The New England Patriots ended the 2018 season as Super Bowl champions, but did have their fair share of issues on the road leading up to their sixth championship: even after winning the AFC title game in Kansas City, they finished the year just 4-5 away from Gillette Stadium — a record that ultimately led to the Patriots earning just the second playoff seed in the conference to set up a date with the Chiefs on the road in the first place.
Fast forward one season, and you get a different road team. Entering Week 7, the Patriots are a perfect 6-0 with three of their victories so far coming outside of Massachusetts: the team defeated the Miami Dolphins 43-0 in Week 2, the Buffalo Bills 16-10 two weeks later, and the Washington Redskins 33-7 the Sunday after that. With a meeting at the New York Jets coming up later today, New England knows what needs to earn another road win.
“Coming out and playing well early, trying to get off to a good start and continuing to do that,” said defensive back Devin McCourty during a press conference last week. “Playing for four quarters is something we’ve been talking about since training camp when we went on the road against Detroit and Tennessee of starting our mentality early of playing well on the road because we saw how much that hurt us last year of just not doing it.”
Despite some inconsistencies especially on the offensive side of the ball, the Patriots have been mostly able to follow the script McCourty was talking about so far this season. Against Miami, for example, the Patriots jumped to a 13-0 lead at halftime before pulling away in quarters three and four. The game in Washington was similar, with the visitors up 12-7 at the half. Against Buffalo, meanwhile, the team went up 13-0 in the first period.
“But I think in this league, it’s not about being 3-0. It’s about how do you get to 4-0? How do you do it the next week? How do you prepare and play well again on the road? Just because you’ve done it doesn’t matter,” added McCourty. “Last year, we sucked on the road. We had to go to an AFC Championship game on the road. All that mattered was how we played in that one game. So, I think that’s the mentality we have to keep throughout the season.”
Starting quickly and playing sound football from that point on is easier said than done, of course, but the Patriots have been able to accomplish it in all of their three road games so far this season — at least to a certain degree. To improve to 4-0 against the Jets, they will therefore need more of the same: jumping out to an early lead not only puts more pressure on the home team, but also eliminates the crowd noise factor a bit.
This rings especially true in a game like tonight’s, with New York entering the contest coming off its first win of the season and with starting quarterback back Sam Darnold back in the fold after his three-game absence due to mononucleosis. “I’m sure they’ll be juiced up coming off a big win last weekend, and then division with us coming to town, I’m sure everybody will be in there ready to go,” said McCourty about the Jets.
“It’s a division rivalry game, Monday Night Football. Everybody’s tuned in watching you,” added running back James White, who missed the first meeting between the two AFC East teams this season because of the birth of his child. “They’ll be fired up, we’ll be fired up. We beat them once, so they’re going to come out ready to play. So, we better come out ready to play from the start of the game to the end of it.”