The Patriots battled their way to their first win of the 2023 season against the Jets, riding a shutdown defense that kept the game in check and closed it out at the end, and an opportunistic offense that put up enough points to dispatch their feisty rivals who hung on and made the game interesting until the final hail mary fell incomplete.
Through three games, New England has had to juggle their fair share of personnel as they've dealt with injuries but they also continue to experiment to find the best combinations on both sides of the ball. As is usually the case, some new faces are making growing impacts that will slowly provide the 2023 Patriots with their own unique identity.
Here are five areas where some new Patriots faces showed growth and potential against the Jets, elements that can be built off of going forward.
Lowe Helps Stabilize O-Line
Few would argue that the offensive line has been one of the areas most in need of stabilization over the first two weeks of the season and in Week 3 the Patriots got Trent Brown back at left tackle, locking in four-fifths of their expected starters entering the season. That left only the right tackle spot as the question mark entering the game and it was Vederian Lowe who got the start and went wire to wire playing all 72 offensive snaps. Brown's return and Lowe's arrival on the right side helped spark a Patriots offensive line that did not allow a sack in the contest.
"[Lowe's] picked up things pretty quickly here," said Bill Belichick on Monday morning. "He has a lot of experience at tackle, both in college at Illinois and in Minnesota with the Vikings. So, I think he's coming along. Tough matchup with the Jets and last week against Miami, but he's hung in there pretty well, playing on the left side, this week on the right side."
"Starts with no turnovers and that was a huge thing for us up front," said David Andrews after the game. "Thought we battled hard, did some things well, some things we can clean up. Obviously weather game, so taking care of the football was a big emphasis, thought we did a really good job of that today.
"It was just one of those messy games. I mean raining, wind, we did some things well. Thought we handled the line movement well, that was a big emphasis, we tried to push on that and thought we did a really good job. Some things always to clean up, we do that tomorrow morning."
It wasn't all perfect despite the clean stat sheet under the sack column, as the Jets got pressure on 41.4 percent of Mac Jones' dropbacks, the highest rate allowed through three games and a significant reason why the Patriots were held to just over 200 passing yards for the second week in a row.
Still, Lowe built on a decent showing at left tackle against the Dolphins and has at least earned himself a continued opportunity to start on the right side. He could be the answer the Patriots have been searching for ever since it was apparent Riley Reiff likely needed to shift inside to guard in the early days of training camp.
"We're starting to have a little continuity here on the offensive line, so that was good," said Bill Belichick after the game. "I think that definitely helped the running game. Coach [Bill] O'Brien did a good job mixing the play actions in there, he had a big pass on that. I think, probably, the run game helped that a little bit. The more we can keep these guys working together and improving our timing and execution, the better off we're going to be. No turnovers. That's a good place to start."
The Patriots got just one touchdown against the Jets but it was a big one, a play-action pass to Pharoah Brown that went for 58 yards and the score. Brown was a quiet addition to the practice squad in the early days after roster cutdowns and was quickly elevated to the 53-man roster in the lead-up to the opener against the Eagles.
The score was just the third of Brown's career and the first since he had two in 2020 with the Texans. Added to provide a physical blocking complement to Hunter Henry and Mike Gesicki, Brown's snaps exploded to 25 against the Jets after seeing less than 10 in each of the first two games.
"It was a great play action sell by the o-line and everybody. That's kind of how you want to draw that up," said Brown after the game. "It felt great to get the offense a spark, definitely. We needed it, but it felt awesome. I felt like it gave us a spark and helped us win a game."
Brown provided more spark than his two catches as well, as his blocking was a big part of the Patriots first 100-yard rushing performance of 2023. The Patriots ran three tight end sets the second most of any offensive package in this game, 23.2 percent, as it seems like a growing feature for the attack.
"Pharoah's done a good job. He came in here the first week and played in the opener and has played every week," said Bill Belichick of Brown. "It's good to have a guy that can do what he does. He's got some size, he can block. He can catch the ball a little bit. He's a good complement to Mike (Gesicki) and Hunter (Henry)."
The Run Stoppers
The Patriots defense made their intentions clear against the Jets early on, they were going to counter the Jets base offensive personnel on early downs with a heavy base grouping of their own that featured Sam Roberts and Anfernee Jennings seeing their first action of the season. Roberts (18 snaps) and Jennings (19 snaps) played limited roles but were productive, especially early on in containing the Jets ground attack.
