Patriots

3 takeaways as Patriots slog to win over outmatched Jets

The Patriots offense needs a lot of work, especially in the passing game, but the defense had its back against the Jets.

Damien Harris Patriots
Running back Damien Harris runs for a touchdown against cornerback Bryce Hall #37 of the New York Jets. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Ugly wins count, too.

That’s about all you can say about a day when the Patriots offense sputtered for much of the day but the defense dominated the Jets en route to a 25-6 victory.

New England’s secondary, led by J.C. Jackson, picked Jets rookie Zach Wilson’s pocket four times and simply wouldn’t let New York get anything meaningful going on Sunday.

On the other side of the ball, it was the Patriots’ running backs, especially Damien Harris, who willed the Patriots to the points they got.

But while they’ll take the win, the offense has a lot of questions to answer heading into a non-conference tilt with the New Orleans Saints next weekend and the beast of a matchup with Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that lies beyond.

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Here are a few takeaways from the game.

The Patriots’ secondary stays patient, and it works.

New England’s defenders talked all week about sticking to receivers and not falling asleep at the wheel with the rocket-armed Zach Wilson slinging the ball for the Jets.

Their vigilance paid off big-time Sunday.

It started with Jackson popping a throw over the middle intended for Corey Davis into the air and snagging it as it got tipped around by Patriots defenders.

Wilson’s very next throw on the ensuing possession went through Davis’s hands and got swiped by a diving Adrian Phillips, who continues a stellar start to the season.

Jackson later stepped in front of a sideline throw intended for rookie receiver Elijah Moore for his second pick of the day, and Devin McCourty got possibly the easiest interception of his career on an errant deep throw early in the third quarter.

The No. 2 overall pick has never been shy about trusting his arm, which means defenses will frequently have chances to get their hands on football. The Patriots seemingly never missed an opportunity to make a play on Sunday.

“You make plays and your teammates feed off of you,” Jackson said after the game. “That’s what defense is all about. Don’t wait around to make plays.”

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Ja’Whaun Bentley, Jonathan Jones and Joejuan Williams also had pass breakups on the day.

The offense is a work in progress.

As much as people wanted Jones to air it out against the Jets defense, that simply didn’t happen Sunday.

Jones finished the game 22-of-30 passing for 186 yards, which will be forgiven to an extent since he managed to take care of the ball while his counterpart, Wilson, did not. (Jones did, however, have an ugly deep throw to Bourne that should’ve been picked, though it would’ve been wiped out by a neutral zone infraction anyway.)

But on the whole, this is the kind of offensive performance that only works when you’re playing a bad team.

The Patriots converted just 3-of-12 third-down attempts and scored on just one of their three red-zone trips, making them just 2-for-7 in that department so far this year. Whether it’s because of play-calling, receivers not getting open, pressure in his face or just him checking the ball down, Jones has not yet attempted a throw into the end zone this year. That’s not ideal.

The offense also has major problems at right tackle without Trent Brown as the offensive line allowed four sacks and seven hits overall on Jones. The rookie taking 16 hits through two games probably has something to do with his 6.76 yards per pass attempt thus far.

Interim starter Yasir Durant got benched after allowing three of those snaps himself, and Justin Herron, who was first off the bench to relieve him, got hurt shortly after coming into the game.

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But lest you think it’s merely a problem with one position on the line, Isaiah Wynn also gave up a pressure on the Jets’ first sack of the day by safety Marcus Maye.

New England can’t reach the heights it wants to offensively if it can’t protect Jones long enough for him to even feel comfortable looking down the field, let alone throwing the ball. Both the Jets and Dolphins realized this and threw pressure at the Patriots, with New York blitzing more than its scouting report suggested it would.

The difference was the Dolphins were competent enough offensively to score two touchdowns and not turn the ball over four times. The Jets weren’t.

The Patriots need to pick up their offensive game against better opponents, like the Buccaneers team they’ll face in two weeks, or this will be a long, painful year for Mac Jones.

Damien Harris and James White were the offense’s best players by far.

Fortunately, the Patriots have some really good running backs to take the pressure off the passing game.

James White showed off what he can do both as a receiver and runner on the Patriots’ first touchdown drive, getting things going with a 28-yard catch-and-run on a screen pass before punching it in himself from seven yards out for the team’s only red-zone score of the day.

Harris, meanwhile, had the afternoon’s best play: a bulldozing, inspiring touchdown run from 26 yards out in which he ran through no less than seven tackle attempts to get into the end zone.

He wasn’t about to be denied after a week where all anyone could talk about was his game-losing fumble in Week 1 against Miami. That’s how you rebound from a big mistake.

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“Any time you touch the ball, you want to get it in the box,” Harris said of his big run. “It was a great play. Everyone was blocking their butts off…it was just great to have that moment with the team. Everybody was feeling the energy.”

The numbers weren’t amazing for the backs — Harris averaged just 3.9 yards per carry (16 attempts for 62 yards) while White had 65 yards from scrimmage in total (45 receiving, 25 rushing). But when the offense needed a play, those two got it done.

This is looking a lot more like the 2001 Patriots offense when Tom Brady took over than people expected. But sometimes, having a strong defense and good running back play can be enough to win you games, especially against bad teams.

Sunday was one of those games.

Quick hits

  • When the opposing team has to pass and Josh Uche is on the field, keep your eyes on No. 55. Uche just racked up two more sacks, giving him the early team lead with three on the season. His juice as a pass-rusher coming off the bench, especially once the other team’s offensive line is gassed, is just a cheat code.
  • Jones’s sack-fumble in the second quarter could’ve changed the game if Durant hadn’t gotten on top of the ball. The rookie quarterback needs to hold the ball with two hands tight to his body when pressure comes rather than with one hand low and away from his frame as he did there. That’s now two fumbles for Jones this season (both recovered). He had some ball security issues during training camp as well. He’s done a good job not forcing balls into coverage and hasn’t thrown an interception yet, but it makes little difference whether he throws a pick or coughs up the football if the other team has it.
  • The rookie quarterback isn’t the only one who needs to be more careful with the ball. Kendrick Bourne should have had a fumble lost after he got stripped while fighting for extra yards on the Patriots’ first drive. Luckily, the officials blew the play dead because they ruled Bourne’s forward progress had been stopped. Interestingly, the whistles to stop the play didn’t come until after the ball had left Bourne’s possession. The Patriots will take it, but arguably the Jets got robbed of a game-changing play there.
  • So far, the Patriots’ two-tight end offense has arguably done more damage in the run game than it has through the air through two games. (Hunter Henry actually had a very nice block on White’s touchdown run.) Henry and Jonnu Smith combined for six catches and 70 yards through the air — not bad, but perhaps just a taste of how good they could be together. On a more positive note, though, Jones did manage to redeem a missed opportunity last week — he missed Henry up the seam for a big gain on play-action — by hitting him for a 32-yard pitch-and-catch.
  • Despite missing an extra point Sunday, Nick Folk has otherwise been as steady as expected, drilling all four of his field goal attempts in a busy day. He also happened to set a franchise record with his 32nd consecutive field goal make, breaking a tie with longtime kicker Stephen Gostkowski.
  • When asked about Mac Jones running down field to help push him into the end zone on his stellar touchdown run, Damien Harris smiled and chuckled: “I appreciate it, but I hope he never does it again. We need him.”
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