How ‘bout those Patriots, eh? After a weird one last night the Patriots leave Arizona with a win, a 7-6 record and wild-card spot No. 7 in the playoffs. The Pats started the night short-handed and were scraping the bottom of the depth chart before they were halfway through. Missing the top two wide receivers, top two running backs, and starting right tackle as well as two defensive backs, is no way to go through an NFL game and come out ahead. Touchdowns by RBs Kevin Harris, Pierre Strong Jr, and LB Raekwon McMillan were celebrated, but certainly not expected by anyone previewing this matchup last week. Encouraging show all around from the rookies.
The depth came up big and contributed, but here’s hoping the injured can bounce back and heal up by Sunday.
Next up the Patriots will face the Raiders in Las Vegas to start the final 4-game stretch. It feels as if the last few weeks the analysts have moved the Patriots up or bumped them down the same 2 points in the rankings. This week they’re up. The early odds favor the Patriots by a hair. The players showed grit and persistence last night. In a season with the airwaves full of constant negativity - even from the hometown press, the players still fight and play to win. I have a soft spot for that. Josh McDaniels knows this organization inside and out, but Bill Belichick has a strong record against the Raiders too. I predict the Pats build on their success and win by a touchdown.
Around the AFC East:
10th - Nate Davis (USA Today): Signs of young life on offense? As New England climbed into the projected playoff field Monday, it also got touchdowns from multiple rookies in a game for the first time in 16 years. [nc]
10th - Mike Florio (ProFootballTalk): The stretch run may be more than this team can handle. [+3]
10th - Dalton Miller (ProFootballNetwork): The Patriots’ defense continues to play some of the best football in the NFL. Meanwhile, they’ve struggled both in the passing game and on the ground. Losing Josh McDaniels has had a lasting negative effect on the offense, particularly on the run game, where he’s somewhat of a savant.
Without the run game, things have become harder on Mac Jones, who is trying to be more of a playmaker at QB, but with unconvincing results. Luckily, New England’s defense keeps them in football games, thanks to a defensive line that generates pressure at an incredible rate. The Patriots’ offense remains underwhelming. They finished three of 11 on third down and didn’t complete a pass over 20 yards (to a receiver). Without Jakobi Meyers on the field, they have next to no talent on the outside. And while DeVante Parker has a reputation and size, he’s not a good fit for Mac Jones’s game. Nonetheless, they were able to come away with a comfortable win against a bad Cardinals squad after Kyler Murray left with an unfortunate non-contact injury three plays into the game. [+2]
11th - Conor Orr (SI): A dominant second-half performance, especially defensively, keeps New England squarely in the playoff conversation. The question on my mind: Are we going to force Mac Jones to throw 11 screen passes in a game again, or will he eventually win the behind-the-scenes push and pull with Matt Patricia to take more ownership over this game plan? [+4]
11th - Bryan Fischer (Athlon Sports): Matthew Judon and Josh Uche seemed to make it their personal mission in punishing Colt McCoy for taking over at quarterback for the Cardinals. We’ll see if the Patriots can use the positive vibes from that second half in the desert to carry over against some familiar faces in Las Vegas next week. [+4]
12th - Frank Schwab (Yahoo! Sports): This is not a great Patriots team. But Bill Belichick is still really good at getting the most out of the talent on hand. If the season ended now, the Patriots would be a playoff team. [+1]
13th - Dan Hanzus (NFL.com): The Patriots went to Arizona and secured a win they absolutely had to have. As a result, New England will enter the final four weeks of the season in playoff position as the seventh seed in the AFC. The Pats beat the Cardinals because their defense delivered a dominant performance: The night turned on a Raekwon McMillan fumble recovery TD in the third quarter before Josh Uche and Matthew Judon (combined 4.5 sacks) put the game away with their relentless pursuit of Arizona backup Colt McCoy, who took the field after Kyler Murray’s early knee injury. With a rugged schedule ahead, the Pats couldn’t afford to let this one slip from their grasp. You could sense that urgency in a season-saving win. [+6]
