For the second straight week, the Patriots allowed just 10 points but lost, becoming the only NFL team since 1993 to do so. It's a frustrating statistic that sums up a frustrating season for the Patriots defense, who have endured significant injuries and a lack of offensive points yet continued to keep their team in almost every game despite the team's 2-9 record.
Sunday marked the sixth time this season that the defense has given the ball back to the offense with a one-score deficit and every time the offense failed to produce a game-winning drive. Ironically the defense allowed a go-ahead score to the Bills in Week 7 yet it was that one time that the Patriots offense produced a game-winning drive. That game was a rare recent glimpse at the kind of complementary football that has won a lot of games in Patriots history but has been largely absent in the last few seasons.
Sunday's loss to the Giants was more of the same kind of problems, as both of New York's scores came after Patriots turnovers while the defense allowed a total of just 220 yards, a mere 65 in the second half alone. New York's two scoring drives needed a combined 44 yards after both started on New England's side of the field.
"Very frustrating," said captain Ja'Whaun Bentley following the loss. "Especially obviously when you don't come up with the win."
|Starting Field Position
|4th down stop
|4th down stop
In recent years a few of these losses would've gone the other way thanks to the defense's and special team's ability to produce points. Thus far New England is one of only five teams to not record a defensive or special teams score in 2023 after producing eight defensive/special teams scores in 2022. That hard regression back to the mean has had a significant impact and has left defenders wondering how they can get to the end zone themselves.
"We look at what do, what we have to do to win," said Deatrich Wise following the loss to the Giants. "We have to take the ball away and score on defense. We have to get more takeaways, more turnovers, and score on defense, too."
Though they haven't reached the end zone, the defense has seen a recent spike in takeaways. After producing just two in their first five games, the defense now has nine takeaways in their last six games. Unfortunately, the offense also has nine giveaways over the same time frame maintaining a neutral stance in the turnover battle that plays such a big part in wins and losses.
"There's a lot of things we have improved on," said Wise in assessing the defense's development over the season. "We did a lot of great things today. Stopping [running back] Saquon [Barkley]. Stopping the run. Just 10 points after they scored a lot of points against Washington. I think as a defense we're improving."
That improvement has been thanks to the rise of some important younger players. Jabrill Peppers started things off against the Giants by recovering a fumble and picking up a sack, while Christian Barmore has continued his hot streak with three pressures and a sack, contributing to a pass rush that took Tommy DeVito down six total times.
Keion White picked up the first sack of his career and set a new high with five total tackles as the rising rookie turned in the most productive day of his career. Anfernee Jennings had a similarly productive day with 1.5 sacks and two quarterback hits. With opportunities arising due to injury, some have taken full advantage.
At 2-9, it's hard to highlight silver linings, but they certainly exist for the Patriots defense, especially with the rise in production from those younger players who will be back in the mix next season. It's hard not to wonder how good this defense could actually be if they were getting better support on the scoreboard from the offense. And then what would they look like with Matthew Judon and Christian Gonzalez back in the mix? There are some things to look forward to in 2024 despite how 2023 has unfolded.
To be fair it hasn't all been perfect for the defense and on Sunday they allowed three more 20-plus-yard plays, all to rookie Jaylin Hyatt. Despite a rise in pass rush pressure that has helped produce turnovers and a solid run defense that allowed their second-lowest rushing yards surrendered of the season against the Giants (58 yards), the increase in downfield passing plays is a cause for concern. They allowed six 20-plus-yard passes to the Commanders and three more to Gardner Minshew and the Colts.
Cleaning up the big plays remains a final bridge to cross while getting that first defensive score of the season might just be what it takes to get the team back into the win column.
"At the end of the day, we've got to keep going," said Bentley. "You can't drop your head and start pouting. This is a professional business, regardless of what happens, regardless of the outcome. You've got to focus on the next thing. That's the message always going forward regardless of the outcome. Obviously, you want to finish the game with the win, but if that doesn't happen like you kind of expected it, you've gotta keep going. Keep your head down and keep working."
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