Patriots

Patriots CB Joejuan Williams finishes strong week with highlight against Tennesse's big-bodied receiver

Patriots CB Joejuan Williams finishes strong week with highlight against Tennesse's big-bodied receiver

We had an inkling that Joejuan Williams might show up in front of a crowd that included family and friends from his hometown of Nashville. But we didn't know he'd be on the field quite as often as he was Saturday night against the Titans.

The second-round corner, who stayed close to home when he chose Vanderbilt coming out of high school, ended up starting for the Patriots on the outside, he stayed out there for much of the game, and he checked Tennessee's top wideout Corey Davis at times.

Davis gave Stephon Gilmore -- the best corner in football in 2018 -- fits in their matchup last season, but Williams handled the challenge nicely. On two targets to Davis, Williams didn't allow a catch, and he made an impressive pass-breakup when he stuck to Davis' out-route, then used his 6-foot-4 frame to get a hand in the passing lane. 



"It was just great competition at the end of the day," Williams said. "Getting reps with [Davis] in practice and getting reps with him in the game . . . He's a great player and it was great to compete against him."

After what was likely his best week of practice as a pro, Williams finished strong. On Monday, in pads against his own teammates, he picked off two passes and batted away another. He flashed good ball skills again during joint sessions with the Titans, and then did the same under the lights. 

What a difference a week makes. Against the Lions at Ford Field in New England's preseason opener, Williams lost contain on a run play to his side of the field, and then when he caught up to the runner he threw him to the ground out of bounds after the play was over. A 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty was tacked onto an already long gain, and Williams suddenly had a stereotypical "rookie mistake" on his resume.

But after Saturday night's performance, for Williams and others, it seems as though the cornerback picture is coming into clearer focus. 

Gilmore, of course, is safe as the team's go-to No. 1 cover man. Jason McCourty and Jonathan Jones seem very safe as well as neither has played in the first two preseason games. Both get first-team reps in practice, and both signed new deals -- Jones is playing on a restricted free-agent tender -- this offseason.

Then there's JC Jackson and Keion Crossen. Crossen looks like a long-term special-teams maven, who's spot on a team that values the kicking game as much as it does could very well be safe. Jackson should be safe as well after a strong rookie campaign that saw him earn a starting role late in the season. He's been much more active this summer -- 38 snaps in two games -- than others who are in the starting-lineup conversation. Still, despite being flagged for a 27-yard pass-interference penalty, he feels like a lock. 

What's fascinating about Williams is that in the last week he's made a pretty clear statement: Against certain types of receivers -- Davis is 6-3, 209 pounds -- he can be a matchup weapon. The second-rounder taken one year before Williams, Duke Dawson, meanwhile, hasn't made any similar proclamations during camp. It's easy to see a potential role for Williams. Dawson's requires more squinting. The second-year player out of Florida hasn't had many memorable positive moments during practices, and he was in coverage on a 21-yard completion to Kalif Raymond Saturday.

Are we reading too much into one performance for Williams at a stadium that might've provided him a little extra motivation? Don't think so -- even if the second half of that sentence might be true.

"It was very cool to be here at the Titans facility," he said. "Something I grew up and I looked up to. I supported the Titans since I was a kid. At the end of the day, it was surreal to be back here, be in this locker room and be on that field and just play against them."

Surreal as it may have been, the reality is he could be an important piece in the Patriots defensive backfield this year, with a defined role. That's something not everyone in the Patriots corner group, no matter where they were drafted, can say at the moment.

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Tom E. Curran's Patriots Takeaways: WR injuries mar win over Jets

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AP Photo

Tom E. Curran's Patriots Takeaways: WR injuries mar win over Jets

First impressions go a long way. And the early-game onslaught of points and efficiency the Patriots put on the Jets Sunday will mask the fact, as the game went along, yards and points became harder to come by.

After getting in the end zone on their first possessions and building a 20-0 lead in the first seventeen minutes, the Patriots had five straight five-play drives. Four of them ended with punts. The final one with a 37-yard field goal after a drive that lost two yards.

They didn’t get in the end zone again until 3:07 remained in the third when Tom Brady — pissed off after an intentional grounding call — completed a 20-yard laser on the sidelines to Josh Gordon on third-and-12 to set up a Rex Burkhead touchdown and make it 30-0.

Gordon made the catch with a taped-up left hand courtesy of a painful finger injury suffered before halftime when he may have dislocated some digits on a helmet.

Meanwhile, by the time Gordon made that catch, Julian Edelman was gone from the game having suffered a chest injury when he was piled onto after catching an inside screen before halftime.

When the Patriots play next week at Buffalo, it’s likely Gordon and Edelman will both have spent the week on the injury report with their respective injuries. Meanwhile, tight end Matt LaCosse, who did not play Sunday, is still working through his high ankle sprain and fellow tight end Ben Watson will be serving the final game of his suspension.

So the Patriots are strapped and this means that the week preparing for the Bills will likely be spent with Brady and Jakobi Meyers getting up to speed even further as the rookie scales the depth chart.

So injuries are accumulating at wideout and on the offensive line while tight end depth remains shallow.

The presence of Antonio Brown caused some people to theorize this was the best collection of wideouts in NFL history. It wasn’t then. And it sure isn’t now.

It may be weeks before the Patriots defense goes against an offense equipped to even annoy it. But Brady’s concern about building connections at wideout isn’t lessened just because of three blowout wins. To get where they want to go, they’re going to need everyone. And it won’t be a shock if they make a move this week to get some depth out there.