13th - Trevor Land (FlurrySports). [+1]
13th - Mark Lane (TouchdownWire): The Patriots won’t catch the Buffalo Bills, but they are in as a wild-card if the playoffs started next week. As New England starts to get back to their fundamentals and Mac Jones settles at quarterback, they will be a road team few will want to see in January. [+7]
14th - Ryan Dunleavy (NY Post). [+1]
15th - Karen Guregian (Boston Herald): They’ve basically decided to win on defense and screen-passing teams to death. [+2]
15th - Pete Prisco (CBS Sports): If the playoffs started today, they would be in. The offense got going a bit against the Cardinals, which is a good sign. [+2]
15th - Austin Gayle (The Ringer): The Patriots offense is still painfully conservative and frustrating. They enter Week 15’s game against Las Vegas ranked 27th in offensive EPA per drive and 23rd in offensive points per game. Unless Bill Belichick’s defense puts on a master class in their four remaining regular-season games, New England will likely be on the outside looking in at the playoffs even with their win over Colt McCoy and the Cardinals on Monday. [-2]
15th - NFL Nation (ESPN): The Patriots are last in the NFL in offensive red zone efficiency, converting touchdowns just 38.9% of the time. That is one of several key categories on offense in which they have struggled, and it has contributed to them being unable to complement the defense and special teams — both of which have made more game-changing plays. One note about the defense: The sterling ranking is due, in part, to feasting on lower-level QBs. — Mike Reiss [nc]
15th - Bo Wulf (The Athletic): The biggest takeaway from Monday night’s odd Patriots-Cardinals matchup? Find yourself a friend like Nelson Agholor. Hopefully DeVante Parker is OK. Meanwhile, the Mac Jones-Matt Patricia forced marriage remains the most toxic in the league. No matter, with the Patriots’ pass rush playing as it did against Colt McCoy. As for Jenkins, he seems like the perfect moveable offensive line chess piece for Bill Belichick and the Patriots’ deep pool of cap space. [+1]
15th - Matt Johnson (SportsNaut): New England’s defense did its thing in a huge win over the Arizona Cardinals Monday night. It recorded six sacks, forced two turnovers, scored a touchdown and sent Arizona pack on four turnovers on downs. This will be needed moving forward with issues on offense in New England. [+3]
16th - Vinnie Iyer (Sporting News): The Patriots have a playoff opening behind the Jets because they swept their third-place AFC East foes. They need to bring it vs. the Cardinals on Monday night and also beat Josh McDaniels’ Raiders in Week 15 to have a shot. [+1]
16th - Consensus (Bleacher Report): The New England Patriots are in the playoffs—at least for now. In a week when two of the teams ahead of them in the AFC East lost, the Pats took care of business—and in taking care of the Cardinals, they took over the No. 7 seed in the AFC bracket.
It was a game won in very Patriots fashion. The offense wasn’t prolific by any stretch: Rhamondre Stevenson suffered an ankle injury, and the ground game barely cracked 100 yards; Mac Jones didn’t throw a touchdown pass and had a passer rating of just 75.3. But as has been the case more often than not this year, the defense carried the day: The Patriots held the Cardinals under 325 yards, limited Arizona to 4-of-14 on third downs and forced a pair of turnovers. For his part, Davenport isn’t sure these Patriots will do damage in the playoffs. Or even get there. But he does know this isn’t a team that anyone wants to see down the stretch. [+1]
16th - Staff (The Score): New England’s offense remains a disaster, but the defense can lead the way to wins by itself. Josh Uche has been a breakout star, recording 10 sacks over the last five games. [+2]
17th - Josh Schrock (NBC Sports Chicago): The Patriots are still loitering in the AFC playoff race, but there’s no reason to believe Matt Patricia’s offense can do enough for New England to secure a wild-card spot. [+2]
AVG RANK: 13.6 [+2.1]