Five takeaways from the Patriots’ comeback win over the Jets, a 30-27 triumph in which Cam Newton helped Bill Belichick’s team overcome some defensive struggles to snap a four-game losing streak …
EXECUTION SAVES THE DAY
In order to give Nick Folk a chance to win the game with his 51-yard buzzer beater, the Patriots needed everything to go perfectly on the plays immediately preceding his field goal try.
They needed both Newton and Jakobi Meyers to see the soft spot in the Jets’ zone, near the right hash around the 33-yard line. Then both needed to execute the throw and catch. They needed to convert a short third down, then get up quickly enough to spike the ball and save a timeout. They needed to get things moving with a few short pickups from James White that put them in position to take their shot. Had any of those been botched, or even just been bumpier, this game was probably bound for overtime — and who knows what would’ve happened there.
But this time, in a welcomed departure from the way the rest of this season has played out, this time the Patriots managed to avoid the what-if laments and losers’ regrets. This time they executed the plays that decided the game, and instead of failingly finding more frustration they finally figured out what they needed to do in order to win.
They were trailing by 10 in the fourth quarter, and even from that point forward, their limitations were on full display. For example, they held the ball for almost nine and a half minutes, and 17 plays, but netted just 58 yards and three points — even after the Jets gave them a goal-to-go restart by trying to defend a field goal with 12 players. Then, when needing a touchdown to tie, it was almost just as much of a slog. They slowly, ploddingly moved forward without any apparent big-strike ability. Forget throwing with desperation. They kept their balance because they really had no other choice.
But they made it work. The defense got a turnover, then a turnover on downs. They struggled on the night, but they gave their quarterback and their coaches enough clock to have a chance. And, at last, unlike the three other times this team has had a chase to win the game on its final drive this season, this time the Pats pulled it off.
It’s said that good teams find ways to win teams, and bad teams find ways to lose them. That considered, does Monday night mean the Patriots are a good team? Not quite. But at least New England can rest assured the Pats aren’t as bad as the Jets.
KUDOS TO THE GUYS THEY’VE TRIED TO REPLACE
This spring, the Patriots became the first team in the 2020 draft to select a kicker, taking Justin Rohrwasser in the fifth round. With that decision, it looked like Nick Folk wouldn’t likely have a future in Foxborough. Then neither guy was included on New England’s first 53-man roster after cuts were made in early September.
Meyers, meanwhile, was an afterthought among the receiver group throughout training camp, and into the early weeks of the season. He played no more than eight snaps in any of the first three games, and was targeted a total of once in the course of those contests. He didn’t see the field for the Patriots’ next couple tilts, and only when Julian Edelman went on injured reserve and N’Keal Harry went out with a concussion did he ascend the depth chart.
Ostensibly, the Patriots have tried to upgrade on both Folk and Meyers over recent months — so give credit to both not only for their contributions Monday night, but for their resilience in earning the right to be on that stage in that moment.
Folk had some trouble early in the year, but by making three kicks Monday he’s now 14 of 16 on the season in field goal tries, and has also converted 14 of 15 extra-point attempts. His right foot has become a trustworthy feature of an offense that can hardly afford to waste scoring opportunities, and the way Belichick approached the final possession Monday night was an indicator that he had confidence in what his kicker could do if given the opportunity to win the game — even from more than 50 yards out.
Folk never would have had his shot if it weren’t for the work of Meyers, who has emerged as Newton’s go-to guy these past two weeks. Monday he caught 12 of 14 targets for 169 yards, demolishing the six catches and 10 targets that established career highs against Buffalo. Not even including three first-down connections undone by penalties, that means that Meyers has been the intended receiver on 24 of the 60 balls Newtown has thrown in these past two games.
Perhaps it’s not a coincidence, either, that those have been two of Newton’s three best games as a Patriot.
A DREADFUL DEFENSIVE EFFORT
At earlier junctures in the Patriots’ descent into life among the dregs of NFL society, the offensive ineptitude has distracted some from the team’s defensive difficulties. But there was no masking where the blame belonged through three quarters on Monday night at MetLife Stadium.
