Two games into this thing, the Patriots have one win, one loss, and their first home game of the season on the docket this Sunday when they host Lamar Jackson and the always-feisty Baltimore Ravens.
Hmmm. Wonder if Bill Belichick will mimic Jackson as the scout-team quarterback this week, the way the Dolphins’ Mike McDaniel joked — at least, I think he was joking — that he was doing last week. Probably not. Belichick strikes me as more of a Billy Kilmer type.
Silly questions aside, it is far too soon to draw conclusions and claim we have answers about … well, just about anything, other than that, yes, obviously, Kendrick Bourne should play more.
Bourne’s offensive snaps went up in Sunday’s win over the Steelers, from a ridiculous two in the opener to 24. It’s still not enough, but it’s progress.
The best we can do after two games is to acknowledge what has worked for the Patriots so far, what has not, and try to decipher whether any of it qualifies as a meaningful trend.
Let’s start with the good: The defense has been rock-solid, other than the hiccup on fourth down before halftime in the Dolphins game that allowed Jaylen Waddle to flee to the end zone for a 42-yard TD.
Given what the Dolphins offense did to the Ravens Sunday — six Tua Tagovailoa touchdown passes, 22 combined catches and four total touchdowns for Waddle and Tyreek Hill, 42 points, and 547 total yards — the Patriots should feel good about how they defended them in the opener.
And if Miami proves for real and fares well in a shootout with Josh Allen and a Bills offense so potent that they’re practically wasting a roster spot on a punter, the Patriots should feel even better about their defensive capabilities.
Stuff to like so far about the defense, which is currently eighth in the NFL in points allowed at 17 per game? Matthew Judon looks like a reasonable replica of his pre-bye-week dominating self from last year. Deatrich Wise, a captain for the first time, played 90 percent of the snaps against the Steelers and has become a reliable pass rusher.
And without disparaging Dont’a Hightower, who was every bit the linebacker that Tedy Bruschi was and is one of the most clutch Patriots of all time, it’s nice to have some speed at linebacker this year. I’ve enjoyed Mack Wilson’s work so far.
Offensively, the No. 1 priority against the Steelers had to be to synchronize a line that was disjointed, disconnected, and easily disrupted by the Dolphins in Week 1. There were still issues against the Steelers — David Andrews, Michael Onwenu, and Isaiah Wynn all drew penalties — but the overall performance was eons better than what it showed in the opener. And all five starting linemen played every snap, which is one way to accelerate cohesion.
Rookie Cole Strange was particularly impressive, clearing several holes for running backs Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson when the Patriots maintained possession over the final 6:33 of the game. Strange isn’t built the same, but it was impossible not to think of Logan Mankins — another guard who was considered a curious first-round pick when he was selected in 2005 — while watching him out there trucking Steelers defenders time and again.
As for what hasn’t worked, let me put it this way: I didn’t think I’d be wondering whether I need to recalibrate my expectations for Mac Jones two games into his second NFL season. But I am wondering, if not quite recalibrating yet.
The frustrating thing with Jones is that he’s not doing the things well that he is supposed to be able to do well. Now, we know he does not have a rocket/laser arm by NFL quarterback standards. He reminds me of Chad Pennington. He also reminds me that Tom Brady could throw missiles when he needed to. Maybe Jones will build arm strength. Brady sure did. But there’s only so much improvement that can be made to his fastball.
Still, Jones had an impressive rookie season because he limited his mistakes, made a habit of finding the open receiver, and had an innate ability to process what the defense was showing him that most young quarterbacks don’t possess. When it came to playing the most important position in the sport, if not all of sports, he seemed savvier than his experience suggested he had any right to be.
Which is why it’s odd that Jones is making rookie mistakes this year. He’s throwing into tight and double coverage too often, including an inexplicable decision to do so to Jonnu Smith in the second half Sunday. There have been instances, such as with Minkah Fitzpatrick’s interception Sunday, where it’s almost as if Jones didn’t see a second defender.
I think he’s also too reliant on Jakobi Meyers. Meyers is a fine possession receiver, and he was efficient Sunday — nine catches on 13 targets. But in the past, he has been inefficient — he had 83 catches on 124 targets last season — and he’s not a yards-after-the-catch threat. Leaning on Meyers too much is not going to make the offense any more dynamic. Nelson Agholor and Bourne have to be involved.
Jones, who dealt with what the Patriots called back spasms after the Dolphins loss and then missed a day of practice while feeling under the weather, probably deserves a mulligan for this past week. But he needs to be sharper against a Ravens team that has averaged 31 points per game and has a human cheat code at quarterback in Jackson.
A strong performance from Jones would be encouraging. But if he submits another mediocre game? That would be a trend that no Patriots fan wants to think about.