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The Lane Breakdown: 10 takeaways from the Patriots’ 35-29 loss to the Cowboys

Related: Instant analysis from Patriots’ 35-29 loss to Cowboys

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at New England Patriots Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

The New England Patriots lost another hard-fought game, this time at home to the Dallas Cowboys. The ending was disappointing, but the team played hard again. There is certainly a lot of positives to take away from the 35-29 loss, but there are plenty of negatives too.

Let’s get into it.

1. Jakobi Meyers is cursed: I don’t know what else to say at this point other than that Meyers is simply cursed. The receiver caught what appeared to be his first career touchdown reception in the second quarter, but it was taken off the board because of a James Ferentz holding call. The Patriots had just intercepted Dak Prescott in the end zone, and were threatening to make it 21-7, but, of course, the play didn’t count.

Meyers now had 121 career receptions without a single receiving touchdown. It’s the most for a player who has played at least 35 games in his career. The curse eliminated the TD, and Yodny Cajuste nearly got Mac Jones killed the very next play, causing a strip sack and a turnover. You have to think that Meyers’ luck will turn around eventually, but, the way things are going for him, who knows.

2. Mac Jones is the real deal: Let’s put aside the fact that Cajuste got him split in half in the second quarter, and the fact that he has been under almost constant pressure in the pocket. Mac Jones is playing extremely well right now.

Was he perfect on Sunday? Absolutely not. He obviously had the terrible pass that resulted in yet another pick-six for Trevon Diggs, and he had Nelson Agholor for what would have been a touchdown, and threw it behind so it only ended up a long pass play (he would fumble to end that drive), and then there’s the missed throw in overtime. There’s more than that, but those are the biggest mistakes from the rookie yesterday.

Jones continues to battle out there, though. After throwing the pick-six, and potentially losing the game for the Patriots, he came back the very next play and threw right at Diggs again, this one resulting in a 75 yard touchdown to Kendrick Bourne. He has consistently shown that the moment is not too big for him. He has battled through adversity since the start of training camp, has always followed up mistakes with good plays, and put the Patriots in position to win almost every game this season.

There’s not much more that you can ask for from your rookie quarterback six games into his NFL career. He has a long way to go, of course, but the signs are there. He plays smart, and he is not afraid of the pressure that comes with being the starting quarterback for the Patriots. If the New England staff doesn’t trust him yet, I don’t know if it ever will.

3. Defense forcing turnovers: The Patriots defense struggled at the end of the game, but it started the game pretty nicely by forcing two red zone turnovers in the first half. Kyle Dugger had his first career interception when Justin Bethel broke up a pass that was behind Cedrick Wilson in the end zone. Then, after the Cowboys blocked a Patriots punt and started at the 17-yard line, Ja’Whaun Bentley knocked the ball out of Dak Prescott’s hands on 4th-and-goal. The refs originally called it a touchdown on the field and blew the play dead, which was unfortunate, since Kyle Van Noy had almost no one in front of him after recovering the ball in the end zone.

The bad news is that, after that fumble, the Cowboys would start the second half with a three-and-out and then score on every other possession except for a missed field goal. Dallas obviously has an explosive offense, and they are going to score points, but you have to be able to get off the field at some point. The Cowboys had the ball for almost 40 minutes and ran 82 plays on Sunday. The defense was simply gassed at the end of the game, but they did force them to go 3-for-13 on third down, which is good.

Too many of those plays went for bug yardage even if they were short, like the 24-yard gain on 3rd-and-25 that led to the game-tying field goal at the end of the game. All in all, the defense has been good, but it needs to be better.

4. Using a running back rotation: The Patriots played this game with a rotation at the running back position, and they had some real success with both Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson. Harris rushed for over 100 yards and a touchdown, and Stevenson added 23 yards rushing, 39 yards receiving, and a touchdown as well. Bolden went in a few times, but Harris and Stevenson were splitting carries as the RB1, and they both looked good out there. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them doing something similar in the next few weeks.

5. Mike McCarthy is ridiculous: The Patriots should have had a huge advantage in the coaching department, and they did, even if they weren’t able to take advantage as much as they should’ve. Mike McCarthy, meanwhile, did two of the strangest things I have ever seen in this game. First, on the first drive of the game, he inexplicably went for it on 4th-and-1 at the Cowboys 34-yard line, and when Ezekiel Elliott was clearly short of the first down, he decided to challenge the play anyway.

