The Patriots are in sole possession of first place in the AFC East for the first time this season after their win over the Jets. That is the good news, the fact that it took until Week 6 of the season speaks on what a totally crazy NFL season 2017 has been thus far. The only constant this season across the board is that there haven’t been many constants as it has been a wild ride with little continuity.
The Patriots had ten days to prepare for this one but they started this one like they were wearing cement overshoes. Down 14-0 on the road against a divisional opponent after the first quarter is not the way you care to draw it up. But give the players and coaches credit. There was no panic. They regrouped and came back to score 24 straight points. And while we can point to a lot of different scenarios including the controversial fumble call in the fourth quarter, the bottom line is the defense, despite giving up far too many yards again, allowed just three points over the final three quarters.
But six games in, this team is still far from a well-oiled machine, as Bill Belichick pointed out in his Monday conference call with the media. But really at this point of the season, nearly every team is facing the same challenges. They have 10 more weeks to get the kinks worked out and possibly bring some needed help in. Until then, they plug along.
So, we’ll start with the offense and the players can come forward to pick up their grade sheets.
Tom Brady was far from his normal sharp self on Sunday. Was it the injuries taking hold, the Jets playing him tough, as they always seem to do or just Brady having a bit of an off day? Probably a combination of the three. Brady made some uncharacteristic mistakes on Sunday, especially mental errors which we aren’t used to seeing.
He telegraphed a pass for Rob Gronkowski that should have been picked off by Buster Skrine on the sideline. It was one of those throws that should not have been made. Like his two deep throws into double coverage down the field, the second of which was picked off.
But Brady fired up the troops and they came back, the drives at the end of the first half and the first drive of the third quarter were vintage Brady and the Patriots offense. All of a sudden they’re up by seven in what seemed a blink of an eye. His throw to Cooks on the 42-yard bomb just before the half was a beauty. He dropped it right into the bucket perfectly.
Running Backs: B+
The running backs had productive games on the ground on Sunday afternoon. Dion Lewis had 52 yards on 11 carries and Mike Gillislee added 44 more on 10 carries. The only complaint, which isn’t on them is why didn’t the get the ball more? Gillislee had a fumble which nixed a nice drive that may have resulted in points and as a result saw the end of the bench for quite a while as a result. But Lewis appears to be the water bug that he was in 2015 before his ACL injury and he and Gillislee appear to be making a nice 1-2 punch in the running game. James White didn’t get a lot of work in the passing game this week, which I thought we’d see more of with Gronkowski drawing so much attention. James Develin was solid in leading the way with his blocking, as always.
Wide Receivers: B
The wide receivers led by Brandin Cooks were good on Sunday. Cooks had a concentration drop early in the game where he began to run before fully securing the ball. But his 42-yarder (see above) from Brady was a beauty by both players. Once again, Cooks nearly broke a short slant to the house, a shoestring tackle was all that stopped him from going the distance. It is an area that looks like it could be exploited more in the future. It is simply a matter of time before these start falling. Cooks is on pace for 64 catch, 1259-yard season which is impressive considering he and Brady still haven’t fully clicked yet.
Chris Hogan had one catch for 19 yards and took a nasty but clean shot to the ribs. Danny Amendola was okay but didn’t have the production ( 3 catches for 40 yards) we envisioned in our matchups.
The Pats wide receivers do a bad job of selling these pick/rub routes that everyone uses and no one else gets called on. Obviously, the league’s officials are going to watch them closely on these and they have to do a better job of selling that they are getting out of the way of the opponents.
Tight Ends: A-
Rob Gronkowski returned and was his dominant self. The Jets drafted two safeties in Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye to specifically handle the big man and they learned in their first outing what a daunting task that can be. Chalk it up as a learning experience for the young players. Gronk had six catches for 83 yards and two touchdowns. He was also interfered with horribly in the end zone despite not getting the call. He also drew one 24-yard PI call and was his normal tremendous self as a blocker in the running game. His 33-yard touchdown was classic Gronkowski where he beat one tackler (Adams) and then high-stepped his way past Maye en route to the end zone.
Dwayne Allen (six snaps), and Jacob Hollister (one), barely saw the field and were non-factors. For Allen, that isn’t a good sign.
Offensive Line: B+
The offensive line was much better in pass protection not allowing a sack for the first time this season. There were some pressures allowed and Brady did take a few hits but some of those were on the Jets blitzes. Overall this was easily their best performance, pass blocking of the season.
It was also their best run-blocking performance of the year, the team rushed for 118 yards and it definitely looked like there were more out there for them to utilize.
This was a good building block game for the offensive line and hopefully, this will signal a trend upward for the group.
Defensive Line: B+
The Patriots defensive line was much, much better against the run, Jets running backs averaged just 2.5 yards per carry. Malcom Brown had a couple of run stuffs for losses to go along with a sack. Alan Branch played 22 snaps and looked the 2016 version of himself inside.
Trey Flowers had another solid game as did Deatrich Wise with pressuring Josh McCown. The pass rush is still overall still too inconsistent but in this one, the line’s job was to stop the run (they did) first and force the game into McCown’s hands.
Weird calls on both Brown and Branch on the same series, getting flagged for holding, on running plays. Nothing comes as a total surprise in terms of officials, however.
Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy both had productive games this week. Van Noy had a pair of sacks, a couple more QB hits and a tackle for a loss, while Hightower had a sack, and a QB hit while providing the leadership on the field he’s best at.
The team used Jordan Richards (gulp) as a dime linebacker for the first time since the opener. He made a few nice plays in run support. Elandon Roberts got fooled by McCown on a play-action fake for an easy touchdown by Austin Serferian-Jenkins. McCown used Roberts aggressiveness against him.
The good news is that Shea McClellin can begin practicing this week. Hopefully, we’ll see him back on the field in just a few weeks.
With Eric Rowe and Stephon Gilmore out this week, the Patriots were missing two of their top three corners. So, the really curious part of the Jets game plan was that they decided to attack Malcolm Butler instead of Johnson Bademosi who played pretty well in his first extended action on defense this season.
Butler had a very solid game, he did allow a touchdown pass but not much else. He picked off McCown, jumping a route on the sidelines before halftime and jarred the ball loose on Jenkins on the controversial fumble play. So why target Butler? A Very curious decision by the Jets.
The safeties, Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon and Pat Chung were solid. But what happened with the breakdowns ..once again that allowed the Jets to hit a couple of big plays where the coverage busted? You can’t blame Gilmore for these. The 44-yarder to Jermaine Kearse had no one in the zip code and the 32-yard pass to Robby Anderson down the middle on the final drive also had no one close. Too many busts.
Special Teams: A-
Stephen Gostkowski missed his first field goal of the season on a bad hit knuckler, it seemed like the snap and hold were good, but it is rare to see him hit one that poorly. Ryan Allen was okay with his punting but the coverage units were outstanding. The Jets had minus yardage on their punt returns and the kick coverage likewise was solid, twice bringing down Jets kick returners inside the 15-yard line. Sunday was a much better day for Joe Judge’s men.
Bill Belichick likes his teams to show that they can play thru adversity and they certainly did that on Sunday, showing great mental toughness coming down from 14 points on the road. But with 10 days to prepare, for the team to come out that flat against a divisional opponent? What was up with that?
Josh McDaniels got too impatient a few times that may have cost the team some points. I don’t feel like he has total trust in the running game many times. But once the team got into a groove they were moving the ball well.
Matt Patricia got Bademosi ready to play and he acquitted himself well, but the secondary continues to have communications issues six weeks into the season, allowing receivers to run free down the field. But overall, it was a win, on the road, against a divisional opponent. They’ll take it.