Week 12 of the NFL season is already in the books for the New England Patriots. The team of head coach Bill Belichick appeared on Thanksgiving, coming up short to the Minnesota Vikings to fall to 6-5 on the year.
Obviously, all of our focus over the last few days was on that game. To keep you up to date with some of the stories that have emerged that we did not have time to cover elsewhere, however, make sure to check out this week’s Sunday Patriots Notes.
Patriots offense shows a glimpse of what it wants to be. During the CBS broadcast of the Patriots’ Week 11 game against the New York Jets, the announcers referenced a production meeting with New England quarterback Mac Jones. The topic of their discussion was Jones’ comfort level within the scheme and him feeling comfortable pushing the ball down the field.
From that perspective, the Thanksgiving day loss in Minnesota was a glimpse into that plan. Jones and the Patriots, after all, did not shy away from aggressively attacking the deep parts of the field — despite going against a defense inviting a different approach.
The sophomore QB posted an average depth of target of 8.4 yards, and went 9-for-12 for 220 and two touchdowns when throwing passes of more than 10 air yards. For various reasons, the success was not sustained through four quarters but Jones’ play and the passing game operation as a whole were a definitive positive for New England that day.
A big reason why was the performance of the offensive line. Despite missing starting center David Andrews due to a thigh injury, the unit held up its end of the bargain especially over the first three quarters.
“They did a great job,” Jones said after the game. “All those guys just doing their job on every play, and I didn’t feel pressure at all hardly, and just hats off to them for playing a great game in the run game, too. They did a great job. If we can just continue to do that, then I think a lot of things will go our way.”
Matt Patricia blames himself for a crucial fourth-quarter sack. Down seven points in the late fourth quarter, the Patriots were able to move into Vikings territory. However, they found themselves in a 3rd-and-7 situation at the Minnesota 30. It was not necessarily a must-convert down given that New England was in four-down mode anyway, but what happened was the worst possible outcome.
Left tackle Trent Brown threw an unsuccessful cut block, which in turn led to Mac Jones getting taken down for a 9-yard sack. Brown’s technique caught the eye, because the Patriots ran deeper patterns than you would normally see with cut-blocking.
On Saturday, offensive assistant Matt Patricia — the team’s play-caller and offensive line coach — put the blame on himself for that play.
“On plays like that in the game ... I just have to do a better job of making sure that everybody’s on the same page with everything from that standpoint,” he said.” Sometimes that happens on a particular technique or a particular play we might be doing something to — with the rush and the coverage — manipulate that stuff. It was just one of those plays, unfortunately, and I just have to make a better job making sure that those things are handled.”
The Patriots nearly converted the ensuing 4th-and-16 on a deep attempt from Mac Jones to Nelson Agholor, but the ball landed just out of the wide receiver’s outstretched arms. The bigger breakdown, however, happened on the previous down with the offense apparently not operating in unison.
Patriots’ kicking game led to some lost yards. Field position can be key in close games such as Thursday night’s and the Patriots disappointed in that department. While their average drive actually started in a better spot — the own 29 compared to the Vikings at the 27 — New England left some yards on the field in the kicking game.
For one, punter Michael Palardy’s punting numbers (41.0-yard average, 37.3-yard net) clearly lacked behind Minnesota’s Ryan Wright (52.7, 49.0). Additionally, Nick Folk had only two touchbacks on seven kickoffs. One of those that fell short was returned for a 97-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
Jake Bailey has had a disappointing season before being sent to injured reserve because of a back ailment, but Thursday’s game showed that he is still missed in his two areas of expertise.
Cam Achord speaks about the Vikings’ kickoff return touchdown. The aforementioned kickoff return touchdown was one of the biggest plays of the game, allowing the Vikings to answer a long New England scoring drive to tie the contest at 23 in the early third period. There was some controversy involved on the play, with the officials missing a hold on the Patriots’ Kyle Dugger, but for special teams coordinator Cam Achord it all comes back to fundamentals.
