ARLINGTON, Texas — Instant analysis from the Patriots’ 38-3 loss to the Cowboys:
▪ Sunday’s embarrassing loss wasn’t simply the result of a poor day from quarterback Mac Jones. It was a stark illustration of Jones’s physical limitations, and how much they are holding back the Patriots’ offense.
As Bill Belichick told Julian Edelman on the field after beating the Seahawks in the Super Bowl, “It’s a player’s game.” For a young quarterback to thrive in today’s NFL, he needs to have at least one “plus” trait — size or speed or arm strength. Jones has none.
Jones doesn’t have a strong arm, and twice Sunday he was intercepted on weak throws to the sideline. His first interception, a pick-6 by DaRon Bland in the second quarter, was an especially poor decision, throwing all the way to the left sideline from the right hash. Only big, strapping quarterbacks such as Josh Allen and Justin Herbert can make that throw. Jones definitely can not, and should know better.
Jones isn’t a fast runner, either, and it cost the Patriots on a sack in the second quarter. Jones tried to escape the pass rush, but Dante Fowler caught him from behind and knocked out the ball, resulting in an 11-yard fumble return touchdown for Leighton Vander Esch.
And Jones isn’t big, listed at 6 feet 3 inches and 214 pounds. The Patriots tried to convert a fourth and 1 with the “Tush Push” play that is taking over the NFL, but Jones was stuffed.
Jones was responsible for both of the Cowboys’ defensive touchdowns. On top of that, he was skittish in the pocket and had no feel for the game, and was mercifully benched for Bailey Zappe late in the third quarter.
But the blowout loss was no anomaly for the Patriots. That is what happens when you have a quarterback who is physically limited.
▪ Another week, another slow start for the Patriots, who once again fell into a big hole and couldn’t climb out. This time it was a 10-3 deficit after one quarter, and 18-3 early into the second quarter after Jones’s fumble.
The Patriots entered the game ranked 29th in the NFL in first-quarter score differential (minus-16). They are not good enough to keep playing from behind, which is why they are 1-3.
▪ Speaking of which, Belichick really should have been more aggressive on the first possession of the game. It was massively disappointing to see Belichick send out the field goal unit on fourth and 1 from the Cowboys’ 6-yard line.
Touchdowns have been precious for the Patriots, it’s early in the game, you’re on the road, you badly need a win, you’re near the end zone, and you only need 1 yard. Go for it! Instead, Belichick went conservative, kicked the chip-shot field goal, and the Patriots never threatened again.
▪ From bad to worse ― the Patriots not only got embarrassed on national TV, but they suffered two significant injuries. Cornerback Christian Gonzalez suffered a shoulder injury in the first quarter and didn’t return. And edge rusher Matthew Judon suffered an injury that had orthopedists on X, formerly known as Twitter, expressing concern.
If Judon is out for any period of time, it would represent a huge blow to the pass rush. Gonzalez’s injury also comes at a time when the Patriots are perilously thin at cornerback, with Jonathan Jones (ankle), Jack Jones (hamstring), and Marcus Jones (shoulder) all missing Sunday’s game with an injury.
With all of the injuries, 5-9 slot cornerback/safety Myles Bryant was forced to play on the outside. On the very first play with Gonzalez out of the game, Dak Prescott found CeeDee Lamb for a 20-yard touchdown over Bryant, who gives up 5 inches to Lamb.
But you had to love Bryant’s hustle on KaVontae Turpin’s 46-yard run late in the fourth quarter, chasing him down from behind and knocking the ball out despite the game being long decided.
Bryant became the first Patriot in two years to force two fumbles in a game.
▪ The score was a bit deceiving, because the Patriots’ defense actually played decently considering most of the secondary was hurt. It allowed some long drives — field goal drives of 70 and 73 yards in the first half and a touchdown drive of 75 yards — but clamped down in the red zone, allowing a touchdown on 1-of-4 opportunities.
That said, Prescott didn’t have much trouble seeing the field, completing 28 of 34 passes for 261 yards and a touchdown.
▪ Three penalties from right guard Michael Onwenu, two false starts and a holding penalty. Onwenu is supposed to be a steady presence on the line but his play has been shaky after missing most of training camp with injury.
▪ Oh look, rookie Demario Douglas made a dynamic play — working his way open across the field, catching a pass and shaking a defender for 42 yards, the Patriots’ only play over 21 all day. That’s why you don’t bench Douglas despite his fumble. And the Patriots really need to get him the ball more often.
▪ Of all the offensive futility, one stat stands out — JuJu Smith-Schuster caught just one pass on five targets for 14 yards. He’s now 11 for 21 on the season and his 80 receiving yards rank seventh on the Patriots. That’s probably not what the Patriots were expecting for their $11 million per year.
▪ A couple of curious special teams decisions by both coaches. The Cowboys certainly saw a good opportunity to execute a fake extra point in the second quarter and pull one over on the Patriots. But why waste the play in that scenario — early in the game, early in the season, against a bad opponent?
Belichick also had no reason to attempt a 52-yard field goal with four minutes left in a 38-3 game. Just go for it on fourth and 10 and call it a day.
Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.