Some thoughts following Sunday’s game.
1) For anyone who hasn’t been happy with New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones, Sunday saw him finally show some signs of life when they needed him to step up.
The second-year QB initially got off to a good start against the Dolphins, with the offense marching down the field and getting the team on the board on the opening drive.
Jones hit four of his first six throws on the opening series, with the offense finishing things off with a 7-yard touchdown pass to rookie receiver Tyquan Thornton. That play gave New England the early 7-0 lead, and it seemed like they were off and running.
But as we’ve seen in recent weeks, the offense had a hard time keeping things going against a relatively depleted Miami secondary. They punted on their next two drives, with their last possession before the half seeing them run out the clock after failing to convert a 3rd-and-1 deep in their own territory at their own 22-yard line.
In the second half, they punted on two possessions but Jones got going on a streak that saw him miss just four of his final 15 throws, including a fourth-quarter where he connected on 6-of-9 along with a terrific one-yard touchdown to Jakobi Meyers with just under five minutes left to play that gave them a two-possession edge and put the game out of reach at 23-14.
This is one of the first games in recent memory where Jones went on that kind of run late in the game. That 11 play, 89-yard drive helped take over 5-minutes off the clock, and it was essentially a game-clinching possession that made the deficit one that was too deep for Miami to overcome.
While he had a tough go of things after that first possession, the fact he pulled it together and then was so effective down the stretch was the first sign we’ve seen all year of Jones being able to close out a game.
Jones admitted after it was over that he didn’t play well during the middle of the game, but obviously, it was how they finished that mattered and he was proud of the way his teammates fought on Sunday.
“I think it was a great day here just fighting through a lot of different things on offense,” said Jones. “I didn’t play as good as I wanted to in the middle of the game. I thought our guys just kept fighting. We made some big plays in some big moments. That’s what the NFL is all about. Obviously, defense did a great job of putting us in a good spot, special teams. Obviously, at the end of the game here, special teams came up huge, with Hunter [Henry] getting the onside kick. Really proud of the guys for all the effort today.”
2) Kyle Dugger has just been outstanding down the stretch, showing off terrific athletic ability and instincts in recent weeks, with Sunday obviously adding to what’s already been an incredible year.
Dugger made the play of the game on Sunday, picking off Teddy Bridgewater late in the third quarter, which grabbed the momentum for a Patriots team in dire need of a spark. The veteran safety jumped in front of a pass intended for Trent Sherfield, turning it into a pick-six.
That play put New England back on top after it felt like the game might have been getting away from them. More importantly, it allowed them to take back the momentum on their way to their 8th win of the season.
The play was textbook. Dugger dropped back and, while following Bridgewater’s eyes, he saw him look over in Sherfield’s direction and immediately broke on the football. Dugger timed it up perfectly, stepping in front of the pass and snatching the ball out of the air before taking off up the sideline, cutting back in, and then slipping past everyone into the end zone.
“Just cover-two dropping as the middle player,” said Dugger after the game of the play. “Got some odd drops, saw my threat was eliminated, so I was able to get my eyes back to the quarterback and get around to the backside vertical. Once I got my hands on the ball, I know I needed to score. It helped the team greatly. That was the goal.”
That play marked his third defensive touchdown of the season, adding to the one he just made a couple of weeks ago in Las Vegas when he anticipated a swing pass to Devante Adams, which he stepped in front of and easily walked into the end zone.
He’s really playing well right now and it couldn’t have come at a better time. With Jack Jones out for the remainder of the season, Marcus Jones sidelined, and Jalen Mills ailing, plays like those helped offset what’s currently a banged-up secondary.
Jonathan Jones seemingly got nicked up during this one, so it’s going to be interesting to see if Dugger can carry this momentum into the final week of the season and potentially longer to help them get through it if they continue dealing with injuries.
Jones appears to be gaining confidence. (PHOTO: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports)
3) One other thing that’s been impressive is that Jones appears to have become indifferent to the ire fans have rained down on him in recent weeks, and he appears to be feeding off of it.
Jones has been throwing the football with more confidence during the last couple of home games at Gillette Stadium, with a fair amount of those throws coming late in the contest when things had started getting fairly ugly.
With Jones hearing the booes and the calls for Bailey Zappe on Sunday, Jones took the field after two straight possessions where they punted and put together a 9 play, 51-yard drive that ended in a field goal after a false start by Kendrick Bourne put them in third-and-long and caused the drive to stall.
That field goal put the score at 14-10, with Dugger’s interception for a touchdown on the ensuing drive helping turn the tide. Jones put together the game-clinching drive on their second possession of the fourth quarter, and that sealed it.
The second-year quarterback did a good job of ignoring the noise and taking care of business, which now has his team one step closer to another shot at the postseason.
“I think the fans are really passionate, and I love that about our fan base,” said Jones last week during his weekly interview on WEEI. “They want to win like we want to win. Everyone’s entitled to their opinion, and my job is to go out there and be Mac and just be a really good player. So that’s what I’ve always tried and do in any situation I’m in, and that’s all you can do, right? Just go out there and compete and try and help your team win and put them in a position to win.”
Translation? Everyone has their opinion, and he doesn’t care what people think.
The result has been two red zone passing touchdowns these last two weeks and 4 passing touchdowns overall. Anyone who has been watching has seen the bags under his eyes on Wednesdays during his press conferences, which is a reminder that there are clearly hours being put in to improve.
He appears to have reached the point where he’s aware that much of the region doesn’t seem to think much of him, and that indifference seems to be instead working against the people who seem to be rooting for him to fail.
Hopefully, that will fuel him for at least another week, and potentially longer.
Thornton played well Sunday. (PHOTO: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports)
4) Tyquan Thornton made some big receptions Sunday, hauling in two passes of over 20-yards (24-yards, and 29-yards), as well as a 7-yard touchdown on the opening series that gave New England the early lead and put them in control of the game.
Thornton seems like he’s finally starting to come into his own, albeit he and Jones still aren’t quite where they need to be. Jones was 3-of-7 targeting him, with Jones overthrowing him on a couple of attempts, as well as another that was short and Thornton couldn’t quite haul it in. But the plays they hit were certainly good to see and the two seem to finally be getting on the same page just in time for what could potentially be a key stretch heading into next Sunday’s finale in Buffalo.
Jones said after the game that the two have really developed a good relationship and that the communication has been a big key in their growth.
“Yeah, I think he’s a really good route runner, really good, fast, smart kid,” said Jones. “Works hard. Doesn’t complain about anything. Just goes out there and does what he’s supposed to do. We have a lot of guys like that on our team. Just excited to grow with him. He’s a young player. I’m a young player. We’re working every day to get that chemistry.”
“He’s done a great job. Definitely, we’re going to watch the film together. I always like to tell him things to work on, same thing with him. He’s very comfortable about telling me, “Hey, put it here, put it there, let’s try this, try that.” As a young player, definitely impressed with him. His ability to communicate at a really high level during the games by telling me what he sees, too.”
5) It’s hard to believe this might be the final time we see guys like Devin McCourty and Matthew Slater on the field at Gillette Stadium, with Sunday having been the final home game for the 2022 regular season.
Time rolls on, and guys come and go, but these two have been two of the lone long-time veterans still remaining.
McCourty is a former first-round pick back in 2010 while the 37-year-old Slater was taken in the 5th round a couple of years earlier in 2008. Both players became important parts of their respective units, and the potential loss of leadership next year will be another blow to a team that has needed to get younger, but has also needed guys like them around to set an example for these young players who have come in.
Both players played well on Sunday, with McCourty coming close to picking off a pass that he couldn’t quite hold on to. Slater quietly notched two tackles on special teams and did what he’s always done.
Fans had signs they brought with them into the stadium on Sunday thanking both for their contributions, with Slater admitting he noticed, although he tried to keep things business as usual.
“I haven’t spent a ton of time thinking about it, I’ve been trying to stay in the moment,” said Slater after the game. “I certainly took time to appreciate being in this stadium and running out of that tunnel today. Saw a couple of signs that were thanking D-Mac [Devin McCourty] and myself. I don’t know what either of us have in store but I think when you get to this stage of it, you try to take in every moment and savor it.”
As for McCourty, he seems to be closer to hanging up his cleats and he said he definitely took some extra time to take in every moment.
“I took a moment. Spent some time with my family on the field,” said McCourty after the contest. “It’s been a great run. To come out here, if this was the last one, I think to be able to leave Gillette with a win, very similar to how my first-ever game was a win.”
“I’ve had a lot of fun. These guys have been awesome to go out here and compete with. You never know how football goes. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about it before the game, and just now. Give a high five to the Minutemen, something I’ve done over and over and over again after wins. Just kind of think about that, let that settle in, just trying to make sure I stay in the moment, enjoy. But definitely gave it a few seconds today.”
If this is really the last time they take the field, it’s been a lot fun, and definitely wish them the best.
But there remains some unfinished business, and we’ll see if both players can see their final seasons extended a little longer after next weekend.
Posted Under: Patriots News
Tags: 2022 Patriots Season Patriots vs Dolphins