FOXBORO, MA – The Patriots came up short in a back-and-forth battle that ended in a 37-26 loss to the Baltimore Ravens in Sunday's home-opener at Gillette Stadium.
Although New England's defense has plenty to correct from a second half where the Ravens scored on four of their final six possessions, the Patriots are now 0-7 in games with Mac Jones at quarterback where the opponent scores more than 25 points. In games where the opponent scores under 25 points, the Pats are 11-3 in the Mac Jones era.
That doesn't all fall on the quarterback, but this team's biggest obstacle is the inability to win in a shootout. We know they can win a 17-14 slogfest like we saw last week in Pittsburgh, but the higher-scoring affairs are currently out of reach mainly because of turnovers and struggling to convert in long-yardage situations.
Until further notice, the Patriots offense is too inconsistent to find ways to win high-scoring games. In today's NFL, that's not a winning formula.
What's also not a winning formula is an injury to your quarterback. According to reports, X-Rays on Patriots quarterback Mac Jones's injured ankle were negative. But his status moving forward is still unknown.
Here are eight takeaways as the Patriots drop to 1-2 on the season with Sunday's loss to the Ravens:
1. Ravens Bring Out Designed QB Run Game to Run Away From Patriots
After speaking to several players on the Patriots defense, the general sentiment was that Baltimore's second-half adjustment to feature its designed run game with quarterback Lamar Jackson was the difference.
In the first half, the Ravens came out throwing the ball, and the Patriots matched them in three-safety nickel with split-safety shells. The plan held Baltimore's offense reasonably in check, but the second half was a different story.
The Ravens answer was their gap-option runs where Jackson either keeps or hands the ball off based on a post-snap read. Baltimore ended the game with 188 rushing yards on 26 attempts, and Lamar was responsible for 107 of those yards on the ground.
Most of the damage came from the downhill GT counter scheme to attack the C-Gap. With the offense playing out of the gun, the formation forces the defense to spread out. The Pats tried matching the Baltimore running game in a 5-1 odd front, leaving Ja'Whaun Bentley as the lone linebacker at the second level. The Ravens offensive line folds the defensive front, and the pullers take care of the rest.
New England eventually adjusted by putting nose tackle Davon Godchaux and Christian Barmore at defensive end, but it was too little too late.
2. Enel Powerful Player of the Game: Patriots WR DeVante Parker
Unfortunately, it came in a loss, but wide receiver DeVante Parker had a breakout game with five catches for 156 yards, where all five of his receptions went for 20-plus yards. Parker's five big plays came on a slant, a crossing pattern, a go ball, a corner route, and a back-shoulder fade.
Parker feasted against the Ravens boundary corners in single-high zone and man coverages. With starters Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters banged up coming into the game, the Ravens had to rely on rookie Jalyn Armour-Davis and second-year pro Brandon Stephens.
The Pats wideout made Baltimore's depth corners pay for playing him in single coverage on the outside, with his most spectacular catch coming on a back-shoulder fade in the third quarter. With Stephens staying over the top of him, Parker and Jones were on the same page and perfectly executed the back-shoulder play. According to NextGenStats, the catch had a completion probability of only 7.4 percent, while Parker's upper body was fully out of bounds. Parker's catch radius is a primary reason the team acquired him in the offseason, and it was on full display there.
After struggling to be on the same page in the first two games, connecting on a chemistry throw was a step in the right direction for Parker and his quarterback. Hopefully, Parker's breakout performance will give opposing defenses another player to worry about moving forward.
3. Enel Player of the Game Runner-Up: Patriots DL Deatrich Wise
Although Parker gets the game ball in defeat, Wise was a close second after logging three sacks in the first half. The Pats defensive end also registered another tackle for loss by stringing out Ravens speedster Devin Duvernay on a jet sweep resulting in a four-yard loss.
Wise became the first Patriot to register three sacks in a game since Chandler Jones in the 2015 season, continuing a terrific start to the 2022 campaign in his sixth season with the team.
The Pats defensive end's second sack was a critical play early on in the game. With the Ravens facing a second-and-two, Wise beat rookie left tackle Daniel Faalele with a speed/rip move to put Baltimore in third-and-long. Wise's long strides and ability to bend the arc allow him to turn a tight corner around the big offensive tackle. Two plays later, the Ravens would punt.
After being named a team captain this season, New England's defense is getting a dominant version of Deatrich Wise that we haven't seen before in his first five seasons.
4. Patriots QB Mac Jones Continues to Seesaw, Injury Status a Major Storyline
Before we break down his performance in the loss to the Ravens, a hobbling Jones exited the playing field balancing on one foot because he couldn't put pressure on his left ankle. Luckily, X-Rays came back negative, but Jones isn't out of the woods yet since ankle sprains can linger for weeks. If the Patriots quarterback misses time, it will be tough for this team to overcome.
