Patriots Report Card: Mac Jones’ Best All-Around Performance So Far?

The defense again earned high marks


Nov 22, 2022

The New England Patriots defeated the New York Jets in dramatic fashion Sunday, winning 10-3 at Gillette Stadium. Here’s a closer look at how each position group fared in that Week 11 matchup:

Yes, the Patriots only scored three points. Their offense remains stuck in the mud, totaling just two touchdowns during their current three-game win streak. They need to start helping out their defense as they navigate the NFL’s toughest second-half schedule. But this might have been Jones’ best all-around performance of the season. He completed 85.2% of his passes (23 of 27), averaged 9.1 yards per attempt (246 total), posted a 104.6 passer rating and, for the second straight game, did not turn the ball over. He also completed passes to nine different receivers and handled the cold and windy conditions far better than his Jets counterpart, Zach Wilson, did.

Should Jones have gotten the ball out quicker on a few of his sacks? Yeah, probably. And the Patriots’ passing attack was rather conservative, with just three of Jones’ 20 completions traveling more than 10 yards downfield. But the QB was not the problem in this one.

Tough sledding for Rhamondre Stevenson, whom the Jets’ formidable front seven held to 26 yards on 15 carries and a career-worst 1.7 yards-per-rush average. But Stevenson was New England’s leading receiver in the win, with his sensational third-and-16 conversion headlining a six-target, six-catch, 56-yard effort, and the Patriots got a big game on the ground from Damien Harris, who ripped off carries of 22 and 30 yards.

Harris has become something of an afterthought following Stevenson’s emergence as a three-down weapon, but this was the most efficient outing of the season for the impending free agent. He played just 15 snaps to Stevenson’s 49 but averaged 8.1 yards per carry on eight attempts and caught both of his targets for 28 yards.

Watch that Harris clip again. Interesting formation, right?

The Patriots’ biggest offensive alteration after their bye week was deploying tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith as fullbacks far more frequently. On several plays, they put both in the backfield in front of Harris or Stevenson as part of an old-school, three-back, “full house” look. That throwback formation produced New England’s two longest gains of the day: Harris’ 30-yard run and a 23-yard play-action pass to Smith, who slipped past the Jets’ linebackers after feigning a lead block.

All told, Henry and Smith lined up in the backfield on 10 and eight snaps, respectively. Before Sunday, neither had done so more than four times in a game for the Patriots, according to Pro Football Focus.

Play-caller Matt Patricia made a point to get Smith involved in the offense, scheming up four targets for him that resulted in four catches for 40 yards. Smith also picked up a first down on his first carry of the season — and might have scored a touchdown had he not inexplicably fumbled (and recovered) in the open field. Henry’s lone reception also was well-designed, with a crack block by special teamer Raleigh Webb (on Webb’s first offensive snap as a pro) springing him for 20 yards.

The Patriots haven’t gotten much production out of either tight end this season. But Jones’ postgame comments suggested he’d like both to have larger roles moving forward.

“Jonnu is a great player,” the QB said. “He’s a great teammate, does what he’s supposed to do on every play. Him and Hunter do a great job. I’m really happy to have those guys. I want to be able to give them the ball as much as possible. I like throwing to those guys, so any way we can. Jonnu has got unique speed for a tight end and also unique strength for run-blocking and things like that. I definitely want to use those guys as best we can, and he did a good job.”

A lack of secondary receiving production behind Jakobi Meyers remains an issue for New England. Meyers had a quiet but solid game, catching four passes for 52 yards and moving the chains three times, including one third-down conversion. The rest of the Patriots’ receiving corps — which was back to full strength following the return of DeVante Parker from a knee injury — combined for six catches for 50 yards. Meyers has 44 receptions this season; no other Patriots wideout has more than 17.

We did see an interesting shift in snap distribution, with Nelson Agholor logging his highest snap rate since Week 4 and rookie Tyquan Thornton’s was the lowest of his young NFL career. Thornton had the ball knocked out of his hands by Sauce Gardner on an early third down — officials initially ruled it a fumble, then amended it to an incompletion — and saw just one target thereafter.

