the back of the helmet a couple of times and then smacking him in the face a few plays earlier leading up to the cut block at his knees.

"It is what it is. I didn't feel nothing" Moore said of the abuse, "At the same time, just got to keep my composure and stay cool. If you look at the score, I'd be mad too."

Raiola drew no flags for his dirty deeds, even though the Lions were in the process of taking a knee just to get the heck out of Massachusetts, but the league might have something for him come Wednesday, when the NFL's weird and un-disciplined discipline process distributes their weekly list of fines...

Belichick has a long-standing policy that his teams play until the final whistle.  Sure, there have been times that he'll have Brady take a knee, though this season he let's rookie quarterback Jimmy Garappolo have the honors while Brady yuks it up on the sidelines - and he may have been willing to just go ahead and settle for the field goal under normal circumstances, or even to take that knee...

...but when players on the other team take to disparaging remarks and dirty play, his conscience won't allow him to advise his players to just take the abuse, so he evokes his old axiom of, "You don't want us to score, then stop us."

The bad blood actually spilled over into the post-game pleasantries, Blount, joined by defensive backs Darrelle Revis and Devin McCourty, was still engaged in some jawing with Suh - separated by a few coaches and a referee - evoking memories of the scene on the blue turf at Boise State University in 2009, when Blount decked the Broncos' Bryan Hout after the defensive lineman got in his face after Boise State had defeated Blount's Oregon Ducks.

The exchange between Blount and Suh never reached the point of becoming physical, and we may never know what was actually said between the two, but we can speculate:

Suh: "You left the game early last week and got rewarded by being signed by the best team in the league."

Blount: "Well, you left today's game early. Were you playing?"

So much for etiquette.

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