Then, at the end of the first half, with the Patriots content to simply running out the end of the half, he called a timeout. Now, you might be able to make the argument that he could have been looking for them to have to run another play, but they had to snap it again before the half ended anyway, so there was absolutely no reason to call that timeout. We’re going to talk about the Patriots coaching in a bit, but, no matter how bad things get, it could always be worse.

6. Conservative decision making: The play calling has often left something to be desired this season, but I’m not going to complain too much about that right now. The Patriots didn’t run nearly enough plays, and they certainly should have been more aggressive at times with the ball, but this is more about the coaching staff being unwilling to go for what should be pretty obvious fourth down situations.

I remember Bill Belichick addressing his team in 2009 after not getting the 4th-and-2 conversion against the Indianapolis Colts, and telling the players that he is always going to do what is best for the team and that has the utmost confidence in both the offense and defense. That does not seem to be the case right now. If that sounds familiar, it’s because I was saying the same thing after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers game, and have been saying it since 2019.

New England didn’t punt in the first half, but punted on 4th-and-2 from the 50, 4th-and-4 from the 46 (both in the third quarter), and then 4th-and-3 from the 46 in overtime. If the Patriots expect to win these games, they are going to have to be more aggressive. Being conservative in these situations isn’t going to get you anywhere, especially when you are playing teams that are more talented than you. As Herm Edwards says, “You play to win the game.”

Coaching scared isn’t going to win you anything, and, right now, the Patriots’ offensive coaches are doing just that.

7. Poor coaching: The Patriots have looked like a poorly coached team all season. They say that special teams is a great indicator of coaching, and their special teams has been atrocious. They had another punt blocked, making it two this season, when they had not had one blocked in the last five years. There have been multiple mental errors in all three phases of the game every week, which is just so uncharacteristic of the Patriots.

I already talked about the decision making on offense, but some of the play calls on defense have been bad as well. They didn’t bring pressure almost all night, and then decided to bring a Cover 0 blitz at the end of the game, leaving CeeDee Lamb wide open for a walk-in touchdown to end the game. The Patriots players definitely haven’t executed well enough this season, but the coaching has been subpar too. Both have to be significantly better if this team is going to turn some of these close losses into wins.

8. I’m all set with N’Keal Harry: N’Keal Harry simply has done nothing on the field this year. Harry has 2 catches for 19 yards on the season, but more than that, he has yet to really help the offense out. He had no idea what he was doing one play in the red zone, and he also whiffed on a block on a jet sweep to Nelson Agholor that could have resulted in a decent gain but instead went for nothing. At this point, there is no advantage to having him on the field.

I know that he is a decent blocker in the run game, but he has already requested a trade, and they simply don’t need him as a wide receiver right now. They have at least three players who are better and more reliable than him at the receiver position, so if you can get something for him (which you probably can’t) you should try to get rid of him.

9. Offensive line continues to struggle: One of the strengths of the team going into the season was thought to be the offensive line. That has not been the case, and it has actually been one of the worst units on the field. I mentioned Yodny Cajuste almost killing Mac Jones a few times, but he was far from the other one who struggled.

Isaiah Wynn had a bad game fresh off the Covid-19 list, and the Patriots have been unable to replace Trent Brown at the right tackle position. Things settled down a bit when they finally moved Michael Onwenu out to right tackle, and he should stay there for the time being. If Wynn does not improve next week, though, I would send him to the bench and have Brown play left tackle when he comes off injured reserve. Remember that Brown played left tackle for the Patriots in 2018, and it seems that Brown, Ted Karras, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, and Onwenu might be their best five linemen at the moment.

I’m hoping that Wynn can turn things around, but, if he doesn’t, they have to do what they have to in order to keep Jones healthy.

10. Cardiac Kids: The Patriots have played almost every game this season right to the end. They fumbled the game away Week 1, lost on a missed field late in Week 4, and now lost in overtime yesterday. You would obviously love to see them win some of these close games, but the fight from this team is something that everyone should be happy to see. Last week, clearly against a bad team, they were able to recover after a terrible start and win the game. They simply don’t quit, and they give everything they have in the game to the very end.

Whatever their record ends up at this year, they were likely not going to win the Super Bowl anyway, so seeing this fight and “never quit” attitude from them is great. The hope is that the attitude continues and they are able to put everything together at some point. If they can do that, this could be a very tough team to beat down the stretch. They are not there yet, but, stay patient, don’t give up on this team, because I think better things are just over the horizon.

Pat is a host of The Patriot Nation Podcast. Interact with him on Twitter @plane_pats.