EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ -- The "Turning Point" in the Week 7 matchup between the Jets and Patriots might've actually happened on Thursday. That's when Sam Darnold confidently stated that his offense would find the weakness in the Patriots defense and hammer away at it on Monday Night Football.
Patriots players heard it. They didn't appreciate it. The second-year quarterback -- who was stating what the Jets and all offenses around the league try to do on a weekly basis -- ended up having his comments used as the centerpiece of Devin McCourty's pregame speech.
Think the Patriots heard Sam Darnold's comments about finding the "weakness" in the Patriots defense?— Phil Perry (@PhilAPerry) October 22, 2019
Devin McCourty: "YOUR weakness. YOUR weakness. YOUR weakness. YOUR weakness. And they said they're going to do it all night! All night our weakness!"https://t.co/h8vlMP1w4U https://t.co/qJP9gcFpkM
That might've been all the Patriots needed to make sure that they wouldn't overlook the Jets coming off of their first win of the season the week prior. After a 16-play offensive drive that resulted in the Patriots taking a 7-0 lead, the Patriots defense was on the field for just two snaps before Darnold threw one to McCourty, giving the Patriots the football at the home team's 16-yard line.
That pick, which led to a field goal and continued a run of 33 unanswered points in New England's rout of their division rival, is what we'll call the Turning Point. It was early, sure. But this one was over early. It fits.
The Patriots showed an all-out blitz on a second-and-eight snap from the Jets 10-yard line. Aggressive, but that's what they did early on to Darnold's former teammate Luke Falk to get him flustered back in Week 3. The Patriots ended up dropping Duron Harmon from the line of scrimmage and into the short middle of the field to make it a six-man rush. Still, Darnold felt the heat.
Both Jamie Collins and Dont'a Hightower came through the line unchecked, and Darnold flipped a pass toward the boundary in the direction of slot man Jamison Crowder. Darnold knew that Crowder was in one-on-one coverage -- with no safety in the middle of the field, the Patriots were in Cover-0, which is a man-to-man look -- but he didn't anticipate McCourty falling off his man to jump the route and make the pick. Because McCourty knew there was going to be pressure on Darnold early, he knew the ball had to come out quickly, and he capitalized.
The Patriots continued to vary their pressure packages throughout the remainder of the game, toying with Darnold's mind. After throwing a pick to Harmon in the second quarter, Darnold came to the Jets sideline and admitted he was seeing "ghosts." On the Harmon pick, his second of four on the night, Darnold wasn't really pressured. The Patriots brought five, but he had a pocket from which to throw and didn't step up or into it. Multiple Darnold interceptions on the night came on throws off his back foot.
Bill Belichick and his defense are 20-0 in their last 20 games against first or second-year quarterbacks. They held Darnold to 11-for-30 passing for 86 yards (a 2.9 yards per attempt average), four picks and a 5.6 quarterback rating. They'll see second-year passers Baker Mayfield and Lamar Jackson in the next two weeks.
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