It’s been raining in the northeast since Friday night and my dog is driving me absolutely bananas wanting to go outside. I’m used to all living creatures wanting to be as far away from me as possible at all times, particularly when they’re stuck indoors with me and the windows are closed on a beer-and-wing-filled Football Sunday, but there’s only so much barking a man can take.
Especially a married man. Heyo!
It took until Week 3 to get to the first Victory Monday of the 2022 season, but the New England Patriots avoided an 0-3 start and sit third in the AFC East thanks to a road win over the Jets. It wasn’t pretty — the Pats-Jets rarely is — but with the season on an early brink, New England found a way to victory.
1. It took until Week 3, but I finally got a 1 p.m. ET kickoff where the Patriots won the toss and deferred. These 1 p.m. starts are few and far between this season, so we all need to enjoy them while we can.
2. And speaking of enjoying while we can, I think it might be smart, given yesterday’s game, to do a bit of a Choose Your Own Adventure in regards to these Fan Notes. I used to love those books as a kid, despite the fact that I never once made it out of the haunted amusement park or Wild West shootout alive even when I cheated. But they were still fun, and fairly useful if there were storylines you weren’t all that excited about. With that in mind, I feel like Patriots fans are mainly split into two categories today: the “a win is a win” crowd, and the “how can anyone feel good about that win” crowd. I’ll do my best to accommodate both sides here.
3. If you’re looking on the bright side today, keep reading these next three notes. If you’re of the opinion that this is a W that may as well have been an L, skip down to the part in all caps and start reading from there.
4. At the end of the day, the Patriots went on the road against a divisional opponent in awful weather and got out of there with the win. Say what you want about the quarterback play, but the reality is that the Jets defense is among the league’s best and the Patriots were still able to engineer scoring drives. They also did all that with an offensive line that is still getting its act together.
5. New England also rushed for 157 total yards and didn’t turn the ball over once. Nine different players caught a pass and the Jets only had one decent drive all day. This defense is among the best in the league and all the offense needs to figure out is how to put maybe three touchdowns a game on the board, and that should be enough. Tough not to be happy about that.
6. This game also, for all intents and purposes, saved New England’s season. Only three teams since 1990 have made the postseason after an 0-3 start, and given the strength of the AFC East, the Patriots weren’t going to be the fourth. They’re now out of last place in the division and have some winnable games coming down the stretch.
7. FORGIVE ME FOR NOT FAWNING OVER BARELY BEATING ZACH WILSON!
8. If you’re here for some good old fashioned negativity, these next three are for you. If you want to keep things happy, scroll down to today’s movie quote and we’ll all meet back up for punch and pie.
9. Sure, you take the wins, but how can anyone be confident in what we’ve seen from the offense so far? They’re not steadily getting better each week and they aren’t just a play or two away from putting tons of points on the board. Yeah the defense is good, but that’s just no sustainable for a whole season.
10. The Patriots only scored one TD all game and it was to a third tight end on a busted coverage who broke for 58 yards. They didn’t make it inside the red zone once and went the entire day without a single possession over five minutes. 13 possessions, 13 points for this offense. And when you’re forcing a D out there every three minutes or so, they’re going to gas by the time the season ends.
11. Maybe they’ll get it together, but anyone who is genuinely happy about this win is just a homer. I won’t apologize for calling it how I see it, and I’m sick of Patriots fans always demanding we accept mediocrity or rest on our past laurels. This is a win now league, and while they won, any team with a barely competent QB would have lit them up.
12. “The Zen philosopher Basha once wrote, ‘A flute with no holes is not a flute. A donut with no hole is a Danish.’”
You all think about that one for a while.
13. As for me... I went through pretty much every emotion a fan can go through while watching this game. The most prevalent one was that the NFL should stop airing Pats-Jets games until further notice, but that’s a whole different conversation.
