Some thoughts on Saturday night’s loss:
1) As bad as the game was, credit Bill Belichick and the Patriots defense for figuring things out after a rough start. Despite a rocky beginning, for the most part, they ended up settling down enough to keep the game close while giving the offense a chance to win it down the stretch.
New England’s defense held the Colts to just 13 offensive points for most of the night, including keeping Indianapolis off the scoreboard from the time they held them to a field goal following Mac Jones interception three plays into the second half deep in the Patriots’ own end, all the way up until Colts running back Jonathan Taylor broke off a 67-yard touchdown run with just over 2-minutes left to go to put the game out of reach.
That was about as much as anyone could have hoped for. There were just too many other mistakes that gave the Colts too big of a cushion to come back from. Jones’ two interceptions, along with a blocked punt, other missed opportunities and untimely penalties, were what ultimately did them in.
This game felt a lot like Keanu Reeve’s character, Shane Falco’s, definition of “quicksand” in the movie The Replacements. One mistake led to another, and then another, and then another until “they couldn’t breathe”. The worst part was, they came from everywhere. Whether it was a dropped pass, a penalty to negate a play, or losing a key player (Kyle Dugger) to an ejection, there were so many things that uncharacteristically went wrong during this one that they’ll likely look back at this game on film and be frustrated by the fact this was a game they easily could have had.
For a defense that has been pretty opportunistic, it was surprising to see how fortunate that Carson Wentz was and how much different Saturday night could have gone. There were several missed interceptions and close calls, with J.C. Jackson missing a couple of turnover opportunities, although Jamie Collins’ leaping deflection that Devin McCourty came down ended up being at least one of the few highlights of the evening.
Overall, they held Wentz to just five completions, while keeping Indy’s offense out of the end zone for much of the game. They also held Indianapolis to just 2-of-10 on third down, but allowed a perfect 3-of-3 on fourth down. Unfortunately, for a team that prides itself on complementary football, there were just too many problems and miscues in other areas that put this one out of reach before they really ever had a chance to get started.
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2) Jones made a few rookie mistakes on Saturday, including two surprising interceptions, one of which was ugly and happened in the red zone at the end of the first half.
Down 17-0 with just over 4-minutes left to go in the half, and the fact they had the ball to start the second half, Jones and the offense had a chance to get back in the game and it seemed like they were going to take advantage. They drove from their own 25-yard line down to Indianapolis’ 13-yard line, with Jones connecting on passes of 15, 13, and 25 yards to Kendrick Bourne, Stevenson, and Hunter Henry respectively. But after Jakobi Meyers picked up 9-yards, Jonnu Smith was called for a false start on a 2nd-and-1 from the Colts’ 13.
That killed their momentum, moving them back and taking them out of a relatively easy opportunity to move the chains and instead changed how they approached the rest of the series.
The Colts adjusted and two plays later, Jones attempted to connect with Henry on a 3rd-and-3 from the Indianapolis 15 but was picked off at the Colts’ 6yd line by Darius Leonard on a throw where Jones clearly didn’t see him and was late getting the ball out to Henry.
Jones ended up throwing it right to Leonard, with the rookie not seeing him until it was too late.
It ended a potential scoring opportunity and was Jones’ first red-zone interception of his career. Worse yet, it saw them go into the locker room still down 17-0 at halftime after squandering a chance to get back in the game, which stung even further since they also had the ball to start the second half.
“You can’t win until you stop from losing,” said Jones after the game. “I mean, I handed the ball to the guy. I did that twice, and that hurt us. I thought the defense played pretty well, and I just shot them in the foot myself by giving them the short field and giving them the ball. That’s just my fault and I’ll learn from it, but I’m not going to be gun-shy or anything. (I’ll) just learn from it and move on.”
Unfortunately, the trouble continued to start the second half when Jones was again late throwing Brandon Bolden the football coming out of his break on a throw to the sideline, which allowed Bobby Okereke to jump the route and pick him off on a 3rd-and-1 from their own 34. That led to a 41-yard field goal after the Patriots’ defense managed to keep them out of the end zone, but it was yet another turnover that dug the hole that much deeper and ended up being just too much to overcome.
Jones wasn’t himself from the outset and had quite a few throws where he was overly cautious, getting the ball out late at quite a few points in this one. However, he showed a lot of toughness after taking a big shot late in the 3rd quarter where he had to make a play on a 3rd-and-4 and threw back across the field as defenders closed in. Jones ended up completing the pass and kept things going but he paid for it, taking a big hit while coming up limping.
