The Patriots turned their season around with a big win today, and are working their way back into the AFC playoff picture. Here are the biggest lessons the Patriots have learned from the game, lessons they can take to the rematch in three weeks.
The Patriots’ Offensive Line Is Putting Mac In Constant Danger
An offensive line that buys time for a quarterback is one of the prerequisites of a well-oiled offense. Without it, drives can end before they start, the quarterback is forced to make rash decisions, and the play calling becomes constrained because most plays can’t last more than a couple seconds.
The Patriots offense experienced that today. Mac Jones was sacked six times and pressured many more. His interception and other dangerous passes were on plays where he was under duress, and multiple promising drives were stalled by poor offensive line play. Even with the replacement of Isaiah Wynn with Marcus Cannon, right tackle continues to be a spot of trouble. Jonnu Smith proved to be less-than-adequate when he had to be used in conventional blocking TE roles. Furthermore, Trent Brown had some troubles at left tackle.
The interior line, particularly Strange and Onwenu, actually played quite well. However, the line is only as good as its weakest links, and poor performance on the edge will not cut it moving forward.
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Mac’s Rough Season May Have Hit An Inflection
In calculus, there’s a concept called a derivative. Simply put, it’s the slope that a function takes, i.e. whether it’s going up or down in a particular moment and by how much. When that derivative goes from negative to zero to positive, it’s called a critical point. When the derivative of the derivative does the same, it’s called an inflection point.
The moment in the first half when Mac’s pick-six was called back due to a penalty may have been both a critical point AND an inflection. He’s going from negative to positive, and he’s making that change faster and faster because of the relief that call gave him. He was already starting to move the ball better with every drive. He came back in the second half, immediately led a touchdown drive and just brought a sense of calm to the entire Patriots sideline. The Patriots, overall, went from scoring six points in the first half to 16 in the second half.
Overall, his stats weren’t phenomenal. A stat line of 24-35, 193 yards, a touchdown, and an interception, seems like a pedestrian afternoon, but the poise he did it with, the resilience he had in the second half, and the confidence he gained from scoring a touchdown certainly could change things this season. This type of team comeback effort would increase Mac’s buy-in to what the Patriots are doing and vice versa.
He hasn’t slammed the door shut on the QB job, but he has come quite close with this week’s outing, and I would be very surprised if he doesn’t get the start against Indianapolis.
For The Defense, Last Monday Was The Exception, Not The Rule
The offensive clinic that Justin Fields and the Bears’ offense put up brought questions about a defensive unit that was otherwise looking excellent for the Patriots. Sunday’s win was more of what Patriots fans had seen in previous outings against the Browns and Lions.
The defensive line, particularly on the edge with Judon and Wise but also all around, generated a lot of pressure. They got two sacks and three tackles for loss and were constantly in the backfield. The Patriots only allowed 51 yards to a good one-two punch of Michael Carter and James Robinson. In terms of pass defense, while they allowed 355 yards, they also got three interceptions and six pass breakups. The secondary yielded nothing in critical moments.
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