The Patriots wrap up their 2020 season on Sunday with a final AFC East battle against the New York Jets, winners of two-straight after starting the season with 13-straight losses. Though both teams are out of playoff contention, there's never any love lost between the two rivals and, despite a litany of injuries for both squads, it should be a competitive game.
Draft pick status will be a small consolation for the loser, as the Patriots look to avoid ending their season with four-straight losses, including three-straight inside the division that they had won 17 of the last 19 years.
In many ways this game is about the Patriots youth movement and looking for those players to put forth their best performances of the year. It's been an impossibly hard year for those just breaking into the league, but the Patriots have still found some gems who will be key building blocks for the future.
Here's what the remaining Pats need to do to finish the season off with a win in the Keys to the Game presented by Carmax!
Resurrect the Pass Rush
Last season the Patriots defense toyed with Sam Darnold, forcing him into four interceptions and a fumble, leaving the quarterback "seeing ghosts." This season the pass rush has been far tamer, lowlighted last Monday against the Bills where they failed to sack or even get a hit on Josh Allen.
A similar lack of pressure against the Jets will be lethal, but the one thing the Patriots have going for them is not having to pay as much attention to his running ability as they did with Allen.
With Josh Uche ending his season with a second trip to IR, they'll be without one of their most promising quarterback hunters, putting an even bigger spotlight on players like Adam Butler and Chase Winovich, the two most athletic and disruptive players on the Patriots front.
The Patriots have been decimated at linebacker and it's unclear who will even be playing on the second level, perhaps practice squadder Cassh Maluia. No matter who plays, the Patriots must find a way to get to Darnold and get him uncomfortable. If they don't, he'll pick the defense apart.
Patriots.com's Mike Dussault shares his players to watch ahead of the Patriots matchup against the New York Jets.
On the first drive against the Bills, the Patriots pulled out a trick play that should've been a touchdown. That kind of creativity is what it is going to take again and against the Jets, they must not waste those opportunities to put six points on the board.
No one is expecting a season-redefining effort from the offense and it's clear that things are just not the same without Damien Harris and Rex Burkhead in the lineup. Can they still put up enough points on the scoreboard with a passing game coming off their lowest output of the season and a skeleton running back crew that got some big plays but not enough consistency over the last couple weeks to keep pace with their opponents?
Sony Michel, James White and Jakobi Meyers must lead the way against a Jets defense that has been playing solid football since moving on from defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.
With nothing left to save for, Josh McDaniels should empty the playbook and do whatever it takes to generate points.
Finish Strong by Making Plays
All week the theme from Matthew Slater and the Patriots has been to finish what they've started, and while their draft slot looms large over the outcome, expect Bill Belichick's team to still go out and compete hard. Despite the circumstances, the team has continued to prepare as they always have.
Many young players have gotten a ton of valuable experience this season but some of those players like Uche, Anfernee Jennings and Terez Hall could be sidelined with injuries. That's a disappointing end for them, but for the rest this final game is a chance to put it all together and wrap things up on a positive note.
The team needs playmakers and that will be what is most remembered from this game. Takeaways, sacks, big hits – the team needs some standout moments to seize upon. There haven't been anywhere close to enough big plays in recent weeks and now is the last chance to end on a high note.
Set the Stage for 2021
2020 was not kind to the Patriots. It started with a disappointing loss to the Titans and continued with the departure of Tom Brady and a number of key free agents, COVID-19 killing any semblance of a regular offseason, the most opt-outs in the league and then a season hit hard by injuries.
Perhaps the change on the calendar will provide a mental boost for the team in the same way it will for the general population. Getting a win over the Jets might be a moral victory more than anything and, while it would cost them some draft position, it would finish things off with a tiny feel-good moment for everyone, from players to coaches to fans and everyone in between, to turn the page with.
If a couple young players make some notable plays, they'll be highlights and reason for optimism heading into the offseason. There isn't much to take from the 2020 season, but a win over the Jets would be a nice reminder that not all is lost for New England.
Losing to the Jets will never be acceptable and even with a skeleton crew with no playoff stakes, expect the Patriots to being their best effort since the Chargers game. Unlike the Dolphins and Bills, the Jets will beat themselves if you give them the chance. They're playing well right now and will play with nothing to lose in New England.
Add it all up and it should be a close, low-scoring affair. Expect the Patriots to pull it out at the very end, with a Nick Folk field goal being the difference.
Patriots 16, Jets 14