What a difference a week can make in the NFL. Coming off back-to-back tough losses to the Indianapolis Colts and Buffalo Bills, the New England Patriots had an opportunity to get back on track in Sunday's game facing off with the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars.
After forcing a quick three-and-out to start the game, the Patriots went right down the field and scored a touchdown six plays later. Playing from ahead was key focus for the group this week after falling behind early and digging themselves in a hole the last two games.
The Patriots never looked back and dominated on both sides of the ball. They scored touchdowns on all four of their drives in the first half, and seven of 10 overall, and forced three Trevor Lawrence turnovers in their second 50-point outing of the season.
Yes, it was the Jaguars, but the Patriots played near-mistake-free football for most of the day and seemed to have gotten their swagger back on Sunday afternoon. Let’s take a look at the winners and losers from Sunday’s win.
Winner: QB Mac Jones
After facing a lot of questions regarding the “rookie wall” the last two weeks, Jones followed up with one of the most efficient games of his career. He finished the day 22-for-30 for 227 yards and three touchdowns. The Patriots’ offensive line kept him untouched all game long and allowed the rookie to sit back there comfortably and pick apart the Jaguars’ secondary.
Jones also broke some records on Sunday as he surpassed Jim Plunkett’s mark of 20 touchdown passes as a rookie. He also became just the fourth quarterback all time to win 10+ games and throw 20+ touchdowns as a rookie. Say what you want about Jones , but the Patriots found their franchise quarterback in him and he has consistently put them in situations to win just about every time he’s under center.
Winner: RB Damien Harris
There aren't many running backs in the league running the ball as well as Damien Harris the last few weeks. The third-year man picked up 35 yards on just nine carries but found the end zone two more times in the win on Sunday. Harris has scored six touchdowns in his last three games and has been the catalyst of a Patriots offense that has had trouble finding consistency over the last few games.
Harris also joined some elite company on Sunday as he tied Curtis Martin for the second most touchdowns in a single season in franchise history. He has scored 14 with one game to go.
Winner: WR Kristian Wilkerson
It was a special day for the wideout, who spent almost two full years on the Patriots practice squad before getting an opportunity on Sunday. Filling in for the healthy scratch N’Keal Harry, Wilkerson turned heads on Sunday and may have earned himself a spot on the 53-man roster heading into the playoffs. The former rookie free agent caught four passes on eight targets for 42 yards and two touchdowns.
Winner: WR Jakobi Meyers
Another week and another strong showing from the Patriots’ WR1. Meyers was a consistent chain mover again, catching eight balls for 73 yards and a touchdown on Sunday. The play of the game came on his touchdown when he beat the defender to the corner of the end zone and Mac Jones placed it perfectly: Meyers came down with the acrobatic catch for just the second receiving touchdown of his career.
Meyers has been Jones’ go-to target in all situations and has come through in a big way as the most consistent target in the Patriots’ offense. Meyers currently leads all New England pass catchers in receptions (81) and yards (796) with one week to go.
Winner: CB J.C. Jackson
It was a rare off-game for the Patriots’ CB1 last week as he got beat a few times in key situations by Bills receiver Stefon Diggs and dropped what could have been a game-winning interception. However, Jackson responded in a big way on Sunday allowing just one catch in coverage and picking up his eighth interception of the season.
Jackson also tied an NFL record on Sunday: his 25 interceptions to start a career are the most in NFL history over a four-year period. With Jackson hitting unrestricted free agency this spring, he’s due for a big pay day. It will be interesting to see how the Patriots handle his situation.
Winner: S Kyle Dugger
Following Patrick Chung’s retirement this offseason, Dugger’s role got a whole lot bigger on the Patriots defense. The second-year man answered the call, providing physicality, improvement in coverage and most of all, consistency. All of it was on display against Jacksonville.
Dugger picked up his fourth career interception to help set up a Rhamondre Stevenson score from a yard out on the ensuing play. The 2020 second-round pick looks to be a key piece in the Patriots core moving forward, as his versatility in the front seven and secondary is unmatched.
Loser: Special teams coordinator Cam Achord
The Patriots played near-flawless football, but they once again had some miscues in the kicking game: two Nick Folk extra point attempts did not find their way through the uprights. Both times, however, Folk was not to blame.
The first was blocked by the Jaguars — the fourth blocked punt or place kick this season — while the second was doomed as soon as Joe Cardona sent the snap high and Jake Bailey could not reel it in. All in all, it was another bad look for a special teams group that already had too many of them this season. Fairly or not, it eventually all falls back onto the coach.
Winner: RB Rhamondre Stevenson
Fresh off the Covid-19 reserve list, the Patriots finally got their two-headed monster i back on the field again. The Harris-Stevenson duo had been missed the last two weeks, as Harris was sidelined in Indianapolis and Stevenson missed last Sunday’s game versus Buffalo.
Stevenson carried the football 19 times for 107 yards and two touchdowns against Jacksonville and now leads all rookie running backs in scores this season. He looked to have had his legs back as he allowed for the team to rest Damien Harris — who is battling a hamstring injury — and lean on him down the stretch.
When the Patriots get both Harris and Stevenson running the ball like they are capable, their offense becomes that much more dominant.
Winner: Offensive line
The Patriots offensive line took a lot of heat over the last two weeks as it allowed way too many pressures and hits on its young quarterback. However, the unit responded in a big way on Sunday with just one penalty and keeping a clean pocket for Jones to throw all game long. They also dominated in the trenches and allowed for big days from both Stevenson and Harris.
If the Patriots want to make a deep run in January, it starts with their strongest unit up front protecting Jones and allowing Harris and Rhamondre to run the ball efficiently.