FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Bill Belichick rarely loses games to rookie quarterbacks, and has never lost to one here at Gillette Stadium.
New York's Daniel Jones was attempting to become the first, facing Belichick's 2019 defense, which, through its first five games, ranked atop the league in fewest points (6.8) and yards allowed per game (238.4). He'd have to make the attempt without several of his offensive weapons, who were ruled out prior to the game due to injuries.
Meanwhile, New England's offense looked shaky for the third straight game.
On the game's opening drive, the Patriots moved the ball well until they got to the Giants' red zone. Three consecutive Sony Michel runs yielded only two yards – one short of the necessary amount needed to pick up a fresh set of downs.
New England's league-leading D forced a three-and-out punt on the ensuing New York possession, however, and Tom Brady and Co. took over on offense again at their own 20-yard line. The Patriots returned the favor, though, with a three-and-out of their own.
When the Giants took over, Jones had a pass downfield deflected in the air by CB Stephon Gilmore. DE John Simon collected it out of the air for the interception.
"It felt good to get some action today and make plays," Gilmore remarked afterward. "We're just having fun competing with each other every day. Any time one person makes a play, everyone wants to make a play."
Brady, though, promptly threw a deep-ball pick of his own on the next play. A long New York runback was negated by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that put the football at midfield, and the Patriots wouldn't let Jones and the G-Men move the ball at all.
Deep in their own territory, New York got the ball and had to punt a third time in the first quarter, but Giants punter Riley Dixon drilled the football into the back of his personal protector, Nate Stupar (Brandon Bolden was credited with the blocked punt). The ball shot straight up into the air and came down in the waiting arms of rookie Chase Winovich, who rumbled the remaining six yards into the end zone for the first points of the night.
"Shout out to my teammates," a grinning Winovich told reporters, "for setting up the blocked punt and blocking for me and helping me finish the play."
It was a special moment for the youngster, who found the end zone for the first time since his high school days. He celebrated by firing the ball into the crowd, which he only learned later would cost him a hefty fine from the league.
"Yeah, it's been a while. I've been planning on throwing it into the stands for a while, but I didn't know the fine was quite so… steep," he added sheepishly.
In the second quarter, Jones threw his second INT on a throw that was partially disrupted by DL Danny Shelton. The ball floated very short of any intended Giants targets and safety Duron Harmon, as he so often does, found himself in the right place at the right time for the turnover.
"Any time you can create turnover, it'll give your team momentum," Harmon observed. "We're playing well, doing some good things. We could do some things better. Past three weeks, it's really been a couple of big plays that have been the reason why they scored. We've got to do a better job on that, but other than that, we did a good job of getting after the quarterback, creating turnovers, getting off the field, and giving our offense plenty of times to move the ball."
Brady and the O only had to drive 20 yards to finish off the scoring possession and up their lead to 14-0. As Harmon indicated, however, the Giants would strike back quickly.
Jones redeemed himself with a deep throw to WR Golden Tate which CB Jonathan Jones tried in vain to deflect. He missed, Tate corralled the ball, and took it the distance for a 64-yard TD – the first passing touchdown allowed by New England this season.
At around midfield, Brady was strip-sacked on the very next drive and Giants LB Markus Golden scooped and scored. New York equalized on the scoreboard with about five minutes to play in the first half, and New England lost WR Josh Gordon, who injured his left knee attempting to tackle Golden. Gordon remained on the sideline after being examined by medical staff and spent the remainder of the game riding an exercise bike.
His was one of a about a half-dozen injuries that limited or altogether knocked Patriots players out of action Thursday night.
"It's tough, but we have a lot of depth on this team," added Harmon. "Anytime, someone can get hurt, but we've got guys we can count on."
Brady and the O responded with an 11-play drive that went 75 yards. The QB himself punched the ball over the goal line with a designed sneak to reclaim the lead going into halftime.
New York had the ball to start the third quarter and appeared to be mounting a potential scoring drive, when Jones tossed his third errant pass of the night into the hands of Gilmore just inside the Patriots' red zone.
A sustained drive by New England chewed up significant clock, but kicker Mike Nugent ended it by banking his 40-yard field goal attempt off the left upright. Rookie holder Jake Bailey failed to spin the laces outward, which could have contributed to the miss. In any event, the score remained 21-14 heading into the fourth quarter.
Facing a 4th-and-5 from the Giants' 32, the Patriots again elected to forgo a field goal attempt, this time with the wind at their backs, and New York held their ground when Brady's throw to Julian Edelman bounced off the turf.
However, New England's D came up with another big play. LB Jamie Collins knocked the football loose from Giants running back Jon Hilliman deep in New York real estate. Fellow "boogeyman" linebacker Kyle Van Noy scooped up the fumble, raced to the pylon, and just managed to sneak it inside as he dove for the goal line. Replay confirmed it.
"Just hold onto the ball," Van Noy revealed what he was thinking on his way to the end zone. "Haha, I was thinking about Bill [Belichick], to be honest. I didn't want to lose the football because I'd have been in some trouble."
Next Patriots possession also ended with a TD. A 36-yard completion from Brady to Edelman helped set up Brady's second QB-sneak score of the night and close out another deceptively lopsided victory.
The Patriots are now 6-0, but they are far from perfect. Offensively, in particular, they've struggled to find rhythm over the past three games. And as noted earlier, a number of players sustained injuries during the Thursday night contest.
New England now has the benefit of a full weekend off before preparing for their next game, a Monday night road trip to the New York Jets.
"Without a doubt," Harmon agreed, "just to relax a little bit, get your mind off football. We've got some guys who are bruised up, so, it'll be good for them to rest and use the time to heal up."
"It's still early. We've got a long way to go," Gilmore stated, "but I think we're making progress."
The New England Patriots take on the New York Giants in a regular season game at Gillette Stadium on Thursday, October 10, 2019.