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Game Observations: Tough day in all three phases

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Back in the 60's, The Shirelles famously sang, "Mama said there'll be days like this." They probably didn't mean when nothing seems to go your way on the football field, but the sentiment still applies to the way the Patriots played against the Saints Sunday at Gillette.

The highlight of the afternoon may have been Julian Edelman's halftime celebration; the lowlight, what looked like a devastating injury to James White. Yet, as poorly as New England played in all three phases of the game, the Patriots found themselves down just one score late in the game with a chance to even things up.

That may have been due to New Orleans' premature decision, up 21-3 in the third quarter, to take their foot off the gas defensively. Nevertheless, New England couldn't capitalize on their opportunity.

This is how the game looked from our vantage point in the press box:

* * *

Great start for the Patriots' run defense, which stuffed New Orleans' top offensive threat, running back Alvin Kamara, on consecutive plays to start the game. Thereafter, though, New England had some difficulty containing Kamara, both as a runner and receiver in key situations. Kamara, the focal point of the Saints' offense, averaged fewer than four yards per carry against the Patriots Sunday, but too often, he came up with needed yardage when the Saints had to have it.

Kamara also appeared to deceive the entire Patriots defense when he caught the game's first touchdown in the middle of a wide open New England red zone.

* * *

Both Saints quarterbacks, starter Jameis Winston and backup Taysom Hill, were on the field for the start of the game. Winston took the snap, but Hill saw quite a bit of action in the early going as an eligible receiver, mostly as a ball carrier, and that continued throughout the afternoon. Hill often took direct snaps on short-yardage downs and ran with the football fairly effectively, particularly to his right (the left side of New England's defense). He averaged 5.3 yards per rush, including a crucial 14-yard gain late in the game to help run down the clock and seal the Saints' victory.

* * *

We heard plenty of talk this week about Mac Jones having the shortest average pass attempts in the NFL. His first two throws of the game traveled far downfield (both were overthrown for incompletions), perhaps an effort on the part of offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to dispel some of those notions that the Patriots are taking things too conservatively with their rookie QB.

Later in the game, with his team playing from behind on the scoreboard, Jones made several pass attempts deep downfield, and while he didn't connect on all of them, he might have had better stats if he hadn't been under so much duress all afternoon.

Jones endured pressure from the Saints' front on almost every drop-back. Hard to blame the rookie passer for his first interception as a pro because, like on nearly every pass he threw Sunday afternoon, he was unable to follow through properly due to the many Saints defenders in his face.

* * *

Mac Jones on the day

Table inside Article
Attempts Completions Yards Sacks/Yards TD Long INT
51 30 270 2/19 1 31 3

Incompletions vs. NO

Table inside Article
Total Throw Aways Overthrows Underthrows Batted Passes Drops Passes Defensed INT
21 0 9 3 0 1 5 3

Incompletions in 2021

Table inside Article
Total Throw Aways Overthrows Underthrows Batted Passes Drops Passes Defensed INT
39 3 11 6 2 4 10 3

Jones had a tough day in part because of the struggles of his offensive line. Part of that difficulty could be attributed to New England's O-line having to face another week minus starting right tackle Trent Brown, who continues to nurse an ailing right calf injury.

Second-year player Justin Herron got the start in Brown's place Sunday against New Orleans. However, Yasir Durant, another second-year player, replaced Herron in the late second quarter, though only for a series or so. Herron came back to start the second half. Perhaps the coaches wanted to give some more experience to Durant, who normally plays guard and had a forgettable first quarter last week against the Jets.

* * *

Looked like a bad blitz pickup by RB Damien Harris that led to Jones' first of two sacks on the day.

* * *

The Patriots took a time out with 13 seconds left in the first quarter, as New Orleans faced 4th-and-3 from the New England 34-yard line. New Orleans would have been able to run out the clock and end the quarter before they attempted their 4th-down play, but Belichick's time out forced them to do so before the quarter ended. It seemed Belichick wanted the Saints to attempt their long field goal into a strong wind, hence the taking of an otherwise unnecessary time out. Although Saints kicker Aldrick Rosas hooked his 52-yarder wide left, the wind appeared to have died down by that point. Regardless, the tactic worked.

* * *

New England's special teams units have seen much better days than this. A pair of special teams penalties – uncharacteristic for this Patriots unit – came in the first half: a false start by long snapper Joe Cardona, then a holding by Chase Winovich during a punt return. The Patriots also allowed a 25-yard punt return by the Saints' Deonte Harris, then had a Jake Bailey punt blocked in the mid-second quarter. A high snap on Nick Folk's 45-yard field goal at the end of the first half is something we hardly ever see from the reliable Cardona.

Meanwhile, Bailey in the late third quarter booted another kickoff out of bounds for a penalty. That marked the second time in this early season that he's made such an error, which gives the opponent the ball at their own 40-yard line.

* * *

When RB James White was carted off the field during the second quarter, it sure looked like a season-ending kind of injury, as teammates and opponents alike came over to wish him well. Later announced as a hip injury, that's exactly what we in the press box first predicted when we saw it live. White had just picked up a nice first-down after catching a pass out of the backfield and scampering to the sideline. He hit the ground hard with his right knee, which could have popped his hip out on that side. White immediately grabbed for his right hip. It would be a disappointing development for White, who suffered through an extremely difficult 2020 season. 

* * *

On the opposite end of the spectrum, it was fun to see former receiver Julian Edelman honored at halftime, as he came running onto the field in his signature style – sprinting the length of the field and pumping his fist at the crowd in the south end zone. Edelman retired during this past offseason.

* * *

Newly-promoted practice squad linebacker Jahlani Tavai saw action in the third quarter when it appeared that starter Ja'Whaun Bentley was unavailable. Bentley wasn't seen anywhere on New England's sideline during that particular series, but was spotted again later in the afternoon, albeit just standing on the Patriots sideline. Bentley was never announced to have suffered an injury, but his health status will be among those to monitor this coming week.

* * *

Difficult day overall for tight end Jonnu Smith, who only caught just one of the six passes thrown to him. Along with that, he bobbled a ball that led to a Jones pick-six, dropped a pass on an attempted screen play, and committed a holding penalty in the third quarter.

* * *

One of the defensive highlights of the afternoon for the Patriots came when edge rusher Matt Judon sacked Winston in the late second quarter. This cost the Saints nine yards and pushed them into a 3rd-and-12, which they then failed to convert. New Orleans wound up attempting a field goal on the next play, rather than continue the drive for a potential touchdown, and kicker Aldrick Rosas pulled his second attempt of the game wide left again, keeping New England close on the scoreboard.

* * *

Though the special teams units have had better days, one player who continues to produce is Folk. He converted two more field goals Sunday, extending his successful streak to 35 field goals in a row.

* * *

Credit where credit is due offensively, too. Receivers Jakobi Meyers and Kendrick Bourne caught some very difficult passes Sunday, some of them in heavy traffic. Both men came within whiskers of 100-yard days as well – Bourne led the day with 96 and Meyers just behind him at 94. Were it not for these two, the Patriots would have had even more problems moving the football.

* * *

Powerful Play/Player of the Game presented by Enel

Bourne's individual effort on his 22-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown grab from Jones. Bourne timed his jump perfectly to high-point the long throw by Jones, making the grab over Saints cornerback Paulson Adebo. Then, Bourne displayed fantastic athleticism to keep his feet inbounds and equally impressive mental concentration to reach the ball over the goal line with one hand, breaking the plane for the score, helping make it a one-score game in the fourth quarter.

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