Now, to the breakdown. For better or worse, the Patriots are getting a more volatile version of their quarterback in his second season. After three interceptions on Sunday, the Pats QB now has five on the season. Mac is also throwing the ball down the field way more often, finishing Sunday's loss with an average depth of target of 12.2 yards (94th percentile).
Although we are only three games into the season, Jones is averaging 10.3 air yards per pass attempt. In his rookie season, Mac's aDoT was only 8.3 yards. Naturally, more throws down the field will lead to more explosive plays, but there's inherent risk involved as well.
The good from Jones in Sunday's win was a series of throws where we saw some legit velocity by the Pats QB to fit the ball into tight windows. For example, Jones is able to rifle the ball between two zone defenders into the cover-two hole to Parker (one minute mark above). We also saw Mac make throws over the middle (first play) and take vertical shots to Parker, where the ball beat the safety ranging over the top.
Plus, Mac added a few spectacular individual efforts on broken plays to either pick up yards with his legs or extend plays to move the chains with his arm as he did on fourth down here.
The Patriots starting quarterback is living more on the edge this season, and poor decision-making led to two more interceptions where the throw did not stand a chance.
Last season, Jones was too conservative with the training wheels on as a rookie. Now, he's sometimes a victim of over aggressiveness. Which version of Mac would you rather?
5. Pats Secondary Battles With Ravens Tight End Mark Andrews, Makes Plays of its Own
Like on the scoreboard, the Patriots had a back-and-forth battle with the Ravens pass-catchers in Sunday's loss where both teams made plays. For instance, Andrews and Duvernay's contested touchdown grabs were huge plays in the game, as was Jonathan Jones's interception and forced fumble.
On initial viewing, the Patriots were in man coverage on 18 of Lamar Jackson's 29 drop-backs, a much higher clip than in the first two weeks. One of those man coverage reps was on Jonathan Jones's first-half interception, where Jones was initially in coverage at the bottom of the screen. By playing an off-man technique, the Pats corner can cover his receiver and keep his eyes in the backfield. When Jackson locks on to Rashod Bateman's crossing pattern, Jones falls off his man to jump the route and intercept the pass.
With safety Kyle Dugger inactive due to a knee injury, the problem the Pats ran into was covering Pro Bowl tight end Mark Andrews. New England primarily used safety Adrian Phillips on Andrews, with Devin McCourty and second-year safety Joshuah Bledsoe sprinkling in. Still, the Ravens tight end ultimately got the better of the Pats defense with a team-high 89 yards on eight catches and two touchdowns.
Dugger's absence proved to loom large with the Patriots defense missing his man coverage skills and physicality in the box against the run.
6. Thoughts on Matt Patricia's Play-Calling Efforts vs. Ravens
Unofficial offensive play-caller Matt Patricia had a few situational play-calls he'd probably want back. It started with a four-down territory sequence where the Pats ran the ball on third-and-9 from the Baltimore 33-yard line knowing they'd go for it on fourth down. Fine. But Patricia dialed up a rub concept into the flat for Kendrick Bourne that didn't stand a chance and then went back to a similar play on the goal line that was nearly intercepted by Ravens linebacker Patrick Queen (flat route by Damien Harris). Lastly, New England's two-point play in the fourth quarter was a head-scratcher. The Pats tried to motion running back Rhamondre Stevenson into a shield screen, it appeared, and Stevenson was met immediately by multiple Ravens. As always, better execution makes everything look better. But the play calls didn't set the Patriots up for much success in those situations.
7. Patriots Offense Benefits from Dialing Up More Motion and Play-Action
For those who have recently read and heard this scribe, the Pats lack of play-action and motion at the snap was a major talking point. Well, it wasn't all the way there yet, but we saw more run fakes, three run-pass options, and a few plays involving jet motion, and the results were good.
The Patriots hit an explosive play on an under-center play-action scheme to Parker on a crossing route where Jones puts the perfect amount of touch on the throw to drop it in the bucket.
With the Patriots going through a scheme shift, the creativity has been dialed back in the first two games leading to a stagnant offensive script. Hopefully, there's more motion and play-action to come.
8. Patriots WR Kendrick Bourne Plays 17 Snaps in Loss to Ravens
Lastly, another major storyline surrounding this team is the lack of playing time for Bourne, who once again was the fourth receiver on the depth chart. In just 17 snaps, Bourne had four catches for 58 yards. In his 43 offensive snaps this season, Mac Jones has targeted Bourne nine times, so clearly, the quarterback likes throwing him the ball. But here's the disconnect: the Patriots have made it clear two years in a row that they view Bourne as a passing downs player. Last season, 77 percent of Bourne's offensive snaps were passing plays, and this season he has been on the field for only three running plays (93% passes). Bourne plays when the Pats are in a passing mode, but when it's first-and-10 from the 25, that's Lil'Jordan Humphrey's role. It appears that the coaching staff doesn't trust Bourne in the running game, so his snaps are regulated to second and third down. For better or worse, that's the story.