Commentary

After win, Patriots have more to be optimistic about in Mac Jones than the Jets do in Zach Wilson

Jets quarterback Zach Wilson shakes hands with Mac Jones after the Patriots' win on Sunday. AP Photo/Adam Hunger

Welcome to the Unconventional Review, an instant reaction to standouts, stats, and story lines from the Patriots’ most recent game 

The hardest thing about evaluating a young quarterback is projecting whether inevitable growing pains will be overcome.

After the Patriots’ 22-16 victory over the Jets Sunday — their fourth win of the season, their 13th straight in the series, and the 325th victory of Bill Belichick’s career, moving him into second place all time — at least this can be said.

The Patriots should feel better about their second-year quarterback, Mac Jones, than the Jets do about their NFL sophomore, Zach Wilson.

Maybe that’s faint praise. Jones, in his second start since missing two games with a high ankle sprain, wasn’t exceptional, finishing 24 of 34 for 191 yards, a touchdown, and an interception. And the conversation around him might be much harsher had Jets defensive back Michael Carter’s 84-yard pick-six late in the second quarter not been negated because of a roughing-the-passer penalty. He still does not seem to see the field well, which was supposed to be one of his strengths.

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But at least there are multiple positive absolutes about Jones. He has a nice midrange passing touch, he’s more mobile than he gets credit for, his teammates respect him, and he’s tough — he absorbed six sacks total behind an offensive line that sometimes seems to be conspiring against him, and he was the Patriots’ leading rusher in the first half.

There’s one positive absolute about Wilson: He has a rocket arm. Unfortunately for the Jets – and to the Patriots’ great benefit in a win they had to have – that’s about all he has. He’s flustered easily and his mechanics collapse when he’s under pressure. He’s the ideal quarterback to play against when your defense needs some affirmation.

Is Jones the solution for the Patriots? I still believe so, though Sunday brought the usual ups and downs. But I cannot believe anyone thinks Wilson is the answer for the Jets.

Some further thoughts, upon immediate review …

THREE PLAYERS WHO WERE WORTH WATCHING

Players suggested in the Unconventional Preview: Quinnen Williams, Sauce Gardner, Matthew Judon.

Devin McCourty: The veteran safety had a pair of right-place-at-the-right-time interceptions, the 32d and 33d of his career, which is tops among active players and puts him third in Patriots history, three behind Raymond Clayborn and Ty Law for the franchise record. McCourty’s first pick came late in the third quarter when Wilson appeared to be … well, we’re not sure what he was thinking, actually, but the best guess is that he was trying to flip it out of bounds. Instead, McCourty dove to pick off the misguided mallard at the Jets 40. His second interception came on a Wilson third-down overthrow early in the fourth quarter, which he returned 36 yards and prompted this comment on CBS’s broadcast from Ian Eagle. “There’s been a sense of panic at the quarterback position today for New York.”

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Nick Folk: Call him Mr. Reliable, call him the Drive Salvager, call him waayyyy better than brief predecessor Mike Nugent, call him whatever complimentary name you want, but just remember to be grateful that Belichick has him to call upon when the Patriots need three points. Folk went 5 for 5 on field goals, coming through whenever a drive sputtered and/or Jones and the offense failed to do much with good field possession. Folk hit a pair of field goals in the first half, a 31-yarder on the final play of the first quarter to tie the game at 3-3,  then he hit a 43-yarder on the final play of the first half. In the second half, Folk hit three field goals in a span of 9 minutes and 48 seconds to turn a 13-10 game into a 22-10 Patriots lead, and the shortest of those three kicks was a 45-yarder.  There’s a perception that there’s some sort of electric fence set on his range at 50 yards or more, but his final field goal from 52 yards made him a respectable 10 of 15 from that range in his Patriots career.

Garrett Wilson: Well, this guy is clearly going to be a problem for a long time. On the Jets’ second possession, the Wilson-to-Wilson connection resulted in a 54-yard reception, helping to set up Greg Zeurlein’s 28-yard field goal for the game’s first points. The rookie receiver also had back-to-back 23- and 10-yard receptions on the Jets’ lone touchdown march early in the second quarter when they went up 10-3. The Ohio State product finished with six catches for 115 yards, but the Patriots did neutralize him somewhat the second half, holding him to two receptions for 26 yards after the break, with the aid of his own quarterback.

GRIEVANCE OF THE GAME

Say, did anyone understand the reasoning on the Patriots’ bizarre fourth-and-1 play call after the two-minute warning in the first half? With Jones in the shotgun, he faked a handoff to Damien Harris, rolled left, and with LaMarcus Joyner bearing down on a blitz, threw a lob to Jakobi Meyers that had no chance of succeeding. I swear Matt Patricia adds unnecessary degrees of difficulty to certain plays, and this was one of them.

THREE NOTES SCRIBBLED IN THE MARGINS

(Predicted final score: Patriots 20, Jets 16.)

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(Final score: Patriots 22, Jets 16)

The Patriots didn’t collect a sack until the fourth quarter, when Lawrence Guy and Josh Uche each picked one up, but the pass rush, particularly Matthew Judon, was in Wilson’s face all afternoon. Judon had the best one-tackle game you’ll ever see …  Damien Harris is a fine running back, but it’s gotten to the point where it’s disappointing when Rhamodre Stevenson isn’t in the game. He was the Patriots’ top rusher and receiver, finishing with a hard-fought 71 rushing yards on 16 carries, including a ferocious 35-yard run, and adding 72 yards receiving on seven catches. … Jabrill Peppers did a terrific job filling in for the injured Kyle Dugger, making a team-high eight tackles, recovering an onside kick attempt to ice the game, and even adding a bone-rattling pancake block on Marcus Jones’s 32-yard punt return.

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