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Game Observations: Patriots grind out tenth win, knock off Cowboys

20191124-GameObservations-PDC

The Patriots continued their formula for winning football games in the 2019 season, capitalizing on a blocked punt and an interception to offset their offensive struggles and mixing in more dominant defense en route to a 13-9 win over the Dallas Cowboys.

The Patriots offense would go just 3-for-14 on third down and settle for four field goal attempts, with Nick Folk making two of them and missing from 42 and 48. But when your defense plays as well as the Patriots defense has, it covers up a lot of warts. Their red zone defense was the story of the night, keeping the Cowboys out of the end zone, and holding them to 2-for-13 on third down, making the razor-thin lead hold up.

Here’s what else stood out in the game observations!

-After the Cowboys picked up a 16-yard pass interference penalty and a 19-yard screen pass to Ezekiel Elliott, the Patriots defense held them to a missed field goal on the second drive of the game. The Patriots looked like they were matching Stephon Gilmore on Amari Cooper on all man-coverage downs. Gilmore was outstanding and didn’t allow Cooper to catch a single ball in the game. The other matchups were as expected, with Jonathan Jones on Randall Cobb and J.C. Jackson on Michael Gallup.

-The Patriots had some success running the ball out of the gate, with Sony Michel picking up 44 yards on his first six carries, but it wasn’t consistent enough to produce any early points. The passing offense struggled as you might expect with only three active receivers, two of whom are rookies. Brady started 1-for-3 for five yards on the first two drives. Michel’s next four carries would go just 10 yards combined though as he continued a trend of having his best carries on the first possession. Michel would chip in with some quality runs later in the game capping off a pretty decent night, 20 carries for 85 yards.

-As is always the case this year, the offense got a needed spark from the defense/special teams as Matthew Slater blocked a punt, setting up New England on the Dallas 12-yard-line. Two plays later it was N’Keal Harry grabbing his first career touchdown on a back shoulder fade. The rookie showed good body control to spin and make the catch while getting both feet down. It was the kind of play the Patriots offense could build off of after so much Harry hype and discussion over the last few weeks.

-The defense got the ball right back to the offense on the next possession with an outstanding interception by Stephon Gilmore. His closing speed and ability to make a catch in the air were on prime display. Unfortunately, the offense couldn’t put the ball in the end zone as their red zone struggles continued. Usually settling for a field goal is a bad thing, but just having Nick Folk make a 44-yarder in a rain storm was a bit of a positive.

-The Cowboys would get on the board with a 9-play, 42-yard drive that ended with a 46-yard field goal. It was primarily fueled by the ground game, running Elliott up the middle as the Patriots countered with their run-stopping 3-4 front that bent a bit but never gave up a run longer than 12 yards. In the end, Michel had a slightly better night than Elliott.

-Jakobi Meyers got in on the action in the second quarter with a nice 32-yard catch-and-run where he defeated a would-be tackler and picked up some extra yards. It was the kind playmaking we haven’t seen enough of outside of Edelman and White. Meyers would add a 23-yard catch before halftime to get the Pats into Dallas territory. White was surprisingly invisible in this one.

-But once again the Patriots offense couldn’t capitalize in the end zone as Nick Folk would miss the 46-yard field goal that was backed up an additional five yards after a false start by Danny Shelton. The defense has chipped in 42 points this year and set up plenty of short field situations for the offense. When they start finishing those free possessions with touchdowns they'll be on their way toward winning in Miami in February.

-The Cowboys would put together another pretty good drive near the end of the second quarter, going 9-plays, 55-yards and finishing with a 27-yard field goal that closed the score to 10-6. The Cowboys had success moving the ball in the first half, but the Patriots defense clamped down in the red zone which was a major difference in the game.

-The Patriots would put together a nice little drive just before the half, sparked by Meyers’ 23-yard catch, but it would flame out and see Folk miss his second field goal of the first half, this one a 48-yarder that went wide right. It was bad to leave points off the board but it was good situational football getting down the field in a close game.

-The first half was more of the same for the 2019 Patriots, the offense was inconsistent and lacked finish, while the defense and special teams provided the spark, while maintaining field position and preventing touchdowns.

-The offense continued to struggle in the second half, punting on four out of five possessions. Their only other meaningful drive produced a field goal. Brady did convert a 3rd-and-20 with a pass to Julian Edelman and another third down pass to Jakobi Meyers. Considering the elements the Patriots showed really good toughness to grind out this win.

-Luckily the defense stayed their course, forcing back-to-back three-and-outs to start the second half and then getting another punt after giving up just their second third-down conversion of the game. The weather played a factor in the offensive production of both teams, in the third quarter there was no scoring and six total punts.

-The Pats would tack on another three points in the fourth quarter but it was a 12-play drive that went all of 38 yards. Those kind of drives have been all too common this year. Still, it ate up over six minutes of clock. And getting a 42-yard pressure field goal kick in rain and wind from Nick Folk left a good feeling despite his two misses. It wasn't perfect, but games in these conditions never are and there's plenty to take from the toughness they showed.

-The Cowboys would respond with their best drive of the night after the Patriots tacked on the last field goal, powered by a 59-yard catch-and-run by Randall Cobb up the sideline, but once again the Patriots red zone defense came up strong, getting a stop on their 11 and holding the Cowboys to another field goal. A late-game stand in a tight game like this is very valuable.

-Up 13-9 late in the fourth quarter, the Patriots had a chance to close the game out but were stopped on the Dallas 41 and forced to punt. It was a disappointing last possession. The drive did produce two first downs and eat up 3:26 of clock so it wasn’t a total disaster but it left the door open at the end of the game and you'd love to see them slam it shut.

-The Cowboys got one final crack at it, starting from their own eight-yard-line and getting a quick 18-yard gain to Cobb. But a tripping penalty would take away a third-down conversion and a fourth-down pass would hit the ground, effectively ending the game. It was another time this season the defense was able to close the game out.

No one expected this to be the Patriots offensive breakout game given the absences of Mohamed Sanu and Phillip Dorsett and the driving rain that hit Foxboro on Sunday, but it was a gutsy performance with some valuable contributions from the rookie receivers. The defense continues their torrid pace and that might be all that matters.

The 10-1 Patriots are back on the road next week, taking on their AFC rivals the Houston Texans on Sunday Night Football on NBC.

The New England Patriots take on the Dallas Cowboys in a regular season game at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, November 24, 2019

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