The New England Patriots steamrolled the Jacksonville Jaguars 50-10 on Sunday at Gillette Stadium. Here are six things we learned in that Week 17 matchup:
1. This was the beatdown the Patriots needed
Yes, it was against a two-win Jaguars team that had more than a dozen guys on the reserve/COVID-19 list and stunk to begin with, but that’s out of the Patriots’ control.
They could have come out the way they did in Houston in Week 5, sleepwalking through the first half before rallying late. Instead, they dominated from start to finish, scoring touchdowns of their first five possessions and harassing No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence into three interceptions. Jacksonville’s lone touchdown came with less than four minutes remaining, after New England had taken an overwhelming 50-3 lead and given quarterback Mac Jones the rest of the afternoon off.
There aren’t too many overarching lessons to glean from a win over an opponent this terrible, but the Patriots were able to wash the “sour taste” from their two-game losing skid out of their mouths and recenter themselves before the postseason. Which brings us to …
2. The Patriots are going back to the playoffs
Their win over the Jags coupled with the Miami Dolphins’ 34-3 loss to the Tennessee Titans officially booked the Patriots a spot in the NFL playoffs. They’re back in the dance after finishing below .500 and watching from home last postseason.
Who will they face? That’s still to be determined. If the season ended Monday, the fifth-seeded Pats would play the No. 4 seed Buffalo Bills, who own the tiebreaker for the AFC East title. New England still is alive for the division crown — which it can grab if the New York Jets upset Buffalo this Sunday — and on the fringe of contention for the conference’s No. 1 seed.
To have a shot at earning either of those, they’ll need to win this week in Miami — a setting that has not been kind to Patriots teams throughout the years. Bill Belichick’s club is just 2-6 in its last eight road games against the Dolphins, who now are officially eliminated from playoff contention but surely would love to create a more difficult path for their longtime rivals, as they did in 2019.
3. Mac Jones got his groove back
Again, consider the opponent, but this looked much more like the Jones we saw earlier in the season — the Offensive Rookie of the Year front-runner — than the version who scuffled in losses to Indianapolis and Buffalo. Unlike last week, when the rookie set career lows in completion percentage, yards per attempt and passer rating, he was accurate, composed and poised as he sliced up the Jags’ defense.
Jones went 22-for-30 for 227 yards and three touchdowns with no turnovers before giving way to backup Brian Hoyer early in the fourth quarter. He mostly relied on short and intermediate throws — just three of his completions traveled more than 10 yards in the air, and one of those traveled 12 — and found consistent success on sit routes and throws to the flat.
Those shorter completions weren’t all “easy,” though. Jones didn’t complete a single pass between the hashes and posted the fourth-best completion percentage over expected of any Week 17 QB, per NFL Next Gen Stats. Only Joe Burrow, Derek Carr and Aaron Rodgers were better.
Jones also flashed some mobility, scrambling 10 yards for one first down and leaving the pocket to evade interior pressure and hit tight end Hunter Henry for a third-down conversion. His first touchdown pass also came on a rollout.
The QB nearly connected with Kristian Wilkerson for a long-ball touchdown (that white dot in the upper left of his passing chart), but the breakout receiver couldn’t hang on.
The game perfectly illustrated the immense importance of where a rookie quarterback lands. While Jones thrived in a stable offense with top-tier coaching, Lawrence was helpless against New England’s defense with the infrastructure around him. It’ll be impossible to properly judge the former Clemson phenom until Jacksonville improves everything else about its operation.
Belichick was unusually complimentary of Jones after the game, saying he “played extremely well.”
4. The Patriots fixed their most glaring problems
Slow starts? Score touchdowns on six of your first seven drives and take a 28-3 lead into halftime. Third-down woes? Go 8-for-10 on third down while not facing one longer than 7 yards until the fourth quarter. Penalties? Commit just three, including an intentional delay of game. Turnovers? Win that battle 3-0.
Belichick can needle his team this week by pointing out that Jacksonville converted three of its first five third downs and that New England botched two extra points, but this was a comprehensive performance by a team that badly needed one.
5. N’Keal Harry was put on notice
After playing 95% of snaps against Buffalo and failing to make a significant impact, Harry was a healthy scratch Sunday. Even with starter Nelson Agholor still sidelined with a concussion, the Patriots viewed Wilkinson — who entered the weekend with zero career catches — as a better option than their 2019 first-round draft pick.
Wilkinson might not be giving that spot back. The elevated practice squadder caught four passes on eight targets for 42 yards and two touchdowns in the first extended action of his two-year NFL career. The drop cost the 24-year-old a touchdown hat trick, but he still finished with twice as many receptions as Harry has tallied in any game this season.
Agholor’s return will push both players down a spot on the depth chart, but Wilkinson may have earned himself an extended look — at Harry’s expense.
6. The Patriots took things slow with Matthew Judon
New England’s premier sack artist played Sunday after being removed from the COVID list one day earlier, but he spent much more time on the sideline than usual. With Judon missing all three practices last week, the Patriots chose to ease the Pro Bowler back in, leading to increased workloads for players like Josh Uche and Chase Winovich. Judon didn’t play his first snap until the Patriots’ third defensive possession.
Judon said after the game that, as a competitor, he wants to play whenever possible, but the lighter week might benefit him in the long run. He entered Sunday having played more snaps than all but two Patriots defenders (Devin McCourty and J.C. Jackson) this season and looked worn down during the team’s Week 16 loss to Buffalo.
The Patriots need Judon at full-go to reach their playoff potential, and they had no trouble waxing the lowly Jags without him.
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