East Rutherford, NJ – The Patriots held on in the Meadowlands for their 15th consecutive win over the Jets on Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
Although they won't earn any style points, the Patriots 15 wins in a row over the Jets are now tied for the longest active winning streak against an opponent (KC over DEN), and the Pats avoided their first 0-3 start since head coach Bill Belichick's inaugural season with the team in 2000.
The bottom line is that the Patriots needed a win any way they could get it, or their season, albeit in its very early stages, would've been headed to a dark, dark place. We have a football season still, at least for now, until the team heads to Dallas for a much tougher matchup with the Cowboys.
However, the Patriots offense, plagued by self-inflicted penalties and situational failures, couldn't put a game that sat at a ten-point deficit for ages away. Offensively, the Pats couldn't extend the lead or finish the game with the ball, making the defense close this one out for them on three final Jets possessions. Frankly, with Zach Wilson under center, this game shouldn't have come down to a Hail Mary in a five-point game. The Patriots head coach said it best:
"We just have to get more points than we got. 15 [points], generally, you're going to need more than that, but it was good enough today. It was a great job defensively, especially in the first half," Belichick said after the game.
The Patriots will need to go for the kill shot more successfully against better offenses in the future. Still, the time for style points will come, and for now, a win will do to keep their season on the tracks.
Here are eight observations from the Patriots 15-10 win over the Jets in the rainy Meadowlands on Sunday:
1. Powerful Play of the Game Presented by Enel: TE Pharoah Brown's 58-Yard Catch-and-Run Touchdown in Second Quarter
After living in the shotgun for the first two weeks of the season, Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien stayed true to his word in finding more run-pass and formational balance on Sunday.
According to our live charting, the Patriots were under center on 27 plays, prominently featuring heavy personnel groupings with two or three tight ends. Thanks to more downhill schemes and playing with a lead, the commitment to the running game opened up New England's longest passing play from scrimmage since quarterback Mac Jones's rookie season off play-action from under center.
On the play, the Patriots use window dressing to sell the play-action fake by bringing tight end Mike Gesicki in motion, a motion they've used to set up blocks for Gesicki in the past. This time, with Gesicki's motion serving as eye candy for the post-safety, the Pats dialed up play-action with blocking tight end Pharaoh Brown running the seam. With the post-safety in cover-three shading over the left side of the formation, Brown is left all alone for a long touchdown.
For regular listeners to Patriots Catch-22, we were clamoring for more under-center runs and play-action sequencing following two one-dimensional games -- O'Brien granted our wish to set up the longest play of the season.
2. Defense Dominates QB Zach Wilson for 15th-Straight Win over Jets
Saying the Patriots defense has Jets quarterback Zach Wilson's number is putting it lightly. New England is now 5-0 against Wilson, holding the Jets QB to 157 passing yards with three sacks and -0.35 expected points added per drop-back.
Besides one touchdown drive where Wilson woke up a little, the Patriots either rattled, pressured, or made Wilson afraid to test tight downfield passing windows. Like the game in Foxborough last season, this game was more about Wilson being gun-shy rather than turnover-prone.
For example, the Patriots disguised their coverage on Matthew Judon's safety to get Wilson to hold the ball. After starting in a two-high safety shell, the Patriots rotated post-snap into a cover-one double robber scheme with a robber on each hash mark to take away the in-breaking routes. Wilson looked fooled by the coverage rotation, and Judon finished it for a crucial safety late in the game.
Along with rotating the backend, the Patriots played several early downs in base defense to stop the Jets rushing attack and put the game on Wilson's shoulders. New England's defensive playmakers said they were well prepared for the Jets schemes on the ground, and it showed, as New York only ran for 38 yards on 22 rushing attempts (1.7 average).
The Patriots defense will face more formidable offenses in the future, but this was mostly a dominant effort with three straight great defensive drives to shut the door. The lone setback for the defense was injuries to NT Davon Godchaux (ankle) and DT Daniel Ekuale (elbow).
3. Patriots OC Bill O'Brien Gets Rushing Attack Rolling With Fullback Wrinkle
After ranking 28th in rushing by running backs through two weeks, offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien said the emphasis this week was on finding a rhythm on the ground in New Jersey.
O'Brien stayed true to his word by rushing for 157 yards on 40 attempts in a commitment to the run game. Obviously, playing with a lead helps, and the advanced metrics weren't out of this world, but the running game kept the pressure off the quarterback and set up play-action in the process.
The Patriots offensive coordinator also added a new wrinkle into the offense with tight end Pharaoh Brown playing in the backfield as a traditional fullback. Brown is a great blocker, while the fullback adds several schematic advantages to their downhill running game. The Pats also hit a positive play by mimicking lead ISO on a dump-off pass to Brown.
