For the fourth time in the last six weeks, the New England Patriots saw one of their games come down to the wire. Unfortunately, they again came up short: the Dallas Cowboys were able to leave Gillette Stadium with a 35-29 win in overtime. As a result, the Patriots have now dropped to 2-4 on the season.
Their fourth straight home loss — a first in the last 28 years — again saw New England play inconsistent football in all three phases of the game. The team did have its opportunities, but for one reason or another was unable to capitalize and in the end had to see a 35-yard touchdown pass from Dak Prescott to CeeDee Lamb end the game.
With that all said, let’s take a look at those players who caught our eye on Sunday for better or worse.
Losers: OT Isaiah Wynn, OT Justin Herron, OT Yodny Cajuste
Given the circumstances the Patriots’ makeshift offensive line had an impressive performance against the Houston Texans last week. The Cowboys’ defensive front is a different animal, however, and it put some major pressure on the unit on Sunday.
The offensive tackle position in particular struggled, with Michael Onwenu the best of the bunch: he was inserted into the lineup after starting right tackle Yodny Cajuste allowed Mac Jones to get sacked viciously in the second quarter, resulting in a lost fumble. Cajuste did reenter the game on two Rhamondre Stevenson runs in the fourth period, but he was effectively benched.
The left tackle spot was no less an issue. Justin Herron started the game but he too was sent to the bench after that ill-fated series resulting in a lost fumble. Nominal starter Isaiah Wynn, who did not practice this week before a late return off the Covid-19 list, entered the contest for all but nine plays; he was benched after allowing a Randy Gregory sack in the third quarter. Herron was back on the field, but he continued to have his fair share of issues.
All in all, it was a forgettable day for the entire position group.
Winners: RB Damien Harris & RB Rhamondre Stevenson
First things first: both Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson held onto the football after fumbling a combined three times in the first five games of the season. And not just that, as the one-two punch in the Patriots’ backfield finished with a combined 124 yards on 23 carries — a strong average of 5.4 yards per run — as well as a pair of touchdowns.
Harris and Stevenson did not just stand out due to their contributions on the ground, they also were actively involved in the passing game. Harris caught a 7-yard pass, with Stevenson adding 39 yards on three catches. In total, the two backs were therefore responsible for 170 of New England’s 335 yards of offense.
Loser: TE Jonnu Smith
Entering the game the Cowboys defense was ranked among the worst in football when it came to defending tight ends. The Patriots were unable to consistently take advantage, though, with Jonnu Smith in particular having a quiet day: despite playing 39 of 54 snaps, the high-priced free agent caught only one 9-yard pass on two targets.
Smith has had a few positive moments since arriving in New England, but they are far and few in between. One problem appears to be his usage, with the coaching staff not giving him enough opportunities to show his talents as one of the best after-the-catch tight ends in the league.
Loser: WR N’Keal Harry
The N’Keal Harry Hype Train was running full speed this summer, with the former first-round draft pick looking like the best wide receiver on New England’s offense at times. Since spending time on injured reserve due to a shoulder injury, however, he continued to be a non-factor for the offense.
On Sunday, Harry played 21 snaps and was targeted not once in the passing game. He did have some positive moments as a blocker, but that is not why you’re spending a first-round pick on a wide receiver.
Loser: CB Jalen Mills
Returning to the field after his one-game absence, Jalen Mills was on the wrong end of some of the biggest plays of the day. He gave up a 1-yard touchdown against CeeDee Lamb in the third quarter and surrendered a 24-yard catch against the Cowboys wide receiver on a 3rd-and-25 that allowed the team to kick the game-tying field goal late in the fourth quarter.
Finally, in overtime, he was beaten on the aforementioned 35-yard touchdown pass to Lamb to end the game. Ouch.
Winner: LB Ja’Whaun Bentley
Before leaving the game in the third quarter due to a rib injury, Ja’Whaun Bentley played arguably his best game of the season. The fourth-year linebacker was disruptive when attacking downhill against the run, and also forced a crucial fumble on 4th-and-goal from the 1-yard line that resulted in New England preserving its first-half lead late in the second quarter.
Here’s one number to illustrate Bentley’s impact on the game: even though he ended up playing more than half of New England’s defensive snaps, he ended the game with 13 tackles — five more than the closest player.
Loser: LB Jahlani Tavai
Jahlani Tavai played exclusively on special teams against the Cowboys, and he made his presence felt. Unfortunately, though, it was for all the wrong reasons: the former practice squad member left Luke Gifford unaccounted for on a punt play in the second period, instead going for a double-team block alongside long snapper Joe Cardona.
Gifford charged into the backfield virtually untouched and was able to block a Jake Bailey punt. While the Patriots defense — in part thanks to Ja’Whaun Bentley — was able to keep the Cowboys off the scoreboard on the next possession, the blocked punt was a bad play for New England’s special teams operation and Tavai in particular.