Patriots

An interesting MNF subplot is afoot with Tom Brady and Shawn Hochuli

An interesting MNF subplot is afoot with Tom Brady and Shawn Hochuli

FOXBORO – We’ve seen a whole lot of prime-time games hijacked by officiating this year. Last week, a sketchy Sunday of officiating was topped by a “make it up as we go along” effort by the Monday Night Football crew.

By the end of that one, the Lions had gotten jobbed, the legend of Aaron Rodgers (despite getting a couple of critical mulligans) had grown and the league’s “brain trust” was left sweeping up the wreckage the next day at the owner’s meetings in Fort Lauderdale.

It’s standard operating procedure, unfortunately. Officials are given an offseason list of rules to “emphasize” after years of letting the boys play. Next thing you know, flags are flying both for real violations and imagined ones.

This year it’s holding. There’s also a dash of hands to the face. And, of course, there have been creative interpretations of the pass interference penalty with blatant restrictive contact not called (and not overturned on review) and incidental, no harm-no foul bumping drawing flags.

Shawn Hochuli, Son of Guns, is the head referee Monday night when the Patriots and Jets square off.

His last game was Texans-Chiefs in Kansas City and it was a blizzard of yellow. Houston drew 11 penalties, the Chiefs had 10. The game before that, Hochuli’s crew threw 16 flags in total – 12 against the Chargers – in a game between LA and Denver.

Earlier this season, Hochuli was the ref for a Thursday night game between the Jags and Titans that got so absurd with the flags, Tom Brady took to social media to air his opinion.

“Too many penalties. Just let us play!!!! #TENvsJAC,” was Brady’s first tweet.

His second, “I’m turning off this game I can’t watch these ridiculous penalties anymore #TENvsJAC.”

The last time the Patriots played the Jets in New York, Hochuli had the game. There were 11 flags on the Patriots and eight on the Jets. The following week, his crew threw another 21 flags.

I asked Brady on Saturday whether an officiating crew’s recent history is part of the pregame preparation.

“Coach talks about that,” Brady allowed. “He talks about kind of what they call and so forth. This particular crew may call a lot of holdings or a lot of defensive pass penalties, so we do discuss that. I mean, once you get out there, I think you do business as business is being done. Sometimes they call it a little tighter, sometimes they let you play a little bit. But, football, there’s kind of penalties on every play. It’s just a matter of whether they call them or not. So, if they’re calling it tight, then you just have to be cognizant of that.”

Hochuli’s crew has been going crazy with the holding penalties this season. They have 52 holding flags in six games. By contrast, Bill Vinovich’s crew has 15 in five games.

I asked Brady if he gets attuned to how a game is being called.

“I think that happens,” he agreed. “It’s probably the middle of the second quarter, you start to feel that. If there start to be a lot of penalties there in the first quarter, then the game gets a little slower, but yeah, you feel it."

Legendary NFL official Bernie Kukar spoke to a Minnesota radio station last week in the wake of the Packers-Lions debacle and said that the constant backseat driving from the league office and Competition Committee has officials running blind.

“They’re calling anything now … because [a crew] got drilled the week before they’re calling anything that looks like a foul,” said Kukar. “In my opinion, what’s happened is New York — I don’t know if it’s coming from the commissioner or if it’s coming from the Competition Committee or if it’s coming from the coaches or where — but they’ve taken common sense out of the game relating to officiating.”

Whatever the reason, penalties are up, Hochuli’s crew is at the forefront of the flag-happy movement and this is the first time Hochuli’s done a Patriots game since Brady put his crew on blast. It’s an interesting Monday night subplot.

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Patriots defense must beat Cowboys QB Dak Prescott in this area of the field

Patriots defense must beat Cowboys QB Dak Prescott in this area of the field

One of the key matchups in Sunday's Week 12 game between the New England Patriots and Dallas Cowboys will be passes outside the numbers.

Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott has shredded defenses on throws outside the numbers in 2019. The Patriots are the best team in the league at defending these passes.

NFL Research tweeted a few interesting stats Tuesday that highlight the importance of this matchup:

Prescott is playing at an MVP-level this season, and he's performed at a particularly high level over the last three weeks with 1,202 yards, nine touchdowns and two interceptions over that span. The Cowboys' success, in a lot of ways, rests on his shoulders.

The Patriots will be Prescott's toughest test of the year so far. Here's where New England's pass defense ranks in several statistical categories:

TD allowed 4 (1st)
Yards allowed/game: 152.6 (2nd)
Interceptions: 19 (1st)
Sacks: 37 (2nd)
Yards/Attempt: 5.3 (1st)
QB Cmp %: 53.6 (1st)
QB rating: 49.2 (1st)

The Cowboys are in a tight race with the Philadelphia Eagles for the NFC East title, and they enter Sunday's matchup at Gillette Stadium with a slim 1-game lead over their division rivals. It's hard to imagine the Cowboys leaving Foxboro with an upset win if Prescott doesn't play well, so it'll be exciting to watch how he handles going against the league's best pass defense on the road.

Antonio Brown apologizes to Patriots owner Robert Kraft>>>

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Rob Gronkowski includes cruel joke in his assessment of 2019 Patriots

Rob Gronkowski includes cruel joke in his assessment of 2019 Patriots

Rob Gronkowski essentially put the kibosh on a return to the New England Patriots in 2019. But he hasn't closed the book on his former team.

Shortly after revealing his latest "big announcement" -- he's hosting a mega beach bash in Miami on Super Bowl weekend -- the retired tight end told ESPN's Mike Reiss he's open to considering an NFL comeback down the road.

"I wouldn't say 'never coming back,' " Gronkowski told Reiss on Tuesday. "I'm 30 years old. I'm young. I still stay fit, still watch the game whenever I can, still enjoy it.

"I'm feeling good, but you know, one year off could possibly be the case. Or maybe two years off, man."

The Patriots have gone 9-1 without him this season, but as Tom Brady will tell you, there are major issues to address on offense.

Gronkowski, who has kept a close eye on New England's games this season as a fan and analyst for NFL on FOX, couldn't resist pointing out one way the Patriots could address those issues in his assessment of the 2019 team.

"The defense is just tremendous, the way they're coming together with the veteran leadership they have there, and the skill set they have," Gronkowski told Reiss. 

"With the offense, they're finding ways to make it work like they've always done, putting guys in the right situation to make plays.

"But man, they're missing some guy who is 6-6, 260 [pounds]. They're missing that guy, for sure."

Gronkowski is referencing himself, of course, which is a cruel joke considering just how much the Patriots could benefit from his presence: New England's tight ends have combined for just 23 catches on the season, with 38-year-old Ben Watson accounting for 11 of them.

It sounds like Gronk misses the Patriots, too, even if 30-year-old has enough business and entertainment irons in the fire to keep him occupied through the end of 2019.

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