With the bye week in the rearview and the home stretch now upon us, here’s a look at some things we learned following the Patriots win over the Jets on Sunday.
1) Patriots issues with inconsistency on offense continued – One of the things discussed over the bye week by both Bill Belichick and Tom Brady was the fact the Patriots needed to be more consistent on offense, which included being better on third down after their recent struggles prior to their week off. Unfortunately, on Sunday that still remained an issue.
The Patriots overall in the previous three games coming into Sunday were a dismal 12-of-40 converting on third down and things weren’t much better against the Jets. They finished the game just 5-of-12, with Tom Brady completing only 3-of-7 with two first downs, one of which happened to be an impressive 34-yard touchdown by Rob Gronkowski, who made a highly contested reception with a defender on him for the score. It’s been rough going for Brady, who before Sunday’s game had completed just 9-of-23 on third down during the club’s previous three match-ups.
In the Red Zone, it wasn’t great either. Brady was just 1-of-6 in scoring territory, which included a frustrating sequence toward the end of the first half when the Patriots managed to get down to the Jets 16-yard line and then Brady threw two straight ill-advised fade patterns to Gronkowski, who was well defended on each attempt. They would be forced to settle for a field goal.
Much like their 3rd down issues, passing in the red area for Brady has also been a problem. Over the previous three games, Brady completed just 5-of-14 passing without a touchdown. On Sunday, those issues continued after Brady went 1-of-6 throwing the football as the offense produced just one touchdown in three trips. Their lone red zone touchdown came on a one-yard run by Sony Michel, who muscled his way into the end zone early in the fourth quarter for what ended up being the death knell for a Jets team that couldn’t keep the Patriots from pulling away in what was another hard-fought game at MetLife Stadium.
It’s these types of issues that continue to hamper them and remain a problem that will need to get solved over the remaining five games. While it likely wasn’t the performance they were hoping for, Brady said after the game he was glad to get the win but knows they still have work to do.
“In every area we can do a better job,” said Brady after the game. “We’re certainly not where we want to be. We’re going to keep building for it and we’re going to go out there and try to get better. Hopefully everyone can stay healthy and we’ll see where we’re at next Sunday.”
Gronkowski got into the end zone for the first time since Week 1 Sunday.
2) Gronkowski looked better, but still not quite himself – One big addition to the offense on Sunday was the return of tight end Rob Gronkowski, who was back on the field for the first time since the team’s Monday night game in Buffalo nearly a month ago.
Gronkowski finished the afternoon with 3 receptions for 56-yards, one of which was a 34-yard touchdown that saw him make an incredible play with a defender right on him, with the veteran tight end snatching the ball out of the air and hauling it in just as he was hit. A Gronk spike followed, which was his first since week one.
That proved to be the highlight of the day as he was targeted 7 times with just three receptions, with the Jets defense once again beating him up and making life difficult. Gronkowski still appeared to be limbering at times and still had a tough afternoon as he had a defender in his face nearly every time the ball was thrown his way. The good news is it seemingly opened things up quite a bit for Josh Gordon and Julian Edelman, who each had big games.
But one of the bigger things that stood out was his impact in the running game, which saw him open up several runs for both Sony Michel and James White, who each combined for over 200-yards running the football. Gronkowski was matched up on multiple plays against linebackers Brandon Copeland, Jordan Jenkins and Frankie Luvu, along with defensive end Henry Anderson when he was called on during his blocking assignments. Gronk did a solid job of keeping each out of multiple plays as the Patriots moved the football, including some notable moments. He was key in the first down Cordarrelle Patterson picked up on a 3rd-and-1 early in the 3rd quarter when Gronkowski easily blocked safety Jamal Adams out of the play. He also took down Anderson on the outside on the 4th-and-1 Patterson converted on the drive that led to the go ahead field goal by Stephen Gostkowski.
Gronkowski even helped out in pass protection, including providing a solid pocket for Brady on the 27-yard completion to Chris Hogan on the next drive. He followed it up with a good block to seal off the edge on James White’s 27-yard run on the next play. The drive led to Julian Edelman’s touchdown. Gronkowski also fought off Jenkins to start the next possession, which sprung Michel’s 33-yard run. That’s another drive which ended in a touchdown.
Those are contributions that obviously don’t show up on the stat sheet, but after what we saw on several replays, his blocking ability is something that shouldn’t go unnoticed and it played a big role in Sunday’s win. If Gronkowski continues to struggle in the passing game, what he does in the ground game could be the area where he quietly makes a difference if his physical ailments see him forced into a smaller role in the offense.
