With NFL regular seasons now lasting 17 games, there no longer is a true “halfway point.” Technically, it would be during halftime of the eighth game.
Nevertheless, with nine games in the books, it now is time to dish out midseason New England Patriots superlatives, starting with three studs and three duds.
This list has taken on a far more optimistic tone over the past month. The Patriots have won three in a row, and now are 5-4 and within a half-game of first place in the AFC East. A lot of good has happened for New England since its ugly Week 6 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, but there are players who have underperformed and need to pick it up in the second half.
So, let’s get into it:
Matthew Judon, LB
With the offense taking a while to find its groove, the Patriots needed great play from their defense in order to stay in/win some games. They mostly received that in the first half, thanks in large part to Judon.
Signed during the offseason, Judon has been New England’s top playmaker on defense all season. He ranks fourth in the NFL in total quarterback pressures (44), third in sacks (10) and third in hurries (29). We could go on and on about his stats. But Judon also has emerged as a vocal leader both on and off the field, adding up to a home-run signing for New England.
Damien Harris, RB
After a so-so start, mostly because of the offensive line, Harris has established himself as one of the best young running backs in football. In fact, Harris currently is the third-ranked running back at Pro Football Focus.
Fast, tough and bruising, Harris is the closest thing the Patriots have to a star skill player on offense (for now). He racked up 547 rushing yards and seven touchdowns over the first nine games.
J.C. Jackson, CB
Jackson’s Pro Bowl-caliber play has been of immense importance in a secondary without Stephon Gilmore. Jackson isn’t quite on the level of some of the NFL’s elite corners, but he’s in that next tier. He has five interceptions this season, and his 22 picks since the start of the 2018 campaign are the most in the NFL over that span.
The 25-year-old is going to get paid this offseason — and he deserves it.
Honorable mentions: Mac Jones; Christian Barmore; Adrian Phillips; Nick Folk
Jonnu Smith, TE
Smith just hasn’t looked right all season. Signed to form a dynamic tight end tandem with Hunter Henry, Smith essentially has been a more athletic Dwayne Allen, but not as good at blocking. He’s made mental errors, has battled injuries and, generally, has not been explosive on offense.
Through nine games, Smith had just 21 catches for 193 yards and one touchdown. He needs to provide more in the second half.
Isaiah Wynn, T
It might be fair to say that New England is regretting its decision to exercise Wynn’s fifth-year option. The 2018 first-rounder entered the season needing to establish himself as a franchise left tackle, and he simply hasn’t done it. Wynn has committed too many penalties, given up too many pressures and even missed a game while in COVID-19 protocol.
Nelson Agholor, WR
Agholor had a career season with the Las Vegas Raiders in 2020, catching 48 balls for 896 yards and eight touchdowns, earning him a significant contract with the Patriots. Thus far, Agholor hasn’t lived up to expectations. He had a strong season opener — five catches for 72 yards and a score — but has just 17 catches for 263 yards and one touchdown in the eight games since. That’s not enough from a No. 1 wideout.
Can a new offense, led by a rookie quarterback, have something to do with that? Of course. But Agholor also deserves plenty of the blame. He’s capable of more.
Honorable mentions: Davon Godchaux; Jake Bailey; Kyle Van Noy; N’Keal Harry