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Replay: Patriots Unfiltered Wed Jan 26 | 12:00 AM - 11:55 PM

Game Observations: Playoff-bound Patriots pummel Jags 

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – In the NFL, the "any given Sunday …" adage might seem cliché, but there's a reason why it became popular in the first place. No games can be taken for granted or penciled in as victories before they're played.

However, if ever there was a game that the Patriots should have been expected to win, it was this latest encounter with the severely depleted Jacksonville Jaguars. Not only did they own the league's worst record at 2-13 as they arrived at Gillette Stadium, but they also came with an emaciated group of players. At one point this past week, about half Jacksonville's active roster having to be placed on the COVID reserve list. A number of those players were removed in time for Sunday's kickoff, but the Jags were in such dire straits, they were forced to promote about half their practice squad in order to field a team.

So, what could we learn about the Patriots – themselves on a two-game losing skid heading into this game – if they were to beat this beaten-up Jacksonville team? Bill Belichicks' boys found themselves in a similar spot earlier this year when they dropped 50-plus on an inept Jets team to kick off a seven-game winning streak. New England can only hope, as the playoffs loom, this latest beat-down can get them going on a similar roll.

Because, yes, by virtue of this 10th victory of the 2021 season, coupled with a Dolphins loss at Tennessee, the Patriots assured themselves a spot in the postseason after a year away from it. They're still a tiebreaker behind the Buffalo Bills in the AFC East, putting New England in the fifth seed for the time being. Much is left to be decided in the Week 18 regular season finales across the league.

In the interim, the Patriots can revel in a victory that felt more like we were watching them pick apart a scout team rather than an NFL opponent. New England's offense scored a perfect four touchdowns on four first-half possessions, the third time in the Belichick era that this club has done so. They made it five-for-five with Mac Jones' second-half TD throw to practice squad elevation Kristian Wilkerson (more on him in a moment).

It was an afternoon loaded with records and milestones achieved by various Patriots on both sides of the ball. Let's start with Jones.

Mac Jones on the day

Table inside Article
Attempts Completions Yards Sacks/Yards TD Long INT
30 22 227 0/0 3 20 0

Incompletions vs. JAX

Table inside Article
Total Throwaways Overthrows Underthrows Batted Passes Drops Passes Defensed INT
8 1 1 1 0 2 3 0

Incompletions in 2021

Table inside Article
Total Throwaways Overthrows Underthrows Batted Passes Drops Passes Defensed INT
159 16 47 23 6 14 41 12

New England's rookie quarterback, a Jacksonville native, grew up attending Jaguar games. Sunday at Gillette, he picked them apart. Of his eight incompletions, Jones threw one away on purpose, had two flat-out dropped by teammates, and saw the Jaguars' defense break up three other on-target passes that would have almost certainly been caught by the intended receivers. That means only two of his throws – one underthrow and one underthrow, can be considered his mistakes.

Jones' prettiest throw of the game may have been his 2nd quarter touchdown toss to Jakobi Meyers, a precisely placed throw over a defender in the area of Meyers. That marked Jones' 20th TD pass of his rookie year, supplanting Jim Plunkett's 19 in 1971 for most in a Patriots rookie's career. Jones would later add a 21st when he hit Wilkerson for that young receiver's second scoring reception of the day.

But one of Jones' best throws may have gone unnoticed, or at least underappreciated. First drive of the game, facing a 3rd-and-5 from the Jacksonville 38-yard line and the Jags showing blitz, he stepped up in the pocket, kept his eyes downfield and found Meyers for a 1st-down pickup of 14 yards. Great pocket awareness by Jones.

The QB was also fortunate that his one sack Sunday was nullified by a roughing-the-passer penalty when Jaguar linebacker Jihad Ward struck Jones in the facemask in the act of tackling him.

* * *

Fullback Jakob Johnson committed an early miscue with a holding penalty on New England's opening drive, but atoned later in the same series when he led the way for Damien Harris' two-yard touchdown run to start the afternoon's scoring. Johnson also made a heads-up play to field a short kickoff following the Jags' first score. Johnson picked up 14 yards on his return.

* * *

Harris scored another TD on the second Patriots drive, his 14th of the season and four behind the league leader, Indy's Jonathan Taylor (18). Harris and his 14 rushing TDs (with a game left to play) are tied for second in Patriots history with Curtis Martin and behind only LeGarrette Blount, who ran in 18 touchdowns in 2016.

Meanwhile, Harris' first TD of the game marked New England's seventh opening drive touchdown of the season, the most by a Patriots team since the 2017 squad had as many that year.

* * *

Wide receiver Kristian Wilkerson, called up from the practice squad in just his 4th NFL game appearance, made his first catch as a pro during the opening drive. He'd add his first touchdown catch as a pro on the third Patriots possession.

Wilkerson's second TD reception came off a wonderful play design, in which Wilkerson pretended to block for a wide receiver screen before darting up field. The defense bought the fake and Wilkerson was all alone. An easy read for Jones.

In fairness, Wilkerson did drop a perfect deep pass from Jones in the 4th quarter for what should have been his third touchdown grab of the day. Overall though, you couldn't have asked for much more out of Wilkerson, who saw considerable snaps after the Patriots chose to deactivate an otherwise healthy N'Keal Harry.

* * *

Cornerback J.C. Jackson's INT of Jags rookie passer Trevor Lawrence just before the first half's two-minute warning marked Jackson's 25th in the NFL. That ties him with the Raiders' Lester Hayes and the Cowboys' Everson Walls for the most in the first four years of a player's career since the 1970 merger. The total also brings Jackson up to ninth in Patriots history.

* * *

There were no signs of the hamstring injury that safety Kyle Dugger suffered during Friday's practice when he made a fantastic tackle on the second Jaguar drive. The runner looked like he had a huge hole to his right, but Dugger shot through the traffic in the middle of the field and brought his opponent down with a hard hit.

Dugger also showed no ill effects when he picked off a 3rd-quarter Lawrence pass and nearly took it all the way for a touchdown.

* * *

Not surprisingly, edge rusher Matthew Judon and linebacker Ja'Whaun Bentley saw limited activity after being removed from COVID reserve list on New Year's Day. Neither man practiced all week, so, their reduced roles were to be expected.

However, the Patriots manage to sack Lawrence twice by taking advantage of a Jaguar O-line that was missing three of its five starters Sunday.

* * *

Not everything was positive for the Patriots Sunday. Left tackle Isaiah Wynn sustained a hip injury, but managed to continue playing in spite of it. However, safety Adrian Phillips injured one of his wrists in the 4th quarter, while Harris aggravated a hamstring issue he's been dealing with the past month and yielded most of his 2nd-half snaps to rookie Rhamondre Stevenson. The health of both Phillips and Harris will be something to monitor closely this coming week as the Patriots prepare for a trip to Miami.

* * *

Meanwhile, Patriots special teams committed a couple of the few New England errors in this game: one blocked extra point and a muffed hold by Jake Bailey that led to a second failed extra point attempt.

* * *

Powerful Play/Player of the Game presented by Enel

Kristian Wilkerson. On a day when you could have chosen any number of players or plays, Wilkerson's an easy choice here. The second-year receiver caught his first four NFL passes, half of them for scores, just a day after being brought up from the New England practice squad, where he's spent most of his first two professional seasons. Congratulations, young man.

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