Some thoughts following Sunday’s game:
1) Patriots quarterback Mac Jones will likely take a lot of heat this week after Sunday’s game-ending interception, which, after further review, seems a little silly. On the play in question, Jones had JuJu Smith-Schuster coming back across the middle and Jones led him where the ball was in a spot where only Smith-Schuster, not the defender covering him, could get it.
The veteran reached out with both hands and had the football in his grasp, but the ball slipped through his fingers and into the hands of defensive back Jartavius Martin, who came up with the turnover.
That ended any shot Jones and the offense had at a comeback bid, which was an all-to-familiar situation for a team that lost yet again in front of the home crowd at Gillette Stadium on Sunday.
After the game, unlike DeVante Parker several weeks ago, Smith-Schuster took accountability for the play. He told reporters the ball was there, but he just didn’t come up with it.
“Middle of the field was open on the incut,” said Smith-Schuster. “It was a good ball, and it went through my hands. Interception, game over.”
“I mean, it’s all on me. He put the ball in a good position. I’ve just got to make the catch, secure it, and now we’re in field goal range, and obviously, I didn’t do that. Fell short.”
Give Smith-Schuster credit. Every player has moments like these, and he at least took ownership after it was over.
Unfortunately, coming up short has happened far too often, especially as each loss just leads to more questions about their future.
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2) However, Jones isn’t without blame in this one. In fact, if he should be criticized for anything, it remains his erratic mechanics and his inconsistent play that should have most people frustrated.
He’s not coming out slinging it and he’s playing reserved, often taking the safer throws instead of stepping up and targeting players down the field. He’s putting more finesse on his passes rather than firing the football, and the results have seen a regression from a player whose future seemingly becomes more uncertain with every passing week.
The fall-away throws are frustrating. We saw one Sunday on a play they needed to have. Trailing 20-17 early in the fourth quarter, the Patriots found themselves in a 3rd-and-6 after a 22-yard pass to Demario Douglas was just called back thanks to replay revealing the ball hit the turf before the rookie secured it.
They instead came right back with a deep ball up the right sideline to Rhamondre Stevenson, where the running back had gotten behind a defender as Jones lofted up the ball.
A high ball thrown on more of a line would have potentially hit Stevenson in stride and allowed him to potentially end up with a big play. Instead, Jones threw it falling back, with the ball hanging up and getting knocked away before Stevenson could get his hands on it.
It was the right read but a poor pass, and it cost them an opportunity at what may have been a big play. Instead, with the line of scrimmage being their own 20, going for it on fourth down wasn’t an option, and New England had to punt.
He’s had too many of those moments and his other issue remains that he still hasn’t been able to start stringing together any quality drives, let alone any consecutive performances. It remains a case of so close, but they just can’t quite get there.
Unfortunately, sometimes, it takes overcoming adversity and making a play. Sunday was another case where Jones could have avoided that frustrating finish with a better performance long before that final drive, and he just didn’t get it done.
Instead, he’s on the wrong end of yet another loss for the seventh time this season.
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3) At 2-7, the fact they’re in this position is irritating, and some of that certainly has to do with Jones’ lack of progress to this point.
At this stage of the season, Jones should be in a position where he’s trending up and potentially coming into his own in this offense. Like 2021 – the last time he had a competent offensive coordinator – every week should be a small step forward, with the former standout from Alabama trying to move past a lot of the self-inflicted things that have caused him some self-sabotage at various points this season.
Instead, it’s been nine weeks, and both Jones and the offense remain stuck in neutral.
Sunday’s battle against Washington was yet another example. From the time the ball was kicked off, it more or less felt like a 60-minute grind where every yard was an effort.
Nothing came easy. Every pass felt like it had a tight window, and even when something opened up, Jones and whoever he was targeting were not absolutely on the same page.
That started on the opening series. The Patriots’ defense managed to get the Commanders off the field, forcing a quick three and out with Jones and the offense starting things off from their own 16-yard line. They marched 45 yards on 11 plays, but the drive ultimately stalled on a failed 4th-and-3 from the Washington 39-yard line.
On the play, Jones attempted a deep throw to Tyquan Thornton, who came open across the field and the second-year receiver managed to get open. But Jones ended up badly overshooting him and it led to a turnover on downs, along with Washington ending up with great field position.
Quarterback Sam Howell certainly took advantage. He led Washington back down the field the other way and went 42 yards on 9 plays, finishing things off with a 37-yard field goal.
The Patriots then went three-and-out on the next series, with Jones failing again to connect with Thornton on an out pattern on 3rd-and-5. On that play, Thornton danced a bit at the top of his route before breaking to the sideline, and never even turned head back around as Jones fired the pass.
That essentially set the tone as Jones shook his head as he came off the field.
Meanwhile, Howell again took his team down the field, marching 80 yards on 11 plays, with the Commanders punching it in for a touchdown to cap the drive.
Just like that, the Patriots were in a familiar place. Down 10-0 with another ten-point first-half deficit.
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4) Any shot at a comeback never felt like a possibility by the time the fourth quarter came around. While New England had a couple of big scoring plays, they really couldn’t manage to do much of anything else. They had just three drives of five or more plays on Sunday, and their two longest possessions of the game resulted in a turnover on downs, along with a field goal.
