Some news and notes on this Monday:
Offensive Line Was Terrific Sunday
Given the loss of both Cole Strange and Mike Onwenu, who were both inactive ahead of Sunday’s game against Philadelphia, the initial concern was that the Patriots’ offense was going to be in serious trouble against an incredibly tough Eagles pass rush.
That turned out not to be the case. Both rookie left guard Atonio Mafi and fellow rookie right guard Sidy Sow each played incredibly well in their absence. Sow had spent the preseason at right tackle but gave way to Calvin Anderson, who played 100% of the snaps Sunday opposite Trent Brown despite missing the preseason with an illness.
What’s most surprising is that the Eagles really failed to get much pressure up the middle for the majority of the game. Mac Jones had a reasonable amount of time to work, and the Eagles weren’t ever really to come after him inside and force him off his spot. That’s primarily the reason why New England was able to battle its way back despite falling behind early 16-0.
“I think starting two rookies on the offensive line is tough, and they played really, really good all night,” said quarterback Mac Jones after the game. “Didn’t really feel the pressure at all against the best defensive line in the NFL. I felt like they did an amazing job. Couldn’t thank them enough for the job they did tonight and just have to grow and continue on.”
The one knock was the fact that they struggled to open much up in the ground game, which is understandable since there wasn’t much time for this group to gel ahead of this matchup.
But regardless, Sunday could have been an absolute disaster given who they were facing, and it wasn’t.
Jones Fell Short, And Blamed Himself For the Loss
Jones was incredibly hard on himself after the game, putting this loss on his own shoulders after he admitted that the defense gave him the ball twice and he couldn’t complete the comeback.
“They gave me the ball twice to win the game, and I couldn’t do it,” said Jones. “I just got to go back and watch and see what I can do better, but as a quarterback, that hurts, right? You get a chance to win the game twice and can’t do it. You just got to learn from it.”
Jones finished Sunday’s game completing 35-of-54 for 316-yards along with three touchdowns and one interception, which was part of a first quarter where they committed back-to-back turnovers that put them in a deficit they ultimately couldn’t quite overcome.
The throw to Kendrick Bourne on the 3rd-and-5 that glanced off his fingers and ended up being a pick-six by Darius Slay was brutal. Jones had Bourne on a nice route as he broke back inside right at the first-down marker and it would have moved the chains. Instead, the ball sailed high and ended up in a turnover.
“I really didn’t throw any good passes on the first drive,” said Jones, who was just 2-of-4 for 14 yards and the turnover on that first series. “So definitely a slow start, and it starts with me.”
The next turnover also stung. The Patriots had brought Marcus Jones into the game on offense and lined him up out wide to the right, which Philly immediately spotted and keyed in on him.
Mac initially faked the throw to his way but instead turned back to his left and threw a screen to Ezekiel Elliott, who had just chipped defensive end Josh Sweat on his way out into the flat.
Unfortunately, Jones ended up being a little early with the pass, as Elliott hadn’t fully slipped past him, and the ball came in wide to the veteran’s right. Elliott then had to reach out behind him with one hand to haul it in.
However, he got drilled just after he turned upfield, with the veteran losing the football, and it set up the Eagles’ next touchdown.
That sequence ultimately ended up being the difference in the game.
There’s just not a lot of margin for error in games like this where Jones just wasn’t sharp at the outset and he dug himself a hole he couldn’t get them out of. Jones brought them back with three touchdown passes but couldn’t push them over the finish line thanks to a fourth quarter that saw him complete just 3-of-8 over their final two possessions.
It’s just frustrating. People will throw out the fact he threw for over 300 yards for the fifth time in his career, along with his three touchdowns, all three of which were terrific throws. They’ll instead remember the outcome because he’s yet to create any other big moments to offset that.
That’s a narrative only he can change, and this definitely needs to be the season where it eventually happens.
“You only get so many opportunities in the NFL to do that,” said Jones of his comeback effort. “And I felt like I definitely let the team down.”
New England’s defense carried them Sunday. (PHOTO: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports)
Defense Again Looks Dangerous
While a lot of the talk ahead of Sunday centered around Philadelphia’s pass rush, the Patriots ended up being the ones who really made the most noise on Sunday.
They basically held Philadelphia to just 9 points after the first quarter the rest of the way, getting pressure on Jalen Hurts and doing a good job of keeping him from getting outside and creating yards with his feet.
One of the most impressive plays of the game came from rookie Keion White, who bull-rushed his man into Hurts, and then ran him down and forced a throwaway.