Either way, the good news is the big tight end was at least all smiles after it was over and said after the game that even though it was nice to get into the end zone, he was happy the team was able to get back on track and get the win.
“It feels good, but what feels better is getting that win. Just scoring on that one drive was just contributing to what we were trying to do and that was just get the W,” said Gronkowski. “We just kept putting points up throughout the game (and) just running the ball well which was huge. Our running backs are doing a great job. We’re doing a great job in that phase of the game, which when you can run the ball that’s always a good thing for sure.”
3) Solid outing for Edelman – Gronkowski’s return saw one of the better games we’ve seen so far from Julian Edelman, who caught four passes on five targets, all of which went for a first down including a 21-yard touchdown on Sunday against the Jets.
Edelman looked much quicker than he had in previous weeks and didn’t appear to be showing any ill-effects from any of the ailments he appeared to be dealing with heading into the bye, although he took a couple of big shots on Sunday. One of those plays saw him come down hard on his elbow and despite seemingly being in a lot of pain, the veteran receiver never left the field and played well. He also had Brady’s lone red zone reception, which went for 16-yards.
Having Gronkowski back in the mix definitely appeared to help open things up a bit more in the passing game and Edelman admitted that having him back certainly helped.
“There are a lot of eyes going to him,” said Edelman of Gronkowski. “He’s probably the best tight end to ever suit up. Anytime he’s on the field he’s going to attract attention and it helps everyone.”
The win improved the team to 8-3 on the season and helped ease the sting from their loss against the Titans before the bye, however, when asked if the win brought joy or relief, Edelman said that he’s glad they won but it’s time to turn the page.
“It’s a little bit of both,” said Edelman. “But you’re on to the next one. We have Minnesota next and you turn the page, whether it’s a win or loss. Obviously, the taste in your mouth is a little better right now. But it’s the NFL and it’s on to the next one.”
Brady spread the ball around, which actually led to a better performance by Gordon.
4) Brady shifts focus from Gordon, which leads to a strong performance for the veteran wideout – One of the things that stood out about Sunday’s game was the fact Brady did a better job of spreading the ball around compared to past weeks, which ended up being a positive when it came to receiver Josh Gordon.
The veteran quarterback finished the afternoon completing passes to eight different receivers, with the most notable numbers on the stat sheet being the fact Brady was a perfect 5-of-5 targeting Josh Gordon. That’s a massive improvement over the 4-of-12 performance two weeks ago against the Titans, which saw the veteran quarterback lean on Gordon a bit too much as the offense struggled to get into a rhythm in what ended up being a frustrating loss in Tennessee.
Gordon finished Sunday with 70-yards receiving, with three of his five receptions resulting in first downs, with the receiver accounting for two of Brady’s three completions on third down.
After the game, Gordon credited the running game and the return of offensive lineman Shaq Mason as being among the reasons they were so successful on Sunday.
“It opens it up for everybody,” said Gordon. “It takes the pressure off of the entire offense. But it was good to have Shaq Mason back in the line-up, I think that contributed to a lot of it. Sony fought through injuries and being hurt and the consistency of James White, it’s amazing. So it makes our job a lot easier.”
Michel looked more like himself Sunday.
5) Michel is back to his old self after two weeks off – One of the best things we saw on Sunday was the return of Sony Michel, who was once again brilliant against the Jets.
The rookie was back to his quick and shifty self, showing terrific acceleration and vision as he slashed the Jets defense for 133-yards as well as breaking off two runs of over 30-yards. Seven of those carries went for first downs, including a touchdown.
It’s Michel’s third career 100-yard game of the season and probably his most impressive performance during his short tenure with the team.
However, he had a scary moment in the game after he was briefly injured in the third quarter after getting bent back as he tried to convert a 3rd-and-1 from the Jets’ 11-yard line. The Jets defense bottled him up and pushed him back, bending him backward awkwardly as he went to the ground. Michel initially didn’t get up, laying on the ground for a bit until trainers came out and eventually helped him off the field. Fortunately, Michel missed the rest of the series but later returned to the game.
He appeared to be in good spirits after the game and told reporters he just “got tweaked up a little bit” and couldn’t wait to get back out there.
“That’s just us being able to play Patriot football,” said Michel on their performance running the football. “We want to be physical. When you’re physical, you can run the ball, you can throw the ball. It’s almost like you control the line of scrimmage and do what you want to do. Coach McDaniels has a great plan and we’re excited to go out there and just execute it.”
The team will now return home to face the Vikings next Sunday at Gillette Stadium.