East Rutherford, NJ – There was a silver lining to the Patriots loss to the Giants, but a positive development for #TheTank wasn't the full story at MetLife Stadium on Sunday.
After a week-long saga about who would start at quarterback for New England, head coach Bill Belichick gave Mac Jones the reins to begin the game. However, Jones was benched at halftime after the Pats were shut out in the first two quarters, where Mac threw two poor interceptions. Backup Bailey Zappe briefly injected some life into the offense on a third-quarter touchdown drive. But it was short-lived when Zappe threw an interception of his own and the offense couldn't finish the game.
In the post-game locker room, the Patriots offensive players downplayed the impact that an uncertain practice week where Jones and Zappe split reps had on the results for the offense. Players also expressed confidence in the Pats quarterback room, with one key offensive player telling Patriots.com, "we've seen them do it before. They can do it again." Still, it's fair to question whether the quarterback mystery was in the team's best interest, given the results for the offense on Sunday. Belichick said he told Jones he would start before the team made the trip to New Jersey but didn't remember the exact day.
Ultimately, the Patriots don't have a quarterback they can trust, which might've played into Belichick's decision to set up a 35-yard field goal to send the game into overtime. New England had first-and-ten from the NYG 22 and never threatened the end zone with a chance to win with a touchdown in the final seconds. Instead, rookie kicker Chad Ryland's 35-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left, dropping the Pats to 2-9 in a 10-7 loss.
The silver lining for the Patriots is that their odds of finishing with a top-two pick in the 2024 NFL Draft increased to 38% with the loss via ESPN's analytics. Currently, the Pats hold the third overall pick. We can get excited about the draft, but the bigger picture is still bleak for this football team. One top draft pick won't fix all that ails the Patriots; the fear is that their problems are much deeper than dropping a different quarterback into this offense.
Here are eight observations as the Patriots fall to 2-9 on the season with a loss to the Giants on Sunday:
1. Powerful Play of the Game Presented by Enel: Jabrill Peppers's First-Quarter Sack Leads to Stalled Drive for Giants Offense
Admittedly, this was a challenging game for our weekly powerful play of the game, with both teams playing some sloppy football in a low-scoring struggle at the Meadowlands.
The most impactful plays in this game from a win probability standpoint were either Patriots turnovers, Ryland's missed field goal, or an explosive play by the Giants – slim pickings, indeed.
With the team in a bad place, we'll take the opportunity to highlight a player who continues to put his best foot forward despite the Patriots disappointing record. Peppers continues to be a tone-setting presence for the defense, both with his physical play and leadership, making him the type of player you'd like to see stick around as a part of the next reboot. Plus, the Pats defense held the Giants to ten points because the pass rush was doing its thing (six sacks).
On his sack, the Pats safety came on a slot blitz with the defense in zone coverage behind the blitz. DeVito thought he was protected as RB Saquon Barkley stayed in to block, but Peppers ran through Barkley's blitz pickup to take down the Giants quarterback.
New England needs more players like Peppers to bring a winning attitude to the game field every week.
2. Patriots QB Mac Jones Benched at the Half, Is It For Good This Time?
For the fourth time in 11 games, the Patriots benched starting quarterback Mac Jones at halftime following two ugly interceptions in the first two quarters where the Pats scored zero points.
In six full drives with Jones under center, the Pats quarterback turned the ball over twice while New England punted four times. Jones finished the half with -0.45 expected points added and a negative completion percentage over expectation (-13.1). But you didn't need the advanced metrics to tell you Jones deserved to be benched on Sunday.
After throwing into a Giants team meeting on his first interception, Jones's second pick came on a defensive scheme that worried us heading into this matchup against Giants defensive coordinator Wink Martindale. Martindale likes to dial up pressure with a six-man blitz package, and he does it here with double edges to Jones's left. When the defender outside the left tackle blitzes, Mac knows the defense is bringing more blitzers than the offense has blockers, so he has to throw hot.
In this case, with the pressure coming to his left, the hot is Demario Douglas running a route out of the backfield. However, Jones doesn't ID the in-line rush linebacker dropping off the line in the simulated pressure scheme. That likely explains why Douglas tried to climb further upfield on his route to clear Giants LB Bobby Okereke. But the Pats QB throws it right to Okereke, who returns it 55 yards to set up the Giants lone touchdown of the game.
The former first-rounder was touted as a cerebral pocket passer who would manage games, making up for the absence of elite physical tools with a high IQ. Jones's decision-making has taken such a huge step back that he's now a quarterback without a carrying trait. He's broken.
3. Backup QB Bailey Zappe Provides Short-Lived Spark in the Second Half
The next logical question at quarterback is, who will start next week against the Chargers at Gillette Stadium?
With back-to-back benchings for Jones, it's hard to imagine he'll earn another start. But the ugly truth is that Zappe hasn't seized opportunities to take the starting job from Jones, even if Mac is losing the gig.
