The New England Patriots beat the visiting Indianapolis Colts 26-3 in Week 9, but the score alone does not tell the full story of the game. From a Patriots perspective, it was a tale of three units.
Whereas the defense and special teams groups performed at a high level, the offense again sputtered. The unit led by quarterback Mac Jones finished the day with only 203 yards and 11 first downs, while also scoring just one touchdown on a short field; it also suffered a league-leading 17th giveaway.
As in previous weeks, there were some encouraging moments. However, they were few and far between as quarterback Mac Jones noted himself during his postgame press conference.
“We’re playing good at spots, but we need to continue to go up here and stop riding the wave, which we will,” Jones said. “I think we have really talented players at every position. Even today, the guys that stepped up with, I guess, four or so starters out of the game, it’s pretty impressive to go in there and not have a lot of drop-off and beat a really good team.”
The Patriots indeed went up against the Colts with several starters out, which may help explain some of their issues. However, the performance also was a continuation of earlier-season struggles sans Jones tossing interceptions.
In fact, the sophomore QB finished the game going 20-for-30 as a passer for 147 yards with one touchdown throw to Rhamondre Stevenson. Those numbers are passable, but they still did not help New England find consistent success versus Indianapolis.
As in weeks past, after all, the team repeatedly put itself in bad situation by insufficient early-down play. The Patriots struggled on first and second down, putting themselves in multiple low-percentage third down situations: they had to gain 5-plus yards on nine of their 17 third downs, ending with a 35.3 percent conversion rate.
“First and second downs is a big part of the NFL,” Jones said. “I think really good teams are good on first and second down. Third down, they’re in a better spot and convert more. You want to be above whatever percentage mark we set, and we’ve got to be better and extend drives that way.
“Every drive can’t seem like it’s so hard to get yards. We’ve got to be able to skip some third downs and move the ball and get explosive plays.”
With the bye week coming up New England’s coaching staff and players will have some extra time at their hands to get things fixed. For Jones, though, the solution is a relatively easy one
“We know what it takes. We have good players. We’ve got good coaches. So, it’s a group effort,” he said on Sunday.
“Everyone being on the same page and coming together and every day at practice, that’s all you can control, right? You have to line up, do your job, whether that is block somebody, whether I have to hand it off, throw it, whatever, change the play. It’s all an individual effort. But at the same time, when you get 11 people on the same page, all that stuff will look a lot better.”
Jones may very well be proven correct, but the fact of the matter is that New England’s offense is not good right now. The numbers put up on Sunday against the Colts are an illustration of it: while there was a lot of talk post-game about Indianapolis averaging just 2.0 yards per play, the Patriots were not a lot better at 3.3.
They had six negative plays in the run game. They surrendered four sacks. They fumbled the ball twice, with one of those ending up a turnover.
Getting center David Andrews back should help quite a bit, especially with getting an ailing offensive line back on track, but questions remain across the board — from other pieces along the offensive line, to the wide receiver and tight end groups, to turnovers, to play-calling. New England has a week to figure things out before heading into a rather difficult second half of the regular season.