“I got to do a better job of our guys using their hands to get off blocks and getting to the football right there,” he said on Saturday. “To be able to shed the blocks at the point of attack that way they’re able to come off and make the tackle. Fundamentally, I have to improve the techniques and coaching aspect of using the hands and getting off the 1-on-1 blocks overall. That way you can get to the ball and make tackles.
“We gave up, obviously, that one there. We have to continue to work. The guys have done a good job, but obviously it’s discomforting when you give up one like that. So, we have to get back to it and execute each time we’re out there to cover because being able to put teams in long situations if you’re able to tackle one inside the 20 it’s hard for offenses to move the ball against our defense. So, we have to be able to stop it right there — get off blocks, make tackles, and then swarm to the football.”
The Patriots’ kickoff coverage had been solid for most of the season, but as the Vikings touchdown showed: all it takes is one breakdown in the return game — and be it partially because of a missed penalty — for a play to go very wrong quickly.
The 2017 draft class makes a comeback of sorts. With offensive tackle Isaiah Wynn dealing with a foot injury, the Patriots decided to bring back old friend Conor McDermott off the New York Jets’ practice squad. McDermott, of course, originally joined the team as a sixth-round draft pick by New England — one of four players selected by the club that year.
With him now back, two of those selections are on the Patriots’ active roster now:
DE Deatrich Wise Jr. (4-131): The fourth-round pick proved himself a reliable package player for the Patriots between 2017 and 2021. This year, however, he is in the midst of a breakout: a first-time captain and every-down player, Wise Jr. is now a key contributor to the New England defense; his 80.7 percent playing time share s ranked second on the team behind only safety Devin McCourty’s 97.7.
OT Conor McDermott (6-211): Despite investing a draft pick in him just four months earlier, the Patriots released McDermott on roster cutdown day. He was eventually claimed by the Buffalo Bills and after two-and-a-half seasons with the team joined the Jets. Now, he is back where his NFL career began.
As for the rest of the Patriots’ 2017 draft class, it has taken its talents elsewhere. The other two players picked that year — third-round selections Derek Rivers and Antonio Garcia — never panned out in New England and were let go before the end of their respective rookie contracts.
LB Derek Rivers (3-83): Rivers’ talented was on display in flashes, but the third-rounder out of Youngstown State simply failed to stay healthy. All in all, he appeared in just 15 games for the Patriots before his release during the 2020 season. He currently is on the Houston Texans’ season-ending injured reserve.
OT Antonio Garcia (3-85): Garcia never set foot on the field for the Patriots, missing his entire rookie season on the reserve/non-football illness list after the discovery of blood clots in his lungs. He was released the following offseason, bounced the around the league, spent time in the CFL, and was recently selected in the XFL Draft.
One painful tidbit from those two selections from a New England point of view: the player selected in between Rivers and Garcia turned into a Pro Bowler and key contributor on a Super Bowl-winning Tampa Bay Buccaneers squad: wide receiver Chris Godwin.
New England is entering new scheduling territory. Coming off their loss to the Vikings, the Patriots will play a second straight game on a Thursday. Since the NFL started its Thursday slate back in 2006, the team has never had back-to-back in-week contests. However, this gives them and also their opponent — the Buffalo Bills, who too played on Thanksgiving — an opportunity for a full week’s worth of preparation.
Joe Thuney’s starts streak might be in jeopardy. Even after leaving the Patriots as a free agent in 2021, guard Joe Thuney has remained one of the most durable players in all of football. He has started all 30 of his games as a member of the Kansas City Chiefs so far, adding to the 90 straight stats he had in New England.
His impressive streak is in danger, though. Thuney is dealing with an ankle injury, and missed the first two practices of the week because of it. He returned in a limited capacity on Friday, but was listed as questionable for the Chiefs’ game against the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday afternoon. If he were to be unable to go, an impressive streak seven years in the making would be coming to an end.