The Patriots fell into a 14-3 halftime hole and opened the second half with a pick-six as the New Orleans Saints rolled in New England, 28-13, dropping the Pats to 1-2 on the season. The Saints improve to 2-1.
It was a disappointing performance, with the Patriots losing the turnover battle, being called for more penalties, and failing to play the kind of complete game that is needed to beat a good team like the Saints. Ultimately, the mistakes, especially early in the game, were just too much to overcome, even with a better overall second-half performance by the Pats.
Here are the key takeaways from the loss.
Slow start, finish for third-down D
The Patriots defense came out with good energy against the Saints rushing attack, but it was their initial struggles on third down that helped account for a 14-3 deficit at halftime. New Orleans was able to convert a 3rd-and-10 during their first touchdown-scoring drive, as well as a 3rd-and-7 for the touchdown, with Alvin Kamara scoring on an easy catch-and-run.
The defense would make some plays to keep the game close, including a third-down stop on the next Saints drive that led to a missed field goal and they would then force a three-and-out on the ensuing position. After the blocked punt, the defense would step up again, getting a big sack by Matt Judon on second down which helped force a second missed field goal by the Saints.
But on the final drive of the first half, coming off of Mac Jones' first interception, the Saints were able to get into the end zone on third down to extend their lead to 14-0.
The D would settle in during the second half, forcing three-straight punts, but would allow a third-down conversion midway through the fourth quarter that was a missed opportunity. The Saints would go on to put the game away on the drive, going 13-plays, 75 yards and capping off the game with a four-yard touchdown run by Taysom Hill.
Mac under siege, rallies late
The Patriots offense struggled out of the gate with three straight three-and-outs to start the game, producing just 20 total yards with no first downs. They'd pick up some first downs in the second quarter but Mac Jones had pressure in his face on almost every play, which directly contributed to his second-quarter interception that was returned deep into Patriots territory.
Jones was hit seven times and sacked once in the first half and would then open the second half with a pass to Jonnu Smith that went off his hands and was intercepted and returned for a touchdown.
But Jones would find some stride in the second half as the rookie showed good resilience. Down 21-3, the offense put together a methodical drive that took over nine minutes and lasted 16 plays but only produced a field goal. On their next opportunity, Jones would throw the ball with even more confidence, finding Kendrick Bourne for a touchdown on a remarkable end-of-play effort by Bourne.
Jones had more time in the second half and the offense had more success moving the ball, but the problems producing explosive plays and finishing in the red zone continue to haunt them. Coupled with a slow start, those deficiencies were too much to overcome.
James White carted off
James White picked up the Patriots' first third-down conversion of the game in the second quarter but fell awkwardly along the sidelines and stayed down. White was carted off the field shortly after and quickly ruled out of the game with a hip injury, which is not a good sign for White's long-term prognosis.
We'll have to wait to find out the extent of the injury, but missing White for any length of time would be a huge blow to an offense that struggled to move the ball during Sunday's game. Thus far into the season, White had been one of the key cogs and with limited running back depth behind him, the Patriots running backs room will be tested without the captain.
The New England Patriots take on the New Orleans Saints in Week 3 at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, September 26, 2021.
Sloppiness on special teams
The Patriots' special team was uncharacteristically sloppy against the Saints, admittedly one of the better special teams units in the league. It began when they allowed a 25-yard punt return in the first quarter and continued through the first half, as they took two more penalties and had a punt blocked. Jake Bailey would also have a third-quarter kickoff go out of bounds.
The missed Saints' field goals and a 45-yarder by Nick Folk to end the first half, along with his 26-yarder in the third quarter, helped even things out a but there were too many mistakes, especially for a unit that is often a big part of the winning formula in New England.
Folk has continued his consistency and that's a critical piece for the offense right now but the rest of the unit needs to be more reliable. It's been a particularly tough stretch for Jake Bailey.
Patriots are now 1-2
The Patriots fall to 1-2 and will now welcome Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a tilt on Sunday Night Football, easily their most challenging matchup thus far. New England showed some good fight against the Saints in the second half, but were let down by each of their three units at different points throughout the game.
Just three weeks into the season, there's a long way to go but a lot of work for the Patriots to do to get on track.