Good morning. I’m covering for Steve Balestrieri as he continues recovering from Hurricane Ian this week (that feels oddly strange to type), so hopefully, I can do this column justice until things settle back down for him.
Quick Hitters For the Patriots and the NFL:
Mac Jones – The situation with the New England Patriots quarterback was certainly interesting this week, with head coach Bill Belichick coining the phrase “Day-by-day” whenever he was questioned by the media about Jones’ status. That strategy covered things for most of the week, allowing the team to delay revealing Jones’ status ahead of Sunday’s game in Green Bay.
It lasted until Friday afternoon when Jones was trotted out in front of the media during the team’s practice session, with Jones being spotted with little additional tape on his ankle or any indication he was severely hampered in any way. The second-year quarterback spent the media portion of the practice field behind a net on the far end of the field while making a few stationary throws, with some whispers that he might be a game-time decision.
Instead, the ruse came to an end and what we all more or less expected ended up being reported. Jones was officially ruled out for this weekend a few hours later, which puts Brian Hoyer front and center in what might be one of the more pivotal games of this young season.
Isaiah Wynn – The Patriots have dealt with a fair amount of turnovers and untimely penalties so far this season, with Wynn’s name coming up in that conversation far too often. The veteran offensive tackle was the culprit in some frustrating moments last week after committing an illegal formation and an offensive holding penalty on successive drives on second down against Baltimore that put them in a hole and essentially killed each drive. He had another false start penalty the previous week in Pittsburgh on a second down play that also led to a 3rd-and-long and killed that drive.
That can’t continue. Despite the fact New England picked up his 5th-year option prior to the season, Wynn hasn’t appeared focused and he’s certainly started off the 2022 campaign not playing his best football. Against a team like the Packers, New England will likely have little margin for error, and ending up in long-yardage situations due to mental errors is going to make for a long afternoon if his troubles persist.
Nelson Agholor – Agholor is another player who falls into the category of someone to worry about, with the veteran wideout already off to a shaky start. He leads the club with 179-yards receiving and has one of the team’s two passing touchdowns, but he’s fumbled away the football twice already in three games, which has proven costly in each of New England’s losses. Pair his turnovers with Jones’ 5 interceptions and it’s a recipe for disaster.
Aside from the turnovers, Agholor has done a good job of turning things around, with Jones connecting on 11 passes already this season after the two only hooked up for 37 in 2021. However, putting the football on the ground is obviously an issue that he’s going to need to get better about. The two fumbles are tied as the same career-high Agholor had in 2019 when he also fumbled twice. Hopefully, he won’t set any records in that regard for the rest of the season.
Jakobi Meyers – Meyers was downgraded to “Out” for Sunday’s game, leaving Hoyer without one of the team’s most productive players for the second-straight week.
Even after missing last week’s game against the Ravens, Meyers still has a team-leading 13 receptions for 150-yards, and also leads the team in third down targets with 9 with 6 receptions, 5 of which moved the chains.
His absence definitely is yet another challenge the team will have to overcome as they try and even their record in what should be a difficult road environment.
Lawrence Guy – It’s a little surprising that no one noticed Guy’s departure last weekend, which is where the Ravens’ jump in rushing yards started and where the Patriots struggled to plug the hole he left behind for the remainder of the game. The team announced him as “Out” on Friday for Sunday’s battle, and that’s certainly less than ideal.
The Packers are actually among the top rushing teams in the league, coming in at 9th in total yards (381) and yards per game (127) while averaging 4.7yds per carry. With Guy sidelined, this will definitely be an area to watch as against Baltimore, the Patriots didn’t seem to have an answer and it will be interesting to see if they found one for this week in Green Bay.
Tagovailoa’s Situation is Maddening
Seeing Tua Tagovailoa out on the field Thursday night in Cincinnati just four days coming off of what was an obvious head injury to anyone with eyes, was absolutely frustrating.
However, given what ultimately transpired, watching him lay there and endure additional head trauma was stomach-churning and it clearly poses the question of whether or not he should have even been out there to begin with.
The obvious answer, is a resounding “no”. While Tagovailoa blamed Sunday’s apparent initial episode against the Buffalo Bills on a back injury, it was clear he wasn’t being honest. Anyone who watched it saw that he got up after the play, stumbled a bit, shook out the cobwebs and nearly lost his balance again after he got back on his feet. Anyone who watched the replay didn’t need a medical degree to tell that his issues likely weren’t back-related and instead likely stemmed from how hard his head hit the turf.
However, the young quarterback dismissed it and then convinced everyone else he was fine and somehow ended up back in the game. It’s a clear reminder that there are indeed times where the NFL needs to save a player from themselves while putting player safety above all else.
