Only thing more productive than the Patriots defense right now, is its Boogeymen aura

Andy Hart
October 27, 2019 - 10:23 pm

FOXBOROUGH -- What began as an internal joke, nickname and potential t-shirt design has turned into a productive weapon for Bill Belichick’s Patriots.

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The Boogeymen that are the dominant New England defense are real.

Or are they?

The Patriots’ defense closed out the first half of the regular season schedule much the way it played throughout the first two months of the year – making big plays, scoring points and keying victory, this one a 27-13 dispatching of the Browns at a rainy Gillette Stadium.

As good as the unit has been – Cleveland’s big-play offense seemingly presented the most talented test of the season – there is one thing that’s been even better than its weekly performances: its ability to apparently get into the head of opponents, coaches and quarterbacks alike, and wreak havoc.

Less than a week after scaring second-year Jets quarterback Sam Darnold into admitting he was “seeing ghosts” in a shutout loss in New York, the Boogeymen headed toward Halloween with a trio of consecutive plays that ended in turnovers in the first quarter of Sunday evening’s win over Cleveland.

The first was a Nick Chubb fumble in which he just lost the ball in the wet conditions, ending up a 26-yard scoop-and-score Dont’a Hightower touchdown. It happens.

The third came on a great hustle play by Jonathan Jones to chase down Chubb on a 44-yard run to force a fumble. That’s impressive effort and coaching.

The middle one, though, well that was something special. Dare we say spooky?

Baker Mayfield dropped back and attempted a quick two-handed shovel pass to Jarvis Landry crossing the formation. Instead, he tossed the moist pigskin right into the waiting breadbasket of New England defensive lineman Lawrence Guy.

That – Mayfield looking a lot like Arkansas’ Sam Loy on the recent fake punt debacle against Auburn that’s made the viral rounds – was borderline inexplicable.

“I honestly don’t know how that happened,” Landry admitted.

“Guy made a good play. We're not expecting him to be there, obviously,” Mayfield said.

That’s the thing with the Boogeymen, you never know where they are going to be or what they are going to do.

Other than make your life difficult and key New England to victory, that is.

Like many of Mike Tyson’s fights back in the heavyweight champs’ heyday, if almost feels like the fight is over before it even begins for opposing offenses against the Patriots. New England is making plays these days before opening kickoff, getting into the heads of opposing coaches (Adam Gase and Freddie Kitchens, that’s you), quarterbacks and skill position players to lead to physical plays on the field.

It happened with Darnold’s four interceptions, fumble and second half fears to throw anything other than into the bench area last Monday night.

It happened to the generally supremely confident Mayfield this time out, as well as his budding star teammate running back Chubb.

“They’re a good team,” Chubb tried to explain. “For the most part, they don’t beat themselves and that’s what we do a lot. We beat ourselves with turnovers and penalties. When we play a great team like them and they don’t make mistakes and when we’re a team that makes mistakes, we set ourselves up for failure.”

The Browns aren’t the first team to do that this season. They won’t be the last.

The Patriots defensive talent, scheme, communication, playmaking and cohesion are playing at a truly elite level. And their aura, well, that certainly appears to be getting in opponents’ heads.

New England now has 25 takeaways on the season. Or, at least in some cases, opponents have 25 giveaways. The aura of the defense continues to grow simultaneously with the unit’s confidence.

“I think each time now we step on the field, it’s like, ‘Alright, we’ve got to get two or three turnovers,’ each time,” Devin McCourty explained. “And I think it’s not just interceptions, it’s not just sack-fumbles, it’s just an awareness to hunt the football. I think that’s what we’ve done a good job of hunting.”

“I think anytime that we're able to get the ball and take it away from the offense and give the ball to our offense, it's a benefit for us. Even better when we're able to get it and score or get it and change field position. It definitely helped us a few times today,” Hightower explained.

Yes, yes it did.

The cumulative value of the turnovers, the hunt of opposing skill players and ball carriers, becomes more productive by the week.

On the field New England is physically beating up on the competition, as the Browns can attest.

Now, they’re also beating opponents in a different arena – between their ears.

The Boogeymen are real.

“The whole Boogeymen ordeal thing, that was like a little fun thing for us and it kind of got blown out of proportion,” Hightower admitted.

The Boogeymen nickname is running wild.

So are the players that coined it and live it.

It may be fun for them. But it’s their opponents’ worst nightmare.

Related: Patriots vs. Browns thumbs up, thumbs down: Julian Edelman, defense make plays in wet win