The Patriots raced out to a 28-3 halftime lead and never look back, knocking off the Jacksonville Jaguars and sealing up a playoff spot in the process as New England won their 10th game of the season.
Mac Jones threw three touchdowns, while Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson rushed for 142 yards combined and the defense did their part, picking off three Trevor Lawrence passes that helped the Pats pull away. It was one of the best efforts of the season as the Patriots turn their sights to one more road game in Miami to close out the regular season.
Here were the key takeaways from the win!
The Patriots got one of their ideal starts, forcing an opening three-and-out by the Jaguars then marching down the field on offense with an 11-play, 70-yard touchdown-scoring drive that set the tone for the day. Mac Jones was perfect on the drive, converting two third downs with passes to Jakobi Meyers, while the reunited duo of Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson combined for 33 rushing yards, with Harris finishing things off with his 13th touchdown of the season.
This was the seventh time the Patriots have opened a game with a touchdown drive this season according to ESPN Stats and Info, their most in a season since they had also seven in 2017. Clearly, when this Patriots team gets that kind of start it puts the team in the driver's position and they're tough to stop.
After two games of slow starts, this was just what the Patriots needed on both sides of the ball to get on track.
Run game keeps rolling
Damien Harris posted in 13th and 14th touchdowns of the season, tying for second-most in Patriots team history, with LeGarrette Blount's 18 rushing touchdowns in 2016 standing as the record. Harris has missed just two games this season and has been a key part of the attack, especially when he's part of a first-drive score. Harris' hard-charging style is a great fit near the goal line and he's making the most of his chances.
Harris has been especially effective when complemented by rookie Rhamondre Stevenson, who chipped in his own two touchdowns in the second half after Harris sat out due to a hamstring injury. The duo combined for over 125 rushing yards and three touchdowns against the Jags. They'll be heavily counted on going into the playoffs to lead the way on the ground.
Bryant kicks off a pick party
A week after giving up some big catches against the Bills, Myles Bryant bounced back against the Jags while playing on his birthday, snagging a second-quarter interception to give the Patriots 21 on the season, trailing only the Cowboys' 25.
J.C. Jackson would get in on the action on the next drive with the team's 22nd pick of the year and his eighth interception of the season, just one behind his career-high of nine last season. He moved to ninth in Patriots history with 25 interceptions in his first four seasons, which also ties an NFL record.
Kyle Dugger picked up the team's third interception of the game in the third quarter, his fourth of the season.
After forcing no turnovers last week against the Bills and getting just two the previous two games, there's little question how potent the Patriots are when they're taking the ball away. It's a huge key to victory every week when they can force mistakes from opposing quarterbacks. The secondary was on their game against the Jags.
Mac throws touchdowns 19, 20 and 21
Mac Jones threw his 19th 20th, and 21st touchdown passes of the season, breaking Jim Plunkett's rookie record of 19 that was set way back in 1971. It was a nice way for Jones to close out his final regular-season home game, likely the last home game of the 2021 season in Foxborough barring some playoff upset madness.
Jones' two touchdowns to Kristian Wilkerson add a bit of intrigue to the end of the season, as the duo had good chemistry this summer. With Nelson Agholor still sidelined by a concussion, Wilkerson could find himself in an expanded role going forward.
2021 was quite the year for the rookie, going from winning the National Championship to the Senior Bowl to the draft and moving on to New England, where he won the quarterback competition this summer with consistency and an instant grasp of New England's offense. Now, he's led the Patriots to the playoffs in his first year as a starter.
2022 looks to be even better as Jones will get his first playoff start and finally get a chance to catch his breath this offseason and refocus on building from his solid first season.
Patriots are now 10-6
With the Patriots win and a loss by the Dolphins, New England has officially clinched a playoff berth with one more Week 18 game in Miami to go. Conference seeding is still on the line with Miami trying to lock up a berth of their own, so there will still be something to play for next weekend but for the moment the Patriots can take satisfaction from making the postseason after missing out in 2020.
Buffalo held serve against the Falcons, keeping the Patriots' hopes of retaking the lead in the AFC East on ice. New England is likely to be on the road against one of the division champs in the Wild Card round, and that could include a return trip to upstate New York for a third tilt against the Bills. If the playoffs started today, that's where the Pats would be headed.