Some final thoughts on New England’s ugly 33-6 loss to the San Francisco 49ers as the Patriots turn their focus to Sunday’s pivotal AFC East matchup with the Buffalo Bills:
— CBS sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson mentioned during the broadcast that Patriots wide receiver N’Keal Harry, who was knocked out of the game with a head injury, “dealt with a lot of concussions” as a kid.
Those concussions caused Harry to quit football for several years before high school, as the wideout explained in a 2016 interview with Sports360AZ.
“I had a lot of concussions at a young age,” said Harry, then a freshman at Arizona State. “When I had those concussions, the doctor questioned whether I should be playing at (that) moment or whether I should ever play again. So when we were going over that, my grandma and I made a decision that I stop playing football.
“That was real tough for me at a young age. I was just starting to play the sport. I had played for a year or two, and then to have that taken away from me, it was real rough.”
Harry planned to focus on basketball at Marcos de Niza High but was convinced to join the football team as a freshman. He went on to star at the high school and college levels and was drafted by the Patriots in the first round in 2019.
Harry has dealt with several injuries since joining New England, but this was his first documented concussion as a pro.
Some important context to consider as the 22-year-old recovers.
— A few days after the Patriots’ season-opening win over the Miami Dolphins, head coach Bill Belichick said he expected second-year edge rusher Chase Winovich “to be out on the field a good part of the time in all games.”
Early in the season, Winovich was.
The long-haired Michigan product played at least 54 percent of defensive snaps in each of New England’s first four games and 66 percent or more in three of them. He was the Patriots’ most productive pass rusher by a wide margin during that span and held up well against the run, too — a notable development after he played only in passing situations as a rookie.
But something’s changed in the last two games.
Winovich played a season-low 34.4 percent of defensive snaps (22 of 64) in last week’s loss to the Denver Broncos. Against the 49ers on Sunday, he played just 13 defensive snaps (19.7 percent), nine of which came on San Francisco’s first two possessions.
This latest dip initially appeared to be the result of a penalty Winovich took on the final play of the Niners’ second possession. He hit quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo from behind during an interception runback, costing the Patriots 15 yards.
CBS cameras showed Belichick scolding Winovich once he reached the sideline. Winovich appeared to be pleading his case.
Winovich played just four defensive snaps from that point on and didn’t see the field in the second half until New England’s final defensive play.
Belichick, however, said Monday that Winovich was not benched because of his penalty.
Winovich’s early-game usage also was notable. Since joining the Patriots, he’s played almost exclusively as a stand-up outside linebacker. But on three of his four early-down snaps against San Francisco, he lined up as a hand-in-the-dirt defensive end, with rookie Anfernee Jennings playing ‘backer outside of him.
(Jennings saw a huge spike in playing time, equaling his previous season total with 53 defensive snaps. He struggled.)
The lone exception came on a second-and-3 on the Niners’ first drive. On that play, Winovich appeared to misplay a swing pass to receiver Deebo Samuel, resulting in a 23-yard gain.
Winovich, a D-end in college, also played four snaps in that role against Denver. This is a new development for the 2019 third-round pick.
He registered two QB pressures in his limited action Sunday but wound up on the ground in the backfield on each of the 49ers’ first two third-down conversions — one a Garoppolo scramble up the middle and the other a completion to George Kittle.
Winovich also took over Brandon Copeland’s role in the kicking game after the latter suffered a season-ending torn pec. Winovich ranked fourth on the team in special teams snaps as a rookie but had played just 15 over the first five games this season.
— Ball security continues to be a major problem for the Patriots. They now lead the NFL with 11 interceptions and rank second behind the dysfunctional Dallas Cowboys in total giveaways with 14.
“It has to be corrected going forward for us to have any success,” Belichick said Monday. “There’s nothing more important than that. We put a tremendous amount of emphasis on it.”
That turnover total already has surpassed New England’s full-season marks from 2010, 2014, 2016 and 2017. The 2019 Patriots committed 15 turnovers. These Pats are on pace for 37, which would be their most since 1994.
The 11 picks equal or surpass the Patriots’ totals from each of the last eight seasons.
Seven of those INTs have come in the last three games. Five have come in the last two.
Cam Newton — who was benched Sunday — has seven interceptions on the year. Jarrett Stidham has three. Brian Hoyer has one. All three QBs rank in the bottom five in the NFL in interception rate.
(Tom Brady, by the way, ranks in the top 10 in that metric. He never threw more than 14 interceptions in any of his 20 seasons in New England.)
New England also lost fumbles against the Miami Dolphins, Kansas City Chiefs and Broncos. Gunner Olszewski and Jakob Johnson put the ball on the ground twice in a three-play span Sunday, but both recovered.
The Patriots have turned the ball over at least once in every game this season.
“We need to start changing the number of times that the opponents are able to touch the ball,” Belichick said. “We need to cut that to zero.”
— The Patriots finally committed their first offensive holding penalty of the season. Left guard Joe Thuney was the culprit, and his infraction wiped out perhaps Newton’s best throw of the day — a 23-yard snipe to Jakobi Meyers in the final minute of the first half.
Newton hit Meyers for 20 yards on the ensuing snap but overthrew the second-year wideout on a deep ball one play later, resulting in the second of his three interceptions.
New England entered Sunday as the lone team in the NFL without an offensive holding penalty. They’ve been flagged a league-low 19 times this season. Every other team has more than 30.
— Hustle play of the game goes to Olszewski, who got blown up by linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair on Patriots kickoff but popped right to his feet to make the tackle.
Olszewski’s disregard for his own well-being on special teams works against him at times (see: his aforementioned fumble, which came on a kick return) but it makes the undersized cornerback convert a ton of fun to watch. His teammates surely appreciate it, too.