This shouldn’t even be a discussion, not in 2022. Not with everything we know to this point. After being carted off the field in Cincinnati, there were a lot of people out there wondering if Tagovailoa’s potentially played his last game and if the repercussions of this will rear their ugly head at some point. He could eventually return, only to suffer a debilitating seizure down the road that threatens his health, or worse.
At this point, all we know is that Tagovailoa hasn’t seemed to be truthful and there doesn’t seem to be anyone willing to save him from himself. Why the league hasn’t instituted an automatic one-game absence after a head injury defies logic, especially since it would take things completely out of the coach’s and player’s hands and instead prioritize their recovery.
It’s something that needs to be addressed and with the NFLPA now pushing the issue, something has to happen. They already terminated the independent neurological expert who cleared Tagovailoa last Sunday, which is a start. The union and the league also reportedly eliminated an exception that allowed the QB to reenter the game, and are still discussing the protocols and that the investigation remains ongoing.
It’s just frustrating that it generally takes something serious before the league does in fact, finally make a change. For Tagovailoa’s sake, let’s just hope we won’t one day look back at Thursday night knowing something awful could have – and should have – absolutely been prevented.
(PHOTO: Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports
More on Mac
Tom Curran of NBC Sports Boston pointed out an interesting fact on Friday as it pertains to Jones’ current struggles.
Curran Tweeted that first-year quarterbacks often spend time in their initial seasons learning what they can do, compared to second-year quarterbacks who typically spend time learning what they can’t do.
He goes on to make a comparison between Tom Brady who through the first six games of 2002 had 10 interceptions.
“The Patriots threw it more than 30 times in each of those games and in four, Brady threw more than 43 times,” Tweeted Curran. “Charlie Weis reeled it way back after that and Brady had 4 picks the rest of the way. Conclusion? Pick binges happen when the collar is loosened.”
Given what Jones has been asked to do in various situations, it’s certainly a valid point. The biggest discussion this past week has also centered on whether or not some of his issues are due to coaches pressing him to take chances, or Jones simply making a bad judgement.
Considering we’re only three games in, it’s hard to say and we really won’t have a good feel for what direction he’s headed in until we have a full body of work to evaluate. Unfortunately, Jones will potentially be a spectator over the next couple of weeks, which will hopefully at least provide him with a little perspective before he eventually makes his way back into the line-up.
Either way, for those ready to write him off and start looking for “the next guy”, it certainly feels like it’s a little early to make that call. It’s simply a reminder that when it comes to young quarterbacks, patience is needed until you truly have a big enough sample size to make any real determinations.
They could be 3-0
After dropping the opener in Miami and falling last Sunday against the Ravens, the Patriots have come out on the wrong end of two games they certainly could have won.
With time allowing for a little bit of perspective, the biggest thing we’ve learned so far is a lot of these problems are absolutely self-inflicted, with the club losing games primarily due to mistakes and mental errors.
We saw it in Week 1 when the team was in that game all the way to the end, even despite some of their earlier issues. With a full quarter to go trailing 20-7, the Patriots shot themselves in the foot with a chop block on a 3rd-and-6 that negated a roughing the passer penalty. That was the play where Mac Jones suffered a back injury and had the penalty held, it would have given them the ball in Miami territory. Instead, they ended up punting. They then had an incompletion on a 4th-and-3 at the 50 on the next series, and then lost the ball at the Miami 38 on the ensuing drive when Agholor fumbled. Those were three straight possessions where they held Miami scoreless and had chances to get back into the game and just couldn’t do it.
We watched a similar finish last week. The Patriots came out of the locker room in the second half and drove 75-yards on 7 plays that Harris capped off with a 2-yard touchdown run, which came one play after Jones was nearly picked off for what could have been a brutal turnover. Instead, the Patriots were up 20-14.
But Baltimore answered with a scoring drive of their own on the next possession, going the same distance on the same number of plays after Lamar Jackson threw a touchdown pass to Josh Oliver to put them up 21-20.
Things seemed out of reach after the Ravens took advantage of a 43-yard punt return which gave them great field position, which Jackson followed up with a 38yd run to set up another touchdown. That put Baltimore firmly on top at 28-20 and things appeared out of hand.
It got even worse when Jones was picked off two plays later on a bad throw to DeVante Parker, which led to a 56yd field goal by Ravens’ kicker Justin Tucker to increase the lead to 31-20.
Instead, New England finally answered, putting together a scoring drive but failed on the two-point conversion to pull within 5 points at 31-26.
