Let’s clean out the notebook and get into our 10 takeaways from the game.
1. Christian Gonzalez is a stud: The Patriots traded back from No. 14 to No. 17 overall in the first round of this year’s draft, and ended up taking cornerback Christian Gonzalez out of Oregon. They were looking for a shutdown corner, and it appears that they have found one.
It is true that Zach Wilson — more on him later — was the guy throwing the ball for the Jets on Sunday, but Garrett Wilson is still one of the best young receivers in the league. Gonzalez erased the reigning NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year on Sunday.
Christian Gonzalez's man coverage snaps vs Garrett Wilson pic.twitter.com/N5fqbDFudi— Taylor Kyles (@tkyles39) September 25, 2023
“Wilson is a great receiver. The whole team has a great receiving corps,” Gonzalez said after the game. “That’s the NFL, it’s the best of the best. So, every week is a new challenge and just something to look forward to and go out and just compete and have fun.”
Not only has the youngster been solid in pass coverage, but he’s been a willing, and solid, tackler as well. If he keeps this up, Gonzalez is going to be one of the very best cornerbacks in this league very soon.
2. Mental mistakes cripple offense in second half: The Patriots were able to move the ball a bit in the first half, even though they only had 10 points to show for it. In the second half, however, the offense was stagnant.
It was the same old story on that side of the ball: mental mistakes that showed in the form of penalties, dropped passes, and bad decisions by the quarterback. The Patriots are lucky that the defense held its own, and even scored on a safety in the second half. If not, they could have easily lost a game they appeared to be in full control of early on.
3. Pharaoh Brown makes a splash: The Patriots needed a third tight end to help with blocking, and maybe even catch a pass or two, but they have not been able to find anyone to do that for a while. In comes Pharaoh Brown, a former undrafted free agent now in his seventh year in the NFL, who the Patriots signed to the practice squad on August 30.
Brown has not just been a solid blocker when on the field, he also scored a 58-yard touchdown against the Jets as well.
It looked like the play may have been a blown coverage, even though they may have seen a weakness on that particular defensive alignment. Mac Jones said after the game that he knew the Patriots were going to be able to hit something on that play.
“It was just a little play-action play and we kind of knew it was going to work,” Jones told reporters. “He made a great catch. We worked on that in practice and it worked in the game, so that’s what we want.”
Either way, Brown helped out the Patriots significantly on Sunday, and gives them a receiving option that teams have to at least consider when he is on the field.
4. The offensive line doesn’t provide much running room: For the first time this season, the Patriots had their offensive line with Trent Brown, Cole Strange (even though he left with an injury in the second half), David Andrews and Michael Onwenu on the field at the same time. Right tackle remains a bit of an adventure, but Vederian Lowe played pretty well in his first start at the position.
The group showed some promise, but still had its fair share of issues as a whole — especially in the running game: even though there was a little bit more running room, the Patriots still weren’t able to run the ball very effectively, finishing with an EPA of -0.18 despite totaling 157 yards on the ground.
The Jets have a very good front, so maybe it was more about them then it was about the Patriots, but hopefully more time together will improve the O-line. They are going to need to be better to be able to compete with good teams.
This team wants to be a solid running team, and they haven’t been able to accomplish that yet this season.
5. Kicking game issues did not end up making the difference, luckily: Patriots rookie kicker Chad Ryland missed field goals of 48 and 57 yards on Sunday, but not all the blame falls on him. The snaps on both of those kicks were high, and, although holder Bryce Baringer was able to get them down, it looked to throw off Ryland’s timing just enough to make him miss.
Long snapper Joe Cardona has been around for a long time, and is one of the most reliable players on the team. Bad plays happen, but those points could have meant the difference between a win and a loss on Sunday. The kicking operation bounced back on the first drive of the second half, with Ryland hitting a 51-yard field goal.
The hope is that the the entire operation figures it out, and that the rookie isn’t thrown off by a bad snap in the future. It ultimately was not a huge deal in this game, but something to keep an eye on moving forward.
6. The offense needs to start pulling its own weight: Mac Jones had led the NFL in pass attempts and completions through two games, but he was less efficient on Sunday. He completed barely 50 percent of his passes, and made some critical albeit non-fatal errors. None of his decisions this week turned into interceptions, but outside of the long pass play to Pharaoh Brown, there was almost no explosion from the offense.
“We’re definitely close and I thought the play calling was really good,” said Jones during his post-game presser. “Coach [Bill] O’Brien did a great job calling a great game. We just got to execute better and I just got to let them touch the ball. But on a day like today, with the wind and the rain, you just got to be really smart and play smart football.”
Jones and the offense as a whole are going to have to play significantly better moving forward if the Patriots are going to hope to compete against top flight teams in the NFL. Their defense might be able to keep them in games, but for a third straight week, the unit was unable to put together a late drive to win the game.
They ended up with the W this week regardless, but the offense is going to have to pull its own weight at some point.
7. JuJu Smith-Schuster continues to be a non-factor: Three games into his Patriots tenure, wide receiver Juju Smith-Schuster looks like one of the worst receivers on the roster. When he was brought in, the hope was that he would replace Jakobi Meyers as the go-to guy with more upside after the catch. So far, however, he has looked slow and shown little explosion in his routes.
It is still very early and there is time to prove his worth on the field. At least early on, however, Smith-Schuster’s performances have not looked particularly promising.
8. It’s always good to beat the Jets: Say what you want, but getting a win against the Jets is always a good thing a Patriots team that has now won 15 straight against its AFC East rivals. They may not be the team they were heading into the season, but a win, especially against a divisional opponent, is always a positive.
Victory Monday hits a little harder when that victory is against the Jets.
9. Zach Wilson is bad: When the Jets took Wilson second overall in 2021 they were hoping that some of his eye-popping throws and out-of-structure abilities would translate to the NFL level. After two years, they understood that that was not going to happen, and so they traded for Aaron Rodgers with the hope that maybe Wilson would learn from Rodgers and become the player they had hoped he could be.
We know the rest of the story, Rodgers goes down with a torn Achilles four plays into his Jets tenure, and Wilson is thrust back into the starting role. He wasn’t the turnover-prone Zach Wilson the Patriots have gotten used to on Sunday, but he was slow to make his reads, and, outside of one drive, struggled to get anything going offensively for the Jets.
The Patriots defense was fantastic on Sunday, make no mistake, but Wilson was unable to capitalize even when there were the occasional breakdowns in coverage. The Jets appear to be in for a very long season with Wilson at the helm.
10. Are the Cowboys beatable? The Dallas Cowboys looked like the best team in the NFL the first two weeks of the season, but were upset by the lowly Arizona Cardinals in Week 3. They were unable to get anything significant going on offense, and their defense had a tough time stopping a Cardinals offense led by Joshua Dobbs.
You would think that they would come out extra focused next week after a loss like that, but maybe the Cardinals exposed something about them that the Jets and Giants were not able to. If the Patriots can slow down their offense, as Arizona did, they will give themselves a chance to win what most thought to be one of the toughest games on the schedule next weekend.