Earlier during the season, the New England Patriots had some major issues in the fumbling department on both offense and defense. The season opener against the Miami Dolphins was a perfect representation of that: New England fumbled four times — including two that were lost — while the defense failed to force or recover any fumbles.
Over the following eight games the Patriots offense saw only marginal improvements. New England fumbled eight more times, with five of them ending up in the opponent’s hands.
The defense, meanwhile, failed to force its first fumble until Week 6. It had three straight games with a recovery at one point, but still entered the Week 13 matchup versus the Tennessee Titans on a four-game dry spell.
That game against the Titans, however, saw the Patriots play some impressive football in that regard. While the offense did not put the ball on the ground for a third week in a row, the defense was able to force five fumbles; three of those were recovered by the defense.
“We hadn’t gotten any fumbles out in, I don’t know, however many games it was. We went back and looked at a lot of things and tried to address it,” said Patriots head coach Bill Belichick after the game. “We were losing the ball as well, so we just tried to address things as a team.”
While one of the fumble recoveries against Tennessee happened in garbage time, the other two were among the biggest defensive plays of the Patriots’ 36-13 victory.
The first of those came in the second quarter, when defensive tackle Davon Godchaux knocked the football out of running back Dontrell Hilliard’s hands after a short run. Safety Kyle Dugger recovered at the New England 32-yard line, preserving the score at 13-6 in his team’s favor. The Patriots scored a field goal six plays later.
The second fumble did not lead to any points, but it was still a big one. D’Onta Foreman had broken free for a gain of 30 yards when J.C. Jackson was able to punch the ball out from behind. Fellow cornerback Jalen Mills jumped onto it at the New England 37 for a turnover.
“He didn’t have good ball security,” Jackson said after the game. “As a defense we talk about creating turnovers every day. We practice punching the ball, catching picks. What you do in practice carries over to the games.”
Winning the turnover battle has been key for the Patriots during their NFL-best six-game unbeaten streak. Over that stretch, the Patriots have given the football away just four times via two lost fumbles and two interceptions.
Meanwhile, their defense was able to register 17 takeaways: New England recovered four fumbles — three against Tennessee, one versus the New York Jets — as well as 13 interceptions. No other team in the league has been as opportunistic as the Patriots recently.
“I think we’ve done a better job of coaching,” Belichick said when talkinga bout fumbles in particular. “The assistant coaches and myself, I think we’ve all done a better job of coaching it. I think the players understand what we’re trying to do. There’s much more evidence of them doing what we’re asking them to do, and they’re having better results. If we had probably coached it better at the beginning, we might’ve had better results in the beginning.”