Alden Newman-Pats Militia
The talk of the season before that brilliant win on Sunday night has been how bad our defense is. And it’s all been very fair. The statistic that everyone was talking about, the Patriots allowing 300+ passing yards to every quarterback they’ve faced, was really troubling. Especially when that group includes Josh McCown, Alex Smith, and a rookie (even though Deshaun Watson seems to be the real deal). But despite how bad it seemed at times, I never lost hope. I mean, the Patriots have the undisputed greatest coach in the history of football and a literal rocket scientist to figure out the problem. And although it’s just one game, it appears they have done exactly that. They finally held a quarterback, and one that’s at least supposed to be good, below 300 yards. And even though the Falcons recorded 120 rushing yards, that number is misleading. I can’t find the real number, but I would have to guess the Patriots allowed no more than 30 or 40 rushing yards in the first half. In the second half, the Falcons found success on the ground, but most of their damage came when the game was already decided, and running the ball served to just keep the clock ticking down to their inevitable demise. But out of all the games for the Patriots defense to step up for a big performance, this was by far the most shocking. Not only were they going up against one of the most talented offenses, with arguably the most dangerous offensive weapon in league in Julio Jones, but they were missing two starting cornerbacks in Stephon Gilmore and Eric Rowe. But thanks to a few unlikely heroes, the Patriots stepped up in a big way and held the Falcons to just seven points. I pride myself on being a diehard Patriots fan. So I’m embarrassed that on Sunday night, I found myself yelling “Who was that?” after several big plays. For myself, for other Pats fans like me, and especially for these guys who played their asses off in primetime, I want to put the spotlight on some Patriots who deserve some praise.
Kyle Van Noy has evolved into our second most important linebacker besides Hightower. The 26 year old showed promise at BYU, and was selected in the second round by the Lions. He played for the Lions for two seasons, but in his third season he won the football lottery, and was traded from the Lions to the Patriots. He came just in time to be a key contributor to the Patriots Super Bowl run. But this season, he has elevated from a role player to a star on this defense, and it’s time he starts getting recognized. He was huge against the Falcons on Sunday, recording seven tackles, including two tackles for loss. But this is nothing new for Van Noy this season. His 49 tackles currently are second most on the Patriots, and he’s tied for the team lead in sacks with 3.5. He also leads the team in tackles for loss. It’s long overdue for Kyle Van Noy to start getting some respect.
I remember wondering this offseason who the hell was going to play defensive end for the Patriots. Jabaal Sheard signed with the Colts, and Ninkovich surprisingly retired, but we had brought in Kony Ealy from Carolina and selected Derek Rivers, who some were calling the “steal of the draft.” Well, the Patriots then cut Ealy, and Rivers tore his ACL during preseason. Trey Flowers had stepped up big in the Super Bowl, but after him, I had no idea who else we had to put at defensive end. Insert Deatrich Wise, the Patriots 5th round draft pick. Wise has been maybe the most surprising performer for the Patriots. It seems that whenever opposing quarterbacks are under pressure, Wise is the one giving him trouble. He’s recorded 3 sacks already this season, and is continuing to improve as the season progresses. Look for Wise to continue being a menace for opponents going forward.
When I saw that Gilmore and Rowe were not playing on Sunday night, I had no idea how the Patriots were going to stop the Falcons passing game. I was scared off what Julio was going to do to our depleted secondary, and that feeling intensified when I saw the guy who would be responsible for covering him. I’m still not sure how to pronounce his name, but we all better learn because this man delivered an absolutely outstanding performance against the Falcons. Jonathan Bademosi delivered the best (only) performance that I’ve ever seen from him, and played a huge role in holding Julio Jones in check. The play that sticks out to me from Sunday’s game was when Ryan targeted Julio over the middle, and Bademosi was so locked onto him that the ball hit Jones square in the chest without him even being able to react. It was remarkable, and it solidified me as a Jonathan Bademosi fan for life. I’ll give you his backstory, so next time someone yells out “Who?” when my guy makes a play, you can educate their ass. Bademosi signed with the Browns as an undrafted free agent in 2012. That’s about the most dismal start to an NFL career that you can possibly have. He played with the Browns all the way through the 2015 season, and then got to leave one of the least successful organizations in sports history, and go to the Detroit Lions. The guy couldn’t catch a break. That was, until the Patriots traded an undisclosed draft pick for Bademosi, welcoming him into the City of Champions. Even when Gilmore and Rowe return, Bademosi appears reliable, and deserves a role on this defense.
The final player I’m going to spotlight is another guy who I was first introduced to on Sunday night. When just a few minutes before halftime, Matt Ryan got sacked for a loss of ten yards, forcing a difficult 3rd and 20 for the Falcons, I waited with anticipation to see who made the big play. I let out an audible “Huh?” when I saw #70 get up and celebrate. I had never before heard of Adam Butler. I can’t imagine I’m the only one unfamiliar with the undrafted rookie from Vanderbilt, but that all changed Sunday night. This man Butler was a beast. He recorded 3 tackles, one for a loss, and the big sack on Ryan. At only 23 years old, Butler has obvious talent, and he’s also a pretty big fella (6’4” 300lbs.) He was a big part of the Patriots strong run defense, and I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of Adam Butler yet this season.
It’s amazing what the Patriots do with their defense each and every year. They always have their few star guys like Hightower and McCourty, but it seems each year there’s a new cast of early round draft picks that didn’t pan out on other teams, late draft selections that turn out to be gems, and undrafted free agents that perform at a high level. Belichick gets criticism when guys like Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins get traded, but he can seemingly make impactful role players appear out of thin air. His eye for talent is truly amazing, and I’ve come to just blindly trust his decision making. It hasn’t failed me, or the Patriots, yet. For some reason, it took Belichick and Patricia a little extra time to figure out how to make this defense work, but after Sunday I’m confident that they’ve figured it out.