Give him credit, he fought hard and this loss wasn’t from a lack of effort. It was a lack of execution, which Jones told reporters is something they’ll be looking to correct heading into next Sunday’s rematch against Buffalo.
3) Rhamondre Stevenson played well but the absence of Damien Harris certainly loomed large in this one. The two had provided a pretty good one-two punch in recent weeks, which against a physical Colts defense would have likely come in handy Saturday night.
Given Harris’ value to the club, Belichick clearly believed resting him and getting him healthy was the better long-term decision. After seeing how the rest of the game went, having Harris absent with an extra week to heal ended up being the one positive they can hopefully take away from this week.
Overall, Stevenson carried 10 times for 36-yards while averaging 3.6 yards-per-carry, but as the Colts started building a lead, the Patriots were forced to have Jones throw the football to get them back into the game and they fell too far behind to the point where they just ran out of time.
Stevenson has been one of New England’s most pleasant surprises this season, with the former standout out of Oklahoma closing in on 500-yards rushing on the season. Saturday night’s total moved him up to 110-carries for 465-yards and three touchdowns and he’s averaging over 4-yards-per-carry on the year.
His value will likely grow even higher in the coming weeks should the Patriots rebound and remain in the playoff hunt, as the running game has been one of the key reasons they’ve even made it to this point.
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4) It’s surprising to see how out of sync Jones has been with Meyers, with the rookie connecting on just 6-of-12 pass attempts Saturday night. The missed deep throw was definitely one of the most disappointing, as that would have converted a big 3rd-down while also potentially going for a big play.
Coming into Saturday night’s match-up, Meyers was the most targeted Patriots receiver by nearly double his peers, with Jones targeting him 58 times on the season for 609-yards. What’s interesting is seeing the drop in completion percentage between the two through the first seven weeks compared to the previous five weeks prior to Saturday night.
Here’s a look at the numbers:
Jones Total Targets to Meyers:
Weeks 1-7: 41/59 (69.5%) 390-yards
Weeks 8-13: 17/30 (56.7%) 219-yards
Meyers had been one of the club’s most productive receivers, which teams have clearly been focusing in on trying to take him out of the offense. Saturday night was frustrating because there were a couple of opportunities where he missed a chance to come up with a big play in a key moment.
Life likely won’t get any easier, and for this group to be successful over these last few weeks in the season, having the two getting back on the same page is going to be important. Coming into Saturday night, Meyers was also the team leader in 3rd down receptions from Jones with 19 catches and 14 receiving first downs. The one positive was the fact the two connected on 2-of-3 targets Saturday night on 3rd down, both of which moved the chains.
5) The absence of Dugger at the end of the game was big, as after his ejection, the Colts had more success moving the ball on their second to last possession of the game, with their final meaningful drive where Taylor breaking free for his 67-yard touchdown being the most frustrating.
Given how big of a part that Dugger has become in their success in stopping the run, the Patriots ended up in tough shape. Having already lost Ja’Whaun Bentley to injury earlier in the contest, Dugger’s loss was key because he’s about as valuable against the run as he’s been in the passing game, quietly making him one of New England’s most versatile players in this defense. He and Adrian Phillips have been outstanding this season, and the two came up big, especially in the second half as the Patriots tried to get back in the game prior to Dugger’s ejection.
Looking back at the altercation between Dugger and Colts receiver Michael Pittman, Pittman clearly antagonized it but the fact Dugger lost his cool is one of those moments that will likely prevent such an occurrence down the road. Being baited by a player who had caught just one pass on five targets is something that just can’t happen, and it’s likely something that was mentioned behind closed doors by his head coach.
It’s a frustrating loss, but it’s also one that should provide some motivation as Sunday’s match-up against Buffalo will likely eclipse this one in terms of intensity.
The Bills ended a two-game losing streak with a win over Carolina on Sunday. That previous skid started after they lost two-in-a-row following their loss to New England back on December 6th.
Bills head coach Sean McDermott already knows what’s riding on this one, and as expected, he’s already focused on trying to make sure they avoid a repeat of what happened last time.
“We’ve got to keep it about us,” said McDermott after their win over Carolina. “[The Patriots] came in here and beat us [last time]. So obviously we have some adjusting to do and get to have a good week of preparation.”
Posted Under: 2021 Patriots Season
Tags: Adrian Phillips Bill Belichick Carson Wentz Indianapolis Colts Jonathan Taylor Kyle Dugger Mac Jones Michael Pittman Jr. New England Patriots Rhamondre Stevenson