14. I genuinely don’t know what it is about Zach Wilson and disguised blitzes, but the guy just can’t figure it out. New England operated primarily out of a 3-4 front and sent rushers in from multiple different spots along the line and it worked almost every time. There always seemed to be a man open in the flat or on the underneath route, but Wilson seemed to be busy adopting the Abe Simpson way of looking at the world as he took hit after hit and threw the ball away.
15. I was amazed to read that the Patriots only sacked Wilson three times, as it felt like way more than that. I guess he’s better than I thought at evading pressure; he just can’t do much with the ball once he does. His first audible of the day, for example switched to a run play towards the right side of a line that saw four Patriots and two O-linemen, neither of which seemed to be given the correct blocking assignment. Bold strategy.
16. I’m starting to wonder if there’s a single quarterback who has ever played or will ever play in the NFL that Tony Romo won’t fawn over excessively. I appreciate the enthusiasm, and I like Tony Romo, but a QB getting a compliment from him is kind of like when my mom calls me handsome. I feel like Romo is just a relentlessly positive guy, which may be his most impressive accomplishment as a quarterback who played for the Dallas Cowboys.
17. To hold any offense to under 200 yards on the day, with 87 of those yards coming on a single drive, is something to hang your hat on. I don’t care what the offense looks like or how you get it done.
18. And I have to say, a big reason as to why the Patriots were able to shut things down so efficiently is due to the play of Christian Gonzalez. This kid is having a start to a career for the ages. He’s been thrown into single coverage against one of the best receivers in the league, the fastest receiver in the league, and last season’s Offensive Rookie of the Year in three consecutive weeks, and he has held his own and more. And he’s done it all without all those Joneses in the lineup as the Pats continue to nurse injuries. Long season to go, but tough to ask for a better start for Gonzalez.
19. New England took their first drive down the field and got three points out of it. The fact that I immediately, insitinctively said “I think that might be enough” out loud tells you everything you need to know about this Jets offense.
20. Robert Saleh celebrating a Patriots missed field goal the way he did tells you every thing else.
21. It was so heartening to hear that the Jets were generous enough to donate a total of $5,000 to two Latinx students in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month for them to use on their education. In case those two kids were wondering how they were ever going to come up with enough money to cover one class’s worth of textbooks and a meal plan that allows them three crackers a day, they no longer have to fret.
22. Though that’s more on what a racket college is than it is on the Jets. I went to college and I can barely read. I didn’t learn a damn thing, and I paid out the wazoo for it. Kids, don’t go to college. Be smart and start collecting empty cans.
23. For the most part, the offensive playcalling is night and day compared to 2022. We’re seeing more screens, crossing routes, and quick releases. Kendrick Bourne is back to being a strong factor in the offense and the tight ends are getting involved (more on them later). But there are definitely a few leftovers from 2022 that are still clinging desperately to life harder than Keith Olberman is clinging to relevance. And of all the offenders, the one I need to see gone the way I need to see the calorie count on Outback’s Awesome Blossom gone is the delayed draw play on 2nd-and-long. There’s a play called for 2nd-and-9 with Mac Jones under center, but then something like a false start will knock them back five yards. 2nd-and-14, delayed draw for a loss or 1-yard gain at best, drive dead. It needs to go.
24. There’s also a new play that I think should go away as well: the 15-yard back shoulder fade route to a falling-down JuJu Smith-Schuster on 3rd-and-short. New England has had a very weird history of failed third down conversion attempts that they insist work but never do, and every time you see it coming a mile away and it almost always results in a punt. The Sammy Morris FB dive for no gain. The Brandon Bolden Stretch run for a loss. The Danny Woodhead Power Sweep. And the newest contender is the JuJu Falldown Route.
25. While we’re on JuJu, who currently has 10 grabs for 66 yards through three games, the guy they let go to the Raiders for the same money, who endeared himself to the fans and was one of the sole reliable targets for this team since Tommy B left, has 16 grabs for 166 and two scores in two games played. I’d say “just throwing that out there,” but if I did JuJu would probably trip over his own feet and it would fall harmlessly to the ground.