Zappe had a conservative play script with an average target depth of 1.4 yards. Zappe's longest pass in the air was intercepted, and his longest completion only traveled five yards, with most of his attempts being screen passes. In the end, Zappe lost -0.43 expected points added on 15 drop-backs, so in the same ballpark as Jones.
On his interception that led to the game-deciding field goal for New York, Zappe said Giants safety Xavier McKinney "snipered" the crossing route intended for JuJu Smith-Schuster. Zappe said after the game that he should've came off Smith-Schuster's route to check it down to Tyquan Thornton in the flat on the play-action concept.
Zappe played some good situational football, where he mostly made the right decisions and got the offense into the proper plays/protections. But his non-screen drop-backs were shaky, and it's unclear whether the coaching staff trusted him to win the game in the fourth quarter.
With another uncertain week ahead, Coach Belichick said it was too soon to declare a starting quarterback for next week. My guess is we are heading for another, "I told all the players the same thing: be ready to go," from the head coach this week.
4. Defensive Studs Christian Barmore and Jabrill Peppers Lead Solid Effort for Patriots Defense
Although it's mainly coming in losses, Patriots defenders Christian Barmore and safety Jabrill Peppers deserve credit for being high-impact players amidst all the losing. Barmore was a menace with a sack, quarterback hit, batted pass, and a drawn penalty, while Peppers logged a sack and recovered a fumble on Sunday.
The Patriots pass rush was affecting Giants quarterback Tommy DeVito, who started dropping his eyes to the rush and making sped-up decisions in the second half due to New England's solid play on defense. Plus, the Pats front tightened things up against Giants star RB Saquon Barkley after a few +10 rushes early (Barkley - 46 rushing yards on 12 carries).
The Patriots defense has things it can correct as well, but it has to be frustrating for this group to allow just ten points in consecutive games and lose both due to the offenses' struggles.
5. Patriots Rushing Attack Continues Making Progress With 147 Yards, Touchdown
The bright spot for the offense was that running backs Rhamondre Stevenson and Ezekiel Elliott combined for 144 rushing yards on 30 attempts. The Pats RB duo ran for a season-high 167 yards before the bye, so this is two straight games with a productive rushing attack.
Stevenson credited the Patriots offensive line for paving the way for him to add +0.24 expected points on his 21 attempts, saying the Pats mostly relied on downhill gap schemes. New England appeared to major in duo/gap, trap schemes, and the occasional split-flow zone concept to attack a Giants run defense without stud NT Dexter Lawrence.
The Patriots need to improve their play-action passing game to create big plays through the air off their running game success, but the ground attack is a starting point for the final six games.
6. Trent Brown and Conor McDermott Rotate at Left Tackle as Pass Protection Issues Continue
Along with rotating the quarterbacks, the Patriots also shuffled between Brown and McDermott at left tackle. Brown played 52 snaps in the loss, while McDermott played 16 snaps on Sunday.
Although we'll need to watch the film to get a final tally, pass protection seemed like a problem for the Pats offense on Sunday. New England missed one blitz pickup in a mug front by the Giants that led to a third-down stop by New York (overturned on replay challenge), LG Cole Strange allowed pressure on another third down play in the second half, and Jones was strip-sacked on a quick pressure by Giants EDGE Kayshon Thibodeaux against McDermott. Overall, the offensive line has taken some steps forward in run blocking. But they're too inconsistent for the offense to be consistent in the drop-back passing game.
7. Giants WR Jalin Hyatt Takes Advantage of Explosive Play-Prone Pats Defense
Over the last month or so, the Patriots defense is developing a bad habit of allowing chunk plays through the air (20-plus yards). The speedy Hyatt had gains of 29, 22, and 41 yards. Hyatt's first big play came on a deep over route from the multi-receiver side with the Giants flooding the Patriots cover-three zone, where it appeared that LB Jahlani Tavai should've recognized Hyatt's crossing route and picked it up from the other side of the formation. Hyatt's other two explosives came when he ran away from man coverage, beating J.C. Jackson across the field in a foot race and then separating over the top on a go ball with Jackson in coverage. Hyatt finished the game with a career-high 109 receiving yards. Finding ways to limit explosives is likely item number one on Belichick's to-do list defensively.
8. Patriots Rookie K Chad Ryland Takes Full Responsibility for Missed Field Goal
In a brief conversation with reporters inside the visiting locker room, rookie kicker Chad Ryland took full responsibility for missing a 35-yard field goal that would've sent the game into overtime. Ryland noted that it was a good snap, hold, and a kick he has to make – he just missed it. Although it's not Ryland's fault, the team's decision to move on from veteran Nick Folk for their fourth-round rookie is coming back to haunt them. Folk holds the NFL record for the most consecutive made field goals under 40 yards. Ouch.