FOXBOROUGH — Instant analysis from the Patriots’ 10-3 win over the Jets:
▪ Marcus Jones’s 84-yard, game-winning touchdown handed the Patriots a victory and kept them in decent shape for the playoffs. But Jones’s dynamic play obfuscates the real story of Sunday’s game:
The Patriots’ offense is totally broken.
It’s hard to pinpoint what’s wrong, because the answer is everything.
Mac Jones isn’t seeing the field? Check.
The offensive line can’t block? Check.
The play-calling is disjointed and predictable? Check.
The receivers aren’t getting open? Check.
The Patriots should have won in a blowout. Zach Wilson was totally overmatched as the Jets had more punts (10) than completions (9). The Patriots had opportunity after opportunity to put the game away in the second half, but couldn’t get out of their own way with sacks and negative plays on offense. The Patriots started one drive in the fourth quarter on their 45-yard line, went three and out, and got booed by the fans as they jogged off the field. A few fans even chanted for Bailey Zappe.
The Patriots have won five of their past six, but they were almost all against cupcakes (Lions, Browns, Colts, and two against the Jets). Now they play the “real” portion of their schedule, against real offenses — the Vikings, Bills (twice), Cardinals, Raiders, Bengals, and Dolphins.
The Patriots are going to get blown out if they don’t make major fixes on offense.
▪ The red zone would be a great place to start. The Patriots entered the game ranked 28th in touchdown percentage (46 percent), and went 0 for 2 Sunday. Twice the Patriots got into scoring range — one time in the red zone, one time at the Jets’ 22-yard line — and they immediately went backward with a penalty and sack.
The Patriots actually moved the ball decently, gaining 297 yards and hitting a few chunk plays. But their red-zone offense is atrocious.
▪ Mac Jones had a nice day when he was actually able to get a pass off, completing 23 of 27 passes for 246 yards. Most of his big plays came out of play-action — 20 yards to Jakobi Meyers, 20 yards to Hunter Henry, and 26 yards to Jonnu Smith.
But Jones also was sacked six times for minus-48 yards, and not all of them were on the offensive line. Whether he’s not reading the defense quickly enough or not getting through his progressions quickly enough, Jones is like a sitting duck in the pocket. And he doesn’t have the speed to escape the pass rush like many other young NFL quarterbacks.
It’s great that the Patriots keep winning, but Jones is regressing. Again, it’s hard not to wonder what the offense would look like right now had Bill Belichick stuck with the hot hand in Zappe. But we’ll never know.
▪ The offensive line deserves plenty of blame, as Jones took six sacks and the run game averaged just 3.8 yards per carry. Take out 52 yards from Damien Harris on two runs, both nice individual efforts, and the Patriots ran for just 47 yards on 24 carries (1.96 average).
Trent Brown was surprisingly benched for Isaiah Wynn at left tackle, but that only lasted about 15 plays as Wynn left with a foot injury. And center David Andrews, back after a two-game absence because of a concussion, left early with a thigh injury. The offensive line clearly struggles when James Ferentz has to play for Andrews, and the Patriots were dominated up front all game. Brown, who stands 6 feet 8 inches and weighs 360 pounds, was bullied by bull-rushes.
There may not be a good answer for the line, other than they need Andrews to get healthy.
▪ Two nits to pick with the coaching. First was the ultra-conservative decision by Belichick in the second quarter to kick a 24-yard field goal on fourth and short. Belichick considered going for it, and only needed about 6 inches, but instead called timeout and brought the field goal unit on. It shows how Belichick has no faith in the offense to pick up a single yard, and how he knew the game would be a grind. Still, it would be nice for Belichick to show a little more faith in the offense.
That theme popped up again in the third quarter when the Patriots got within scoring distance. Facing third and 7 from the 40, I understand handing off to Rhamondre Stevenson because you know you’re going for it on fourth down. But to hand off the ball again on fourth and 3, which was stuffed at the line of scrimmage, lacked imagination and again showed how little faith the coaches have in Jones.
▪ If the Jets don’t want to waste their 6-4 record and positive start to the season, they need to bench Wilson and go back to Joe Flacco, who has been inactive as the third quarterback for the past two months. Flacco went 1-2 as a starter earlier in the season, but at least he is functional. Wilson, right now, is not.
The Jets finished with just 103 yards of offense. They gained two first downs after halftime, on seven possessions. They punted all seven times after halftime. They had the ball at the end of the game and played for overtime, choosing to run the ball and grind the clock instead of trying to drive down the field.
Wilson was just 9 of 22 for 77 yards. The best thing you can say about him is he didn’t turn over the ball.
▪ That was the difference between the first game in Week 8 and Sunday’s game — the Patriots didn’t take advantage of Wilson’s mistakes. Wilson threw four picks in a loss to the Patriots last year, and three picks in the Week 8 loss. But on Sunday, Devin McCourty dropped a pass late in the second quarter that hit him in the chest. And late in the fourth quarter, Jonathan Jones dropped a potential interception and pick-6 near the sideline.
Sunday’s game showed how reliant the Patriots are on getting turnovers on defense, and how much the offense struggles when asked to move the ball on its own.
▪ No one on the Patriots makes something out of nothing better than Stevenson. He had an incredible effort in the first half, picking up a third-and-16 by breaking four tackles. Stevenson should have been stopped 10 yards shy of the markers and again 5 yards short, but he juked and squeezed through defenders for 18.
He had a similar play in the fourth quarter, when a 17-yard catch on first and 20 really should have been about an 8-yard gain. And even his short runs are impressive, like when he picked up 4 yards when he should’ve been stopped in the backfield.
Stevenson’s rushing numbers weren’t great (26 yards on 15 carries) because the Jets loaded up to play the run. But he’s the only playmaker on offense who can consistently pick up yards on his own.
▪ Harris, out the past two weeks with a hamstring injury, also was solid in his return. He had runs of 22 and 30 yards, which were more about his vision than the blocking, and he added two catches for 28 yards. With the offensive line and Jones struggling, the running backs are literally carrying the offense.
▪ Props to replacement punter Michael Palardy, who did fine work in replacing Jake Bailey. Palardy had seven punts for a 45.3 average, and though he had one touchback, he also had a punt downed at the 5. It was a far more consistent performance than Bailey has given them in recent weeks.
Unfortunately, kicker Nick Folk struggled. Whether it was having a new holder, or the 20-mile-per-hour winds, or just a bad day, Folk was wide left from 43 and short from 44. If Folk isn’t hitting his kicks, the low-octane Patriots are in trouble.
Read more about the Patriots-Jets game:
Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.