The Patriots simultaneously showed some promising signs and concerning areas in what was a thriller on Thanksgiving night. I break down the key takeaways from this one.
There’s A Higher Gear To Be Hit For Mac Jones And The Patriots Offense
A first-drive touchdown, that too a long one. A first-half total of 16 points, off four drives that led them in scoring position. Almost 400 passing yards and not a turnover in sight. This game produced a lot on offense that didn’t seem possible for the Patriots.
This quarterback “controversy” is over. Mac Jones had a vintage game, with 28/39 passing for 382 yards and two touchdowns. Most importantly, he made big throws in important moments, was aggressive, and averaged 13.6 yards per completion. He had six completions for 20 yards or more, and of the Patriots’ 17 first downs, 14 of them were from Mac’s passes. He looked poised in general, didn’t make any big mistakes, and one bobble less from Hunter Henry or one slightly better-timed jump on a punt from Pierre Strong, and he’s walking out of Minneapolis with a win.
Offensive line play wasn’t perfect, as evidenced by the 45 rushing yards, but Mac didn’t take many hits or sacks and looked much more comfortable as a result. Hunter Henry getting involved was huge for the team moving forward, and in general, the tight ends have become more and more integrated into the offense. If this is a sign of things to come for the Patriots, they still have a chance for a playoff push.
The Red Zone Continues To Be A Problem
Red zone offense is one of those aspects that differentiate good teams from the best. On the plus side of the field, close to scoring, the Patriots continue to settle for field goals. Given how the offense was moving the ball and the extent to which the defense was playing bend-but-not-break football early, this game could have been nearly put away in the first half had the Patriots taken more advantage of their opportunities.
All in all, Nick Folk kicked three field goals, including off short fields given to him by a Marcus Jones punt return and a huge interception return. The Patriots were on the plus side of the field seven times, and only got 26 points out of it, including two field goals in goal-to-go situations. To beat teams like Buffalo and Miami, and to make the playoffs and actually do something with that opportunity, delivering in scoring position will be of paramount importance for the Patriots. Play calling will also need to step up for the Patriots in these kinds of situations.
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The Patriots Need A Strategy Against Dynamic Players Like Justin Jefferson
Justin Jefferson isn’t easy to stop for anyone, ask Buffalo about that. At best, he can be curtailed. However, from the get-go, the Patriots allowed Jefferson to really get going, and unfortunately, because of that rhythm, Kirk Cousins was also able to get going, as was the Minnesota offense. Justin finished for nine receptions, 139 yards and a touchdown, and the only reason his stat line wasn’t higher is that he was able to serve as an excellent decoy for Thielen and Hockenson, who also had great games.
While props need to go to Jefferson for the receiver he is and the game he had, the Patriots will be dealing with more receivers like this down the stretch, from Stephon Diggs to Davante Adams to Tyreek Hill, among others. Every single game left on their schedule involves a top-tier NFL receiver. They will need a better strategy from the get-go against such dynamic players if they want to stifle the progress of offenses as they’ve been able to do.
Bonus Takeaway: The Mistakes Need To Go
The Patriots shot themselves in the foot too many times in this game. Surprisingly, the mistakes weren’t on the offensive end. The special teams that Bill Belichick prides himself on struggled, allowing a huge kick return for a touchdown and running into the kicker on fourth-and-three, which eventually led to a touchdown. All-in-all, of the Vikings’ 23 first downs, five of them were on penalties alone. New England got no such luxury. Such mistakes simply aren’t ok for a playoff-caliber team. Things need to be cleaned up in the rest of the season.
Also. That may have not been a catch according to the convoluted catch rule, but in the game of football I know and love, that’s a catch all day, every day, twice on Sundays, thrice on Thursdays.
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