"I thought Anfernee gave us a lot of good plays on the edge of the defense," said Belichick on Monday. "We played more base defense in this game than we have in the first two, so that put him on the field more in those situations."
Jennings started the game off with two straight tackles, including dropping Breece Hall for a loss of six on the second, en route to four solo tackles on the day for him. Roberts recorded just a single tackle himself but could be headed for a bump in playing time after both Davon Godchaux and Daniel Ekuale left the game with injuries. Roberts would be among the first to see his playing time rise if the two defensive tackles must miss any time.
Rookie Keion White also factored into the run-stopping package, as the Patriots used four defensive backs and seven-man fronts on 34 percent of the defensive snaps, a total that was surprisingly high for a primary nickel team, but one that made sense given the Jets attack and the conditions. The emergence of some new defensive faces should help take some pressure and usage off of valuable vets like Matthew Judon and Josh Uche, enabling them to make the kind of big plays against the pass as they did late in the game.
"It was just tough sled today, we just couldn't get it going," said Jets running back Breece Hall. "I feel like I could have done better. I'm sure Dalvin (Cook) felt like he could have done better. MC (Michael Carter) probably felt like he could have done better. You can never just blame it on one person. We just got to do better as a whole offense."
"Obviously, not good enough overall," assessed Jets head coach Robert Saleh. "Third downs, couldn't run the ball, it'd help if we could help around him in terms of the way we play, but just overall just wasn't good enough from coaching to players to all of it.
"Yeah, you're trying to establish a run game and I think it was under two yards a carry today."
The Patriots posted their first 100-yard rushing day of the season and it was veteran Ezekiel Elliott who did the most damage with 80 yards on 16 carries for a healthy 5.0 yards per attempt. Elliott's production was needed as Rhamondre Stevenson fought through a sporadic performance of 59 yards on 19 carries, a 3.1 yards per attempt average.
"Zeke's done a good job for us," said Bill Belichick. "I think we're getting a little bit of a feel for some of the things with him and vice versa. I thought he had a couple of real good runs today. We'll look at the film and look a little more carefully, but I thought he did a nice job, he got his pads down. Got some tough yards. His vision was good on a couple of cut-back plays."
After years of fielding a deep and specified backfield, the Patriots have shifted toward power backs like Elliott and Stevenson who can also catch. And while a combined two catches for 10 yards isn't very threatening, the balance they provide does avoid tipping New England's offensive plan.
As the offensive line continues to gel, the Patriots could have a dangerous 1-2 punch developing in their backfield.
"Those guys are great together," said Mac Jones. "The offensive line definitely brought it today. I thought they did a great job. Zeke (Ezekiel Elliot) and Mondre (Rhamondre Stevenson) are definitely working well together. They're different, but they're very similar in their own ways and just happy to have both of them."
"I think we knew that it was going to be a running game," said Elliott. "So, we were just ready to come out and run the ball as much as we needed to. Our o-line did a great job of just being physical all game and at the line of scrimmage."
Ryland, Baringer Stacking Experience
On one hand, Chad Ryland's 2-of-4 day kicking field goals could be a bit concerning, but in context, it was a solid day for the rookie kicker considering outside factors like a couple of high snaps, wet weather and the long-range attempts. Ryland started things off by making an impressive 48-yarder on the opening drive of the game before two misses, from 48 and 57 yards, marred the rest of his first half.
But the rookie showed good resiliency, rebounding on the first drive of the second half to make a 51-yarder that would later be an important part of the point differential. Ryland wasn't perfect in New York, but given all the circumstances it was an overall solid day to build off of and one that will provide experience and confidence when kicking in bad weather, a common feature up here in this part of the country.
The same could be said of fellow rookie Bryce Baringer, who was called upon to punt eight times and put four of them inside the Jets' 20-yard line.
"It was a tough day to kick. Bunch of long ones. The weather wasn't great. I thought he hit the ball pretty well," said Belichick of Ryland's performance. "Timing on a couple of them could've been better. We need to have a cleaner operation, but I thought he showed mental toughness coming back and making that kick in the third quarter after the one at the half that just wasn't a great operation. But did a good job for us. Same thing with Bryce (Baringer). He had a couple of good punts there at the end, situational punts that were what we needed. Been a couple of bad weather games already in September which is not usually the case but that's what it is and that's what we're going to have to play in, so some good learning experiences for both of them."
The New England Patriots take on the New York Jets in Week 3 at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, September 22, 2023.