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Christopher L. Gasper

The Patriots are still in position to shake off their slow start and feast on a softening schedule

Ben Volin: 3 keys for a Patriots win over Cowboys
WATCH: Ben Volin gives his keys to a Patriots victory against the Dallas Cowboys, including why Mac Jones will need to give his best Dak Prescott impersonation.

You can’t run until you can walk. The Patriots walked away from a game victorious for the first time this season, avoiding an 0-3 face-plant with the requisite victory over the Jets and their Lost Boy quarterback, Zach Wilson, on Sunday. Beating Wilson, the gridiron gift that keeps on giving, was a baby step for Bill Belichick’s bunch.

The Jets are a faulty measuring tape. Forced into playing a quarterback lacking the instincts and aptitude for the position, they’re a tinderbox of a team that always finds a way to lose to the Patriots (15 straight) with Charlie Brown-esque futility. The Patriots’ win was bespoke, fit only to defeat the Jets.


All isn’t suddenly right with the Patriots. Victories don’t bring absolution or instant solutions. But 1-2 beats the alternative. So, shelve that panic button. The Patriots are still positioned to make a playoff push. What? Do you think I’ve been huffing end zone paint? No. I just refuse to overreact to the opening four-game stretch of the season, which everyone knew projected as the toughest on the league’s toughest schedule.

Let’s reserve judgment based on that arduous span. The Patriots still haven’t declared their ceiling or their capability. They’re an exposed work-in-progress.

Even if the Patriots lose this Sunday at Jerry Jones’s Monument of Excess against the Dallas Cowboys, they’re far from doomed by a 1-3 start.

The Patriots remain a team with a daunting, disciplined defense and a margin for error as thin as those supermarket produce bags. Wilson was a scheduled win, and the post-Dallas nine-game portion of the schedule indicates their season and their best football beckons ahead if they can figure out their offense.

Beating up on Zach Wilson isn't much of a measuring stick.Adam Hunger/Associated Press

After the Cowboys, the Patriots face the Saints (home), Raiders (away), Bills (home), Dolphins (away), Commanders (home), Colts (Germany), Giants (away), Chargers (home), and Steelers (away). The only book-it loss there is to Josh Allen and the Bills.


The rest of the games are winnable, including the rematch with the “That 70s Show” Dolphins. There are enough baseline-level starting quarterbacks and borderline starters there for the Patriots to feast upon. Even if the Patriots lose to Dak Prescott and the refocused Cowboys, they can step onto the field in Foxborough for a “Monday Night Football” faceoff with Taylor Swift’s new favorite team, the Chiefs, on Dec. 18 at 8-5.

Going 7-2 during that aforementioned nine-game stretch is possible if the Patriots can evolve on offense and the injuries keep piling up for their opponents.

Who knows what shape Saints quarterback Derek Carr will be in for the Oct. 8 game at Gillette after he suffered a sprained AC joint in his right throwing shoulder Sunday? He won’t be 100 percent. Former Belichick object of affection Jimmy Garoppolo entered concussion protocol following the Raiders’ Sunday night loss to the Steelers. Plus, the USS Josh McDaniels looks like a sinking ship with a leaky defense.

Commanders quarterback Sam Howell can be had. The Giants’ Daniel Jones doesn’t exactly inspire fear. Indianapolis rookie Anthony Richardson and backup Gardner Minshew are hanging fastballs for the Patriots defense, a machine that glitches only against Top 10 QBs.

The Chargers have the worst head coach in the league, Brandon Staley. Justin Herbert is still hypnotized by the Hoodie, completing 50 percent of his passes and throwing twice as many interceptions (four) as touchdowns (two) in two losses. The Steelers suffer from a greater offensive identity crisis than the Patriots and boast second-year quarterback Kenny Pickett, who has never faced a Belichick defense.


Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert has had his struggles against the Patriots.Stephen Maturen/Getty

Last season, the Patriots capitalized on the faults and foibles of their opponents to reach the regular-season finale vs. Buffalo needing a win to make the playoffs. They fell short.

Growth this year will be reflected by whether they can remedy some of their flaws, instead of just bottom-feeding off their opponents’.

That’s primarily about the offense. It was an underwhelming performance from Mac Jones & Co., against a loaded Jets defense. The Patriots punted eight times in 13 possessions — just like the Jets — including on their final six drives, and couldn’t ice the game.

Their performance would’ve been good enough to beat only the woeful Wilson.

“Just because the score was in your favor doesn’t mean that there aren’t things in the game that aren’t going to come back and hurt you the next time if you don’t get them fixed,” said Belichick.

Offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien (center) hasn't been able to coax many chunk plays out of Mac Jones (right) and the Patriots offense.Greg M. Cooper/Associated Press

Offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien is an upgrade. However, the Foxborough fallacy that he can be a replacement for a true No. 1 receiver has been exposed.

The Patriots passing attack ranks 32nd in yards per play (5.66). Last season, they finished 15th (6.55). Entering Monday night, they were 28th in air yards per completion (4.7). The only team that has run fewer play-action passes than the Patriots’ five is the Commanders, according to Pro Football Reference, a reflection of their offensive line shortcomings.


The Patriots rank 23rd in offensive points with 50. Their other 2 points came courtesy of a safety from a clutch Matthew Judon sack of Wilson.

Their two longest passes of the year — a 58-yard touchdown to No. 3 tight end Pharaoh Brown and a 32-yard screen pass to Rhamondre Stevenson — were both schemed up to create defensive breakdowns. That’s the only way they can generate big plays in the passing game currently — coax the opposition into a mistake.

On the season, Jones is 0 for 6 on passes thrown more than 31 yards in the air, according to Stats LLC.

“Those are statistically the hardest passes to hit, completion percentage and all that; it’s true of every team,” said Belichick. “But we’ve got to hit them.

“We’ve got to throw them, and we need more production out of the deep balls. Not every play is going to be a 40-yard pass, but the ones that we throw during the game 30 yards, 40 yards, 25 yards, whatever it is, we want to be productive on those plays. So, we just need to keep working on them.”

The Patriots still have much work to do to progress beyond the team they were last year. It’s TBD whether they can, but the opportunity to exhibit advancement while winning is there on the schedule.


For these Patriots, it’s not how you start … it’s what you do after that.

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Christopher L. Gasper is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at Follow him @cgasper and on Instagram @cgaspersports.