EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — That the Patriots found yet another way to outsmart the Jets is no surprise, but here it was Sunday at MetLife Stadium anyway, one more example of the Patriots doing something just that much better than their AFC East rivals.
In the battle of late-arriving, post-training-camp veteran running back roster additions, it was a clear knockout win for Ezekiel Elliott, who easily and convincingly outran his fellow Aug. 16 signee with the Jets, Dalvin Cook. It was Elliott and his 80 yards on 16 carries that led the Patriots’ resurgent rushing attack in their 15-10 win, Elliott’s 5 yards per carry that anchored the team’s 15th consecutive victory over the hapless Jets, Elliott’s single-game output that totaled 22 more yards than what Cook has amassed in three games for New York.
Jets down. Next up? The Cowboys.
Sunday in Dallas, Elliott gets the chance to prove to the team that let him go that it made a mistake.
“I know he’s going to turn it up this week,” said fellow running back Rhamondre Stevenson, smiling as he nodded at his teammate in the locker next to him.
“Oh yeah, for sure. I know he’ll be wired up next week,” echoed tight end Pharaoh Brown, looking across to the running back who was the No. 4 overall pick in the 2016 draft.
That was back in Dallas, and for seven seasons, Elliott was the Cowboys’ feature back, the Dak Prescott complement and confidant, half of the duo who were the faces of Jerry Jones’s team. But Elliott had his low points, including a six-game suspension in 2017 for violating the league’s personal conduct policy, and despite signing a six-year extension to his rookie deal in 2019, one worth $90 million, he was released in March, a casualty of both the salary cap and declining production (a career-low 876 yards last season).
Not that he would say so, but any player in his situation would want to prove his former team wrong.
“I would say definitely it was disappointing, but I would say everything happens for a reason, God has his plan for us,” Elliott said. “I’m excited for this next chapter in life. I’m excited to be a Patriot. I’m excited to go.”
After no snaps in preseason games and scant practices to get back in game shape, it was obvious even to his teammates that, as Elliott put it, ”I’m definitely feeling more and more comfortable in the system.”
Safety Jabrill Peppers noticed.
“His reputation speaks for itself,” Peppers said, “but you know when you’re out of football for so long, it takes a little bit of time to get your legs under you and find your rhythm back. I think he’s finding his rhythm now.
“He’s running hard, protecting the ball better, and he’s Zeke. In my opinion, we got two of the best in the league back there, so we’re going to keep feeding them, keep getting better in all areas.”
Indeed, Stevenson also did his part Sunday, a 59-yard effort that provided the first real glimpse of what the Patriots believe can be an effective two-headed rushing monster. It wasn’t perfect — twice in the final four-plus minutes, Mac Jones and the running game could have iced this win but instead needed help from Matthew Judon’s sack for a safety and then holding their breath through a final Jets Hail Mary pass.
But an improving and healthier offensive line played its best game of the season, with the Patriots neither giving up a sack nor turning over the ball, the two metrics veteran center David Andrews said matter most.
“We got two really good backs and we got to hold up our end of the bargain up front for them, get them into the secondary,” Andrews said. “That’s the big thing, get them untouched and let them go to work.
“I thought we made some strides, understanding movement, how we have to play, hopefully moving to more of a consistent group out there.”
Even before the game, Stevenson said the offense knew it was going to have to run the ball. “The weather is on our side,” is what they told each other.
To follow through on that promise to the tune of a 157-38 rushing-yards advantage over the Jets, a team with a vaunted defensive line led by Quinnen Williams, and to do so after opening the season 0-2 and totaling 76 and 88 rushing yards against the Eagles and Dolphins felt like a win in itself.
“It feels great,” Stevenson said. “The offensive line coming together, me and Zeke trying to run the ball hard and get positive plays on every play, feels good to come out of the game knowing we ran the ball a lot. We got to build on all the things we did well today.”
Elliott is eager to try. More than proving something to the Cowboys, he is eager to make a case to his newest teammates, that he’s here to work, here to run, and here to help them win.
“I think everything I did before I got here, once I got here, some of the guys might have known me, but I had to prove myself again,” he said. “That was my approach to coming here.
“I’m super excited to go back to Dallas, a place I have so much history, my home in the offseason. It’ll be cool to get back in AT&T [Stadium].”
Read more Patriots coverage:
- The Patriots should be thankful they can count on one thing — beating the Jets | Dan Shaughnessy
- A victory over the Jets is no indication whether the Patriots are trending in the right direction
- 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