Their two touchdowns came on short drives, one of which was off a turnover deep in Washington territory thanks to a forced fumble by Jahlani Tavai on Commanders running back Brian Robinson.
That gave them the ball at the Washington 25 and Jones took advantage. He fired a touchdown strike three plays later from 14-yards out to Hunter Henry. That cut Washington’s lead to 10-7 with 9:26 left to go in the first half.
The other scoring drive happened on their next possession. That one came on a busted play where Stevenson had good blocking up front, and slipped a tackle before breaking off a 64-yard touchdown run on the second play of that possession. That gave the Patriots a 14-10 edge with 6:06 left to go in the half.
Aside from that, putting anything consistent together on offense of beyond five plays was a struggle, and it ended up being a big part of the story behind how this one turned out.
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5) New England’s defense suffered the brunt of those problems. With the offense unable to stay on the field, the defense was out there for over 37 minutes on Sunday, albeit that unit had its own issues.
The biggest one was the fact they couldn’t get off the field on third down. Washington converted 9-of-17 (52.9%) on third down on Sunday, including the club facing eight of those from seven yards or longer, including 4 that were from 10+.
Of those eight attempts, the Patriots allowed conversions on all but three, including a 3rd-and-23 where they allowed Howell to take off for 24-yards and move the chains. That drive fortunately ended with the interception by Kyle Dugger in the end zone right before the end of the half.
However, they also had two other third-down plays where they allowed throws of 26 yards, with each of those drives ending in points.
Howell ended up finishing 29-of-45 for 325-yards along with a touchdown and an interception. His touchdown pass was impressive, with the former 5th round pick dropping a 33-yard pass perfectly into the hands of Jahan Dotson, who had gotten behind Myles Bryant and took it into the end zone.
Deatrich Wise Jr. said that one area they struggled with was keeping Howell in the pocket, which he took ownership of after it was over.
“I’ll only speak for me and my game. I feel like I can continue to, I guess, keep the quarterback in the pocket,” said Wise Jr. “There were a few times in this game when he got out, and I put that on myself. In other games like that, just kind of be able to, I guess, I would probably say be a little bit more productive, in a sense. Like this game right here, I take ownership of that quarterback running out. Whatever it was, I put that on me, and I’ll continue to be a better leader for this team.”
Sunday was just another day where they also needed some help from the offense, and unfortunately, they didn’t get much assistance there.
Bill Belichick also pointed out the other area that was an issue on third down Sunday.
“Yeah, we didn’t tackle well,” he said. “It was obvious.”
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6) Sunday was also puzzling from a personnel standpoint, with some key names missing ahead of this one.
Jack Jones and J.C. Jackson were each sidelined to start the game, with Shaun Wade getting the nod along with more playing time for Myles Bryant.
Belichick was asked whether or not either player was sidelined due to disciplinary reasons, but Belichick denied that was the case. Both Jackson and Jones were reportedly dressed and out of the locker room prior to reporters talking to players after the game.
The other surprise was the fact that Kayson Boutte was inactive on Sunday, just days after being praised the previous week for his performance in practice.
“We activated the other four receivers and Mike [Gesicki],” said Belichick when asked why Boutte wasn’t active. “I mean, really Mike is our fifth receiver.”
With both Kendrick Bourne and DeVante Parker each sidelined, the expectation was that Boutte and Thornton would each see some playing time on Sunday. Thornton was a healthy scratch the previous week, and any hope of a breakout game against Washington never came to be.
Mac Jones connected on just one of Thornton’s four targets, with the former second-round pick continuing to struggle here in New England. The missed fourth-down connection on the opening drive kicked things off, and it ended up being a sign of things to come, unfortunately.
“Yeah, he was like my third or fourth read, and I just missed him,” said Jones about the play. “I had time in the pocket. I stepped up. I had good feet. I just missed the throw. Maybe put a little bit more air on it. Yeah, that’s a big, big play early in the game.”
The third-year quarterback also had a tough time connecting with Jalen Reagor, hitting him on just one completion despite six targets, including one incompletion where Reagor suffered the same fate as Parker two weeks ago after he dropped a perfectly placed deep ball that fell through his fingers.
The one bright spot was Demario Douglas, who again had a productive outing. He finished Sunday with five receptions for 55 yards, with Smith-Schuster catching six passes for 51 yards.
Despite their struggles, Jones went on to say that he’s confident in who he has to throw to, and that they’re not far away from figuring things out.
“It’s just a lot of different guys each week, but at the same time we have a great standard that we set. It’s just trying to go do it every play. I think there’s guys out there who can make the plays and it’s my job to get the ball to them. I have a lot of confidence in Jalen [Reagor], Tyquan [Thornton], Pop [Demario Douglas], Hunter [Henry], Mike [Gesicki], JuJu [Smith-Schuster], all those guys. Obviously DP [DeVante Parker] wasn’t there today.”
“The whole group is very much so close together and they work really hard. It’s not like we’re not on the same page. We’re really close. We’re right there. We’re just a little bit short.”
Unfortunately, Patriots fans have heard that one far too often.
The club has just one more game coming up ahead of the bye week, with next Sunday’s trip to Germany against the Colts likely to set up an interesting time for a team that is certainly in uncharted territory with eight games to play.
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary