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Game Observations: Turnovers help Patriots turn things around

2021-GameObservations-16x9

Cliffs Notes story of the past two weeks? In a Week 1 loss to Miami, New England couldn't overcome its own mistakes. A week later in New York, the Patriots won because they capitalized on almost all of the Jets' errors.

The Patriots beat themselves in the opener at Gillette last Sunday. They'll see the Dolphins again in the finale, but in the meantime, they couldn't waste time crying over spilt milk (or lost fumbles, as the case may be). All they could do was work hard in practice and prepare for their first road trip of the season, another AFC East encounter with division rival New York.

That seems to be exactly what they did, posting an impressive performance in all three phases of the game. It wasn't perfect by any means, but a far better output than a week ago.

Here's what else stood out from this first Patriots victory of 2021:

* * *

Without right tackle Trent Brown (calf injury from the opener last week), New England had a decision to make on the offensive line. The Patriots went with Yasir Durant, a 6-7 giant who relieved Justin Herron in the second half of last week's game. Despite his enormous size, the second-year Durant had never really played tackle with the Chiefs (his former team). But he did a solid enough job against the Dolphins last week that the Patriots decided to go with him again.

This time, it was easy to understand why he hasn't been a tackle before. At the end of the game's opening drive, Durant was late reacting to a blitzing safety Marcus Maye, who sacked rookie QB Mac Jones and knocked the Patriots out of field goal range. Durant then got victimized on Jones' second sack, when the rookie nearly got strip-sacked deep inside New England's red zone during the second quarter. Two plays later, Durant gave up yet another sack on third down, forcing a Patriots punt.

New England's coaches had seen enough. Herron was thrust back into action thereafter, replacing Durant just before the end of the first half. However, Herron got shaken up during that drive, but managed to return in the second half and finish the game

Mac Jones on the day

Table inside Article
Attempts Completions Yards Sacks/yards TD Long INT
30 22 186 3/27 0 32 0

Incompletions vs. NYJ

Table inside Article
Total Throw Aways Overthrows Underthrows Batted Passes Drops Passes Defensed INT
8 2 1 1 0 2 2 0

Incompletions in 2021

Table inside Article
Total Throw Aways Overthrows Underthrows Batted Passes Drops Passes Defensed INT
18 3 2 3 2 3 5 0

* * *

On the other end of the spectrum, cornerback J.C. Jackson enjoyed a great first half. New England eventually got their first-quarter field goal, following a great play by Jackson, with an assist from LB Ja'Whaun Bentley. A delayed blitz up the middle by Bentley forced Jets rookie QB Zach Wilson to throw a rushed pass deep in Jets territory that Jackson tipped up in the air and came down with for the INT.

Jackson later picked off Wilson again when Jackson read Wilson's eyes, allowing him to pick off a floater of a throw along the sideline as the Jets were driving for what looked like at least a field goal. Wilson threw a third pick, a somewhat high throw intended for Corey Davis again, sailed through the receiver's hands and into those of Patriots safety Adrian Wilson.

Later in the game, not sure what Wilson was looking at when he delivered a pass downfield that appeared as if it was intended for safety Devin McCourty, who easily hauled it in and returned it several yards into Jets real estate. Perhaps Wilson had a miscommunication with his intended receiver, Elijah Moore. New England, though, scored points on three of the four interceptions they came down with Sunday – a major factor in the positive end result.

* * *

Once again, as was the case during the summer and last week versus Miami, Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels didn't ask Jones to do much that would take the rookie out of his comfort zone. For instance, Jones didn't throw many deep, downfield passes Sunday in New York. Yet, it's clear he has the ability, as he displayed when he lofted a perfect one to wide receiver Jakobi Meyers in the late second quarter for a 24-yard gain. The ball was precisely placed where only Meyers could make the catch over his shoulder. The more he makes these kinds of connections, the more confident the Patriots will be in allowing Jones to throw them.

Much later, when New England had a comfortable lead and found itself in the shadow of the Jets' end zone, McDaniels could have called for Jones to throw a play-action pass or two, but elected to play it safe for the time being. The Patriots ended up with points from the foot of Nick Folk (more on him in a moment), but the message was pretty clear – don't put Jones in a position to make a costly error. The more opportunities Jones gets in these situations, the more we'll likely see McDaniels open up the playbook.

