The NFL Combine is in the books, and we’re just under a week out from the start of Free Agency. And while I would usually say that we can all expect for the New England Patriots to be very unspectacular on that front, based on what happened last year I have absolutely no clue what to expect. So better knock another off our countdown of The Top 20 Most Memorable Patriots Moments of 2021 while things are still quiet.
The list so far:
Number 18 takes us into some very familiar territory: beating up on a division rival.
18. A four interception day secures New England’s first win of the season against the New York Jets.
Then NFL likes to open and close the season with divisional games, hoping that bookending the year with these matchups will help keep things exciting during the last few weeks of the season when some teams have nothing to play for. And after opening their 2021 campaign with a home loss to the Miami Dolphins, the 0-1 Patriots made the trip to the Meadowlands to take on the 0-1 New York Jets, who had just lost 19-14 to the Carolina Panthers. It was the first contest between Mac Jones and Zach Wilson, both of whom had looked decent in their respective openers. Wilson was the second overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft, and the Week 2 contest potentially represented the first of many matchups between the two young signal callers.
And while Wilson did in fact get the bulk of the press after this game, it wasn’t because of how well he played. He completed 19 of 33 passes for 210 yards and four — count ‘em, FOUR — interceptions as the Patriots trounced the Jets 25-6. Three of New York’s first four possessions ended in picks; J.C. Jackson grabbed the first one on Wilson’s very first throw of the game to set the Patriots up at the Jets 35-yard line. Unfortunately, the Patriots only came away with a field goal on the ensuing possession to go up 3-0.
As if he was in an odd competition to out-Jets himself, Zach Wilson’s second attempt of the day was also picked by Adrian Phillips to set up New England’s first TD of the day, a seven yard James White run. At 10-0, the game was pretty much already over by that point.
The Jets finally put a drive together on their next possession, but the defense held at the goal line to force the field goal. The Patriots went three-and-out on their next drive after a Mac Jones strip sack lost them 11 yards on first down. The Jets got the ball back with about eight minutes left in the first half with the chance to tie it up.
But guess what? ANOTHER PICK!
Three Jets runs were successful, but Wilson’s first pass of the drive, a short out intended for Moore, was intercepted by —who else but J.C. Jackson — to stall the offense out yet again. New England was able to tack on another field goal to go into the locker room up 13-3 at the half.
If you ever wanted to see a seven play, four-minute drive that only gained two yards and ended in a turnover, you were in luck, because that’s exactly what New York did after receiving the third-quarter kickoff. The Jets were actually moving the ball well on the ground (something that would become a theme for New England opponents in 2021), but holding penalties and chop block fouls kept moving the offense backwards. On 2nd-and-28 from their own 24 yard line, Wilson attempted a deep pass down the left sideline intended for Moore, but Devin McCourty hauled it in instead. New England turned Wilson’s fourth and final pick of the day into a touchdown and added two more field goals to the tally for a 25-6 final score. Mac Jones was 22 of 30 for 186 yards on the day and the backs combined for 101 total yards on the ground... which means the offense didn’t really need to do all that much as the defense took the second overall pick behind the woodshed to drop the Jets to 0-2.
If there’s one thing that the Jets are always good for, it’s a confidence boost and a bounceback game for the Patriots. Most fans were happy overall with what they saw in Week 1 from rookie Mac Jones and company, but it’s never fun to open the season with a loss at home in a game you should have won if not for a red zone fumble. So to get back in the win column, on the road, against the Jets put a lot of folks right with the world. This game also represented exactly how a lot of people saw the Patriots finding success in 2021 as they adapted to a new offense and a green quarterback — strong defensive play and an efficient offense that doesn’t ask too much of a rookie. It was a great way to kick off a pretty successful road stretch for the Patriots, so it’s well deserved here at Number 18.
Game highlights here.