FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Warning: Do not be fooled, one way or the other, by today’s 30-14 final score. This contest was never that close, nor was the outcome ever in doubt. And the Patriots have still not given up a touchdown defensively. Yet, it wasn’t as clockwork a win as the past two have been.
Through the first two weeks of this regular season, New England piled up points at a near-record pace, while allowing only three. Flying into town this weekend was a winless New York Jets squad on its third starting quarterback in as many games, coming off a Monday Night bombardment at home from the Cleveland Browns.
Not a great position for the AFC East rivals to find themselves in, especially with the Patriots’ having shed the Antonio Brown melodrama that reached a crescendo over the past few days.
“When you ignore the noise and can focus on what’s in-house, focusing on your opponent, how you’re going to win, you win,” safety Duron Harmon observed. “That’s what it came down to. It was a tough week. Obviously a lot of media, a lot of stories, but only thing we were focused on, the Jets. And we showed that today.”
As it has thus far in 2019, New England’s smothering defense set the tone for the afternoon. First-quarter sacks by LB Jamie Collins and DL Michael Bennett complemented a stingy run defense and solid open-field tackling. In all their first-half possessions, the Jets got as far as midfield, but no further. The Patriots shut the Jets out in the first two quarters.
“Yeah, we played pretty good on defense, kept them out of the end zone,” CB Stephon Gilmore acknowledged later in the locker room. “We didn’t play perfect, we just played fast and tried to do the best we can. It’s not easy. It takes a lot of hard work during the week, preparing and trusting each other.”
The offense, meanwhile, started out doing what it’s been doing this season – marching downfield at will for sustained drives and scores, jumping out to a 20-0 lead. By the early second quarter, QB Tom Brady found a wide-open Phillip Dorsett and Julian Edelman for a pair of touchdowns, while Sony Michel ran one in from five yards out.
Kicker Stephen Gostkowski, however, missed his first PAT attempt – his third in two games – despite no apparent problems with the snap or the hold, and barely converted his second extra point.
“It sucks. I just can’t hang my head too low,” Gostkowski remarked at his locker post-game. “It’s a job, I’ve been good at it… kicking’s a weird thing. When it’s going good, it’s the easiest job out there. And then when it’s not, it’s one of the toughest. I’m just trying to get to where I can make it easy again.”
Comfortably up by three scores, the Patriots’ O nonetheless fell into a mini-slump in the middle of the second quarter, having to punt on three consecutive possessions prior to intermission. They also saw WR Josh Gordon leave early with what looked like a back injury, and Edelman went to the halftime locker room prematurely after being slow to get to the sidelines on New England’s final offensive play of the half.
Gordon returned to action in the third quarter, but Edelman remained inside with what the team announced as a chest injury, and the offense continued to struggle with a fourth consecutive punt. Post-game media reports seemed to indicate that Edelman’s injury might not be as severe as initially feared.
In the early third, more of the same from the Patriots’ D, which gave the team a boost. Safety Devin McCourty intercepted a poorly-thrown Luke Falk pass in New York real estate to set up New England with solid field position. Although the offense couldn’t capitalize with another touchdown, Gostkowski converted a 37-yard boot to increase the lead to 23-0 halfway through the third quarter.
New England’s D forced another New York punt in the third quarter, giving life to the offense, which went 60 yards in 10 plays. Rex Burkhead took a toss from two yards out and waltzed into the end zone.
Throughout the second half, Collins made more big plays – another sack, an almost-INT, a trio of tackles-for-losses – as he makes a strong, early bid for defensive MVP.
“He’s a baller,” Gilmore said of Collins. “He’s big, can tackle, he’s fast. He helps our defense out a lot. I’m happy for him. He’s making plays, doing everything he can to help us win.”
Collins, though, deflected attention from himself in comments to reporters afterward.
“I’ve got 10 other great guys out there. It’s not like it’s just me,” Collins demurred. “All those guys can make a play anytime. It just makes my job a little easier. Hopefully we can keep that up.”
When New York got on the scoreboard, it was entirely New England’s fault, first on special teams, then offense.
Rookie return specialist Gunner Olszewski made his first big mistake as a pro toward the end of the third quarter. After an Adam Butler sack forced a Jets punt, Olszewski muffed the ball around his own 5-yard line and New York recovered in the end zone for a touchdown. Olszewski, to his credit, was given opportunities thereafter and was front-and-center to face the media music in the locker room.
“It went through my hands… unacceptable,” he admitted. “[My teammates] told me to pick my head up, we’ve got a game to play. You’ve got to go back there and do your job. They put me back there because they trust me. I just want to show them that they can trust me in any situation.”
With New England up 30-7, Brady was pulled halfway through the fourth quarter – a smart move given the attrition the Patriots suffered against the Jets. Rookie passer Jarrett Stidham, though, was promptly sacked and threw a pick-six on 3rd-and-long that trimmed the lead to 30-14.
“Obviously, I’m very thankful to get a few snaps, but I wish it would have gone a little bit better,” Stidham conceded. “I’ve just got to make a better throw. I’m going to continue to get better and have a next-play mentality.”
With a third consecutive AFC East matchup awaiting them in 3-0 Buffalo next weekend, the Patriots have some concerns. First, their health. Edelman’s condition bears watching all this week. Gordon, too. Though he stayed in the game and made some huge second-half catches, he also injured a finger or two on his left hand and played through obvious pain.
LB Dont’a Hightower had to retreat to the medical tent in the fourth quarter with a shoulder injury and did not set foot on the game field thereafter.
Meanwhile, the running game isn’t where it needs to be, particularly when primary ball carrier Sony Michel is in the game. The o-line just doesn’t seem to block well for him at this point.
However, Marcus Cannon returned to his right tackle spot after missing one week with a left shoulder issue, and pass protection has been solid, even with backup Marshall Newhouse taking over for Isaiah Wynn at left tackle.
Overall, at 3-0, New England seems to be cruising, but the players maintain they cannot take any of this for granted.
“Different weeks bring different challenges,” Gilmore continued. “The challenge is just don’t get complacent. Come in and work every day, no matter what happened the week before, try to get better.”
“There’s so much we can improve on,” added Harmon. “We can get better in so many different areas, and we’re going to continue to grind to get there.”