East Rutherford, NJ – The Patriots extended their winning streak against the New York Jets to 13-straight games by winning an ugly offensive showing from both teams on Sunday.
New England's defense and special teams set the offense up on short fields to escape with a 22-17 win, but neither team leaves MetLife Stadium feeling good about their second-year quarterbacks.
Entering the week, these two young quarterbacks were the worst passers while under pressure by passer rating and Pro Football Focus grading this season. Patriots quarterback Mac Jones's passer rating while under pressure (8.7) was dead-last among 38 quarterbacks, while Jets quarterback Zach Wilson was not far ahead with a 12.7 rating (37th).
After both franchises hoped they had filled their quarterback vacancies in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft, the scene in the Meadowland suggests that's still uncertain. Instead, we witnessed two passers whose decision-making processes were broken at the first sign of duress, throwing a combined four interceptions and taking eight sacks.
Luckily for the Patriots, the game turned in their favor when Jets cornerback Michael Carter's 84-yard interception return for a touchdown was wiped out by a roughing the passer penalty. From then on, New England scored 19 unanswered points to take control of the game.
The Patriots can thank their defense for forcing five "turnovers" on the Jets final eight drives and an outstanding performance by the entire special teams unit for surviving on Sunday.
However, until New England gets their offense and quarterback fixed, it's hard to feel good about the second half of the season, where the schedule gets significantly harder.
Here are eight takeaways as the Patriots improve to 4-4 on the season with a win over the Jets:
1. Powerful Play of the Game presented by Enel: Patriots RB Rhamondre Stevenson's 35-Yard Run Sets Up Lone Touchdown Drive
The beacon of hope for the Patriots was running back Rhamondre Stevenson making things happen as a ball carrier. Stevenson accounted for 143 of the Patriots 288 total yards, and his 35-yard scamper put the Pats in position for their lone touchdown.
New England came out of halftime needing seven points on offense, so they turned to Rhamondre on first down. After motioning tight end Jonnu Smith into the backfield, the Pats ran a lead play that should've been stuffed for no gain. Instead, Stevenson ran over Jets safety Jordan Whitehead in the hole, broke an arm tackle, avoided deep safety Lamarcus Joyner, and found daylight for a 35-yard gain. Three forced missed tackles to get himself into space.
The second-year running back saved the Patriots offense from a disastrous day at the office.
2. Patriots Need to Rebuild QB Mac Jones's Decision-Making, Processing From Ground Up
When the Patriots selected Mac in the first round last April, his strengths as a passer were his accuracy and ability to quickly read defenses to make sound decisions. He didn't get here on his own. This isn't about a QB whose limited physical tools are sinking him, but rather a quarterback who is lost within the structure of the offense that he's being asked to run. That's not to make excuses for Jones, who needs to play much better. Still, he's fixating on his first read, looking to leave or getting panicky in the pocket, and is not fitting into the play-calling structure. That's not his game.
For example, Jones's second-quarter interception sums up the major problems the Pats offense is having in protecting him and having Mac go through his progressions in a timely fashion. The Jets rotate into a single-high coverage after the snap, and Jones wants to push the ball downfield to Kendrick Bourne on a double move on third-and-9. However, right tackle Marcus Cannon gets beat by edge rusher Bryce Huff, who hits Jones's arm as he throws. Sure, Mac is attacking a one-on-one here. But the safer throw is underneath the defense to Nelson Agholor. Jones never comes off his initial read, and the play's timing contributes to the turnover.
As we mentioned, Jones also has trouble making clean decisions under pressure. Here, the Pats go for it on fourth down and try to catch the defense off-guard with play-action. The fake doesn't fool the second level, which closes in on Mac, but a calm and collected QB recognizes an open Hunter Henry in the flat as the right throw to move the chains. Instead, he throws wildly to Jakobi Meyers, and the pass falls incomplete for a turnover on downs.
The Patriots got Jones in rhythm with short throws out of the quick-game in the shotgun in the second half, which is what they need to do moving forward. The quick game was described as a "strength" by several offensive players, while the in-game goal was to neutralize and tire out the Jets pass rush. Mac isn't seeing the downfield stuff quickly enough with their protection issues to keep running the vertical passing game.
Although it would've been nice to graduate to offense 2.0 in Jones's second season, it's back to square one until they fix their quarterback.
3. Patriots Defense Rights the Ship, Zach Wilson Implosion Ensues
The Jets started the game with ten points in their first three possessions. But the Patriots defense eventually made Zach Wilson look like he was seeing ghosts the day before Halloween.
Things started rocky for the Patriots defense, but they eventually found a pass-rushing formula to hurry Wilson into mistakes.
For example, linebacker Ja'Whaun Bentley logged his first interception since 2018 on a well-timed safety blitz. Jabrill Peppers comes from the second level to force Wilson into a wild throw where Bentley was in the right place at the right time.
The Patriots defense stuck with their game plan, stopped the run, used line stunts and "replacement" pressures to apply pressure, and had Wilson seeing ghosts.
4. Patriots Offensive Play-Calling More a Big-Picture Issue on Sunday
We'll look closely at the route concepts and passing script in After Further Review. But this felt more like an execution issue than play-calling. The Pats had 19 plays from under center, seven play-action passes, three run-pass options and were creating profits for Jones in the passing game. There's a bigger-picture conversation about Jones's comfort level and fit in what they're running offensively. But, at the end of the day, the players must execute what's being called.
5.Pats Having Issues Along the Offensive Line in Multiple Spots
Football is a team sport. The offensive line feeds into the quarterback's process and vice versa. As the Pats QB admitted after the game, Jones needs to get rid of the ball faster to avoid sacks. But the Pats need better play at several spots along the offensive line as well. Starting at right tackle, an area Belichick told the CBS crew was a weak spot,, and Cannon had issues in pass protection once again. The other problem areas were left guard (Cole Strange - sack, two penalties) and center (James Ferentz). The rookie was benched in passing situations for Isaiah Wynn, who played guard for the first time since his rookie season. In the rookie's defense, Strange is going to take some L's to Quinnen Williams at this stage. Center is fixed by David Andrews's return, who should be back soon. The line is now a multi-week problem.
6. Patriots Special Teams Dominates in Win Over Jets
Nobody invests more in special teams than the Patriots, and it paid off on Sunday. The Jets entered the game as the third-ranked special teams unit in Football Outsiders DVOA metric. But it was the Patriots special teams that dominated the day. Kicker Nick Folk went 5-for-5 with four makes over 40 yards and a 52-yarder to cap off a fantastic day. Rookie returner Marcus Jones had a 32-yard return, and the kickoff coverage was spectacular to force the Jets to drive the entire field.
7. Patriots Run Defense Corrects Course, Unlocks Pass Rush
After allowing 243 rushing yards last week, the Patriots defense forced the Jets to play in long down and distances by stopping the run. New York only had one first-down run and a 12% success rate on the ground. From our live viewing, they mixed up their fronts with both odd (eagle) and over fronts (even) to limit the Jets on the ground. Yes, the Jets missed rookie Breece Hall. But stopping the run was a huge part of the win.
8. Patriots WR DeVante Parker Exits Game With Injury
Although they came into the game banged up, the Patriots got out of the game relatively healthy. The lone injury was to DeVante Parker, who left the game due to a knee issue. With the trade deadline next week, Parker's injury status could dictate what the team does at wide receiver. If it's a long-term issue, they may hold onto Kendrick Bourne and Nelson Agholor.