EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Plenty of smiles and laughs emanated through the visiting locker room Sunday evening at MetLife Stadium.
Among the playful conversations was a heated debate between outside linebacker Matthew Judon and safety Jabrill Peppers over whether Peppers could emulate the Dolphins and score at least 70 points against Judon in the “Madden NFL” video game. (Peppers argued he could, while Judon, of course, insisted he couldn’t.)
Elsewhere, wide receivers Kendrick Bourne and JuJu Smith-Schuster joyfully chatted at their lockers. Rookie Demario Douglas, too, was all smiles, after returning to the field following his apparent benching last week. Running back Ezekiel Elliott held court with multiple reporters ahead of his return to Dallas next Sunday.
Spirits were clearly high, fresh off the Patriots’ first win of the season. In rainy and windy conditions, they managed hold on in the fourth quarter to beat the Jets, 15-10, marking their 15th consecutive victory over the franchise.
Just a week prior, quarterback Mac Jones, still in uniform, sat at his locker inside Gillette Stadium with a towel over his head, processing the team’s second loss. The tenor of Sunday’s room, however, struck a much more lighthearted tone.
“When we had to make plays we did,” Jones said. “We were definitely inconsistent, but we got to be happy with the win. That’s all we came here for.”
After the Patriots opened 0-2 for the first time in over two decades, Sunday’s outcome seemed pivotal to keeping morale — and the team’s postseason hopes — alive.
But as far as measuring sticks go, Sunday’s game doesn’t offer much.
The Patriots beat a team that could barely move the football for most of the game. By the midway point of the second quarter, the Jets had gained just 6 net yards and converted one first down on five drives. Quarterback Zach Wilson, thrust into the starting role after Aaron Rodgers tore his Achilles’ four offensive plays into the season, had so much trouble finding his receivers that the offense had to resort to eight straight run plays late.
New England’s defense routinely mounted pressure, finishing with seven tackles for a loss, seven quarterback hits, and three sacks.
New England’s offense, though, never managed to put away the Jets, letting them hang around. The Patriots found the end zone early in the second quarter, but didn’t again for the rest of the game. They settled for four field goal attempts, with rookie Chad Ryland connecting from 48 and 51 yards and missing from 48 and 57.
The touchdown, a 58-yard reception by tight end Pharaoh Brown, was a well-scripted play from offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien. The Patriots ran the ball seven straight times with their three-tight end set, then managed to get the Jets to bite again on the play-action pass for Brown, who outran multiple trailing defenders.
The score was New England’s longest play of the season by far. The team has just three plays generating gains of more than 20 yards.
The offense certainly showed some signs of improvement. Nobody turned over the ball. The line held up well and didn’t allow a sack. Running backs Rhamondre Stevenson and Ezekiel Elliott both found more success on the ground, combining for a season-high 139 yards. Jones once again spread the wealth, finding nine different pass catchers.
But the Patriots also punted on their last six possessions. The defense’s fourth-quarter safety is what ended up sealing the game. And the offense still gave the Jets the ball back twice, with a chance to win, in the final two minutes.
A win is a win. The final result is ultimately all that matters. Sunday’s game, though, didn’t offer a strong indication if the Patriots are really trending in the right direction.
Over their past 10 games, dating to November, the Patriots are 3-7, including this win over Wilson and the Jets. Their other two wins are over Colt McCoy’s Cardinals (27-13) and Skylar Thompson’s Dolphins (23-21). Both players were their team’s backup quarterbacks, just like Wilson.
The Patriots won’t have to wait long for another test against a proven quarterback, as they travel to take on Dak Prescott’s Cowboys in Dallas next Sunday. They also have to face Josh Allen twice, Justin Herbert, and Patrick Mahomes.
Those matchups will be more telling in regard to whether this team is actually capable of contending for a playoff berth. For now, though, the team can once against celebrate taking care of business against a substandard quarterback.
Perhaps getting that first win, no matter how, is enough to kickstart a winning streak. After Dallas, the Patriots play New Orleans, which may be without quarterback Derek Carr, Las Vegas, Buffalo, Miami, Washington, and Indianapolis before their bye.
“It felt good to come out ahead on the scoreboard, for real,” Judon said. “Man, it’s a long camp, it’s a long season. Your first one, you kind of have to get that under your belt and go from there.”
They know they can’t rest on their laurels long, though.
“We can’t be like, ‘Oh, we made it,’ ” Judon said. “It’s only one win. We really haven’t done nothing yet. We got to come back and continue to prepare and work hard like we still ain’t got no wins.”
Read more Patriots coverage:
- The Patriots should be thankful they can count on one thing — beating the Jets | Dan Shaughnessy
- It wasn’t pretty, but the Patriots got their first win of the season in beating the inept Jets
- Jets say they are standing by Zach Wilson, but it’s time to sit him down and find another quarterback | Ben Volin
- In a surprising twist, Pharaoh Brown — the third tight end — is an offensive spark for the Patriots
- Jets cornerback Sauce Gardner claims Patriots quarterback Mac Jones hit him with a low blow
- The Patriots dug in on defense, then held on for 15th consecutive victory over the Jets