If that one had become a fifth straight loss, the defeat would have been pinned on the Pats’ defense — first, foremost, and flat-out inexcusably, particularly that the competition had spent the first half of the season establishing itself as the most pathetic in pro football per a variety of measures.
The Jets came in as the league’s lowest-scoring team, having scored more than 17 points only once all season. They had 20 by halftime on Monday.
The Jets came in ranked last in offensive yards, at 259 per game. They surpassed that mark on their third play of the second half Monday night.
The Jets came in averaging a league-low 4.2 net yards per pass attempt. After the play that sent them to the fourth quarter with a double-digit lead, they were averaging 11.5 yards per passing play.
The Jets came in as the NFL’s worst in picking up third-down conversions, successfully doing so on only 28.3 percent of opportunities. They opened Monday night by converting six of their first nine tries (66.7 percent).
And the Jets came in having finished fewer offensive drives with points than any other club, turning only 22.7 percent of possessions into points. Monday night they scored on five of the first six times they had the ball.
Oh, and New York managed all this with its backup quarterback behind center. The same backup quarterback, Joe Flacco, whose last start saw him complete less than half his throws, turn it over twice, and steer his squad to a 24-0 shutout defeat.
Last year, the Patriots built their defensive reputation by making bad offenses look bad, and beating up on backups like Flacco. The discrepancy between that and what we witnessed Monday night — for a third consecutive week, really — makes last season’s historic start seem far longer than just a year ago.
ANOTHER ROUGH START
The Patriots offense finally scored a first-quarter touchdown, snapping a season-long skid that had become emblematic of the team’s futile lack of playmakers. What’s received less attention is the team’s defensive struggles at the start of games — though that streak continued again Monday.
Like the Bills before them — and the 49ers before them, and the Broncos before them, and the Chiefs before them — the Jets took the ball for their first possession and went marching down the field. They held the ball for more than six minutes, covering 58 yards in 12 plays.
Ultimately New England stemmed the tide, though only enough to limit New York to a field goal.
With those points, the Jets became the fifth consecutive team to put together a sustained drive and produce points with its initial drive. During that span, those drives have lasted an average of 9.6 plays, and covered an average of 65.8 yards. That was undoubtedly a contributing factor in the fact the Pats hadn’t even held a lead in any game since September.
For a team that prides itself on preparation, and a coaching staff with a reputation for its vexing gameplans, those numbers present a disappointing reality. Instead, it has been the Patriots’ opponents that have been more ready to go, have come in with a more effective scheme, and have been better able to exploit what they’ve seen on tape over the course of the week. These slow starts on both sides say as much about those coaches as they do the players.
CAM’S EFFICIENCY AND BALL PROTECTION STAND OUT
Any win against a team that’s now 0-9 must be taken in context, and its significance must be weighed accordingly. There may not be much to take away from this in terms of the big picture, or where the Pats are — or should be — headed from here.
But Monday night, for a second straight week, Cam Newton was the quarterback the Patriots need him to be. And this time he delivered that performance while protecting the football, and while operating with efficiency. He threw the ball accurately, hitting on nearly 80 percent of his passes. He didn’t take a sack. He didn’t make huge yards with his legs, but scored twice and converted a couple of short-yardage keepers for first downs. He made good decisions.
Most importantly, he didn’t get picked off. He didn’t fumble. He didn’t carelessly give away the opportunity to pull one from the fire.
In some ways, Monday night’s fourth quarter was a repeat of the final period against Denver. The Pats were down two scores, narrowed it to one, and then the opposing quarterback threw a brutal, ill-timed interception that gave the Pats hope and life. The difference against the Broncos was that the Pats had turned it over three times previously, including a couple of interceptions. Newton had also taken four sacks. By the time New England got its chance to win the game, they hadn’t developed an offensive rhythm, or established anything they could rely on. They were frantic, and it looked frazzled.
Monday looked different. And if Newton can string together more efficient efforts like that one, it might be time to reopen those conversations about whether he’s a quarterback the Pats should be open to committing to for next season.
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