New England has recently transitioned to more one-back and gun runs, featuring duo and zone schemes in the first two weeks. O'Brien having a more downhill approach to the running game, with Brown as a lead blocker serving as one example, was a great wrinkle.
4. QB Mac Jones Plays Winning Football, Still Searching for Deep Ball Consistency
With the sloppy conditions factoring into the play-calling, Patriots quarterback Mac Jones played turnover-free football with a few notable throws to direct a win on Sunday.
Although there were several positive moments from Jones, the Pats quarterback was 0-for-5 on his five pass attempts over 20 air yards. Jones was 3-for-13 on deep throws in the first two weeks, so this week's issues throwing downfield will add to those inconsistent numbers. Ultimately, the Patriots aren't trying to be a deep-ball offense. O'Brien wants to win with efficiency, timing, and yards after the catch. Still, in an ideal world, New England would find more success stretching the field, and the quarterback also plays a role in failing to close out the game.
Despite struggling to connect with his receivers on deep throws once again, Jones made some great throws in this one, sometimes from collapsing pockets against an excellent Jets front.
For example, Jones flashed improved arm strength to fit the ball into a tight passing window over the middle to Kendrick Bourne. On the play, the Pats are running a mesh-sit concept, where intersecting crossers are good answers against man coverage, while the "sit" route to Bourne opens up against zone. Mac lets the play develop and then zips it into Bourne.
Along with drive throws into closing windows between the numbers, Mac connected with wide receiver DeVante Parker on a 16-yard completion for a crucial third-down conversion. The Jets ran a stunt up front that was about to get home when Jones anticipated Parker's break to move the chains.
After showing more out-of-structure playmaking last week, Jones is providing evidence that his ball velocity is improving with tight-window and deeper throws into the sideline on Sunday.
5. Rookie CB Christian Gonzalez Passes Another Test vs. Jets WR Garrett Wilson
The Patriots first-rounder has gone through a gauntlet of the NFL's best wide receivers in a trial-by-fire start to his rookie campaign. Although we'll let the film tell the final story, and Wilson's struggles were a factor, Gonzalez shadowed Jets star Garrett Wilson on about half his routes. The Jets wideout had just five catches for 48 yards with two receptions into Gonzalez's coverage. Plus, Gonzo had a pass breakup on a perfect rep against Allen Lazard. Despite facing some of the league's best receivers out of the gate, Gonzalez has yet to look overmatched. It's exciting to see what the rookie puts on film every week.
6. Does the Patriots Offense Have a JuJu Smith-Schuster Problem?
In an observation that will need more investigative work over the next week, the Patriots can't seem to get the Mac-to-JuJu connection rolling three games into Smith-Schuster's time in New England. Smith-Schuster had one catch for five yards on three targets in this one, with two notable third-down incompletions late in the game. Smith-Schuster's route on a Z-option play early in the game moved the chains, but the chemistry between receiver and QB seems off. It appeared that Mac tried to throw two back-shoulder fades against man coverage to JuJu, and neither was particularly close when the offense needed to convert. On the one hand, you can critique the play call/decision to throw timing routes to Smith-Schuster in that spot, but the Patriots signed JuJu to a big contract this offseason to make those plays. If this continues, the coaching staff might need to make difficult decisions with JuJu.
7. Patriots O-Line Stays Afloat in Difficult Matchup, Film Will Tell Full Story
It's difficult to assess the offensive line play live, so the real story is on film. With that said, the Patriots changed it up with Vederian Lowe starting at right tackle over Calvin Anderson, which, along with O'Brien's tweaks in the running game, kept Mac relatively clean and contributed to the run-game success. Patriots center David Andrews also added post-game that handling D-Line movements, such as slants and stunts, was a big emphasis this week, and the Pats seemed to do a better job with that. O'Brien mentioned that he felt the coaches needed to prepare the O-Line better for the front mechanics they saw during games, which Andrews also alluded to with his comments. Things looked better based on my live viewing and the initial stat sheet. However, left guard remains an issue with Cole Strange (knee) exiting due to injury, and rookie Atonio Mafi overmatched in pass protection.
8. Although Up-and-Down, Rookie Specialists Make it Work in Rainy Conditions
The Patriots boldly decided to roll with two rookie specialists this season, especially at kicker, with veteran Nick Folk being incredibly consistent. Although it was a weather game, the results were mixed for K Chad Ryland and punter Bryce Baringer in a heavy-kicking game. Ryland, who didn't get much help from LS Joe Cardona, went 2-for-4. At the same time, Baringer had four kicks downed inside the 20-yard line but kicked some line drives and didn't cash in on one opportunity to pin the Jets deep. The Pats will take the win, but the field goal operation, in particular, needs to be much cleaner.