The 14th week of the NFL regular season is in full swing, and the New England Patriots will wrap things up on Monday night. Going against the Arizona Cardinals on the road, they will try to end their two-game losing streak and jump above .500 — and potentially into the playoff picture — again.
Obviously, all of our focus these days is 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, please enjoy this week’s Sunday Patriots Notes.
Patriots need their offensive depth to answer the call. The Patriots will take on the Cardinals with some serious questions on the offensive side of the ball — questions that go beyond those related to play-calling or general performance.
After all, the unit will be shorthanded quite a bit: wide receiver Jakobi Meyers (concussion) and offensive tackle Isaiah Wynn (foot) have already been ruled out, while running back Damien Harris (thigh) is doubtful to play. Additionally, two more offensive tackles — Trent Brown (illness) and Yodny Cajuste (calf/back) — are questionable.
While there is a chance that Brown and Cajuste play on Monday night, New England’s depth will once again be tested. That is especially true at wide receiver, where Meyers has been the team’s most reliable and productive target this season.
With the game in Arizona already close to must-win territory, the Patriots will need the likes of DeVante Parker, Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne and Tyquan Thornton to rise up to the occasion. The same is true for the rest of the offensive personnel, whether rising up the depth chart because of injuries higher up or not.
Jerry Jeudy would make sense as a potential offseason trade target for the Patriots. The Patriots need to find ways to upgrade their offensive skill position personnel next offseason, especially with several contributors — Jakobi Meyers, Nelson Agholor, Damien Harris among them — headed for unrestricted free agency. Even if some of them are retained, New England needs to surround Mac Jones with improved talent to allow him to make a jump similar to those made by Miami’s Tua Tagovailoa or Philadelphia’s Jalen Hurts in their third years in the NFL.
While a player such as Justin Jefferson is probably a pipe dream, another member of the 2020 draft class could spark the team’s interest: the Denver Broncos’ Jerry Jeudy. There are several reasons why Jeudy would make sense to be pursued via trade.
For starters, he will still be on his rookie contract while coming from a team likely willing to shed some of its talent for draft pick compensation (in large part due to the Russell Wilson trade). Additionally, Jeudy has proven himself one of the best players in the NFL when facing man-to-man coverage this season — an area the Patriots have not been particularly good in the last few years.
While there is a whole other conversation to be had about Mac Jones seemingly needing a perfect situation around him to flourish (like he had at Alabama), the Patriots leaving their young QB hanging is not the way to proceed either. Pursuing elite talent such as Jeudy might just be, on the other hand, in order for them to change their offensive fortunes.
Tyquan Thornton’s impact goes beyond the stat sheet. Speaking of the wide receiver position, the Patriots’ second-round investment this year has been comparatively quiet. Through 13 weeks, Tyquan Thornton has caught just 12 passes for 117 yards and a touchdown.
But while his usage as a role player might look concerning to some — especially given New England’s draft history at the wide receiver position — position coach Troy Brown explained that there is more to Thornton’s rookie campaign than just the numbers.
“He got banged up early in the spring. He got banged up early in the season. So, he missed some time,” the Patriots’ wide receivers coach said earlier this week. “He made his way back, and he’s made some plays for us when he’s given the opportunity to make them. He’s a pretty talented player, we just have to figure out ways for him to be involved and everybody else to be involved in a good day.
“A lot of times, you don’t have to catch a lot of passes to be involved in the game. Just your presence alone could help our team. Tyquan, his development so far over the first year, obviously a bit rocky with the injuries, but he’s coming along just like most of the other rookies in the league.”
Bill Belichick thinks Jonathan Jones does ‘everything right all the time’. Patriots starting cornerback Jonathan Jones had a rough go in Week 13 against the Buffalo Bills and their star wide receiver Stefon Diggs. However, head coach Bill Belichick made sure to let the world know this week that Jones was still a vital part of the New England defense and a player worth looking up to.
“Jon does everything right all the time,” he said. “Works hard, trains hard, always in good condition, takes care of himself. He’s a tough kid. I mean he’s out there — obviously, he suffered the injury last year but that was — everything he can do to be out there and compete and be ready to go, he always wants to compete. Go up against whoever the best toughest situation, toughest matchup is.
“That kind of leadership, communication, being ready to go, every day, every play, practice, special teams, defense, yeah that stuff’s really valuable. It’s not all about you know who yells the loudest. It’s about going out there and being really tough, smart and dependable. He’s all of those.”
Jones, 29, originally joined the Patriots as an undrafted free agent out of Auburn in 2019. Through the years his role changed considerably: primarily a special teamer early on, he proceeded to become one of the better slot cornerbacks in football. Now, with Pro Bowler J.C. Jackson having left in free agency, he is a starting perimeter corner alongside Jalen Mills.
Circumstance has helped Matthew Judon this year. Matthew Judon has been one of the best pass rushers in the NFL this season, but his production might partially be the result of some favorable matchups. According to a graphic by Pro Football Focus’ Timo Riske, Judon faced one of the easiest slate of any edge defenders in the league through Week 13:
Based on this graphics, only 10 other regularly-used edge rushers have had easier matchups so far this year. Judon is still outperforming his expectation and the numbers speak for themselves, but the Defensive Player of the Year hype train might just be slowed down a bit by charts such as this one.
The Patriots offense wants to start playing the game on its own terms. Mac Jones may not be happy with the production the New England offense is putting up these days, but as he explained earlier this week he likes something else about the unit: its togetherness through adversity.
“We have a good energy, that’s important. Everybody’s all-in and that’s all you can ask for,” the sophomore quarterback said. “We have to go out there and produce. We’re going to prepare that way, and do the best we can. ... We have guys that play together, which is important. We play for one another and when everyone does their job, we can do whatever we want.”
That last part has been a focus in the building as of late: the Patriots want to play the game on their own terms rather than having the game script dictate what they have to do.
“We have to be able to run whatever plays whenever, however we want to run them,” Jones said. “And that’s the job as players, and we can do a better job of that. And we’re just striving for that in practice: being able to run it when we want to run it, being able to play-action when we want to play-action, throw when we want to throw.
Just being able to dictate whatever we want to do on our terms, and that’s important as an offense. And obviously be aggressive and attack, and score points. That’s what we need to improve on.”
The NFL does not appear to have its priorities in place. The Patriots’ Week 13 loss against the Buffalo Bills has been a costly one for Mac Jones. As was reported by NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, the quarterback was fined $10,609 for apparent unsportsmanlike conduct.
What had happened? Following a fourth-quarter sack, Jones tossed the football away in the direction of Bills defender A.J. Epenesa. No flag was thrown on the field, but the league retroactively decided that the toss was a fine-worthy affront.
Bills defensive back Damar Hamlin, meanwhile, was fined $4,806 for a hit that left Patriots wideout Jakobi Meyers in concussion protocol. Hamlin was ejected for the play, yet his fine is smaller than Jones’.