After spending last week enjoying a much-needed break, Patriots quarterback Mac Jones and the rest of his teammates have to get back to work this weekend as they look to extend their current winning streak to eight straight games.
The bye week certainly worked out in New England’s favor, especially with former Patriots quarterback Tom Brady throwing a touchdown in overtime to snatch a victory away from Buffalo, who had fought their way back into that one before falling to the Buccaneers and dropping to 7-6 on the season.
Bills head coach Sean McDermott tried to be cute and didn’t hand-off once in the first half against the Buccaneers, likely trying to look smart by taking a page out of what Bill Belichick did against him the week before while instead doing it through the air.
It backfired, as that strategy instead caused the Bills to dig themselves a 24-3 hole at the half before they eventually abandoned that plan but still eventually came up short.
McDermott praised his team’s effort for forcing overtime, but a loss is still a loss. Unfortunately, it’s also two in a row for a Bills team who in two weeks has gone from AFC East favorites to a club that has to now spend the final few weeks fighting to even get into the playoffs.
The only good news is they’re heading into what might potentially be a “get right” game against a woeful Carolina Panthers team on Sunday, which might allow them to at least build a little momentum before their rematch against New England next week.
Meanwhile, as for the Patriots, they’re getting ready to take on a rested Colts club who also spent last weekend idle. With two weeks to prepare and having watched what New England did to the Bills, Indianapolis appears focused on making sure the Patriots don’t quite have the same success against them this weekend.
Obviously, in the last game, Jones had just three pass attempts and spent that windy night in Buffalo handing off after the Patriots ran the ball on nearly every play, including one stretch where they ran the ball 32 straight times. The Colts have had two weeks to watch that footage and they’re looking forward to challenging Jones and seeing if the rookie can beat them with his arm.
Colts linebacker Bobby Okereke told reporters earlier this week that he and the defense plan on stopping the run and seeing if the rookie can handle things from there.
“I think he’s good. He’s confident back there. He’s got a good command of the offense,” said Okereke, referring to Jones. “But we’re really going to try to make the game one-dimensional and see what he can do. So we’re excited for the challenge.”
It’s a bold statement for the linebacker, who has to know that stopping Jones might be harder than he thinks.
Jones has been terrific during the Patriots’ winning streak. (Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports)
Over the last four games, despite the three-attempt performance against Buffalo, Jones has been on a tear. He’s connected on 78.6% of his throws after completing 66-of-84 for 734-yards, along with 6 touchdowns and 1 interception. Part of the big reason behind that success is just the fact that he’s been incredibly consistent, refusing to get baited into making a bad decision and continually looking for whoever is open.
That patience and diligence by the rookie have been the biggest differences between him and his fellow first-year class of quarterbacks. There have been very few times where you’ll look at a pass attempt and wonder what Jones was thinking or questioning a decision. That’s been the most significant contrast not only by the Patriots signal-caller, but even other veteran quarterbacks around the league.
Coupled with the play of their defense, it’s also one of the key reasons behind his team’s current winning streak. You don’t win games making dumb decisions, and Jones has made very few of those.
For Jones, that’s a trend that will need to continue. The Colts are great when it comes to creating turnovers, with Indianapolis currently sitting tied for fourth in the NFL with the Buccaneers with 15 interceptions. They’re also 5th in the NFL in forced fumbles, tied with Houston with 14 including 13 recoveries (the Texans have recovered just 5 – which is staggering).
Playing on the road in a Saturday night match-up puts Jones back on the big stage, but that hasn’t seemed to phase him. He’s 6-0 on the road this season and already aced a pretty good test in Buffalo considering how well he ran the offense against a tough Bills defense. While he didn’t throw the football, we saw him make quite a few calls and navigate them in and out of protections. He clearly made a lot of the right adjustments considering the offense was obviously productive as the Bills struggled to stop them all night.
Against the Colts, they’re facing a defense who has already had one player mention the fact they’ll clearly be extra focused on shutting down their ground game. That should be music to the ears of Jones, who has done a phenomenal job this season of exploiting match-ups and taking his shots when they’ve been given. Inside a 70-degree dome and perfect conditions, it could be an opportunity for him to have a productive game and despite Okereke’s confidence, the linebacker might want to be careful what he wishes for.
For now, Jones had little to say about Okereke’s comments, but said he expects the environment to be difficult and the focus simply remains being smart with the football.
“I think they’re a great defense,” said Jones. “The main thing is the takeaways that they have. They’re number one in the NFL there. There are not a lot chinks in the armor. They do everything pretty well. They have good players at every position.”
“Obviously, the atmosphere will be good and stuff. I think it’ll just be a good matchup and we’ve just got to do what we’ve got to do.”
And hopefully, the result will be another win Saturday night.
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