Things then seemed even more hopeful after Jackson’s first pass on the Ravens’ next possession saw a forced fumble by Jonathan Jones where Jabril Peppers came up with the recovery. That turnover got everyone at Gillette Stadium back on their feet as it gave the Patriots the football at the Ravens’ 39yd line with an opportunity for a potential go ahead touchdown.
But that drive ended with an interception in the end zone on a deep throw to Parker, and their next possession ended with the fumble by Agholor.
That sequence marked two big missed opportunities in a game where the only team that beat them was the one that didn’t fly home when it was over.
Self-inflicted mistakes have been the theme so far for a team that now sits at 1-2. As Bill Parcells once said, “you are what your record says you are” and for the wins to start coming, the Patriots have to first fix themselves.
(PHOTO: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports
Sunday’s game is pivotal
This tough start adds a little bit of pressure for a team that now really needs to even its record as New England heads into a stretch of games where things should be competitive.
Following Sunday’s game in Green Bay, the Patriots will face off against the Lions, Browns, Bears, and Jets respectively over these next four weeks, which could make October a month where they’ll either get right, or they’ll dig themselves a hole that may end up too deep to get out of.
That’s one thing that definitely makes the timing of Jones’ injury so frustrating. New England now has little margin for error coming off of stretch where they’ve simply made too many mistakes. The club finds itself on the wrong end of the turnover differential, sitting with the second-worst total at -4, which if things were to stay that way would be one of their lowest in the Belichick era.
ESPN has the stats going back to 2014 and the Patriots have been on the plus side of every season, which essentially confirms how well they’ve taken care of the football.
They were tied for 7th with +7 with the Saints in 2021, tied for 9th with the Falcons and Chargers in 2020 with +3, 1st in 2019 at +21, 5th in 2018 with +10, 9th in 2017 with +6, 2nd in 2016 with +12, 5th in 2015 with +7, and tied for 2nd with +12 with Houston in 2014.
Where they are right now is definitely not ideal and the reasons behind their problems so far, which we’ve already mentioned, have certainly been pretty easy to pinpoint.
The Packers aren’t exactly immune to turnovers, with Aaron Rodgers throwing an interception last week and Green Bay also had a lost fumble. But they also recovered two fumbles from the Buccaneers during their 14-12 win.
With New England reeling a bit, this could very well be a game where the Patriots could come in and surprise some people and pull off the victory. It’s certainly a less talented group than they faced in 2018, which the Patriots won 31-17. In that game, New England’s defense was the story as they held Rodgers to just 2-of-7 for 15-yards in the fourth quarter, which is where the Patriots managed to put up 14 points thanks to a perfect 6-of-6 for 104yds and a touchdown by Tom Brady, which saw them come away with the victory.
While Brady isn’t part of this equation, another solid outing by the defense and a big afternoon by Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson could certainly be enough. Whether or not it will be is obviously a different story, but hopefully, this can potentially be the game that helps put some confidence back in this football team.
Time For Hoyer to Step Up
Not a lot of people are feeling overly confident in Brian Hoyer, and it’s understandable given his history. Hoyer heads into this game coming off of a forgettable performance against Kansas City in 2020 due to Cam Newton being sidelined thanks to COVID-19.
That nightmare played out in the worst way for Hoyer, who committed mental errors and bad game management and it led to seeing him pulled and later demoted on the depth chart following the club’s eventual 26-10 loss.
Obviously, that was two years ago and he’s put it behind him. He said this week that he’s excited for this game and he’s not worried at all about anything that’s happened previously.
“I mean look, I’ve played for 14 years, I have a lot of bad memories. I have a lot of good memories, too,” said Hoyer. “One game doesn’t define me, one play doesn’t define me. I’m excited for any opportunity I get to go play. I really could [not] care less about that.”
We did find out a fun fact about Hoyer this week after Matthew Slater let everyone know Hoyer’s real name is “Axel”, not Brian. One thing that was pretty clear is the fact his teammates are behind him and they feel confident. With Hoyer knowing these opportunities probably won’t come around too many more times, he’s looking forward to going out there and he’s going to do the best he can to hopefully get his team back in the win column.
“At this point you don’t know how many chances like this you get anymore,” said Hoyer. “So obviously, it’s a part of the job. You’re always ready to play. So for me, it’s an opportunity to go out there and have fun, and go out and execute really. Have fun.”
“I really love my teammates, what they do, how hard they work. So an opportunity to go out there and play with those guys.”
Posted Under: 2022 Patriots Season
Tags: Aaron Rodgers Axel Hoyer Baltimore Ravens Bill Belichick Bill Parcells Brian Hoyer Green Bay Packers Lawrence Guy Mac Jones Miami Dolphins Nelson Agholor New England Patriots Pittsburgh Steelers Tua Tagovailoa