EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The New England Patriots won ugly in the wind and rain Sunday at MetLife Stadium, dispatching the New York Jets 15-10 to notch their first victory of the season.

As the focus shifts toward a Week 4 matchup with the Dallas Cowboys, here are nine takeaways from Sunday’s result:

1. The Patriots desperately needed this win
Simple as that. Falling to 0-3 would have put the Patriots’ playoff hopes on life support and turned the Bill Belichick hot seat speculation into a full-blown tornado.

A win over Zach Wilson doesn’t mean New England has solved all of its problems, but it avoided the disaster scenario and set up a chance to climb back to .500 when the Patriots visit the Cowboys this Sunday.

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That Dallas matchup, too, doesn’t look quite as daunting as it did a day ago. The Cowboys looked like a potential juggernaut when they bulldozed the Giants and Jets by a combined score of 70-10 in Weeks 1 and 2, but they couldn’t even beat the lowly, actively tanking Cardinals on Sunday, losing 28-16 in Arizona.

That’s another winnable game for New England, even with Belichick’s club opening as 6.5-point underdogs. After that, the Patriots face a New Orleans Saints team that might not have starting quarterback Derek Carr, then the 1-2 Las Vegas Raiders before an AFC East double-dip against Buffalo and Miami in Weeks 7 and 8. The back half of New England’s schedule features games against the Commanders, Colts, Giants, Chargers, Steelers, Broncos and Jets.

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Again, the Patriots still have a lot of things to clean up, especially on offense. But there’s still a realistic path to 10 wins and a postseason berth.

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2. The defense did its job again
The Patriots’ defensive plan in this game was clear: stop the run, make Wilson beat them. They did, and he couldn’t.

Employing an unusually heavy amount of base defense (four defensive backs rather than its usual five-plus), New England held Breece Hall to 18 yards on 12 carries and Dalvin Cook to 18 yards on eight attempts. Six different players had tackles for loss.

It was a strong bounce-back by the Patriots’ front seven after it struggled against Miami’s ground attack in Week 2. That group also withstood injuries to defensive tackles Davon Godchaux and Daniel Ekuale, who left in the second quarter and did not return.

Credit to Christian Barmore, Lawrence Guy and Deatrich Wise for holding it down in their absence, and to Sam Roberts, who logged 18 snaps in his season debut. The Patriots also got 19 impactful snaps from outside linebacker Anfernee Jennings, who, like Roberts, was a healthy scratch in the first two games, and a disruptive performance from rookie Keion White.

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Wilson played well for one fourth-quarter drive — a 13-play, 87-yard touchdown march that accounted for more than half of New York’s total yards — but otherwise was his usual ineffective self, completing 50% of his passes for 157 yards. While the third-year quarterback didn’t turn the ball over, he consistently looked spooked by the Patriots’ pass rush and struggled to diagnose coverage. He held the ball for an eternity, taking three sacks and bailing on several other plays with throwaways.

On one of those sacks, Wilson spun around and fell to the turf himself without being touched by any Patriots defenders. Another came in the end zone for a Matthew Judon safety.

If the Jets want to have any chance of being playoff-relevant this season, they badly need to make a change behind center. Wilson is dragging down an otherwise talented roster.

3. Christian Gonzalez passed another test
After seeing a lot of Tyreek Hill in Week 2, the Patriots’ first-round draft pick spent much of Sunday’s game shadowing 2022 NFL Offensive Player of the Year Garrett Wilson. The result: same as last week.

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Wilson had a quiet game by his standards, finishing with five catches on nine targets for 48 yards and no touchdowns. Twenty-nine of those yards came on one catch against zone coverage on New York’s last-gasp final drive. Gonzalez also had a pass breakup while covering Allen Lazard.

Obviously, facing Zach Wilson made Gonzalez’s job substantially easier. But the Patriots gave up 115 yards to Garrett Wilson with the same QB in their trip to MetLife last season.

Gonzalez has played all but one defensive snap this season — he sat for the first time on the Jets’ 1-yard touchdown run — and has played well against some of the best receivers in the NFL. Belichick on Monday compared his even-keeled demeanor to Stephon Gimore’s.

The Patriots have needed Gonzalez to be an instant standout with injuries sidelining Jonathan Jones, Jack Jones and Marcus Jones, and he’s exceeded expectations.

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4. The offense showed improvement in a few key areas
Strange to say after a game in which the Patriots scored just 15 points. But there were a few encouraging signs in this offensive performance against a very good Jets defense.

For one, New England played turnover-free football Sunday after committing two in each of its first two games. Philadelphia and Miami turned those giveaways into 20 first-half points, directly contributing to the double-digit deficits the Patriots faced in both games. They never trailed in this one. Holding onto the ball was a point of emphasis in practice last week, and the players delivered in that area.