New week, same story. For the third straight game, O-line play was a major problem for the Patriots. They allowed six sacks, including two each by tackles Trent Brown and Yodny Cajuste and one by fill-in center James Ferentz. They struggled to clear holes in the run game. Cajuste and Ferentz both committed costly holding penalties. The majority of those miscues occurred in Jets territory, derailing otherwise promising drives. (Jones lamented the Patriots’ struggles in the “fringe area” outside the red zone.)

Poor execution up front has been the single biggest issue for this struggling New England offense, and that group now might need to make do without multiple starters. Center David Andrews and tackle/guard Isaiah Wynn both left Sunday’s game with injuries, putting their statuses for this Thursday’s Minnesota Vikings matchup and beyond in doubt.

Andrews, who reportedly is expected to miss multiple games with a thigh injury, would be a massive loss for a unit that’s struggled mightily in his absence this season. Wynn has not played well, but losing him would leave the Patriots with no proven depth at any O-line position.

Deatrich Wise called this defensive performance by the Patriots “complete domination,” and that’s an accurate assessment. Wise was one of the leaders of that effort, notching a sack, four pressures, two tackles for loss and a batted pass from his defensive end spot. He and the rest of the Patriots’ front stonewalled the Jets’ ground game, holding their running backs to 33 yards on 19 carries. D-tackle Lawrence Guy also added a quarterback hit and a TFL, and Davon Godchaux nearly scored the first touchdown of his NFL career. He scooped up a Wilson fumble and ran it into the end zone, but the Jets QB was ruled down by contact.

Matthew Judon once again headlined this group with 1 1/2 sacks, increasing his league-leading season total to 13. If he keeps up this pace, he should receive strong consideration for Defensive Player of the Year.

But nearly every Patriots ‘backer had at least one standout moment. Ja’Whaun Bentley was excellent throughout. Raekwon McMillan and Anfernee Jennings dropped Jets ball-carriers in the backfield. Mack Wilson brought his trademark physicality on multiple third downs, chucking running back Ty Johnson into New York’s bench on one and decking Zach Wilson as a QB spy on another. The latter earned him a half-sack, split with Judon, and he had another sack wiped out by a defensive holding penalty. Josh Uche pressured Wilson on three of his 11 pass-rush snaps, per PFF. Jahlani Tavai was PFF’s second-highest-graded Patriots defender in the win, trailing only McMillan.

Any time the opposing quarterback throws for 77 yards, it’s a pretty good day for your defensive backfield. The 34-yard pass to Denzel Mims that Jack Jones allowed was the only big play the Jets registered in this game. Devin McCourty and Jonathan Jones both dropped would-be interceptions from the alarmingly erratic Wilson, who spent his afternoon spiking and sailing passes to New York’s frustrated receivers. Jones also had a holding penalty that extended the Jets’ final drive.

Safety Kyle Dugger sacked Wilson on a blitz, broke up a pass, made the open-field third-down tackle that forced Branden Mann’s fateful last-minute punt and was one of the Patriots’ most impactful defenders all day. The Patriots missed Dugger in the first Jets matchup. He sat out that game with an ankle injury, and his backup, Joshuah Bledsoe, allowed two touchdowns in coverage.

It was hard not to give this group a straight “A” after Marcus Jones won the game in the final seconds with the NFL’s first punt-return touchdown this season. But that incredible game-winner wouldn’t have been necessary had the typically uber-reliable Nick Folk not missed two field goals from inside 45 yards earlier in the game. Those misses could be blamed more on the wind than on the kicker, but results are results. The Patriots did get an encouraging debut performance from their other specialist, with Jake Bailey replacement Michael Palardy averaging 45.3 yards per punt and delivering in a few key moments.

Thumbnail photo via Brian Fluharty/USA TODAY Sports Images
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