Some initial thoughts coming off of Sunday’s New England Patriots loss in the desert:
1) Heading into Sunday’s game, the expectations for Mac Jones certainly weren’t very high, especially given how he had been in games where he needed to step up with a big performance.
Last year’s contest in Las Vegas was a career-worst for Mac Jones, who completed just 41.9% of his passes, including a disastrous 3-of-11 (27.3%) in the final quarter of play.
Given that he was playing in front of his old mentor in Josh McDaniels, and this time around, he also had to watch his most reliable target in Jakobi Meyers running routes for the other team, everything was in place for Jones to completely implode on Sunday.
Instead, after getting off to a slow start where he was just 8-of-14 (57.1%) for 97 yards and a bad decision with time winding down in the first half where he threw an ill-advised interception on a target to Hunter Henry, Jones came around in the second half.
He missed just three passes over the final two quarters, finishing 16-of-19 (84.2%) for 103 yards, with Jones leading them back after getting down 13-3. He put together a 17-play, 75-yard drive that ended with Rhamondre Stevenson taking the football in for a 1-yard touchdown run to cut the Raiders’ lead to 19-17 with 3:33 left to go in the contest.
Overall, Jones completed 23-of-33 for 200 yards on Sunday along with his lone interception. But he did far more right than he had the last two weeks, and looked closer to the player we saw at times both as a rookie in 2021 and the player we saw at various points last season.
He completed 72.7% of his throws on the afternoon and missed just two passes in the final quarter, with the former first-round pick having one of the best halves of his career.
One of those incompletions remains infuriating, which came when Jones seemingly hit DeVante Parker on a perfectly thrown ball up the left sideline on a 2nd-and-11 with time winding down as they were pinned deep in their own end.
Offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien decided to get aggressive, and Jones certainly did his part. The third-year quarterback took a shot downfield and Jones delivered the football right into the hands of Parker, with the ball getting dropped right in between two defenders.
Unfortunately, Parker couldn’t quite hold on, killing an opportunity for New England to get into field goal range.
Had Parker held on, he likely would have been either at midfield or across midfield, which would have potentially given them time to get in position for a field goal attempt, especially since there still would have been well over a minute and a half remaining.
Instead, the Patriots remained pinned deep in their own end where the Raiders, who had been manhandling their offensive line all afternoon, ran over the Vederian Lowe yet again on the safety that sealed Las Vegas’ victory.
Unfortunately, New England’s offensive line remains a massive issue, with no answer seemingly in sight with 11 weeks still left to play.
The offensive line was terrible again on Sunday. (PHOTO: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports)
2) Kendrick Bourne had a massive showing in the second half, hauling in 8 passes for 44 yards as the Patriots managed to put together two scoring drives, with both Rhamondre Stevenson and Ezekiel Elliott each finishing with rushing touchdowns.
Seven of Bourne’s receptions came in the final quarter, as the Patriots managed to put together a 17 play, 75 yard drive, which saw Bourne catch six passes on that drive, including three straight balls that got them into the Raiders’ red zone ahead of Stevenson’s rushing touchdown.
Bourne said after the game that while they were able to make some plays on Sunday, they definitely need to make more of them.
“We’ve just got to play together,” said Bourne. “The plays that happened, it’s a group effort, it’s not just me. Everybody being on the same page. I think we’re doing a good job of making plays. It’s just, we need to make the plays when we need them.”
Bourne explained that they’re still figuring things out, and eliminating mistakes remains the focus.
“One of the drives, we had a miscommunication, and I kind of blocked the wrong guy,” said Bourne. “I didn’t really know, so things like that. Drive starters like that, we just have to lock in and start the drive always on the right foot. So just eliminating those mistakes, keep the good plays coming.”
Bourne finished the afternoon catching 10-of-11 for 89 yards in what was certainly his best performance of this 2023 season.
3) Malik Cunningham saw action on multiple plays on Sunday, with the quarterback entering the game in various alignments, including a play early in the third quarter where he ultimately split out wide and allowed Ezekiel Elliott to take the direct snap on their opening drive to begin the second half.
The play worked, with Elliott then took the ball in for the touchdown from 2-yards out, which pulled the Patriots to within 13-10 with 8:56 left to go in the third quarter.
However, one of the discussions has centered around the fact that Cunningham, who is an athletic quarterback, would be better equipped to deal with the rush instead of Mac Jones.
We got our first look at that on Sunday when Cunningham entered the game again later in the quarter and the rookie got dropped for a loss after both of New England’s tackles were overrun, leaving the quarterback without any time to make a move to avoid the sack.
It was a reminder that until they solve their issues up front, it won’t matter who is out there if they’re just going to immediately get run over.
Cunningham was obviously active for the game, having been promoted following the 3-year contract he was given yesterday ahead of this one. Both Bill Belichick and Bill O’Brien had praised the rookie last week, highlighting his progress on the practice squad and hinting he’d get an opportunity to play.
Whether or not we’ll see more of it should be interesting, especially depending on how much longer they’re willing to continue to play Jones under center.
Despite the loss, the defense was solid again Sunday. (PHOTO: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports)
4) Defensively, the Patriots were solid again on Sunday. J.C. Jackson had another good game as he continues settling back into the secondary, while Jonathan Jones had a tough battle against Tre Tucker, including one play that went for 48 yards and saw Jones come out of the game following the tackle.
However, they did a good job of limiting the damage, with both Tucker and Devante Adams being held to just 57 and 29 yards, respectively.
Jabrill Peppers made the hit of the afternoon, blowing up Adams on a short pass play where he hit him just as the ball arrived, and double Adams over.
The ball popped back into the air and into the hands of linebacker Jahlani Tavai, who made the diving interception that ended a scoring threat after the Raiders had driven down to the New England 18-yard line.
Christian Barmore also played well, causing problems up front as well as batting down a couple of passes.
Overall, it was another strong showing where they held the Raiders to just 19 points while the offense couldn’t quite get enough going to get over that seemingly elusive 20 point mark.
It likely remains a frustrating situation behind closed doors, but there was at least somewhat of a step forward taken in what was essentially their most competitive showing we’ve seen in nearly three weeks.
5) Elliott was a pleasant surprise on Sunday, with the veteran running back stepping up in a big way when Rhamondre Stevenson briefly got hurt, with Elliott carrying the load for a good portion of the game.
Overall, he carried 7 times for 34 yards including a touchdown, which came as the club ran a wildcat-style play where Elliott took the direct snap in from 2-yards out.
He’s looked explosive through six games this season, and has outperformed Stevenson as the club has continued battling with their issues up front in their ground game.
What’s impressive about Elliott is that of his seven carries, four of those moved the chains, including his touchdown. He’s been a player who has been able to get them yards in key situations, and he’s been one of the bright spots in a season that has certainly been devoid of them.
The club will now return home to start preparing for the Buffalo Bills, who they’ll face for the first time this season next Sunday at 1:00pm at Gillette Stadium.
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary