5 takeaways from the Patriots’ 35-14 win over the Giants

Brandon Bolden is underrated, and other thoughts.

New England Patriots running back Brandon Bolden, right, follows his blockers into the end zone for a touchdown against the New York Giants in the first half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
New England Patriots running back Brandon Bolden, right, follows his blockers into the end zone for a touchdown against the New York Giants in the first half. –AP

COMMENTARY

Five takeaways from the Patriots’ 35-14 win over the Giants, which moves Bill Belichick’s team to 6-0 on the season …

CLOSER THAN IT SHOULD’VE BEEN

The Giants calling timeout with 2:40 to play in the first half, with the Patriots facing a manageable third down near midfield, said a lot about the state of New England’s offense. At that stage, New York had confidence it could thwart a conversion — and if not, that they’d quell the drive soon after.
But even that didn’t say nearly as much as the stat sheet and the scoreboard combined to say as the Giants took over for their first possession of the first quarter.

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To that point, the Pats had held the ball for almost 34 of the game’s 51 minutes, or twice as long as the Giants. They’d intercepted Daniel Jones three times, and allowed the Giants to convert on only two third downs. They’d opened the scoring for the evening by returning a blocked punt for a touchdown.

And yet their lead was just 21-14.

Kyle Van Noy’s 22-yard fumble return padded that by seven more points on the possession that followed, and so in the end the Patriots’ vulturous defense again did enough to cover for New England’s offensive inefficiency. But that the game was so close, and that doubts about the outcome lingered into the fourth quarter is a damning indictment of where Tom Brady’s attack is at through six weeks.

Thursday night they eclipsed 30 points for the fifth time in six contests, and so there’s a good chance the Patriots will remain ranked among the NFL’s five highest-scoring teams by the end of the football weekend. It’s deceiving, though, because with a couple more against the Giants, five of their last 18 touchdowns have come courtesy of either special teams or the defense directly.

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Thursday it cost them a degree of comfort as the game grew deeper, although in the future, against better foes, the Patriots stand to pay a more significant price if their offense can’t take advantage of such opportunities.

Or do they? Given the regularity with which this defense is making game-changing plays, the offense may not actually need to do a lot more than it’s done.

ANOTHER LONG TD ALLOWED … BUT DON’T WORRY

The Patriots’ defense has now surrendered three scores on the season. Through the first four weeks, the opponents never even got the ball beyond the goal line — Bills quarterback Josh Allen using his long arm to barely extend the ball to the white stripe — but over the past week the unit has been burnt by a couple of big plays. Last Sunday it was a 65-yard run; Thursday it was a 64-yard pass.

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But there’s no reason to be worried.

Sunday’s run was the result of poor tackling, and was an absurd aberration based on the way this group has wrapped up and buried ball carriers over the rest of the season. Thursday’s pass was more conventional, but credit has to go to Daniel Jones for a good throw, and Golden Tate for reeling in a bobbled ball after beating Jonathan Jones in coverage.

It was a well-executed football play — and just the type that happens routinely in today’s NFL. The Giants hit a receiver in stride just as he gained a step on the corner and before a safety was given time to react. That happens. And if it happens as an occasional consequence of a defense trying to be physical and aggressive, it’s well worth the price.

For proof, just look at the Pats’ 14 interceptions for the season. And the fact that those three touchdowns they’ve allowed are equaled by the three the defense has itself scored.

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THE PATS NEEDED MEYERS, AND HE DELIVERED

Already missing Phillip Dorsett, the Patriots lost Josh Gordon as he attempted to make a tackle on the Brady fumble that was returned for a touchdown during the second quarter. And losing Gordon came *after* the Pats found themselves in a position where Gunner Olszewski was split wide in a three-receiver set, ran a third-down comeback route, and actually saw the ball thrown his way.

With the receiving corps so depleted, the Patriots needed to turned to training camp darling Jakobi Meyers — and the undrafted rookie delivered in a couple of big spots, his contributions including a pair of grabs that helped to key New England scoring drives.

The first of those came with Meyers working along the left sideline after the Pats took over deep in Giants territory, and he hauled in a back-shoulder throw that gained 23 yards and brought the ball all the way down to the 2. Three plays later, Bolden slammed it in.

Meyers made another 23-yard snag just before the half. He rose up to squeeze the pigskin over his defender, and in the process seemed to change the Pats’ way of thinking on that possession. To that point they looked cautious, and not entirely committed to pressing for a score before the half. As Meyers catch moved the ball to New York’s 28, New England grew increasingly aggressive, and Brady capped the surge with a one-yard scoring push.

Meyers officially finished with four targets, catching them all for a total of 54 yards. He was also Brady’s target a fifth time — this one on a fourth-down throw in a seven-point game — but that catch didn’t count, because Julian Edelman was held and the Pats picked up the first down via penalty.
Nevertheless, after being targeted six times in the first five weeks, Meyers needed to be more of a factor Thursday. He was up to the task. And, maybe even more importantly, it looked like Brady trusted his ability to do so.

BOLDEN CONTINUES TO COME THROUGH

Thirteen months ago, the Patriots decided to move on from Brandon Bolden. They released him at the end of training camp, and after he caught on with the Dolphins he made them pay for that choice, scoring twice in the game that will be remembered for the miraculous play on which it ended.

When Miami cut ties with Bolden over the offseason, the Pats corrected their error and brought him back. It was a move primarily portrayed as bolstering the special teams — but Bolden has been much more than that in his second tour. In fact, he’s been one of New England’s unsung heroes during this 6-0 start.

In the five-day span that featured wins over the Redskins and Giants, he achieved a hat trick of sorts for players of his ilk. It started at Washington, when he toasted the linebacker trying to cover him and caught a 29-yard touchdown pass from Brady.

Early Thursday he pushed the lineman trying to block him back so far that New York punter Riley Dixon kicked the ball into his teammate, leading to Chase Winovich’s recovery and return score.

Then a quarter later he capped a touchdown drive with a gritty one-yard jaunt. His third score of the year matches Brady, Dorsett, and Sony Michel for the team lead through six weeks.

And only explains part of his value to the club.

A GOOD TIME FOR AN 11-DAY BREAK

Thursday night football can be an ugly reminder why players are typically given a full week to recoup from the previous game and prepare for the next. But, as Devin McCourty pointed out afterward, it does have its benefits.

“As hard as it is to get your body ready to go Thursday, it’s how big of a blessing it is after the game to be able to rest,” said the Patriots safety. “You get six weeks in, and we’ve been just going at it non-stop. This will be a good break just to try to get healthy.”

Every team is forced to play at least one Thursday each season, and the Patriots’ turn couldn’t have come at a better time. They’re 6-0, yes, but they’ve got plenty to work through without fear of killing their early season momentum.

Beyond that, the injury concerns are starting to mount, with Dorsett and Gordon joined by tight end Matt LaCosse and safety Patrick Chung among those whose ailments forced them off the field Thursday. Rex Burkhead missed the game entirely, and Edelman has been playing (and dominating) through a chest injury.

The field-goal operation could use some work, evident when Jake Bailey held the laces out and Mike Nugent missed an easy one Thursday — and speaking of newcomers, this could create a convenient time for the Patriots to incorporate another weapon if they were going to make a trade to help the receiver group or along the offensive line.

They don’t play again until Monday night, Oct. 21. After that one against the Jets, there are two other games (against the Browns, at the Ravens) before the official bye week.

That means after playing twice in five days the Patriots will play just three games in the next 37 — and so they’re positioned nicely to make a run as the level of difficulty ramps up around Thanksgiving.

“If you can just really try to get your body ready for the next couple games before the bye week, if you can just put it all in, then get a little rest and then go from there,” McCourty said, “that’s something we’ve talked about through the years — sometimes getting these breaks, and them timing up really well if we take advantage of it.”