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Perry: Frustration evident in Patriots locker room after dud vs. Bills

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Mac Jones

FOXBORO -- The video that went viral was a close-up on the face of an emotional Mac Jones, letting expletives fly on the sidelines, imploring the Patriots offense to throw the ball deeper because the "quick game" wasn't working.

But he wasn't the only one frustrated by the Patriots' offensive approach in their 24-10 loss to the Bills on Thursday night

One player called their attack "timid" and acknowledged that it felt as though the driving force behind some of the play-calling was to avoid turnovers. When another player mentioned that the team was still searching for an identity offensively, he was reminded that the calendar had recently flipped to December and that there are only five games remaining in the season. "Exactly," he said.

Mac Jones explains viral video of him expressing frustration on sideline

DeVante Parker, who caught four passes for 80 yards on Thanksgiving against the Vikings, said that the idea coming into the Bills game was to attack with a quick-hitting passing game.

"When we came into this game, that's what our game plan was right at the start," Parker said. "Throw short, quick tosses. Get it out there ... Get the ball out quicker."

Was it frustrating not to push the ball deeper, particularly when a high-powered offense was stationed on the opposing sideline?

"Yeah," Parker said. "It is because throwing deep sparks our offense, whoever's making a play. Once we hit deep passes, our whole offense comes alive. That's a big part of our offense."

 

Jones averaged 6.0 intended air yards per pass Thursday, according to Next Gen Stats, which is a low figure relative to the rest of the league. (For reference, Colts quarterback Matt Ryan has the lowest intended air yards average in the NFL over the duration of this season, per NGS, at 6.2.)

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The Patriots passing game early on seemed to focus on slants, swing passes and screens. Running back Rhamondre Stevenson led the team in targets on the night with eight. On a third-and-14 situation in the third quarter, Jones hit Jakobi Meyers on a shallow cross designed to have him run behind blockers Hunter Henry and Stevenson downfield. It went for five yards and led to a punt. 

It wasn't until the last drive of the game for the Patriots when they appeared to open up their passing game slightly.

Jones hit Tyquan Thornton on an in-breaking route for 19 yards to kick off what ended up being the team's second-longest drive of the game after their lone touchdown drive (which featured an RPO bubble-screen completion to Marcus Jones for a 48-yard score). But even that final series was far from what any football observer would call a dynamic display. It took the Patriots a whopping 17 plays to cover 57 yards and included five targets to backs out of the backfield, three scramble-drill attempts, a short swing pass to a tight end, a holding penalty and a sack.

Jones attempted just three passes that traveled 20 yards or more down the field all night, all on that drive, all of them falling incomplete.

"That's funny how we were able to move it the last drive," Kendrick Bourne said. "I was just saying, 'We need to do that the whole time.' I don't know. That's frustrating. We need to be urgent all the time. Especially after the half. I think we should've been more attacking, things like that. But I just gotta play."

The Patriots may have tried to air it out a bit more on their second-to-last series -- after going down 24-7 -- because Jones completed a pass to Bourne for 14 yards to start. That was followed by a play-action crosser that went incomplete. But then they went back to the shorter stuff. A screen went for negative yardage on second down and another short throw into the flat on third down came up seven yards short of the sticks.

The Patriots ended up going 3-for-12 on third down in the game after they came into the night 25th in the NFL in converting their third-down opportunities.

 

"We just need to scheme up better," Bourne said of their third-down woes this season. "We need to know what they're doing. We need to know what they want to do on third down. We're kind of sporadic. They call this, we call that, and it falls right into what they want. We need to have it where they're falling into what we want.

"That's not my job. It's my job just to run the call ... It's just about figuring it out each week. We still have life, but we need to hurry up and pick it up."

After the final third down of the first half, Jones went to the sideline and sat at the end of the offensive line's section of the bench. Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith and Nelson Agholor came up to him for a pat on the shoulder pads or a low-five. But Jones appeared frustrated in that moment even before Nick Folk missed a field goal from 48 yards away.

Later on, Jones' frustration boiled over on the sideline and led to his viral moment.

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"Obviously just kind of let my emotions get to me," Jones explained. "But, you know, we were kinda playing from behind. What I said was about throwing it deeper in the short game. I gotta execute that part better, but it was the short game we were going to, which was working, but I felt we needed chunk plays. 

"I shouted that out to kind of get everyone going. That's emotional. That's football. I'm passionate about this game. Obviously you don't want to let your emotions get the best of you. That's pretty much it. Wasn't directed at anybody. Just emotion coming out. We kind of needed a spark."

When asked a follow-up later, Jones added: "I think it was just me at that point in the game like, 'All right, we're playing catch-up here, let's go for it, let's be aggressive, let's take those shots, just go down fighting.' 

"[Matt Patricia] was on the same page. We kind of did it there at the end and moved it a little bit more. At the end of the day we have to execute the plays and do a better job. Sometimes you're just so competitive, right? You want to go out there, 'Hey, let's get a 50-yard gain.' Sometimes it doesn't happen, but we might as well go down trying, and try to make it work."

The Patriots took a conservative approach against the Bills for a variety of reasons. 

We gotta take advantage and not just have five-yard throws and moving slow. We have to be able to attack and put pressure on the defense.

Kendrick Bourne on the Patriots' offense

Buffalo came into the game second in the NFL in turnovers created (20), and the Patriots have been very turnover-conscious after dealing with a spate of giveaways earlier in the season. The Patriots also entered the game with a new player at right tackle -- Conor McDermott, recently signed off the Jets practice squad -- and left tackle Trent Brown dealing with an illness. Keeping Jones protected and upright with uncertainty among his protectors was part of the reason for their quick-game passing plan.

 

But the Patriots couldn't stay ahead of the chains with that strategy. They averaged 3.6 yards on first down (including two first-down holding penalties) and couldn't convert long third downs. They had 10 third-down plays with six yards or more to go. Those included two third-and-14s, a third-and-15, a third-and-18 and a third-and-21 situation.

Asked why the Patriots didn't change their offensive approach before the final drive of the game, which began with 7:28 remaining and the Patriots down 24-7, Jones said he wasn't sure.

"I think that's definitely a coaching question," he said. "I think we had the right game plan. I got to execute some of those quick-game plays better even. They're good plays for us, just like every other play. I think, for us, we want to be aggressive and play on our terms. Sadly, we didn't do that tonight. 

"A lot of that has to do with a good defense. No excuses, but that's a good team out there. You got to do what you do well, but you can't be ignorant to the fact they have a good front. They have good 'backers, corners, safety. It's a good defense. They played a great game today. We just have to be better. So it is what it is."

The Bills had hit a rut defensively in their three games prior to arriving in Foxboro. They'd allowed 27.0 points per game in that stretch, and they were one of the worst third-down defenses in the league when looking at expected points added in those situations.

The Patriots knew they'd have opportunities, but they couldn't capitalize on them.

"Honestly, compared to last year, they're a different team," Bourne said. "No Von Miller. No Micah Hyde. Things like that, we just gotta take advantage of those things. They're playing a different scheme. They're more soft in what they're doing. They're more conservative. We gotta take advantage and not just have five-yard throws and moving slow. We have to be able to attack and put pressure on the defense."

Now they're looking at having to win four of their last five -- three against teams with winning records -- to get to 10 wins to give themselves a good chance to make the postseason.

Until they iron out their issues offensively, though, that's a certified pipe dream.