The New England Patriots went toe-to-toe with Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday night, and the difference between winning and losing was ultimately one field goal post.
Patriots kicker Nick Folk came so close to giving his team a 20-19 lead with less than a minute remaining in the fourth quarter, but his 56-yard field goal attempt hit the left upright and bounced into the end zone.
The Bucs emerged with a 19-17 victory as a result, dropping the Patriots to 1-3.
Brady's much-anticipated return to Gillette Stadium was mostly a struggle. The 44-year-old quarterback didn't throw a single touchdown pass and his team's 19 points scored were easily its lowest output in a game this season. It was still enough to earn a hard-fought win on a rainy night, though.
Here are some immediate takeaways from what we saw in Week 4.
1) Mac Jones played fantastic
Patriots rookie quarterback Mac Jones largely outplayed Tom Brady in one of the biggest regular season games in recent NFL history.
Just as we all expected, right?
Much of the focus was on Brady entering Sunday night, and rightly so, but there was a lot of pressure on Jones as well. The 2021 first-round draft pick answered the bell, showing tremendous poise and not making many mistakes despite being sacked four times and hit 12 times.
Jones again was very accurate, completing 31 of 40 pass attempts for 275 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.
The Patriots' most efficient drive came at the end of the third quarter. Jones went 7-for-7 to quickly lead the Pats to the goal line, where he found tight end Jonnu Smith for the go-ahead touchdown. This touchdown pass to Smith was Jones' 16th consecutive completion.
Jones eventually pushed his streak to 19 straight completions, matching Brady's best completion streak in his 20 years with the Patriots.
There's been a lot of talk about Jones' ability to handle pressure and not get rattled. He didn't look bothered at all by the significance of this game, which is a very encouraging sign for the Patriots.
2) Lack of run game is huge concern for Pats
The Patriots gave one of their worst rushing performances in team history Sunday night. New England finished with minus-1 rushing yards on eight carries. Wide receiver Nelson Agholor's four-yard run was the team's longest of the game.
After two good games to begin the season, starting running back Damien Harris was a complete non-factor against the Bucs. He was held to minus-4 rushing yards on four carries. He tallied only 14 yards on six carries versus the New Orleans Saints in the Pats' Week 3 loss.
J.J. Taylor ran the ball once for zero yards. He also had a fumble on a reception in the third quarter when the Patriots had their best field position to start a drive all night. Veteran running back Brandon Bolden also carried the ball once for zero yards.
Tampa Bay had much more balance offensively, running for 119 yards on 30 attempts. Brady outgained the entire Patriots team with his six rushing yards, which came on one first-down run during the fourth quarter.
The Buccaneers have a very good run defense, but that doesn't mean the Patriots should have abandoned the running game like they did. The Patriots won't win many games with a non-existent rushing attack. You can't ask a rookie quarterback to carry the offensive largely by himself.
3) Banged up Bucs' secondary still huge weakness
The Buccaneers secondary has been ravaged by injuries this season, and that trend continued Sunday night when cornerback Carlton Davis suffered a quad injury in the third quarter and was quickly ruled out. Tampa Bay went into Week 4 without injured cornerbacks Jamel Dean (knee) and Sean Murphy-Bunting (elbow). This means the Bucs finished Sunday's game without their top three cornerbacks.
Tampa Bay entered this weekend allowing the most passing yards and the most passing touchdowns of any defense through three games. These struggles are likely to continue until Davis, Dean and Murphy-Bunting overcome their injuries and return to the lineup.
4) Playoffs? Pats in tough spot at 1-3
The Patriots played pretty well Sunday night. Losing by just two points to Brady and the defending Super Bowl champions isn't a bad result, especially when your offense is run by a rookie quarterback playing in his first primetime game as a pro.
But the Patriots are beyond moral victories at this point. A 1-3 record won't be an easy hole for the Patriots to climb out of. New England still has several quality opponents left on its schedule, including the Cowboys, Chargers, Browns and Bills (twice). Seven of the team's 13 remaining games are on the road, too.
The AFC West is better than expected, and the Chiefs are currently sitting at the bottom of the division at 2-2. The AFC North has three teams at 3-1 (Browns, Ravens and Bengals). The race for the three wild card spots will be very competitive in the AFC this year. The Patriots need to string a few wins in a row to give themselves a fighting chance.
Luckily for the Pats, their Week 5 matchup is against an awful Houston Texans team at Gillette Stadium.