White was outstanding but the speed of this group is one of the most notable changes, with New England really in a better spot when it comes to dealing with athletic quarterbacks.
Hurts ended up carrying 9 times for 37 yards, while completing 22-of-33 for 170 yards and one touchdown. He was also sacked three times.
Fellow rookie Christian Gonzalez, also played well in his debut, putting together a solid effort in coverage. He also had a couple of big plays, including a blitz that ended in a sack, as well as a pass breakup late that helped give the offense a shot at the end.
Another player who came up big late was Jabrill Peppers, who made an absolutely incredible tackle on Philadelphia’s first play from scrimmage immediately following Kendrick Bourne’s fourth quarter touchdown that allowed them to pull within 25-20 with just under four minutes to go in the game.
Peppers stepped up and put a big hit on Hurts after he had picked up eight yards, driving his helmet into the football as he absolutely drilled the Eagles quarterback.
The ball popped out, with Marcus Jones alertly jumping on the football to recover the turnover.
“There wasn’t much time left, so we knew that when they were empty they like the QB draw,” said Peppers of the play. “He’s a cut back kind of runner. I just took my leverage and tried to put my face mask on the ball. Get the ball out.”
Overall, they dictated things for most of the afternoon and it played a key role in the offense getting back into it. If this is a sign of things to come, people should absolutely be excited for what’s ahead this season.
Brady brought everyone to their feet at halftime Sunday. (PHOTO: Kris Craig / USA TODAY NETWORK)
No Wait For Brady
The best part of Sunday involved former Patriots quarterback Tom Brady being on hand for this one, with the club honoring him at halftime.
However, there was a key announcement made that should have everyone excited.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft announced to fans during the ceremony that the team would skip the normal waiting period to put Brady in the club’s Hall of Fame, with his induction now set for 6/12/24.
Brady was also part of the opening festivities, with the former quarterback ringing the bell on the brand new lighthouse ahead of kickoff, which brought everyone at Gillette Stadium to their feet and certainly had everyone fired up for Sunday’s game.
Brady also came running out of the tunnel at the half before he took the podium and spoke to the fans.
“What a day,” said Brady, who smiled as he took it all in. “You know, that run out was a little longer today than it used to be, I’m not quite in game shape. But it’s impossible for me to be in this stadium full of you amazing fans, with some of the best teammates, with my family, with all my friends, and not run out like I did for 20-years.”
“This is an incredible celebration for me, for our family, for my teammates, for all of us to come back and thank you guys for what you’ve done for us. I was so fortunate to be drafted here two decades ago, 23 years to be exact, not even knowing where New England was on the map. And not that we put it on the map, but I think a lot more people in the U.S. know where the New England Patriots play.”
He closed things out by saying, “I love you guys so much, and I’ll see you guys next summer.”
If you missed it, the team posted it on you YouTube, which is available via this link.
Odds and Ends
Rhamondre Stevenson praised Ezekiel Elliott’s effort as he’s gotten up to speed in their offense. “He’s been taking in a lot of information over these last couple weeks to a month,” said Stevenson. “Proud of him. He played very hard, ran hard and he’s looking to build off that.” … One key positive to take away from Sunday was the fact the Patriots were certainly better in the red zone. They finished the afternoon converting 3-of-5 (60%) opportunities, which wasn’t a bad way to begin the year considering the elements. … Tight end Mike Gesicki was only targeted three times on Sunday, but he moved the chains on all three of his receptions. He finished with three catches for 36 yards, including a 17-yard reception late that got them into scoring territory on their final drive. … Belichick was asked about the decision late not to attempt a field goal. “Made the best decision we could at the time,” he said. “Didn’t know we would be down there multiple times. Six minutes to go in the game. I don’t know. If we had kicked it, I’m sure you would be asking why didn’t we go for it.” … Rookie kicker Chad Ryland performed well on kickoffs but never had a field goal attempt on Sunday. He was reportedly inconsistent in warm-ups in the elements and had he faltered, people would likely bring up the fact former kicker Nick Folk was a perfect 5-of-5 on Sunday despite the Titans’ loss down in New Orleans. … Despite the loss, Bourne believes that taking things one play at a time will be what helps them take the next step. “We definitely feel like we can play with any team,” he said. “Just keep improving every day. Not feeling like we’ve arrived, just feeling like we are playing our game, playing within the scheme, making the plays when they come. I think that will make us better.”
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