Say what you will about New England sports fans, but don’t call them shy. Tens of thousands of fans standing for hours in freezing temps and biting wind gusts had no trouble expressing their feelings Sunday at Gillette - loosened up with a few alcoholic beverages, I’m sure. The struggling offense — and lack of scoring throughout the game certainly brought out the boo-birds. But that Marcus Jones’ punt return rewarded everyone for coming better than Oprah giving away free cars. Amazing. Hearing the organic ground-swell of emotion that started to build with the punt, then dramatically rise when Jones flew by the first bunch of defenders, rounding past the 30, and reaching its peak at the touchdown. Crowd was jumping, screaming, yelling... pure elation. All was forgiven. The Patriots beat the Jets and all was right with the world.
The experts ranking the Patriots weren’t quite so ecstatic. They rose 3.2 points from last week with the majority commenting on the team’s major weakness: The offense. Whether it’s the undermanned O-line, a regressed Mac Jones, or inept coaching that’s to blame, the analysts aren’t buying in as long as this unit can’t put points on the board. I’m not going to argue that position, I’m just happy (and thankful) they’ve been winning.
Next up is the Vikings in Minnesota on Thanksgiving night. The rest of the AFC East have an easier slate, so another must-win on the menu for New England. It’s the 31st ranked red zone offense vs. the 32nd ranked red zone defense. Could get interesting. Vikings are favored by 2.5, but I’m picking the Pats to win by a touchdown.
Around the AFC East:
9th - Mark Lane (TouchdownWire): The Patriots’ defense and special teams won them the game. However, their offense produced a paltry three points. Even though it was against a challenging Jets defense and in very windy conditions, the Patriots offense will have to find ways to get more points on the board if they hope to complete the theft of the AFC East. [+1]
10th - Mike Florio (ProFootballTalk): The defense is great. Can the offense be good enough? [+2]
11th - Pete Prisco (CBS Sports): The defense was huge against the Jets. They dominated and are now second in the league. The offense has a ways to go. [+2]
11th - Nate Davis (USA Today): If you’ve been having New England withdrawal, surging Pats will be featured in prime time each of the next four weeks. [+1]
11th - Bryan Fischer (Athlon Sports): Another suffocating defensive effort out of the Pats but there still has to be more than a few questions as to why the offense isn’t quite clicking on all cylinders. [+2]
12th - Dalton Miller (ProFootballNetwork): The Patriots won the Jets game in spite of themselves. They missed two field goals, and at one point, as Mac Jones had completed 10 straight, New England decided to run the ball four straight times, leading to a turnover on downs. New England’s defense absolutely suffocated New York’s offense. The Jets could manage just two yards of offense in the second half, and could only manage 103 net yards for the entire game. [+3]
12th - Frank Schwab (Yahoo! Sports): Rookie third-round pick Marcus Jones made one of the plays of the season, an 84-yard punt return in the final seconds to beat the Jets. It was an ugly game, but a memorable ending. It might be why the Patriots end up in the playoffs. [+2]
12th - Bo Wulf (The Athletic): Thankful for: Marcus Jones, and the Jets for kicking to him. Jones’ game-winning 84-yard punt return in the final seconds continued the Patriots’ domination of the Jets. It was also, apparently, precisely what Bill Belichick had in mind when the Patriots used a third-round pick on a return specialist who could moonlight as a nickel corner. Thanks to Jones, the Patriots would be a wild-card team if the season ended today. If only Jones could help their 26th-ranked offense (by DVOA). [+4]
13th - Karen Guregian (Boston Herald): They’re finally out of the basement in the AFC East. They might be able to stay out, if the offense ever figures out how to score in the red zone.
13th - Conor Orr (SI): Their Thanksgiving matchup against Minnesota will show us whether Bill Belichick has another solid plan in the holster. After blanking the Jets and faring well against some of the better offenses in the league to this point, the Patriots will arrive this week as the league’s No. 1 defense. I have moved the Patriots up for this reason, as it seems their tentpole strengths—a versatile, ever-changing scheme and a strong running game—are moving along well. [+4]
13th - Dan Hanzus (NFL.com): The Patriots may not be the juggernaut they once were, but they remain King Kong when a young and vulnerable quarterback enters their airspace. New England’s defense completely erased Zach Wilson and the New York offense on a windy day in Foxborough, but continued issues for the Pats’ own attack necessitated the emergence of a hero. Enter rookie Marcus Jones, whose 84-yard punt return TD with under 30 seconds to play won the game and gave Patriots fans their most electrifying moment of the season. The Pats are in playoff position with a huge test looming against the 8-2 Vikings on Thanksgiving night. [+2]
13th - Ryan Dunleavy (NY Post). [+4]
13th - Matt Johnson (SportsNaut): In many ways, the New England Patriots season has been unpredictable. If there is one thing fans can count on, though, it’s Bill Belichick vs the Jets. The defensive game plan worked perfectly again, pushing New England two games above .500. Unfortunately for fans in Boston, the good vibes will probably end with consecutive Thursday games vs the Vikings and Bills. [+4]
14th - Dan Hanzus (ESPN): The Patriots are the only team in the NFL without a first-quarter touchdown, and Mac Jones has taken at least four sacks in three straight games. Prior to this stretch, he only had one game in which he took at least four sacks. The goal in the offseason was to simplify the offense and hopefully allow the Patriots to play faster, but it hasn’t produced the desired results. — Mike Reiss. [nc]
14th - Staff (The Score): What each team should be thankful for. Defense: Despite being 25th in yards per game on offense this season, the Patriots are 6-4 due to outstanding play from their defense. They’ve allowed the second-fewest points per game this season. [+3]
14th - Austin Gayle (The Ringer): Losing to the Jets on Sunday would have all but killed the Patriots’ chances of making the postseason, so hope lives on after Marcus Jones’s game-winning punt return touchdown. However, there’s no denying that Mac Jones and the offense have been abysmal even in the team’s three-game win streak. Since Week 9, no offense ranks lower in offensive EPA per drive, and Jones ranks 32nd in EPA per dropback. That’s not going to cut it as they face the hardest remaining schedule in the NFL. [+2]
14th - Consensus (Bleacher Report): There isn’t a head coach in the NFL who cares less about style points than Bill Belichick—as evidenced by his wardrobe. With each game, this young Patriots team becomes more like its coach. The toughness. The run game. The defense. And the winning. Calling Sunday’s win over the Jets ugly doesn’t do it justice. The two teams combined for 400 yards of offense, no offensive touchdowns, 19 first downs and seven third-down conversions in 29 attempts.
However, thanks to a last-second punt return for a touchdown, the Patriots downed the Jets for the 14th consecutive time to slide past New York into third place in the division. The Patriots defense was completely dominant, allowing just 103 yards of offense. After the win, defensive lineman Deatrich Wise Jr. told reporters that New England came into the contest intent on shutting New York down; More. [+3]
14th - Trevor Land (FlurrySports). [nc]
15th - Vinnie Iyer (Sporting News): The Patriots are back to playing dominant defense against weak offenses and running just enough with special teams also helping out when needed. That’s the only formula they can ride to the playoff (again) with Bill Belichick having Mac Jones at quarterback. [+2]
15th - Josh Schrock (NBC Sports Chicago): Bill Belichick’s defense again has the Patriots in playoff position. Now, about Mac Jones. [+3]
AVG RANK: 12.6 [+3.2]