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Perry's Report Card: High marks all around for Pats vs. Jets

/ by Phil Perry
Presented By Mass School of Law
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For a moment, the reins were off. There were no governors. Any ban on cooking had been lifted.

The Patriots had the ball with 1:55 left in the first half of Sunday's bludgeoning of the Jets, and Mac Jones was ordered to chuck it.

For weeks, there were questions asked about how the Patriots were handling their rookie quarterback. It felt as though, in certain situations, Bill Belichick didn't want to put too much on Jones' plate.

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At the end of a loss to the Bucs back in Week 4, the Patriots opted to kick a game-winning 56-yard field goal rather than put it in Jones' hands on fourth down. Against the Cowboys in Week 6, the Patriots punted on fourth down in overtime, and it was the last time they touched the ball.

It was also versus Dallas that the Patriots opted to kneel out the clock at the end of the first half, going into the locker room with a lead -- and a relatively healthy quarterback; he'd been blasted not too long before -- despite having time to get into field-goal range.

But on Sunday, there was a shift in approach.

The Patriots were up, 24-7. They very easily could've run the ball into the line of scrimmage and been just fine. To that point in the game, they'd run 13 times for a whopping 106 yards. But Belichick sent his sub package into the game -- three receivers, tight end Hunter Henry and James White fill-in Brandon Bolden -- and let Jones spray the ball all over the yard.

 

A short dump-off to Bolden on first down went for 28 yards. After a wonky misfire to Bolden on a flare route immediately thereafter, Jones hit Kendrick Bourne for nine. Then there was an unwieldy trick play attempt where Jones caught a Bolden toss, was nearly sacked, and threw the ball away.

That brought up a fourth-down snap that could've resulted in Belichick calling for a 52-yard field-goal try by Nick Folk. Instead, Belichick kept Folk on the sideline. And Jones threw again, this time completing a short roll-out toss to Jakobi Meyers for a fresh set of downs.

Jones completed his next five passes (and picked up a four-yard defensive pass interference penalty) for 28 yards and a touchdown to Henry, taking his team into the locker room with a commanding 31-7 lead.

"I think Josh [McDaniels] did a good job there just pushing the tempo, calling great plays," Jones said later. "And then the offensive line doing their job, I had plenty of time and we were going fast, and with speed comes communication. That's always good, puts stress on the defense.

"We did a good job just moving the ball down the field, and I'll have to watch it and just see what I can do better. I know one of the throws was really bad to the right on a little flare. I remember that one. I'll try and fix that and just keep moving forward."

There wasn't all that much to clean up. Jones went 8-for-10 for 68 yards. He'd helped his team cover 72 yards in 1:28.

The Patriots trusted him to do the right thing with the football when it would've been easy for them to go conservative. Does that mean the team will play it differently as it enters the second half of Jones' rookie season? Time will tell. The approach will likely change depending on the opponent and the situation. But Jones rewarded their trust with points against the Jets.

That's one reason why his grade this week sits where it sits.

Quarterback: A-

Mac Jones didn't need to be a push-it-down-the-field quarterback to lead a high-octane passing performance. In his first-career 300-yard game (24-for-36, 307 yards, two touchdowns), he only completed one pass that traveled at least 20 yards in the air. That one was a dime that dropped from the clouds and into Kendrick Bourne's hands to put the Patriots right at the goal line in the fourth quarter.

Jones hit four more receivers for what ended up being explosive gains. Jonnu Smith (two), Brandon Bolden (two), Nelson Agholor (two ... but one from Bourne) and Hunter Henry all had receptions of 20 yards or more in Sunday's beatdown. Jones spread the ball around, he took care of it, and he got it out of his hands quickly. He was sacked just once, and it happened almost immediately after a snap when there was a blown protection. He made his layups, too, going 20-for-23 (and two touchdowns) when throwing within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage.

 

It wasn't perfect, though. He misfired early down the sideline on a couple of different occasions -- underthrowing Meyers once and overthrowing. He was almost picked throwing to Jonnu Smith on a curl route. He missed Henry wide in the flat on a third-down attempt in the red zone. He was just ... off.

But after that two-minute drill to end the first half, Jones went 7-for-8 for 134 yards, for a cool 16.8 yards per attempt. Think that helped him get into rhythm? Without question, Jones' performance earned him a fridge-worthy report card this week.

Running back: A-

When Rhamondre Stevenson was made one of New England's inactives before the game Sunday, it left the Patriots a bit thin at running back. Looked that way on paper, at least. Not in reality.

This group had Belichick's offense churning out yardage at a remarkable clip for the vast majority of this game before nine runs of one yard or less by the Patriots in the fourth quarter with the game in hand (including three kneel-downs). The team still ended up averaging 4.6 yards per carry. There were no fumbles.

Both Damien Harris (106 yards on 14 carries) and JJ Taylor (21 yards on nine carries) scored twice on short grind-it-out carries near the goal line. And Bolden was an effective third-down back -- despite what looked like a missed block that led to the team's lone sack -- and ended up leading the team in receiving yardage with 79 and a touchdown on six receptions.

Wide receiver: A-

Hard to find a blemish from this group. Bourne might've been a little loose with the football when he reached out for the goal line after connecting with Jones for a 46-yard gain in the fourth quarter. Meyers might've been able to wrestle away an underthrown fade, but it was underthrown. Agholor might've been able to work back to the football a little more to coax a flag from the officials when he was targeted just before Bolden's score on a screen in the second quarter. But this group played quite a bit -- particularly after Jonnu Smith's injury -- and played well.

Even N'Keal Harry got in the mix with an impressive 28-yard contested catch down the sideline from Brian Hoyer. Gunner Olszewski had an explosive gain himself when he finished off a catch-and-run play for 22 yards. Everyone was in on the act.

