Patriots Notes: How New England Set Tone Vs. Jets With Dominant Opening Drive

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October 22, 2019

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Some assorted notes and nuggets from the New England Patriots’ 33-0 beatdown of the New York Jets on Monday night at MetLife Stadium:

— The Patriots’ defense yet again earned top billing after confounding Jets quarterback Sam Darnold into five turnovers (four interceptions, one fumble), plus a safety, but it didn’t even see the field until nearly nine minutes had elapsed in the first quarter.

That’s because New England’s offense opened the game with a 16-play, 78-yard march that culminated in the first of three short-yardage Sony Michel touchdown runs. By the time Darnold finally took his first snap, just 6:06 remained in the opening frame.

“We’ve had some good starts to the game playing from ahead,” Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said. “It was a good start. It was a good drive. Any time you can go seven or eight minutes, whatever it was, and put the ball in the end zone on the road, it (gives) you a good feeling.”

Brady completed 8 of 9 passes for 55 yards on the opening drive, and his lone incompletion hit tight end Ben Watson in the facemask.

The Patriots, who were playing without wide receiver Josh Gordon, running back Rex Burkhead and tight ends Matt LaCosse and Ryan Izzo, threw a variety of different looks at Gregg Williams’ defense during the drive, running seven plays out of 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends, two wide receivers), four out of 10 personnel (1RB, 0TE, 4WR), three out of 11 personnel (1RB, 1TE, 3WR) and two out of 21 personnel (2RB, 1TE, 2WR).

Tight ends Ben Watson and Eric Tomlinson both took snaps at fullback, with Watson doing so on Michel’s score. Running back Brandon Bolden twice aligned as a wide receiver. Ditto for running back James White.

“It was a good balance (with) different kinds of distribution with the ball and so forth,” Brady said. “The big guys did a good job up front running it. We had some good passes in there, and it was just good execution. Good execution is what you need, especially to sustain long drives. That was a good start to the game.”

Brady’s eight completions went to five different players: two to Julian Edelman, two to Jakobi Meyers and one each to White, Bolden and Watson, who atoned for his drop by hauling in a 10-yard catch on third-and-5 to bring New England into the red zone.

It was one of four third downs the Patriots successfully converted on the drive, which, at 16 plays, was the longest by any team to open a game this season.

“That’s tough to do against any team,” said Meyers, who provided one of those third-down conversions and laid a block to spring Edelman on another. “Against the Jets — that’s a great defense we played against today — and to go 4-for-4 on third down in the NFL, that’s a pretty big accomplishment.”

— Save for the one pass he took off the face, this was a solid return for Watson, whose last meaningful game in a Patriots uniform came way back in the 2009 playoffs. The 38-year-old finished with three catches on five targets for 18 yards — including one third down and another on fourth — and provided the aforementioned block on Michel’s first touchdown.

While those stats don’t leap off the page, the trust Brady has in his longtime friend already is evident. Brady didn’t target LaCosse or Izzo more than four times in any of the Patriots’ first six games, and neither of those players has caught more than two passes in a game this season.

“It was exciting,” said Watson, who re-signed with the Patriots last week after surprisingly being cut one week earlier. “I?ll look back at the film and be like, ?Ah, could?ve done that better and that a lot better,? but it?s a process of building and looking forward to next week.”

— Gordon (knee/ankle), Burkhead (foot), LaCosse (knee), Izzo (concussion) and safety Patrick Chung (chest/heel) all missed the game with injuries. Defensive end Michael Bennett was inactive, as well, serving a one-game suspension following an argument with position coach Bret Bielema.

With injured/suspended players filling six of their seven inactive slots, the Patriots dressed all eight rookies on their 53-man roster (cornerback Joejuan Williams, defensive end Chase Winovich, running back Damien Harris, quarterback Jarrett Stidham, defensive lineman Byron Cowart, punter Jake Bailey and wide receivers Jakobi Meyers and Gunner Olszewski) for just the second time this season.

All eight saw game action, with Stidham replacing Brady as time wound down and Harris logging the first offensive snaps of his NFL career after Michel left the game late with what appeared to be a minor injury. The third-round draft pick ripped off a 13-yard run on his first carry.

Offensive tackle Korey Cunningham was the lone healthy scratch for New England.

— Darnold, who admitted on the sideline he was “seeing ghosts” while he tried to decipher the Patriots’ defense, finished with a higher interception total (four) than passer rating (3.6). That rating was the lowest by any opposing quarterback during the Bill Belichick era, according to Pro Football Reference.

Thumbnail photo via Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports Images
New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold
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