The New England Patriots dominated the Jacksonville Jaguars and punched their ticket to the playoffs on Sunday. It was a great chance for the team to get right, and it did just that against the worst team in football.
Here are our 10 takeaways from New England’s 50-10 victory.
1. Mac Jones bounces back. After playing poorly for the last two weeks, Mac Jones played one of the best games of his season so far. The rookie quarterback consistently put the ball in the right spot, and took advantage of a bad defense. He threw only eight incompletions on 30 attempts, and his numbers would have been even better had Kristian Wilkinson or Brandon Bolden held onto the passes thrown their way on Jones’ final drive of the game.
Nonetheless, Jones had a good game. It’s also always fun to finish a game on the sidelines and cheering on your teammates getting a chance because the score is out of hand; that’s just what Jones did on Sunday, making way for backup Brian Hoyer late in the fourth quarter.
The Patriots have a tough game in Miami next weekend, and they are going to need Jones at his best again to get a win.
2. The running game dominates. The Patriots dominated with not just one back, but both of them. Both Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson scored twice, and Stevenson finished with over 100 yards rushing for the second time in his career.
It looked like the Patriots gave Harris the rest of the game off after going into the half leading by 25 points. He’s been dealing with a hamstring injury, so no need to put any extra stress on him right now. He did, however, end the day with his second consecutive week with multiple TDs, and now has 14 for the season, tying him with Curtis Martin for second in Patriots history.
Both backs again ran hard, and were tough to take down. When the running game gets going, the Patriots are tough to stop, and they’re going to be a tough out in the playoffs because of it.
3. New England’s defense shuts down Trevor Lawrence. Bill Belichick’s success against rookie quarterbacks is well known, so most people thought he would have his way with this year’s number one overall pick, Trevor Lawrence. Those people were correct, as Lawrence struggled mightily.
He wound up throwing a touchdown in garbage time, but was picked off three times, and looked lost for most of the day. Lawrence has looked pretty bad for most of the year, throwing his first touchdown since Thanksgiving weekend on Sunday, but it was impressive to see what the defense was able to do anyway.
By the way, the last rookie QB to beat Belichick on the road? Drew Bledsoe, who led his Patriots into Cleveland and won in 1993.
4. Kristian Wilkerson impresses. N’Keal Harry was a healthy scratch on Sunday, which gave Wilkerson an opportunity to get onto the field. He took full advantage, catching four passes for 42 yards and two touchdowns. He ended up dropping what would have been a third TD, but there was a lot to like from the second-year pro.
It would seem that Harry’s time on the team might be over, and that Wilkerson will be the guy moving forward. If that was something the Patriots were considering, he certainly made his case much stronger on Sunday.
5. Kyle Dugger keeps improving. This should not come as much of a surprise, but Kyle Dugger continues to get better every week. He smartly baited Trevor Lawrence into an interception, and almost took it to the house. His coverage is getting better, which is a great thing, because he continues his physical play in the running game.
Between him, Adrian Phillips, and Devin McCourty, New England has a great safety group. The three of them seem to be playing their best football at the right time, which is a great sign for the Patriots defense.
6. Special teams mistakes continue. The win on Sunday was great for almost everyone, except the special teams unit. It allowed another blocked kick, this one on an extra point, and a bad snap resulted in another missed point-after try.
These are mistakes that simply should not be happening any more. They have now had four kicks blocked this year, which is the most a Belichick-coached team has ever allowed in a single season. Points are going to matter a lot more the next few games, and New England can’t keep making these mistakes.
7. The officiating continues to suck. The inconsistency in officiating continues. I know that “player safety” is a huge concern for the league, but two of the calls on Sunday were simply ridiculous.
The roughing the passer call on Mac Jones was just crazy. The QB ducked down into the hit, and was brushed across the face. It drew a penalty, which gave the Patriots a first down in the red zone. Then, on the first Jaguars possession of the second half, Myles Bryant was flagged on one of the worst personal fouls I’ve ever seen. They said he led with his head, but the contact was minimal, and it was a bizarre call.
Clearly, the officiating had nothing to do with today’s outcome and the bad calls were evenly distributed between the two teams. The strange calls keep coming, though, so I wanted to point them out.
8. Bill Belichick reaches a 10-win milestone. The Patriots won their 10th game of the season yesterday, and it marked the 20th time that Bill Belichick has coached a team to 10 or more victories. That record ties him with Don Shula for the most all time.
This is the third season he has done it without Tom Brady, by the way. The other two were both 11-5 regular seasons; once with the Cleveland Browns in 1994, and once with Matt Cassel in 2008. The Patriots will try to make this an 11-win season next weekend, as well.
9. New England is back in the playoffs. With their win, and a loss by the Miami Dolphins, the Patriots clinched a playoff berth on Sunday. After missing last year, they will therefore get another crack at a postseason run this season.
There is still a lot up in the air as far as seeding goes, however. New England currently owns the No. 5 seed in the AFC, but it is possible for them to finish next weekend as high as the No. 1 seed. That, of course, is very unlikely, but not out of the question, which is going to make next week a whole lot of fun.
Regardless of where they end up, the Patriots are going to be playing with a chance to advance to the Super Bowl again, which is all any team can hope for when the regular season ends.
10. Madness all around the league. If this week is any indication, next week is going to be a ton of fun. The Kansas City Chiefs and Cincinnati Bengals played an incredible game, with two dominant offenses going toe to toe, and the Bengals coming out on top. The New York Jets were beating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for 59-and-a-half minutes, and Tom Brady was still able to will his team to victory, even Antonio Brown effectively retired mid-game.
The Atlanta Falcons were leading the Bills at the half, in Buffalo, and then remembered that they were the Falcons and preceded to get blown out in the second half. The Los Angeles Rams scored a last-minute touchdown to take down the Baltimore Ravens, and the Las Vegas Raiders kicked a last second field goal to beat the Indianapolis Colts on the road.
It was a wild weekend, which was good, since the Patriots’ game was over before it started.
Pat is a host of The Patriot Nation Podcast. Interact with him on Twitter @plane_pats.