The offensive line also showed progress after getting left tackle Trent Brown back from the concussion that sidelined him last week. With Brown, Cole Strange, David Andrews and Mike Onwenu all simultaneously active for the first time this season (and Vederian Lowe replacing the struggling Calvin Anderson at right tackle), the Patriots did not allow a sack and rushed for 157 yards, nearly doubling their total from Weeks 1 and 2.

The passing game, meanwhile, remains a work in progress. Mac Jones’ lone completion of 20-plus yards came on a well-schemed play-action pass to third-string tight end Pharaoh Brown, who took it 58 yards for his first touchdown since 2020. No other Patriots pass-catcher topped 50 yards in the game, and only Kendrick Bourne (46) had more than 20.

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With repeated chances to put the game away after halftime, the Patriots punted on each of their final six possessions, giving the Jets an opportunity to win on a last-second Hail Mary that just missed.

As talented as their defense is, the Patriots can’t expect to win many games when their offense only gives them one touchdown and a pair of Chad Ryland field goals. They have yet to top 20 points this season. But, again, progress.

5. JuJu Smith-Schuster is off to a massively disappointing start
The Patriots thought they were getting an upgrade over Jakobi Meyers when they signed Smith-Schuster this offseason. But so far, he hasn’t come close to even matching the production and reliability New England’s former top receiver provided.

Three games in, Smith-Schuster has just 10 catches on 16 targets for 66 yards and no touchdowns. Sunday’s outing was his worst yet: three targets, one catch, 5 yards despite playing a season-high 74% of offensive snaps. He also fell down on one third-down target and picked up a personal foul for an illegal blindside block.

Meyers has more than twice as many receiving yards for the Raiders (165, plus two touchdowns) despite missing one game.

6. Demario Douglas is out of the doghouse
There didn’t appear to be any lingering punishment from the fumble Douglas lost in Week 2. The rookie receiver was back in the mix offensively against the Jets, logging 17 snaps. That was far fewer than veterans DeVante Parker (55), Smith-Schuster (53) and Bourne (40), but that disparity likely was related to New England’s run-first game plan and emphasis on heavy personnel.

Douglas caught one pass — a 15-yarder on third down that set up Brown’s long touchdown — and carried once for 5 yards. He should have drawn a defensive pass interference penalty on a deep ball just before halftime, but it went uncalled. The sixth-round pick also was part of the plan to replace injured punt returner Marcus Jones, sharing those duties with safety Jabrill Peppers.

7. Ezekiel Elliott still has some juice
This easily was the best performance of Elliott’s young Patriots tenure. The veteran back rushed for 80 yards and averaged 5.0 per carry, marks that he hit just twice in his final season with Dallas.

There isn’t much breakaway speed in Elliott’s game, but he nearly doubled his rushing output from the first two weeks (42 total yards on 12 carries) and outperformed running mate Rhamondre Stevenson, who finished with 59 yards on 19 attempts (3.9 per).

Elliott will get a chance to face his former team when the Patriots visit AT&T Stadium this weekend.

8. Three key injuries to monitor
That earlier note about Brown, Strange, Andrews and Onwenu all starting together for the first time this season? The Patriots weren’t able to keep that O-line combo intact for the entirety of Sunday’s game.

Strange exited with what the team called a knee injury during the third quarter and was replaced by rookie Atonio Mafi. It wasn’t clear whether Strange suffered a new injury or aggravated the one that wiped out most of his training camp, but he sported large ice packs on both knees in the locker room postgame.

The Cowboys boast one of the NFL’s best D-lines, led by early Defensive Player of the Year front-runner Micah Parsons, so health and continuity up front will be vital for the Patriots this week.

Losing Godchaux and/or Ekuale also would strain New England’s defensive tackle depth, which wasn’t ideal to begin with. We’ll see if any of those three players are able to practice Wednesday.

9. Expect the Mac Jones “dirty player” talk to kick back up
From the Brian Burns ankle twist to the spikes-up slides against Chicago to his low block on Eli Apple, the Patriots quarterback has a history of questionable plays that have earned him a less-than-stellar reputation around the NFL. Sunday’s game won’t help him there.

Jets star cornerback Sauce Gardner claimed Jones smacked him in his “private parts” during a post-whistle scuffle, prompting him to shove the QB to the ground. Jones denied any wrongdoing, and the alleged low blow wasn’t visible on the game broadcast, but Gardner sounded credible when recapping the play to Jets reporters.

Jones will have another opportunity to respond to Gardner’s allegation during his Monday afternoon radio interview on WEEI.

Featured image via Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY Sports Images