The New England Patriots defeated the New York Jets 25-6 on Sunday to score their first win of the 2021 NFL season. Here are six things we learned in that AFC East clash at MetLife Stadium:
1. The offense is a work in progress
Especially in the red zone, where the Patriots are an unsightly 2-for-7 through two games. They’ve scored just three touchdowns (one in Week 1, two in Week 2) and 41 total points. It took them far too long to pull away against a Jets team that turned the ball over three times in the first half.
“Overall, we’ve just got to probably do a little better job of taking advantage of our scoring opportunities,” head coach Bill Belichick said in his postgame news conference.
The Patriots have taken a conservative approach with rookie quarterback Mac Jones, who has yet to throw a pass into the end zone and has completed just eight passes of 10 or more air yards. On Sunday, 16 of Jones’ 22 completions — and 18 of his 30 attempts — were to targets within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage. Eight were at or behind the line.
“I can push the ball down the field more,” Jones told reporters after the game.
Everyone expected the Patriots to be a run-first outfit this season, but they can afford to take more chances in the passing game. Jones has the NFL’s sixth-best completion rate (73.9 percentage), but he ranks 23rd in yards per attempt (6.8) and is averaging just 5.6 intended air yards per attempt, per NFL Next Gen Stats. Among starting QBs, only Jimmy Garoppolo, Matt Ryan and Andy Dalton rank lower in that final metric.
2. The O-line needs Trent Brown back
The Patriots’ starting right tackle has played just one series this season, and his replacement has gotten benched in each of New England’s two games.
On Sunday, that was late-summer trade acquisition Yasir Durant, who resembled a turnstile in the first half. Durant surrendered sacks on three of Jones’ first 16 dropbacks before being relieved by Justin Herron, who was benched for his own poor performance in Week 1. Brown, who’s dealing with a calf injury, was healthy enough to practice in a limited capacity on Friday, so he could be nearing a return. The Patriots badly need him out there.
It’s also worth noting Brown’s bookend, left tackle Isaiah Wynn, has not performed to expectations through two weeks. He allowed a punishing QB hit on the opening drive Sunday (that resulted in a roughing-the-passer call) and was penalized twice.
3. James White is back
It’s been a resurgent start to the season for veteran pass-catching back. White has caught six passes in each of the first two games, hauling in all but one of his targets and leading the Patriots in both receptions (12) and receiving yards (94). He’s also been a valuable resource for Jones, who says he leans on White in moments of indecisiveness.
“He knows every little thing about the offense,” Jones said. “If I ever struggle in the huddle, he’s like, ‘Yep, here it is.’ He knows the call, too, so he helps me out. … I know that I can trust him because he’s doing the right thing 99.9 percent of the time.”
White never fully jelled with former Patriots quarterback Cam Newton, tallying more than four catches in just two of his final 11 games last season. Position coach Ivan Fears said the switch to Jones would be a “good thing” for the 29-year-old. So far, he’s been right.
4. Bill Belichick still owns rookie quarterbacks
No. 2 overall pick Zach Wilson endured a ghastly — get it? — performance in his second NFL start. He was quickly overwhelmed by the Patriots’ playmaking defense, throwing interceptions on each of his first two pass attempts and four picks in all. New England also sacked Wilson four times after harassing second-year pro Tua Tagovailoa into multiple mistakes in Week 1. The Patriots have won 10 of their last 11 matchups against rookie signal-callers.
5. … but the run defense hasn’t been dominant
The lopsided score forced the Jets to take to the air in the second half, but they had success rushing against New England’s front seven, opening their first two drives with runs of 8 and 13 yards. New York later added carries of 10, 11, 14, 17 and 17 yards and averaged 4.9 yards per rush for the game. The Patriots had some ground-game issues against the Miami Dolphins, too, ranking 29th in Football Outsiders’ run defense DVOA in Week 1.
The additions of players like Davon Godchaux and Matt Judon coupled with the return of Dont’a Hightower were supposed to rejuvenate a run D that was arguably the NFL’s worst in 2020. But this unit still has a ways to go.
It did stand tall in one key moment during the second quarter, though, with Lawrence Guy and Ja’Whaun Bentley stopping Tevin Coleman in his tracks on third-and-goal from the 2. The Jets settled for a field goal that cut the Patriots’ lead to 10-3.
Bentley added a tackle for loss against Michael Carter early in the second half, and safety Kyle Dugger notched one against Coleman one drive later.
On a related note, the Patriots weren’t comfortable using Josh Uche or Chase Winovich in non-passing situations Sunday, even with starting outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy (throat) sidelined. Both hardly played until the second half, with practice squad call-up Tashawn Bower seeing more early reps as a run defender.
6. The Patriots handled their kicker situation correctly
Who owns the Patriots record for consecutive field goals made? It isn’t Adam Vinatieri or Stephen Gostkowski. It’s Folk, who went 4-for-4 against the Jets to extend his streak of makes to 33. The 36-year-old journeyman has not missed a field goal since Sept. 20 of last year (though he did shank an extra point on Sunday).
In carrying undrafted rookie Quinn Nordin on their initial 53-man roster and keeping Folk on the practice squad, the Patriots were able to put their best kicker on the field while simultaneously planning for the future. Other teams weren’t able to poach the strong-legged but erratic Nordin because he never hit waivers. He’s now on injured reserve, where he can stay as a developmental option for the entire season if the Patriots so choose.
Expect Folk, who’s 7-of-7 on field goals through two games, to earn a full-time promotion to the 53 this week after two temporary elevations.
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