Tight end: B+

It's unfortunate for Jonnu Smith that he ended up suffering a shoulder injury that knocked him from the game because until that point he'd been in line for a breakout performance. He was used all over Josh McDaniels' formations -- in the backfield out of the shotgun, in the backfield with Jones under center, in the slot, attached to the formation on the line of scrimmage, in motion -- and chipped in with two catches for 52 yards as well as a five-yard run. One of his explosive grabs was a catch-and-run screen that showed off his athleticism. If he can get back on the field in short order, it seems as though the Patriots have tapped into something with him.

 

Hunter Henry continues to be a solid presence in the passing game, reeling in touchdowns on an almost weekly basis. His short score Sunday was his fourth in as many games.

Offensive line: A-

Three short-yardage touchdowns. Only one sack (which looked like it was on Brandon Bolden). Only three total hits on Jones. What would've amounted to 151 yards rushing had it not been for three Brian Hoyer kneel-downs. That's a good day for Carmen Bricillo's group. A very good day. And it came against a unit that wasn't a bottom-of-the-league group. The Jets came into the game seventh in the NFL in terms of yards per carry allowed. They were ninth in sack rate. The Patriots stonewalled 'em.

Trent Brown is eligible to come off injured reserve in the near future, but it appears as though the Patriots have found something with the group of Isaiah Wynn at left tackle, Ted Karras at left guard, David Andrews at center, Shaq Mason at right guard and Mike Onwenu at right tackle. The only reason this grade isn't an "A" was because of three penalties: holding calls on Mason and Wynn and a false start on Karras.

Special teams: B+

Nick Folk is grinding through it. And yet, he keeps drilling kicks. In his warmup on Sunday, he didn't make a kick from 50 yards or more kicking toward the lighthouse end of Gillette Stadium. He was short on one. He was wide on another. Then in the third quarter he was trotted out for a 50-yard attempt and stuck it. Folk did miss a point-after attempt. And Brandon King was flagged for an unnecessary roughness penalty late. But this was a solid showing by this group.

Defensive line: A-

The Patriots allowed 4.9 yards per carry against the Jets in their first meeting back in Week 2. Different story this time around. They held the Jets to 3.6 yards per attempt, and their dominance in that phase started early.

On the first two snaps of the game for the Jets offense, the Patriots answered with a "Bear" front: five defensive linemen on the line of scrimmage, including a nose tackle over the center. In this instance, Carl Davis was on the nose, helping create one-on-ones across the line. With the wide-zone runs the Jets -- and all Shanahan offshoots -- like to dial up, the Patriots sent bodies at the line to prevent double-teams. That left linebackers free to find ball-carriers, track them to open space, and finish. Ja'Whaun Bentley was on the scene on both first and second down, which led to a third-and-six sack by Myles Bryant. From there, the Patriots got out to a 14-0 lead and the run game was all but taken away from the Jets.

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"I thought up front we tried to not let them be able to get those six-, seven-yard gains and just hand the ball off kind of when they wanted to like they did in the first game," Belichick said after. "We got them in some longer yardage situations. Bentley and our defensive line had some stops for little or no gain that created some second and longs, or when they ran on second down it created some third downs and we were able to convert on some of those. But yeah, I thought our run defense has improved here in the last three, four weeks."

 

It has. The Patriots held opponents to 3.8 yards per carry coming into Week 7. That number was helped by performances against the Cowboys (3.9 per attempt), Texans (2.8), Bucs (4.0) and Saints (3.7) since the last time the Patriots and Jets met. Between Weeks 3 and 6, the Patriots were the sixth-best rushing defense in football in terms of EPA allowed, according to Ben Baldwin of The Athletic. They kept that pace Sunday.

Deatrich Wise's pass breakup on fourth down, Lawrence Guy's two stuffs and quarterback pressure, Christian Barmore's run stuff, quarterback hit and two pressures, and Daniel Ekuale's sack all helped this grade into the "A" range as well.

Linebacker: B+

Bentley was a force beyond that first drive in the game. He came away with four run-stuffs, including a tackle for loss, as one of the team's top run defenders on the day. Without Dont'a Hightower in the middle, Bentley rose to the occasion. He's been one of the team's best front-seven players in recent weeks.

On the outside, Matt Judon was a pressure-generator. He tallied one hurry and one hit. The hit was what ended Zach Wilson's day for the Jets. Kyle Van Noy gets an "assist" for helping Barmore get to the passer on one stunt. Josh Uche also came away with a hit and a fumble recovery on the day.

Secondary: B+

J.C. Jackson's pick showed special field awareness. He caught it like a receiver and had the presence of mind to make sure he deadened his legs and got both feet down in bounds. Kyle Dugger's pick flashed high-end athleticism to be able to dive and prevent it from falling incomplete. Myles Bryant's forced fumble and sack made him yet another playmaker in Belichick's defensive backfield Sunday. Joejuan Williams helped force a couple of incompletions. Jalen Mills had a tackle for loss on second down and had his man smothered on third down, leading to a Jets missed field goal.

Those plays launch this grade into honors territory.

But there were some downs from this unit. Mills and Bryant missed tackles early, leading to chunk gains. Dugger took a bad angle to the sideline that led to another sizable pickup. Dugger's pass interference on the snap when Wilson was injured as a 46-yard flag (and it would've wiped out Devin McCourty's interception had McCourty been able to hold onto the Wilson deep shot). Mills picked up a defensive pass interference penalty and was "Mossed" by Corey Davis for a score.

The Patriots placed Jonathan Jones on IR late last week so he'll miss at least two more games. McCourty left the game with an abdomen injury. They ended up with a nice grade Sunday with a bushel of splash plays, but this group will likely have to play more consistently against a dangerous Chargers passing attack next week.