PUNT AND CENTER

I loved Ryan Allen. You loved Ryan Allen. After a preseason and then three games of Jake Bailey, it’s very easy to see why Ryan Allen is no longer here. The rookie fifth-rounder and Matt Slater are working together like a dog owner with his Yellow Lab. The difference is Bailey’s sending up punts instead of tennis balls and Slater is down there waiting for them when they arrive.

Bailey punted five times in the first 55 minutes of the game. Four were inside the 20. They all had to be fair caught by returner Braxton Berrios. There was one touchback and that came because of a terrific play by the Jets returner to keep Slater off the ball before it trickled into the end zone. He averaged 48.4 yards on those punts.

The cherry on top came with 4:46 left when Bailey dropped a 39-yard punt at the 1 that Slater shoveled back so it could be downed by Jonathan Jones. Really remarkable in terms of pinning the Jets with awful field position. Bailey shanked his final punt with 1:39 left so Bill Belichick has that 29-yarder to pummel him about.

TAKES A LICKING, KEEPS ON TICKING

Josh Gordon’s a big, strong dude but with that package comes some otherworldly toughness too. Earlier this season we saw him take the hammer shot down the seam against the Steelers. Sunday, he made an attempt on the sideline that left him writhing after he fell hard on his hip and butt cheek. He drew a pass interference on that play and repaired to the sideline where he was attended to for several minutes.

When he came back, he appeared to dislocate a finger while blocking. He had that attended to before halftime and got the pinky and ring finger on his left hand taped together. After halftime, he came out and made a stupid-good catch along the sidelines. It was semi one-handed and included a difficult heel drag to stay in-bounds. Might be becoming my favorite player.

GO EASY ON GUNNER

I’ll not hear any Gunner Olszewski slander. He’s fielded 19 punts in three games. It’s very unfortunate that the 18th went off his chest inside the 10, got batted around and turned into a Jets touchdown, ruining the Patriots’ shutout and putting Jets backers in position for a backdoor cover.

Happens. But look at this…

The kid’s been better than fine except for that gaffe. Not a bad decision or a bobble in the mix. Relax.

KICKIN' IT

Another special teams observation? Three PAT misses by Stephen Gostkowski in two weeks and a missed field goal. Yow. That’s concerning. But a quick whiparound the NFL will tell you to lose the tunnel vision and realize that the kicking devil you know is better than the one you don’t.

DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE 

So let’s roll through some of the Patriots defensive stats through three games. Opposing offenses are 5 for 39 on third down against them. They’ve got six picks, 13 sacks, haven’t allowed an offensive touchdown and have given up 111 yards on 48 carries.

DÉJÀ VU

Jarrett Stidham felt the same wrath from Bill Belichick that Matt Cassel did back in 2007. Cassel came on in relief of Brady during a blowout in Miami, threw a pick-6 and was immediately replaced. Watch Postgame Live to see our guy go into detail on that!

Best & Worst from Patriots' 30-14 win over the Jets>>>>>

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As dominant as it gets: Patriots defense allows just three points in three games

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As dominant as it gets: Patriots defense allows just three points in three games

FOXBORO -- The Patriots came close to making history on Sunday, becoming the first team since the merger to allow fewer than 13 points through their first three games. 

They allowed three points in their opener against the Steelers, zero in a Week 2 shutout over the Dolphins, and 14 against the Jets on Sunday during a 30-14 victory. That gave them 17 total points allowed over three games, meaning they were unable to eclipse the previous record set by the 2001 Packers and 2004 Seahawks (13 points). 

Don't blame the Patriots defense for letting a record slip through the team's fingers, though. 

The Patriots defense wasn't responsible for any of the points allowed Sunday. A muffed punt by Gunner Olszewski in the third quarter bounced around into the Patriots end zone. When it was recovered, a Patriots opponent had put points on the board for the first time since the third quarter of Week 1. Then in the fourth quarter, in his first regular-season drive as a pro, rookie quarterback Jarrett Stidham overthrew Brandon Bolden and was picked by Jamal Adams. The Jets safety took it all the way back for a touchdown. 

The special teams score was the first touchdown a Patriots opponent had scored since the Chiefs scored in the fourth quarter of the AFC title game back in January. By holding the Jets scoreless through the first half, the Patriots have now allowed 10 first-half points in their last eight games combined.

Bill Belichick's defense -- with Stephen Belichick apparently calling the majority of, if not all of, the plays -- has been a certifiable wrecking crew through three weeks, both with their pressure schemes and with their sticky coverage in the secondary. Their Week 3 performance was every bit as impressive as what they did the previous week against the Dolphins as they racked up four sacks and an interception. 

Luke Falk had the misfortune of having to see the Patriots defense in his first career start. Falk completed just 12 of 22 passes for 98 yards -- a 4.5 yards per attempt average. The Jets offense crossed midfield for the first time with just a few minutes remaining in the third quarter. 

In coverage, Devin McCourty picked off his third pass in as many games. Duron Harmon also defended a pass coming from the deep safety spot. Stephon Gilmore was barely targeted. Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins and Elandon Roberts batted down passes to force incompletions for the linebacker group. 

Up front, Collins, Dont'a Hightower, Adam Butler, Michael Bennett, Chase Winovich and Van Noy were all in on sacks. Their twists and games at the line of scrimmage had Jets linemen scrambling for the majority of the afternoon. Even when Falk's protectors had their assignments locked down, they were overwhelmed by quickness and power. Falk was hit 10 times in all. 

The Jets were 0-for-13 on third and fourth down conversion attempts, they averaged only 2.2 yards per play, 1.8 yards per rush, and they barely broke the 100-yard mark as an offense, picking up 105 total. 

Bill Belichick's team may have had a record elude them Sunday afternoon. But don't look at the defense. There's not much more they could've done through three weeks.

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