That said, the Patriots did run a couple of trick-plays with Jones, so, it's not like they're being entirely tentative with him, but it's obvious that they're feeding him gradually, not overloading him.

* * *

The New England Patriots take on the New York Jets in Week 2 at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, September 19, 2021.

It was nice to see James White have a positive impact this week. A year ago in Week 2, he was forced to sit out a game in Seattle when, during the trip west, he learned he'd lost his father to a serious car accident that also severely injured his mother, who has since recovered.

This Week 2, White was instrumental in New England's offense. First quarter, he ran four times for 18 yards, including a 7-yard TD. Also caught a pair of passes for 33 yards, one of which was a nice screen pass that he took for 28. White finished with five carries for 20 yards and caught all six passes thrown to him by Jones, easily leading the team Sunday.

* * *

Congratulations to the aforementioned Folk, New England's 36-year-old kicker, who tied a franchise record when he drilled a 49-yard field goal with seconds remaining in the first half. Folk tied the franchise record with that kick, his 31st successful field goal in a row. At the end of the third quarter, he then established the new record with this 32nd consecutive field goal from an apropos 32 yards out. In between, he pulled an extra point wide left, but his field goal record is a remarkable accomplishment. He added to it late in the fourth quarter with a chip-shot 26-yarder.

* * *

Phenomenal run by Damien Harris, breaking, by my count, at least a half dozen tackles during a 26-yard touchdown run. Folk pulled his ensuing PAT wide left, though. It was good to see Harris be involved in such a positive play, after his lost fumble toward the end of last week's loss contributed to the defeat.

* * *

Good to see tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith continue to be a reliable one-two punch in the passing game. Both players made receptions that gained substantial yardage – Henry had a long of 32, Smith for 19. The duo combined for six receptions Sunday, adding to their eight total last week.

* * *

Carl Davis, a veteran defensive tackle who's flown under the radar since arriving here last season, made a fantastic play to sack Wilson in the late third quarter. Davis kept fighting through a couple of Jets linemen to force his way into the backfield and bring down the QB. That play came on third down and forced New York to attempt a 53-yard field goal, which their rookie kicker pulled wide left.

* * *

Run defense continues to be a concern for this new-look Patriots front seven. During the first quarter, the Jets carried only four times, thanks to Wilson's picks, but for a total of 30 yards, an average of 7.5 per tote, including long runs of 13 and 8 yards.

New England did manage to hold the Jets to a field goal when New York's offense drove inside the 5-yard line, but that was about the only positive for the Patriots against the Jets' rushing attack, which was not great to begin with and was further set back without starting left tackle Mecki Beckton (out with an injury). The Patriots surrendered 152 yards on the ground to New York, including a pair of 17-yard runs by two different ball carriers. Something needs to change up front, because there are some other very good running teams that the Patriots will face later this year.

* * *

All-Pro punter Jake Bailey, who doubles as New England's kickoff specialist, made an uncharacteristic blunder when he botched an intentionally short kickoff by sending it out of bounds. The resulting penalty gave the Jets the ball with great field position at their own 40-yard line. He atoned for that miscue with some great punts throughout the game, though.

* * *

Not a great day for starting left tackle Isaiah Wynn, who committed false start and holding penalties. The latter wiped out a nice J.J. Taylor run during the second half.

* * *

The initiation of Rhamondre Stevenson continues. This impressive rookie running back had a remarkable preseason, which prompted the coaches to give him an early look during the first quarter last week against Miami. Stevenson promptly fumbled and spent almost all of the remainder of that game on the bench. Apparently, that punishment wasn't enough, as the team deactivated Stevenson today against the Jets. It's an unfortunate development for the young player, who showed an enviable combination of size, speed, strength, and elusiveness throughout the month of August.

* * *

Powerful Play/Player of the Game presented by Enel

Harris' highlight-reel TD run. It seemed as if he was trying to send a message – to himself, his teammates, his coaches, everyone else, perhaps – that his miscue last week versus Miami was an aberration.

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