Through the first 13 weeks of the 2021 season, Matthew Judon was a legitimate NFL Defensive Player of the Year candidate. By the end, he didn’t even sniff second-team All-Pro honors and played just 22 snaps after not starting in his team’s wild-card loss to the Bills.
As a result, it’s hard to contextualize the first season in New England for a player whom the Patriots signed to a four-year, $56 million contract. However, one thing is clear: When it mattered most, Judon played his worst football for the Patriots.
The 29-year-old linebacker racked up 12 1/2 sacks and a ridiculous 59 quarterback pressures over the first 13 weeks of the season. In his final five games, including Saturday night’s 47-17 loss in Buffalo, Judon registered zero sacks and only five QB pressures.
His 22 snaps at Highmark Stadium were the fewest of the season if you remove the Week 17 Jacksonville Jaguars game, in which he essentially got the day off. Judon started every game this season except the Jaguars game and the wild-card loss. He brushed off questions about not starting during his postgame news conference — he called it a “package” — but the reality is that Judon, a Pro Bowler, didn’t check into Saturday night’s game until the Bills’ fourth offensive play.
Rookie Christian Barmore, who was in serious pain after suffering a knee injury in Week 18, played 33 snaps against the Bills and led the Patriots in QB pressures.
Health might have had something to do with it. We’ll find out in the coming days and weeks whether Judon was limited down the stretch with an injury. For now, all we have to go on is his late-season production, which wasn’t good.
Judon’s three worst Pro Football Focus grades of the season all came against the Bills, with the veteran getting progressively worse in each matchup.
Week 13: 44.5
Week 16: 43.2
Wild card: 37.0.
Judon’s penalties also increased in the final quarter of the season. After committing just one defensive penalty through the first 12 weeks, he committed five the rest of the way, many of which were costly. His lack of discipline showed up in crucial moments, like when Tua Tagovailoa ran for a game-sealing scramble in the regular-season finale.
Judon’s stunning regression could not have come at a worse time. The Patriots needed their best players to step up in the final weeks, and Judon was unable to answer the call. You could argue that New England’s coaches didn’t even trust him at the end.
That doesn’t mean Judon’s first season in Foxboro was a failure or disappointment — it wasn’t. On the whole, he was an impactful player on defense and a breath of fresh air in the locker room. Although he’ll turn 30 years old in August, Judon likely has plenty of good football left in him.
But Judon finished the campaign with a whimper — perhaps “thud” is more appropriate — and was a major factor in the Patriots’ late-season unraveling. If you’re dishing out blame for New England’s collapse, Judon should be high on your list.