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As inevitable as all the media and fan-related hoopla surrounding next week’s impending matchup with Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was, there was one thing the Patriots could control this week: how well they played against the New Orleans Saints.
That’s why it’s so bothersome that New England turned in such an uncharacteristically undisciplined and uninspired performance against the Saints in Sunday’s 28-13 loss.
From losing the battle in the trenches on both sides of the ball to the special teams play, the Patriots’ Week 3 loss was about as far from “Patriots football” as it gets.
Just like that, New England is now 0-2 at home to start the season with next week’s monstrous matchup with the Bucs now front-and-center after tomorrow’s film review.
Here are some takeaways from the game.
Where to start with this…
The defensive line giving up 143 yards rushing and being moved around with ease in the first half?
The fact that the defense should’ve had about six sacks on Jameis Winston but repeatedly struggled to get him on the ground, highlighted by a play on which Winston heaved a prayer up to the back of the end zone with Kyle Dugger pulling him earthward that Marquez Calloway snatched over Jonathan Jones for a score?
The secondary blowing multiple coverages and allowing Alvin Kamara, of all players on the field, a walk-in touchdown?
The offensive line giving up 11 quarterback hits — including one that led to a crushing interception — and repeatedly peeling Mac Jones off the turf?
“When you’re behind and you have to throw every down, that’s never a good position to be in,” Belichick said after the game of all the hits. “We don’t ever want to be in that situation.” That’s true, expect for the fact that most of those hits came before the game was anywhere near out of hand.
But back to the business at hand: what about the special teams allowing a blocked punt, and All-Pro Jake Bailey putting his second kickoff in two weeks going out of bounds and two uncharacteristic touchbacks?
Josh McDaniels (or perhaps Jones himself) seemingly sabotaging two drives with ill-advised handoffs to Brandon Bolden after the offense had finally gained a rhythm in the second half?
Top to bottom, that might have been as dysfunctional, if not more so, than any loss the Patriots had in their 7-9 season a year ago. Not one area of the team’s performance could be described as “smooth,” “efficient,” or even consistently competent.
You can deal with the rookie Jones having tough individual games as a first-year player, whether it’s him throwing interceptions, having mental errors or missing open receivers. That’s expected, and it doesn’t at all mean the Patriots made the wrong decision in naming him the starting quarterback.
But for the rest of this very skilled, veteran-heavy team coached by Bill Belichick to simply fail to execute across the board? That’s not part of the plan, and it can’t be if the Patriots have any notions of making the playoffs this season.
The Patriots’ offensive line is not going to like tomorrow’s film session.
Whether the Saints sent pressure or just threw in wrinkles on their four-man rushes, New England seemingly could not keep Jones clean. The rookie quarterback took seven hits in the first half (11 hits and two sacks all told), including on an ill-fated pass that got picked off by P.J. Williams and nearly returned for a touchdown.
Jones probably shouldn’t have still had the ball in his hands when Kaden Elliss hit him on that play, but, as the rookie passer admitted after the game, plays like that are going to happen.
“Interceptions are a part of the game,” Jones said. “I just have to learn from those errors.”
What’s more, the rookie appeared to miss a number of players downfield for what could’ve been big gains.
On an early completion to Jakobi Meyers, Jonnu Smith ran wide open down the right hash mark on a busted coverage. The play would’ve gone for 30 yards at least, but Jones never looked his way.
Later, Jones took a sack on a second-down play in the fourth quarter with Nelson Agholor coming open late down the field.
But you also have to give the rookie plenty of credit: he never stopped playing.
His 22-yard touchdown throw to Kendrick Bourne (six catches, 96 yards, 1 TD) was an example of how much he’s learning. The young quarterback recognized 1-on-1 coverage on the outside with the Saints bringing a blitz and put the ball up for his receiver to make a play, which Bourne absolutely did.
That’s the kind of play Jones might have checked down in his first two weeks. This time, he took a chance down the field, and it paid off.
Though this wasn’t a “good” performance from Jones, his play wasn’t what lost the Patriots the game. In a just world, the pick-six off of Smith’s hands wouldn’t be put on Jones’s ledger at all. It also didn’t help that the offensive line allowed the Saints to treat him like a pinata for much of Sunday afternoon.
Furthermore, Jones did play more aggressively than he did in the previous few weeks even before garbage time.
Still, losses like Sunday’s should remind everyone where Jones is at this point in his career: while you’re not going to lose games because of him, he’s not at the point where you’ll win solely because he’s your quarterback, either.
He’s a rookie who needs his team to hold up their end of the bargain so he can do his job. If he doesn’t have that support, it’s going to be a long day at the office.
Here’s how the high-priced Patriots tight end’s stat line read with 13:35 left in the third quarter: five targets, zero catches, zero yards from scrimmage of any kind.
In addition to dropping two contested throws that, while tough grabs, were in his hands before hitting the turf, he then bobbled a pretty straightforward flat route up into the air and into the hands of Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins on the Patriots’ first play of the second half. Jenkins easily took it back for a pick-six, making the score 21-3.
On the next possession, he stone-cold dropped a screen pass that would’ve had a chance to end up a first down, killing the Pats’ drive.
He finished the game with just one catch for four yards. Suffice it to say that’s not what the Patriots are paying him for.
Hunter Henry had a relatively quiet game as well (five catches for 36 yards), but he’s generally open and available for Jones when the quarterback needs him and doesn’t drop the football.
The Patriots are counting on Smith to be the more explosive threat from the tight end position, and he had his opportunities to be that guy Sunday. If he had even been reliable, perhaps the outcome of this game could have been different.
To be fair to the Patriots’ running backs, there wasn’t a lot good happening around them in this game. As such, their 44 total yards (21 rushing, 23 receiving) isn’t entirely on them.
But make no mistake: that group missed White badly after the veteran was carted off the field with a hip injury in the second quarter. As it happened, White had just finished picking up the team’s only first down of the game to that point.
With the dependable veteran, who has arguably been the team’s best offensive player through three games, out of the game, the dropoff was huge with the Patriots playing from behind much of the game.
“Losing him was crucial,” Bourne said of White after the game. “[On] third down, he’s a problem for defenses.”
Brandon Bolden and J.J. Taylor — White’s replacements — managed just one rushing yard on four combined carries and had only 26 receiving yards between them as the offense turned primarily to the air in the second half. New Orleans has a good defense, but the loss of White as a receiver crippled their options for taking advantage of the Saints’ linebacking corps.
The nature of White’s injury makes it seem unlikely he’ll be ready to go for next Sunday’s clash with Tampa Bay. Missing him against the Bucs’ blitz-heavy, fast defense can’t be overstated, and the consequences of having to rely on Bolden and Taylor for a full game against that team could be severe.
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