Sunday afternoon was a beautiful day at Gillette Stadium as it was the first time fans were in attendance in over a year and a half. Mac Jones shined in his first career start as the New England Patriots dropped a tough one to the division rival Miami Dolphins, 17-16, after several key turnovers and penalties that relegated big plays all day long.
As much as the loss stung, it brought hope as the Patriots and their quarterback look like they will be a competitive team around the league in 2021.
Any-who, lets get to Sunday’s winners and losers.
Winner: QB Mac Jones
In his much-awaited first start, Jones shined, completing 29-of-39 passes for 281 yards and a touchdown. Jones hung in there all day long and blossomed under pressure, consistently putting the Patriots in situations to score points. Although they only found the end zone once, Jones helped the offense move the ball efficiently in the second half and was 9-of-12 for 89 yards on third down.
Jones’ lone touchdown pass was one of his better plays of the day; he hung in the pocket, waited for Nelson Agholor to finish his double move, took a big shot and put it right on him for the score that put the Patriots up 10-7. He also executed a beautiful wheel route to James White on third down late in the game with the Patriots pinned in their own territory that kept the drive alive. Despite the outcome, Jones gave fans optimism that the Patriots’ offense is good hands this season with a rookie quarterback.
Loser: RB Rhamondre Stevenson
After his stellar preseason, the Patriots traded Sony Michel to the Rams which opened the door for the Patriots rookie to have some sort of role early on. We knew Damien Harris would be the teams primary running back on early downs, but Stevenson would serve as a change-of-pace back and ultimately take a bit of the load off of Harris. We saw that early on Sunday as Stevenson got a few touches after Harris’ heavy workload on the team’s opening drive.
However, after the Patriots first drive stalled and the Dolphins put up a quick seven on the Patriots, Stevenson had a costly fumble when the Patriots were starting to string a drive together. It was on his second touch of the game as Jones hit Stevenson on a screen pass before Eric Rowe ripped the ball loose and put the Patriots on their heels early. After a long stretch of not seeing the field, Stevenson got another opportunity but got blown up in pass protection on third-and-short that led to a late hit on Jones. The Patriots were bailed out by a roughing the passer call, but Stevenson missed his assignment and led to Jones taking a hit. The rookie definitely has a bright future in the league, but Sunday proved that he may not be ready for NFL live action just yet.
Winner: WR Nelson Agholor
After just one catch in the preseason, it was uncertain if we were going to see much production early on from Agholor. After battling an ankle injury all week, Agholor suited up and was the best receiver on the field for the Patriots on Sunday afternoon. His ability to stretch the field and make plays over the middle helped Jones consistently move the chains through the air.
Agholor picked up five catches for 72 yards and a touchdown and made some key catches on third down late in the game. The Patriots have lacked speed and playmaking ability for years at the receiver position, and it looks like Agholor is going to fill a much-needed role for them going forward.
Loser: RB Damien Harris
It was a tough choice to list Harris here as he played extremely well up until the fumble late in the game. Harris rushed for 100 yards on 23 carries and was one of the main reasons the Patriots were able to score points yesterday. He ran hard through the tackles and showed he was ready to take on the full workload as the Patriots RB1. However, with the Patriots on the cusp of taking the lead with just over three minutes to go, Harris fumbled on the Miami nine-yard line and iced the game for the Dolphins.
Harris spoke after and stated that this play “won't define” him as a player and is ready to move on from it. Harris will be a key cog in the offense going forward but will need to hold onto the ball if he wants to be a guy who the Patriots can count on to lock up wins late in the game.
Winner: S Adrian Phillips
Adrian Phillips was all over the field for the Patriots on Sunday. He played primarily as a box safety and did a nice job on tight end Mike Gesicki, holding him to zero catches on two targets. Phillips also picked up three tackles, two pressures and two tackles for loss and made a big play late in the game pressuring quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and forcing him to throw an interception that put the Patriots in position to make a late-game drive to try and win it. Phillips remains one of New England’s more versatile and shutdown defenders.
Winner: LB Matt Judon
Ever since Judon stepped on the field in New England, all he’s done is shown he's been worthy of the big money he got in the offseason. He was the Patriots’ best defender on the field on Sunday, consistently making plays in the backfield and making life tough on Tagovailoa. Judon picked up four tackles, including two for a loss, with two pressures to go along with it. The Patriots struggled at the edge spot last year, but with Judon and Uche providing speed and power from both sides, the Patriots shouldn't have any issue getting after the quarterback this season.
Winner: RB James White
I have a feeling White is going to like having Jones around. The team captain racked up six catches for 49 yards and converted two big third downs for New England. In a backfield that is still developing, White serves a security blanket for the youngster under center and still proves he can be a reliable rusher in times the Patriots need to get their offense going.
Loser: CB Joejuan Williams
With Stephon Gilmore still on the PUP list, it’s no secret that the Patriots have a bit of a hole at outside corner. With Williams’ length and physicality, he would be the next man up to play that spot with Jalen Mills chipping in as well. Williams struggled all game long and finished as the team’s lowest defensive graded player with a 35.6 PFF grade. He was burnt in coverage on some critical third downs as the Dolphins exposed him when he was on the field. The former second-round defensive back has an opportunity to carve out a role for himself as Gilmore remains out, but will need to pick it up and play better if he wants to play consistently on a work-in-progress secondary.