26. The real plus of the offense thus far is that the tight end is once again a relevant position. And it would appear that when I play the “Who The Hell is That Guy?” game in the regular season, it’s at the tight end position. Last year is was Scotty Washington, this year it’s Pharaoh Brown. I forgot he was even on the team and he hasn’t had a TD catch since January of 2021. But his catch and score aside, Brown as the third TE out of 13 Jumbo personnel or the fullback out of the I was the wrinkle I’ve been waiting to see for years. It set up the playaction beautifully for flat and seam routes, and the TD grab came from Jones under center where the entire defensive line bit on the fake. More of that please.
27. Speaking of guys I keep forgetting are on the team — solid outing for Anfernee Jennings yesterday. New England employed him primarily as an edge setter against outside zone.
28. Uncle Buck once said to his niece Maisy on a bowling night, “if the object of this game was to get the ball as close as possible to the pins without knocking any of them over, you would be champion of the world.” If putting up decent numbers and stats translated into wins, New England would be 3-0 right now. Because if you look at the numbers, yards, completion percentage, etc., it looks great. What we don’t have — and I’m hoping I can add a “yet” to this sentence and mean it — is an offense that can close out drives, sustain possessions, and put games away.
29. I do like the progress, though; yesterday the Patriots waited until the third quarter to shoot themselves in the foot with mental errors and costly penalties. Maybe by Week 7 they won’t screw themselves over until late in the fourth quarter, and by the time the season wraps up, they’ll put in a complete game. The fact that the Patriots were out-gaining the Jets 319-84 midway through the fourth quarter and it was still a close game is just plain inexcusable.
30. We all knew that for both teams, this was going to be a battle of which defensive line could get it done, and New England emerged victorious. With the offense (shockingly) unable to close out the game, defense and special teams was able to do it, with a strong punt followed by a Matthew Judon spin move that just earned him a future spot on Dancing With the Stars to force the safety and essentially end the game.
31. I’d get mad at the DPI call that set up New York’s first touchdown of the day... but as I’ve said way more times than I should have, I simply have zero clue what constitutes pass interference in the NFL. You could show me seven random passing plays ranging from barely any contact to a receiver getting straight up Dave England dropkicked by the DB, and if I correctly guessed two out of the seven rulings on the field I’d consider that a huge win. Pats are going to get some nonsense calls, Pats are going to be on the ass end of some nonsense calls. So will every team in the league. Just the way it is now.
32. My Almost Quarter Season MVP for Player Who Has Virtually No Stats But Changes The Game Award has to go to Keion White. White is occupying double teams, he’s forcing QBs out of the pocket, he’s chipping backs and receivers on breaks, and he’s Cyrano de Bergeracking other defenders into big paydays. And it’s only his third NFL game. Yussss.
33. This now marks three weeks in a row where a quarterback has had plenty of time to throw, but still couldn’t find a man because coverage was so solid. And I’d argue that the secondary isn’t even at full strength yet.
34. This also now marks three weeks in a row putting to bed the brain fart that was the 2022 Special Teams Unit. Bryce Barringer is flipping fields, Chad Ryland made some tough field goals in difficult conditions, and Brenden Schooler has an All-Pro career ahead of him. The 2022 team is Cool Hand Luking the 2023 Dragline team and won’t fully go away until it’s lying on the floor in a bloody heap, but at least the special teams unit has things figured out.
35. I have now turned several different movies and TV shows into verbs. Better wrap this up and go lie down.
The Dallas Cowboys just lost to the Arizona Cardinals, so they’re either going to come out of the gate next week wildly pissed off or completely reeling from getting upset like that. Either way, this is a beatable team if the Patriots play smart, limit turnovers, and have themselves a complete game.
There’s a first time for everything, right?