An AFC playoff berth would be clinched in the process.
Here’s a glance through what went into the regular season’s final game at Gillette Stadium as New England nears the finale with a 10-6 record.
First bout between rookie quarterbacks goes to the Jacksonville native
Sunday marked the first NFL encounter between the first quarterback and the last quarterback taken in the first round of April’s draft. It saw Jacksonville native Mac Jones go 22-of-30 passing for 227 yards with three touchdowns. And it saw Trevor Lawrence go 17-of-27 passing for 193 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions against New England.
Jones completed each of his five attempts on a 11-play, 70-yard drive that ended in the end zone for the Patriots to begin the afternoon. Back in midseason control, the Alabama alum did not have a pass hit the turf until there were eight minutes to go before halftime. A third touchdown toss gave his side a 34-3 lead in the third frame that swelled to 41-3 with a handoff to rookie running back Rhamondre Stevenson, who later made it 50-3 with backup Brian Hoyer under center.
By then, Clemson’s Lawrence had hit wide receiver Laquon Treadwell through double coverage for a pickup of 40 yards in the first quarter and Marvin Jones for a pickup of 20 yards in the second quarter. But the glimpses were met by turnovers and takedowns. Lawrence was sacked by stunting Patriots captain Dont’a Hightower and another Crimson Tide product in rookie defensive tackle Christian Barmore. A screen pass to running back Dare Ogunbowale netted 28 yards and points late in the fourth quarter.
Elevations make top picks from 2019 Patriots draft class healthy scratches
Ninety minutes prior to kickoff, wide receiver N’Keal Harry and cornerback Joejuan Williams went to the inactives list. No. 32 overall out of Arizona State and No. 47 overall out of Vanderbilt both were healthy scratches for the 2019 Patriots draft class.
Harry had cleared the final injury report after previously being listed as limited with a hip injury. Williams had last played against the Buffalo Bills in the wind gusts of Orchard Park.
The Patriots elevated wideout Kristian Wilkerson and cornerback D’Angelo Ross from the practice squad amid a series of New Year’s Day moves. It would be the second consecutive call-up for the former undrafted free agents from Southeast Missouri State and New Mexico. Wilkerson started and caught his first NFL pass in the first quarter, then found his first NFL touchdown in the back of the end zone on a fake jet sweep before intermission. He finished with 41 yards on four catches and an uncovered second TD in his 53-man roster case. A third trip slipped away for Wilkerson while Ross worked between special teams and the secondary.
Bryant celebrates birthday with interception
Myles Bryant turned 24 years old on Sunday. The nickelback then turned a pass off the hands of Jaguars tailback Ryquell Armstead into an interception midway through the second quarter.
It went in the books as the second career interception for Bryant, who joined the Patriots an undrafted rookie in 2020 and began 2021 on the practice squad before signing to the active roster in October.
His previous interception surfaced last winter versus quarterback Jared Goff and the Los Angeles Rams.
Meyers stands with career-high 796 receiving yards, second touchdown
Starting wide receiver Nelson Agholor remained in the NFL’s concussion protocol and out of New England’s lineup for a second week. And in his absence, Jakobi Meyers kept his target pace in the slot.
Meyers caught eight passes on as many throws for 73 yards against Jacksonville’s defense. His afternoon began on an out route, a shallow crosser and a soft spot in the zone on the initial drive. It continued with a corner route for a touchdown before the half that gave the Patriots a 28-3 advantage. More looks ensued.
The former North Carolina State quarterback recruit now finds himself with 796 receiving yards on the season, a new best after leading the team with 729 last season.
Four seasons in, New England’s Pro Bowl corner ties NFL record
A week removed from earning his first Pro Bowl pick, J.C. Jackson earned his eighth of the season. It transpired against Jacksonville receiver Tavon Austin just before the two-minute warning in the first half. It gave New England’s cornerback 25 interceptions for his career.
That tally tied an NFL record for the most in a player’s first four seasons since the merger, putting the 2018 undrafted signing in the company of Lester Hayes and Everson Walls.
Sunday checked in as the 61st game for Jackson. His interception was followed in the third quarter by Patriots safety Kyle Dugger’s runback to the goal line.
Off Covid-19 reserve, two starting linebackers see different workloads
Five Patriots cleared Covid-19 reserve on the eve of the 1 p.m. ET kickoff. Outside linebacker Matt Judon and inside linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley were among them.
Both had gone without a practice after being added to the list last Monday. But their usage along the front differed by Sunday.
Veteran Jamie Collins started off the edge and Chase Winovich rotated in for his first defensive snaps since late November. In turn, Judon did not take the field until a third-and-4 with under four minutes to play in the first half. The three-time Pro Bowler finished without a tackle versus Jacksonville while Bentley started and stayed in to log three stops and a pass deflection.
Harris ties Martin, nears 1,000 rushing yards
Patriots running back Damien Harris entered Sunday with 857 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground. He would add to both against the Jaguars over the course of nine carries before being ruled questionable with a lingering hamstring injury.
The Alabama product, who had a hat trick of scores in defeat the weekend prior, reversed field to put the offense at the goal line on the opening drive. A scoring plunge was in the cards on the next snap. In the preliminary stages of the second quarter, so was another.
With 14 rushing touchdowns, Harris finds himself tied with Hall of Famer Curtis Martin’s 1995 and 1996 seasons for second in franchise history. And with 35 rushing yards tacked on, the 1,000-yard milestone stands within shouting distance as the Miami Dolphins loom ahead. For now, LeGarrette Blount’s 2016 campaign stands as the last time a New England back checked that box.