Michael Carter made a beeline to the B-gap after taking a quick pitch from Jets quarterback Zach Wilson on the first series of the second half Sunday afternoon.
Unfortunately for the running back, Ja’Whaun Bentley brought his A-game to the Meadowlands, as the Patriots linebacker was a dominant figure in New England’s 25-6 victory.
Bentley flashed his left arm presnap as if to tell teammates where the ball was going before shooting through the gap (and a phantom shrug block from center Connor McGovern) and dropping Carter for a 3-yard loss.
It was clear Bentley had done his homework, as he often appeared to recognize New York’s play calls and flowed to the ball all game. The rugged inside linebacker led the Patriots with eight tackles and nearly recorded a fifth Wilson interception.
Bentley was thrust into a leadership role last season after free agency departures and opt-outs left the defense — particularly the linebacking corps — thin. It was not a foreign concept to Bentley, the first three-time captain in Purdue history.
New England transformed the second level of its defense in the offseason with the returns of Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy, and the free agent signing of Matt Judon.
Still, Bentley has found a way to expand his role and thrive this season — two things he’s done over his three previous years.
“He’s very smart. He’s a very good communicator,” said coach Bill Belichick. “Physical player, but I think he’s taking it to another level this year in training camp and even in the first couple of games in terms of his aggressiveness and instincts and reading and recognizing things a little bit quicker.”
The improved timing has been critical to Bentley’s early-season success.
“Just that split second at that position is a big, big difference a lot of times between a tackle for a loss and an 8-yard gain,” said Belichick, “so I think he’s playing with a lot of confidence and playing a good physical style of football, taking on blockers, tackling, jamming receivers. Doing all those things, and again, very smart to handle and make adjustments on the defense.”
In addition to thinking quicker, Bentley, who is listed at 255 pounds but appears lighter, is also moving quicker, according to linebackers coach Jerod Mayo.
“Bent has been doing a great job for us, he’s definitely flying around, he looks like he’s more athletic this year,” said Mayo. “He’s really taken the offseason seriously and that’s translating to the field.
“I would also say he has a better understanding of the defense. He’s been here for quite some time now, really understands the front, really understands the total package, not just what he has to do. That’s allowing him to play faster.”
Bentley credited hard work for his ability to keep improving.
“Along with the athletic side of things, as far as speed and seeing things a little faster, that’s part of the work process,” he said. “I just group all those things together.”
Edelman to be honored
Julian Edelman will be honored at halftime of Sunday’s game against the Saints. The three-time Super Bowl champion was with the Patriots for 12 seasons and is second in franchise history in receptions (620), fourth in receiving yards (6,822), and ninth in receiving touchdowns (36). He ranks second in NFL annals with 118 postseason catches and was MVP of Super Bowl LIII in February 2019, when he collected 10 catches for 141 yards in the win over the Rams. “Julian is a great player,” said left tackle Isaiah Wynn. “I think he’s one of the best that’s been around here. Just his energy that he brings on a daily [basis] to the locker room and translating that to the field is great.”
Folk is on board
Nick Folk, who set a franchise record with his 33rd straight field goal in Sunday’s win over the Jets, was officially signed to the active roster. He had been a practice squad elevation each of the first two weeks … The Patriots signed center Drake Jackson to their practice squad, a league source confirmed. The Kentucky product also has been with the Lions and Texans … In addition, the club worked out safety Kentrell Brice, cornerbacks Shakur Brown and Grant Haley, quarterback Anthony Gordon, receivers Jaylen Smith and Javon Wims, and guard/center Jake Eldrenkamp.