Tough to put a shine on this one.
Losing to the Baltimore Ravens isn’t that big a deal; most people expected an L here, and yesterday hammered home that absolutely nothing about the AFC makes any sense whatsoever. But there’s no use burying the lede here: stark reality is that pretty much everything I have to say today is more or less useless, as how this season plays out is going to depend very heavily on the results of today’s MRI on Mac Jones’s ankle. Negative X-rays are always encouraging, but if there’s significant ligament damage, that could be the end of that.
But still, duty calls, so here goes nuthin’.
- OK, so the injury. That it came in a loss makes it even worse... but the good news is that it has been reported as a high ankle sprain, which likely wouldn’t be season-ending. But there’s no point speculating right now, so I guess I’ll just move on. New England wasn’t going to win against Green Bay even with Jones in, and after that the schedule eases up a bit, so maybe if he can come back in 3-4 weeks the Patriots can be sitting at 3-4 or something along those lines and not totally out of the race. But again, who knows. May as well move on.
- The injury aside, this was a wildly entertaining, and wildly frustrating, game to watch. You watch this team have these little bursts or excellence followed by bouts of maniacal incompetence, and I don’t think it’s a homer take to say that New England could have won this game if they hadn’t shot themselves in the foot over and over again.
- Keep in mind, this offense can move the ball. The running game remains solid and the seven different Patriots caught at least one pass yesterday. It was Devante Parker’s breakout game and Agholor seems to be coming into his own (finally). They just can’t get into the end zone, and even worse, seem to be wildly turnover prone inside the 20. Much will obviously depend on how long Jones is out, but I think there’s enough intelligence in the locker room to address the issues and figure it out.
- Let the record show that as of this morning, I’m saying “they’ll figure it out” upright and with confidence. But I can 100 percent envision a scenario that “they’ll figure it out” becomes the phrase I incoherently mumbler over and over as I rock back and forth in the corner with my knees hugged to my chest and a ripped clown wig I found behind the dumpster at a Spirit Halloween firmly atop my head.
- Ball security is obviously a big issue; you just can’t keep coughing it up like that. But it’s also constantly negating positive plays with negative ones. A big gain gets called back for holding. Illegal shifts or too many men on the field are completely avoidable. Whenever it’s 2nd-and-longer-than-10, odds are that’s the end of the drive.
- I spent a very large portion of last season asking why the hell the Patriots kept handing off to Brandon Bolden on third-and-short. I’m starting to pine for those days, as that was more or less the only play that consistently left me scratching my head. But this year, so far, we have:
- A draw run on 2nd-and-goal from the 15 yard line for no gain;
- Multiple throws to the flat when there are multiple defenders in the area;
- Almost always following up a big pass play with a RB dive.
- I don’t want to kick a man when he’s down — literally in the case — but it doesn’t take an expert to notice that Mc Jones isn’t making good decisions right now. There are different kinds of interceptions, from great plays by the defense to bobbled passes from the receiver to freak bounces to just awful throws, and more than one of Jones’s picks falls distinctly into the latter category. He’s just not seeing linebackers coming across the middle and throwing into double coverage or just hucking balls up there for the easy grab.
- I can’t help but notice a trend around New England that, I think, has been consistent since well into last season, and at this point there’s enough evidence to render it true: whoever scores first wins the game. The last time the Patriots were down by a score and came back to win was November 14, 2021, when the Cleveland Browns scored on their opening possession and didn’t sniff the end zone again. Every game after that, first team to take a lead went on to win the game.
- However, on the plus side, yesterday marks the first time that at least the Pats were able to regain the lead at some point, at least for a few minutes, which is some good progress. Still, 2-6 in the last 8 games has me thinking I’m back in the mid-90s. Which would be great from a music, movies, economy, and fashion standpoint (there will be no knocking flannel and bowl cuts on my watch, thank you very much), but from a Patriots standpoint, I’d kind of like to forget about most of that decade.
- Having Jakobi Meyers out there would have helped. There’s just no arguing that. But I will say that this might have been a net positive in the long-term, as it forced Mac Jones to look elsewhere. DeVante Parker had his best game as a Patriot by a country mile and Nelson Agholor continues to get better each and every week. Rhamondre Stevenson averaged 6.1 yards per carry (so maybe give him the ball more than 12 times???) and Jonnu Smith is getting more involved. Mac Jones showed some amazing mobility and improvisation skills and the interior of the offensive line is a real strength. The return of Jakobi Meyers... well, it would have been something, but now with no QB, who knows.
- This is a game that really, really would have benefitted from a true third-down back. A back that can pick up pressure, act as an outlet receiver, run effective routes, and show elusiveness in the screen game would have been huge, particularly late.
- And the defensive side of the ball continues to be, for the most part, enough to keep New England in the game. The Patriots made multiple huge stops multiple times to give the offense the chance to regain the lead, and they kept crapping the bed. The three safety nickel/quarters coverage put enough speed on the field to prevent Lamar Jackson from taking off, and the front four was able to generate a ton of pressure. But then, particularly in the second half, they started sending extra rushers for some reason — maybe to try and catch Jackson off guard and get the ball back faster — and Jackson simply did what he has been doing since he came into the league: shredding blitzes and extending plays with his legs. It’s rare that a Patriots defense plays better in the first half than the second, but here we find ourselves.
- I really don’t have anything negative to say about the defense, to be honest. Most of Baltimore’s points came from Ravens players making better plays. Solid catches into tight coverage. Getting blocks at the right times and sensing cutback lanes. I don’t think that the Patriots played particularly poorly in any aspect here, Baltimore is just a better team. And New England still could have won it if they’d just decided to hang onto the ball. Giving Baltimore short fields and not giving the D any time on the sidelines to rest is going to bite you in the ass eventually.
- I think I’ll just end it here, with the biggest positive of the day, as I feel like everyone just wants to put this game behind us and refresh Twitter every 15 seconds hoping for a Mac Jones update: I don’t think there has ever been a player that made that vaunted six-year leap the way that Deatrich Wise Jr. has. It’s like he was so happy to be named a captain that he decided to step his game up to God Mode levels. Between him, Christian Barmore, and Matthew Judon, there’s enough menace along that line to give the offense that time it’s going to need to start scaring people and scoring points. No clue how long that will take, especially now...but there’s a solid core in place on this D that’s going to be together for several seasons with nowhere to go but up. And that makes me happy.
All we have to do this week is hope our quarterback can walk, read about how the Dolphins are actually legit, share last place with the Jets, and get ready to travel to one of the hardest places to play to take on one of the best quarterbacks of all time with a career backup at the helm of a sputtering offense. Should be a fun couple of days.