Some thoughts following Sunday’s 36-13 Patriots win over Tennessee:
1) Not his best game, but Jones was solid
It’s not every day when you can criticize an effort where the quarterback throws for over 300-yards, but Jones had a little bit of difficulty in what could have been an even bigger showing for the rookie on Sunday.
Mac Jones put together a solid outing, completing 23-of-32 for 310-yards and 2 touchdowns, but he missed a few throws he’d likely want to have back, including one to a wide-open Hunter Henry for a would-be touchdown in the first half that would have allowed New England to start pulling away from Tennessee.
With just over a minute remaining in the first half, the rookie had Henry open on a deep play after Henry got behind the defender and was streaking toward the end zone. Unfortunately, Jones overthrew him, forcing the Patriots to have to settle for a field goal. Instead of potentially going up 17-6, they only increased their lead to 13-6 and it kept things close enough for Tennessee to pull within three points after they answered with a 68-yard touchdown run by running back Dontrell Hilliard on the ensuing possession, which made the score 16-13 before the half.
The rookie also had several throws that sailed a little high and had another that was nearly picked, but those ended up being small blips on what was otherwise a pretty good showing. With the temperature dipping down into the 30s and a fairly light wind, it was Jones’ first test in inclement weather and all-in-all, it wasn’t that bad. He still had some good moments, including a couple of throws where he dropped them in perfectly behind defenders, including one to Jakobi Meyers that was just out of reach of the safety for a big gain. His accuracy remains one of his strongest attributes, coupled with his ability to keep the offense out of bad plays.
Even better, he finished the game strong as he completed 8-of-9 for 104-yards and a touchdown in the second half, helping the Patriots pull away and notch their 8th win of the season. He continues to be a huge bright spot for a team that has now won six-straight games and has taken back the lead in the AFC East and has a chance to further overtake Buffalo if they can pull off a win on the road against them next Monday night.
2) Terrific job by the running backs
Both Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson were terrific on Sunday, with the two backs combining for 86-yards on the ground. But each player played a key role in wearing down a Titans defense that clearly got tired as the game progressed.
Harris rushed for 40yds on 11 carries, while Stevenson rushed for 46 yards on 9 carries. However, the two each had big runs late in this one, with the both bouncing off of opponents and picking up yards after refusing to go down. With the temperature dipping into the 30s, it was clear that defenders weren’t excited about taking down either player and while Tennessee did a good job of slowing them down early, both kept running hard all game long. In fact, by the 4th quarter, the Titans defense really looked like they had a difficult time taking them down.
Both Harris and Stevenson are big bruising backs who provide New England with a couple of battering rams that are definitely perfect for this time of year. Sunday was a reminder that as the cold weather continues to settle in, the Patriots, fortunately, have the perfect players to make them dangerous.
3) Tough outing by the defense, but they made plays when it counted
It’s not every day you see this group give up nearly 300-yards on the ground, but the stat line ended up being skewed largely because of a couple of big runs by Tennessee.
The biggest one came by Hilliard, who broke through into the second level and caught Devin McCourty at a bad angle and then was able to accelerate and get away, taking off 68-yards for a touchdown to finish out the second half and pull the Titans to within 3 points after New England had just added a field goal.
D’Onta Foreman also broke off a 30-yard run of his own, but on that play, New England’s J.C. Jackson managed to punch out the football and force a turnover, which the offense turned into points after Jones hit Kendrick Bourne for his second touchdown of the afternoon when Bourne caught a pass and tight-roped the right sideline and took off 41-yards for the score.
Aside from that, they did a good job against the ground game and prevented Ryan Tannehill from completing any big plays. The veteran completed just 11-of-21 for 93-yards along with a touchdown, but they also picked him off in the end zone late in the game. McCourty deflected a pass intended for Cody Hollister and Jackson came up with the turnover, which killed the drive and prevented the Titans from getting back in the football game.
By holding the Titans to 13 points, the Patriots moved ahead of Buffalo for the top spot in the league for fewest points-per-game allowed, with New England giving up an average of 15.8 points thanks to Sunday’s performance. They’ve now allowed just 26 points over the last four games, having outscored opponents 130-26 over that span.
4) Henry was shut down in the first half, but Jonnu Smith picked up the slack
The Titans seemed focused on taking Hunter Henry out of the game early in this one, which allowed New England to instead get the football to former Titans tight end Jonnu Smith as the Patriots built an early lead.
Smith had a rush on New England’s opening drive, which saw them go 37-yards on 9 plays before Jones threw a beautifully thrown ball on a fade to the corner of the end zone, which Bourne hauled in for his first touchdown.
The tight end then caught two passes on the next drive, as the Patriots added to their lead thanks to Nick Folk kicking a 22-yard field goal to put them up 10-6. That field goal came after Jones missed Henry for what would have been a touchdown, but Smith’s contributions were key as he was quietly a big reason why New England was able to jump out to an early lead.
Henry was actually shutout in the first half, which marked the second-straight week opponents have kept him at bay in the first two quarters. It’s a little unusual because the veteran tight end had caught at least one pass from Jones in the first half in every game this season, with the exception of their week one match-up against Miami.
Jones was 0-for-3 targeting him in the first half on Sunday, before eventually hitting him on 2 passes for 16 yards in the second half, including a key third-down grab in the fourth quarter that helped the Patriots put up their final points of the afternoon after Folk finished off the drive with a 52-yard field goal.
5) Folk missed a long kick, but he was solid overall
Patriots kicker Nick Folk carried the afternoon as the offense spent a lot of time in Titans’ territory, but they needed Folk to do most of the scoring. The veteran kicker hit five field goals on the afternoon, missing just once from 53-yards just before the half.
Overall, he improved to a perfect 26/26 from 20-49 yards and he also later hit one from 52-yards, putting him at 5/8 on the season from 50+.
Folk overall has been terrific in 2021, which has been key during Jones’ development and during this current six game win streak. With a big game coming up next Monday night in Buffalo, it’s going to be interesting to see how he handles things as that stadium tends to be one of the more difficult places to kick.
The veteran kicker did manage to hit both of his kicks in Buffalo last season, hitting from both 43 and 33 yards respectively during a 24-21 loss to the Bills.
These two teams will meet in a showdown next Monday night for what is obviously one of their biggest match-ups on the season, which will hopefully allow New England to head into the bye week on a high note.
Posted Under: 2021 Patriots Season