The seventh Sunday of the NFL’s 2021 season has arrived, and there is a lot going on around the New England Patriots and the rest of the league. Let’s use this forum right here to go through some of the stories that have emerged over the last few days: time for our Sunday Patriots Notes.
1. The Jets want to make Mac Jones beat them. The Patriots’ first game against their AFC East rivals this season was decided in large part because one of the two rookie starting quarterbacks kept turning the football over, and the other did not. Zach Wilson, who was picked second overall by the Jets this April, threw four interception. Mac Jones, drafted by New England at No. 15, finished the contest without any giveaways.
Nonetheless, New York’s defense still wants the ball in Jones’ hands this time around. The plan, as was pointed out by linebacker C.J. Mosley during a press conference earlier this week, is to make the young QB beat them without the running game helping him out.
“What we have to do is make sure we stop the run because if they get the run game going that’s really when they play action and really get going for them,” Mosley said. “That keeps the pressure off of him. That keeps the clock running. So, for us we need to stop the run, get them off the field on third down and when we do get to third down stop the screens because that’s definitely been what’s been hurting us a lot the past few games.”
While the Jets defense as a whole has been a below-average unit so far this season, their run defense has performed well. Accordingly, they appear well-equipped to slow down a Patriots rushing attack that 101 yards on 24 carries in Week 2 and scored both of the team’s touchdowns.
If New York can indeed make the New England offense one-dimensional, the pressure would certainly be on Jones (and on offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels) — a situation that would not be entirely new for the youngster. In Week 4 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Patriots rushed for zero yards and seven non-kneel-down carries. Jones still had one of the better games of his career up until that point.
On Sunday, the Patriots will have to hope for more of the same in case the run game is successfully eliminated by the Jets.
2. Patriots attempt the season sweep for the sixth straight year. The Patriots-Jets rivalry is a storied one, but it also has been rather lopsided as of late. New England was not beaten by its division rivals since a 26-20 overtime loss in 2015 (the last non-overtime loss to the Jets came in the 2010 playoffs, by the way). This means that Bill Belichick’s team would celebrate its sixth straight season-sweep with a victory on Sunday.
Furthermore, a Patriots win would give them 12 in a row over the Jets. It would be the second-longest winning streak over an individual opponent in franchise history behind the 15 straight won over the Buffalo Bills between 2003 and 2010.
3. A Scarnecchia will be back in Foxborough on Sunday. Legendary assistant coach Dante Scarnecchia spent 34 years with the Patriots franchise, most prominently as the offensive line coach for five of the team’s six Super Bowl wins in the 2000s and 2010s. He has not been with the club since his retirement last year, but a Scarnecchia will be back at Gillette Stadium on Sunday.
No, it’s not the 73-year-old, but rather his son. Steve Scarnecchia is working as the Jets’ chief of staff and was hired by head coach Robert Saleh as his right-hand man earlier this year. A former member of the Patriots’ video department, Scarnecchia is in his second stint in New York: he already spent three seasons with the organization under Eric Mangini (2006-08) before leaving for the Denver Broncos and Atlanta Falcons.
Earlier this year, he returned to New York. At least for one day, he will also return to New England now. It will be the first time a Scarnecchia is back in Foxborough on official business in almost two years.
4. Jonathan Jones’ injury puts further pressure on New England’s cornerback depth. The Patriots sent starting slot cornerback Jonathan Jones to injured reserve on Saturday due to a shoulder issue, and it will be fascinating to see how they will try to replace him over the next three weeks. Whether it means inserting recent practice squad call-up Myles Bryant into the slot, or using free agency acquisition Jalen Mills, one thing is certain: the injury puts further pressure on an already depleted cornerback group.
While J.C. Jackson and Jalen Mills are entrenched as starters, the depth behind them is dubious. Bryant, now in his second season, has limited experience; Joejuan Williams struggled with a bigger role against the Houston Texans earlier this year; rookie Shaun Wade has been ruled out again due to a concussion and has yet to make his NFL debut;Justin Bethel is primarily a special teamer.
Short on cornerbacks, the Patriots brought in three veterans for workouts this week: D.J. Hayden, De’Vante Bausby and Brian Poole. Poole left without a contract, and the other two have also not been added to the equation so far.
5. Malcolm Perry earns the “day-to-day” label. Speaking of injured reserve, Bill Belichick gave a brief update on wide receiver Malcolm Perry earlier this week. Asked about the status of the trade acquisition, Belichick said that “he’s working every day, so just take it day-by-day.”
While he has yet to put on a Patriots uniform, Perry’s situation certainly will be one worth keeping a close eye on. After all, the team will have a decision to make about N’Keal Harry ahead of the trade deadline on November 2. The former first-round draft pick has again been quiet so far this season, serving in a reserve capacity behind top-three receivers Jakobi Meyers, Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne.
Given that his agent requested a trade earlier this year, his tenure could come to an end sooner rather than later. Having a player like Perry waiting in the wings — even though he is a different type of wide receiver — might give New England more confidence moving Harry.
6. Damien Harris has “earned everybody’s respect.” The Patriots’ undisputed top running back after the trade that sent Sony Michel to the Los Angeles Rams, Damien Harris has been up-and-down so far. While he is averaging a solid 4.1 yards per carry and is on pace to produce the best statistical season of his three-year career, he also lost two red zone fumbles and was a non-factor in New England’s losses to the Buccaneers and New Orleans Saints.
Still, Bill Belichick spoke highly of the 24-year-old during a press conference earlier this week.
“Damien’s been a very good player for us,” Belichick said. “Whatever role we’ve asked him to take on, he’s embraced it and worked as hard as he possibly can to excel at it. He has a ton of respect from every player and coach in this organization, as he should because he’s earned that. That’s not something you get from talking or some kind of false image. You get it from day after day, consistent performance and dedication, and he’s the poster boy for that.
“He works extremely hard and takes his job very seriously and always tries to perform at the absolute highest level and do what’s best for the team. He’s earned everybody’s respect for that. That’s not something that’s given. He’s put in the blood, the sweat, and earned it.”
That is some high praise from the head coach.
7. Julian Edelman is critical of this current Patriots team. When he left the Patriots and went on to pursue a career in media earlier this year, Bill Belichick told Julian Edelman that he should not be a “homer” when it comes to his analysis. Well, that is certainly not the case as this recent clip from Showtime’s Inside the NFL shows:
“The Patriots just aren’t the Patriots right now, and it hurts me to say this: they are not the Patriots ... They need to start playing mistake-free football,” Edelman said. His analysis, while simple, is pretty spot-on.
8. NFL hands out fines after Patriots-Cowboys. Let’s take one final look back at last week’s game between New England and Dallas, because on Saturday the fines for that game were announced. Needless to say that a lot of wallets are getting lighter: a total of four players — one on the Patriots’ side and three Cowboys — were fined:
- DE Deatrich Wise Jr: $20,600 (Horse-collar tackle)
- WR CeeDee Lamb: $10,300 (Celebration)
- CB Trevon Diggs: $7,981 (Punching someone after the play)
- OL Connor Williams: $16,394 (Unsportsmanlike conduct)
Why the NFL thinks a celebration is worth more than punching somebody is anyone’s guess, but the league has spoken. And we all know how meticulous it is when it comes to handing out discipline...