As afternoon became evening Sunday at Gillette Stadium, the New England Patriots fell to the Dallas Cowboys by a score of 35-29 down the right sideline in overtime.
Here’s a glance through what went into it as New England moves to a 2-4 record on the season and remains winless at home.
Jones turns pick-six by Alabama teammate into 75 yards of redemption
Mac Jones had a chance to become the first rookie quarterback in NFL history to record five games with a 70-or-higher completion percentage. That milestone would be reached on Sunday.
The Alabama product went into the tunnel for halftime against Dallas having gone 7-of-7 for 100 yards and a perfect passer rating of 158.3. He went in with a touchdown to tight end Hunter Henry and with another to wide receiver Jakobi Meyers nullified by holding. But while Jones did not have a pass attempt hit the turf until 2:13 mark in the third quarter, there was more of a story to tell. There was an interception by Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs.
It’d be the seventh pick of the campaign for No. 15 overall’s former Crimson Tide teammate. It’d be returned for 42-yard touchdown. Yet Jones returned the favor on a 75-yard touchdown to wide receiver Kendrick Bourne versus Diggs’ coverage on the next snap from scrimmage. A two-point conversion gave New England a three-point lead that soon shifted again. Jones finished his sixth career start 15-of-21 with 229 yards.
New England’s starting five subject to change
The Patriots cleared left tackle Isaiah Wynn off the Covid-19 reserve list on the eve of Sunday’s 4:25 p.m. ET kickoff after six practices and one game away. But the 2018 first-round pick out of Georgia would not be in the starting lineup against the Cowboys.
Justin Herron instead got the nod for a second week as the blindside protector in place of Wynn, who had played every offensive snap through four contests. Next to the swing option, standard elevation James Ferentz started at left guard, David Andrews started at center, Ted Karras started at right guard and Yodny Cajuste started at right tackle.
New England’s O-line combination would be subject to change shortly after Cowboys defensive end Randy Gregory screamed off the right side to for a decleating strip-sack. Wynn and fellow Covid-19 activation Mike Onwenu subbed in at New England’s tackle spots with five minutes remaining before intermission. Gregory then road-graded his way off the left side to a register a second sack on third down. Dallas logged five quarterback hits during the visit to Foxborough.
Fourth-and-1 stop sets early tone in a game of many
Only the Cleveland Browns’ offense had averaged more rushing yards per game than the Cowboys’ through five games. And as eyes turned to Ezekiel Elliott, a turnover on downs followed on a fourth-and-1 opening drive Sunday.
Matt Judon and Dont’a Hightower played a part in why as the Patriots took over 34 yards from the end zone. The linebackers wouldn’t be the only ones. Defensive linemen Christian Barmore and Deatrich Wise Jr. halted the running back behind the line of scrimmage at the first quarter came to a close.
Elliott’s initial six carries gave way to nine yards. The two-time NFL rushing leader went on to total 69 ground yards on an average of 4.1 per and 50 receiving yards on an average of 7.1 per. The New England defense was on the field for 82 official plays.
Outlasting Prescott’s Cowboys passing game
Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott entered Sunday having completed 73.9 percent of his throws for 1,368 yards with 13 touchdowns and three interceptions. The NFL Comeback Player of the Year favorite would go 36-of-51 through the air for 445 yards with three touchdowns and an interception from there.
Prescott found tight end Blake Jarwin in the back of the end zone for a touchdown to make it a 7-7 game. He made good on his first 10 attempts and finished the first quarter with a league-best 161 passing yards. Yet the second quarter got underway with Patriots safety Kyle Dugger’s first career interception off a pass deflected by gunner Justin Bethel, who was in for an injured Jonathan Jones covering Cowboys receiver Cedrick Wilson. And in the third quarter, Prescott hit a fading CeeDee Lamb over cornerback Jalen Mills to give Dallas a 17-14 lead on the heels of defensive pass interference against J.C. Jackson. Man and zone were mixed in throughout. As was success in critical areas.
The Patriots held the Cowboys to a 3-of-13 conversion rate on third down and forced a pair of takeaways in the red zone. But a Greg Zuerlein 49-yard field goal knotted things at 29 apiece to conclude regulation. And back to Lamb over the head of Mills the football went.
Bailey blocked for a second time, but Bentley blocks a touchdown
With 4:34 to go before intermission, Jake Bailey saw his punt blocked by linebacker Luke Gifford as the Dallas recovered at New England’s own 22. It would be the second blocked punt of the season for the reigning first-team All-Pro specialist, who was previously rejected versus the New Orleans Saints in September.
Sunday’s communication breakdown arrived between Harvey Langi and Jahlani Tavai. But fellow Patriots linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley, who’d subsequently replace Tavai in punt protection, stopped the miscue from becoming six points soon after. He did so by using his left fist to punch the football out of Prescott’s grasp on a diving fourth-and-inches sneak that was ruled a fumble and a touchback upon review. A 14-10 score it stayed as a result.
Bentley stood with a team-high 13 tackles before heading to the blue medical tent with a rib injury that left him questionable in the third quarter. Jamie Collins stepped into New England’s defensive front in his absence.
Injured Harris battles to retain the reins as Stevenson’s role grows
New England continued with a trio of running backs against a Dallas defense allowing 79.4 rushing yards per game.
Damien Harris got the start despite exiting twice the Sunday prior. And despite being listed as questionable with a ribs injury after a pair of limited practices, he would go on to total 101 rushing yards over the course 18 handoffs. It began with a wham scheme for 21 as well as a Wildcat touchdown for Harris. It continued with another tackle-shedding gain of 21 yards and a fight on third down that put the Patriots at the doorstep.
Rhamondre Stevenson spelled in for 61 yards from scrimmage on eight touches, including a 23-yard catch and his first career touchdown plunge. The rookie’s role would be a growing one in the company of veteran Brandon Bolden. That proved true after a lapse picking up a corner blitz in the fourth quarter of a game with five quarters.