FOXBOROUGH — Instant analysis from the Patriots’ 26-3 win over the Colts:
▪ The Patriots improved to 5-4 entering their bye week, so they did what they had to do Sunday. They have won four of five and are right in the thick of the AFC playoff race.
But the Patriots still have a big problem on their hands. The performance of the offense, and Mac Jones in particular, isn’t sustainable.
The offense scored just one touchdown in last week’s win over the Jets, and scored just one against the hapless Colts — a touchdown drive that began on Indianapolis’ 2-yard line following a blocked punt.
The Patriots are struggling to move the ball (203 yards Sunday and 491 the last two weeks). They’re struggling to finish in the red zone (two touchdowns in five trips the past two weeks). And they’re getting saved by kicker Nick Folk, who is 9 for 9 on field goals the last two weeks.
Jones was a mess against the Colts, completing 20 of 30 passes for just 147 yards and was sacked four times, some of which were on him. He isn’t seeing the field well, is locking in on receivers, and isn’t playing with confidence. It had to hurt hearing boos from the home crowd again in the fourth quarter as the Patriots held a 16-3 lead and were about to score more points.
The Patriots weren’t playing with a full deck, missing two starting offensive linemen (David Andrews and Marcus Cannon) and their most dynamic receiver (DeVante Parker). But it’s still no excuse.
The Patriots are done beating up on patsies such as the Lions, Browns, and Colts. They are going to face real offenses after the bye — the Vikings, Bills, Cardinals, Bengals, and Dolphins. The Patriots will need to score points.
Bill Belichick has two weeks to figure out his fixes on offense. He shouldn’t make the switch to Bailey Zappe yet, but it needs to be at the forefront of his mind.
▪ It was a great day by the Patriots’ defense and special teams, but Sunday’s win was really about how bad the 3-5-1 Colts are right now.
They were without star running back Jonathan Taylor, but that doesn’t justify how pathetic the Colts were.
They had minus-2 yards in the first quarter, finished with just 121, and didn’t crack 100 until 3:24 was left in the fourth quarter. They finished 0 for 14 on third down, and 0 for 2 on fourth down. The offensive line couldn’t handle a simple twist and allowed nine sacks. Kicker Chase McLaughlin missed a 39-yard field goal.
And the switch to young quarterback Sam Ehlinger two weeks ago, leapfrogging him over Matt Ryan and Nick Foles, looks like a joke. He completed 15 of 29 passes for just 103 yards, and took nine sacks for minus-60 yards, some of which were definitely Ehlinger’s fault. I don’t think the Colts are actually trying to tank, but games like Sunday sure make it seem like it.
The Colts are in shambles, and after benching Ryan and firing offensive coordinator Marcus Brady in the last two weeks, it wouldn’t be shocking if head coach Frank Reich is the next to go.
▪ Jones, making his third start since suffering his high ankle sprain, looks really uncomfortable in the pocket. CBS announcer Adam Archuleta pointed out several times how slow Jones was to find his check-down receiver, which led to several busted plays. Jones seemed to lock onto his primary receiver all game, and was lucky he didn’t throw an interception late in the third quarter, sailing a wobbly pass toward Jakobi Meyers on the sideline and missing Kendrick Bourne running open over the middle.
And Jones wasn’t throwing with good touch, either. He threw too far to an open Rhamondre Stevenson on a fade route in the first quarter, and threw too far and out of bounds to Tyquan Thornton on a fade route into the end zone in the third quarter.
Whether it’s the time off because of injury or his adjustment to the new coaching staff and playbook, or something else, Jones clearly isn’t comfortable running the offense.
▪ If the NFL handed out an award for Defensive Player of the First Half of the Season, Matthew Judon would probably win it. He had three more sacks to give him a league-high 11½ this season. He started the game with a sack and tackle for loss on the first two plays, and got the stuff on fourth and 1 in the second half to essentially seal the win.
Judon’s great first half mirrors his performance from last year, too. But last year he fell apart down the stretch, with no sacks over the final five games. December and January is where Judon needs to make his mark this year.
▪ Quite a day for the Patriots’ defense. Their nine sacks tied a franchise record, last done in 2001 against the Falcons (the sack didn’t become an official statistic until 1982). The Colts’ 0-for-14 performance on third down tied for the NFL’s second-worst performance of the past 23 years (the Cardinals went 0 for 15 in a 2012 game). And Jonathan Jones returned his first-career pick-6 for the Patriots’ third defensive touchdown of the season.
They haven’t proven yet that they can beat a good quarterback. But they can certainly beat up the bad ones.
▪ The offensive player with the best hands may not be a receiver. Stevenson showed off his soft mitts again with a nifty one-handed corral of a pass from Jones for a 3-yard touchdown in the second quarter. It was the second straight week Stevenson had a one-handed grab. Stevenson had three catches for 10 yards and 15 rushes for 60 yards against a solid Colts run defense, and proved once again that he is the Patriots’ best offensive weapon.
▪ Sunday was sweet revenge for the Patriots’ special teams, which gave up a blocked punt for a touchdown in last year’s loss to the Colts. The Patriots got the Colts back with a blocked punt of their own, with Jonathan Jones surprising the Colts by coming off the edge. The block led to the Patriots’ only offensive touchdown, which they needed. (Nice day for Jonathan Jones, with a blocked punt and a pick-6).
Marcus Jones also contributed a punt return of 23 yards and a kickoff return of 32 yards. And Folk, of course, was money again, connecting on all four field goal attempts. He’s 19 of 21 this year and could be in line for All-Pro or Pro Bowl recognition again.
Read more about the Patriots-Colts game:
Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.