It was a frustrating loss by the Patriots to the Vikings on Thanksgiving. After waiting and hoping for the offense to get in gear and do its complementary part this season, they finally showed an ability to move the ball and spread it around logging their best EPA output of the season to go with their highest passing yardage total of 2022.
However, it came as the defense turned in its second-lowest EPA of the season and the special teams turned in their worst and the net result was a one-score loss despite some promising signs of life from the offense.
At the heart of the offensive performance was Mac Jones, who finished 28-of-39 for 382 yards and two touchdowns. His 119.8 quarterback ranking came in as the fourth-best of his career, while his 9.79 yards-per-attempt was his third-best in two seasons. A third-straight turnover-free game was another important ingredient as Mac and the offense got in gear.
"I'll have to watch the tape, but I thought we played with a lot of effort and toughness, which is the only thing you can control, and we left everything out there we had," said Jones following the loss. "Everything else is out of our control. But just giving effort and having the right attitude is what we can control, so we did a good job of that. "
Make no mistake, the offense was good but not good enough. 3-for-10 on third down, 0-2 inside the red zone and zero fourth-quarter points had as much to do with the loss as the defense's rough night against the Minnesota passing attack and the special teams letdowns that included a kickoff return for touchdown and inadequate field position throughout the night.
"Good at times, 3-for-10 on 3rd down. Not really good enough. Couldn't get the ball in the red area on a couple drives. Room for improvement," Bill Belichick panned about his offense in the post-game.
Between the 20s and on early downs there were things to finally get excited about offensively. Mac spread the ball around with six receivers having three or more catches, four of them having 60 or more yards receiving. There were seven plays of 20 or more yards, including two touchdowns from over 30 yards out. Not all were downfield strikes but they showed an offensive efficiency that had thus far been missing in 2022.
This kind of performance has been elusive this year and arrived late, but better late than never.
"I don't ever try and single in on anybody," said Mac of spreading the ball around. "Just wherever the play takes me, that's where I'm throwing it. I think that's what's cool about this offense is you don't know when it's going to come to you, but it can come to you on any play. Kind of cool there. Obviously need to score more points to kind of put us ahead and do things better, but I think, like I said, there's no time to kind of frown upon. Just got to watch the tape. That's what it comes down to, and build on the things that we did well and correct the things we haven't, just like we've done in the past all the games that we've played in."
The signs of life from the offense beg the question, if the defense and special teams can get back to their usual level of play this season and the offense can build off of this performance, will it be enough to get the team back into the playoffs? Can the offense sustain this play, even against upcoming defenses that are far more deft than the Vikings?
At 6-5, with four upcoming games against three AFC playoff contenders, the Patriots' road is narrowing with each defeat and the in-conference games are quickly becoming close to must-win. Thursday's loss knocked them out of a playoff spot for the time being, highlighting how tenuous New England's post-season hopes are.
However, it was still a rejuvenating night for Mac and the offense and one silver lining from the defeat and cause for optimism that maybe, just maybe, the ingredients might all be there for a true post-season push heading into December, despite injuries along the offensive line and what has been to this point inconsistent play from most of the weaponry.
Mac's development was the key storyline heading into the season and this performance was a reminder that he is still a capable young quarterback. While the rest of his draft class is struggling with benchings and injuries, Mac might be one who is back on track.