E. RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The nice thing is when the Patriots figure this out, they will be downright scary once again.
When you still have kinks to work out on both sides of the ball and still come out with a convincing victory over a woebegone opponent you usually beat anyway, that’s a good feeling. But make no mistake, it isn’t just Bill Belichick who knows that this team has a lot of work to do, and a long way to go before this team realizes that it is much better than they are right now.
Mac Jones won his first game as an NFL quarterback, Belichick once again had his way with an opposing rookie quarterback, and the Patriots spanked the New York Jets 25-6 on Sunday at MetLife Stadium. Jones had pedestrian numbers but a very nice completion percentage, while fellow first round pick Zack Wilson had four interceptions in a very flawed performance as Jet quarterback. Nick Folk hit on all four field goal attempts, and in doing so set a Patriot record with 32 straight made field goals, breaking Stephen Gostkowski’s record of 31 in a row.
The Patriots’ laundry list of things to fix is still long. Early on, Kendrick Bourne fumbled after a pass reception, but an early whistle negated the fumble and the play could not be reviewed. The fact that Folk made four field goals again signals a failure of the offense to complete drives, especially in the red area. The Jets outgained the Patriots 336-260 in total team yards, included in that was 152 yards on the ground and a 4.9 yards per carry average by Jet running backs. The Patriots were again penalized eight times for 77 yards, but unlike last week, none of the penalties were game-changing.
On the plus side, Jones once again shows everyone that he is incredibly accurate, careful with his throws, and made only one curious decision when he spiked the ball in the closing seconds of the first half. He finished 22 of 30 passing (73% percentage) for 186 yards, no touchdowns, no picks and an 89.0 passer rating. Damien Harris had a scintillating 26-yard touchdown run in the third quarter with seven broken Jet tackles, but he did not fumble the ball. And of course, Wilson threw four picks, most of which were ill-advised rookie throws which Jones so far has not shown the propensity to make.
Most Patriot fans will take away the fact that the team scored “only” 25 points against a Jet team which is still flawed despite showing some promise under rookie head coach Robert Saleh. The former San Francisco defensive coordinator has his defense playing better, and did play well overall against the Patriot offense. Jones was sacked three times, the Patriots rushed for only 101 total yards, and the Jet defense played well in the red area, allowing only a seven-yard scoring run by James White in the first quarter. But when you induce four interceptions and only win by 19, you the fan might wish your offense played a bit better.
Part of the problem was the situation with the tackles. Trent Brown was a scratch from today’s game, and Justin Herron was injured on the intentional grounding play. Isaiah Wynn was flagged twice, once for a false start and a holding call that wiped out a nine-yard run by J.J. Taylor. Jones continues to deal with a lot of pressure from the front seven, and the Jets did a nice job of controlling the line of scrimmage all game long. In some of the years where the Patriots wind up winning the Super Bowl, the offensive line more or less “evolves” during the course of the year. Brown, who was the left tackle for the most recent championship year, needs to remain healthy and Wynn needs to play more steady to help this year’s line to “evolve” like previous years.
Otherwise, this game mostly hinged on Wilson and his four interceptions. If the Patriots could have scored more than 16 points off those turnovers, that would have made for a better sense of domination of this perennially poor Jet team.
J.C. Jackson had the first. On the second play of the game, Wilson threw into a crowd in the middle of the field, the ball was tipped up in the air and Jackson came down with the ball. The second drive also lasted only two plays; on second down, Wilson drove to his right and simply overthrew an open Corey Davis downfield. Adrian Phillips made a nice diving catch. In the second quarter, Wilson rolled right and again overthrew an open receiver (Elijah Moore), and Jackson had an easy catch. The final pick, on the first drive of the second half, was rather perplexing. This time Wilson rolled to his left and literally threw the ball right to Devin McCourty with no Jet receiver nearby.
None of these picks was due to an imminent sack. Three of them were off of rollouts. If nothing else, Wilson simply lost his composure when forced out of the pocket. How fortunate the Patriots are that their rookie quarterback does not exhibit the same tendencies, so far not even close. Wilson has a ways to go to become more disciplined out there, whereas Jones seems much more at ease despite imperfections on the offensive line.
White led the Patriots with six catches for 45 yards. Hunter Henry remains an untapped target with only two catches but for 42 yards. Harris finished with 62 yards on 16 carries and a 3.9 average per carry.
Wilson finished 19 of 33 passing for 210 yards, four picks and a passer rating of 37. Braxton Berrios led the Jets with seven catches for 73 yards. Michael Carter had 59 yards on 11 carries (5.4 average), while Ty Johnson had 12 carries for 50 yards (4.2 average). The Jets may want to pay more attention to this running game performance if they want Wilson to improve over the next few weeks.
Next week the Patriots head home, with their next two games against NFC South opponents. New Orleans will come to town next week, coming back to earth after their Week 1 win, losing to Carolina 26-7. Jameis Winston had a passer rating of 26.9, worse than Wilson. This will be the precursor to the most anticipated regular season game in Gillette Stadium history, the return of the quarterback GOAT. The Saints will provide the Patriots the chance to work further on their flaws and be in a better position to contend with the Super Bowl champs the following week.
Belichick was mostly complimentary in his postgame presser. Of course he was, because any win over the Jets is precious to the former DC of the NYJ. More work is needed, and it could be said that the Patriots have more tweaking to do than the Jets do.
And of course, the Patriots will tweak away. The Patriots have a very high ceiling, and that includes their brand new quarterback.
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