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What caused the Patriots’ pass rush to shift from dynamic to dormant?

Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles lit up the Patriots for 376 passing yards and four touchdowns.Barry Hin/Globe Staff

FOXBOROUGH — The Patriots rushed the passer with aggressiveness and verve in New England’s season opener, looking the part of Dr. Jekyll on a revamped defense. Week 2, the unit more resembled Mr. Hyde.

In a 27-20 win over Houston, the Patriots’ front four was a swarming coterie of sack-hungry disruptors. New England tagged Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson with 12 hits and three sacks, often able to apply significant pressure while dropping seven men into coverage. It was clear Watson felt uneasy in his return from a torn ACL.

New England’s explosiveness was sapped the minute the Patriots landed in balmy Jacksonville. Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles had free rein Sunday — plenty of time to pass; plenty of space to run. He compiled 376 passing yards, threw four touchdowns, and was never brought to the ground behind the line. New England laid a mere four hits on the 26-year-old.

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What caused the shift from dynamic to dormant?

“Execution,” said linebacker Dont’a Hightower. “We just have to be better all the way around — awareness and execution.”

Rookie linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley agreed.

A third down in the first five minutes of Jacksonville’s 31-20 victory served as a harbinger of bad things to come. Bentley read the Jaguars’ protection scheme correctly and cleanly shot the B-gap, but when he reached the backfield Bortles calmly evaded him with a simple side-step.

The quarterback found tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins for 11 yards and a first down.

“Gotta finish,” said Bentley. “Finish and make a play. No secret behind it.”

Third-down woes were a lingering issue throughout the sweaty defeat. After stopping Houston on 9 of 11 third downs in the Week 1 victory, New England managed just four stops on 14 third downs against the Jaguars. Bortles tore the Patriots’ secondary apart when Jacksonville needed to move the sticks, completing 8 of 10 passes for 80 yards and a touchdown in such scenarios.

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Bortles also ran for three first downs, twice getting Patriots defensive lineman Adrian Clayborn to overcommit, biting for a fake handoff out of the option.

Many of Jacksonville’s play-designs were quick and peppy. The Jaguars featured plenty of quick-hitters, getting the ball into the hands of their playmakers before New England’s front four could wedge its way past the line of scrimmage.

Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles splits a pair of Patriots defenders to run for a first down.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Then there was the injury issue. Defensive end Trey Flowers, New England’s best pure pass rusher, exited early with a concussion. Flowers and Deatrich Wise Jr. each notched 1.5 sacks against the Texans. Later on in Jacksonville, Wise also went to the sideline after suffering a dislocated finger.

“Obviously we have to do better as far as the pass rush is concerned,” said Bentley. “One [week] it was heavy and one it wasn’t. We have to get better on a lot of things.”

New England tries again Sunday night when it travels to Detroit to face Matt Patricia and the 0-2 Lions.

Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford isn’t elusive in the same way Watson and Bortles can be, but he’s perhaps the best deep-ball thrower of the three. That places pressure on the Patriots pass rush to get in Stafford’s face before he has time to unload downfield.

Coach Bill Belichick said he thinks Stafford is “as good as there is in football” at slinging the football deep.

“He’s got great weapons,” said Belichick. “He does an excellent job of seeing down the field in all situations. He’s very accurate and he’s got a strong arm. He’s extremely dangerous — one of the very best in the league for sure.”

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When New England’s defensive front does get past the Detroit offensive line, it’ll have to worry about sneaky backfield weapon Theo Riddick. Stafford loves checking down to Riddick when the pocket gets congested, as evidenced by the back’s 14 catches through two weeks. Riddick has logged 46 straight games with a reception, the longest such streak of any running back in the NFL.

Wise said it’s Riddick’s “speed and elusiveness” that stick out to him.

“The Lions have good skill players,” said Wise. “They have variety. They’re all fast and they all bring different attributes to the game.”

Many Jaguars flaunted their own speed and elusiveness in beating New England. Pair those traits with airtight play calling and a dash of injury luck and you have a recipe for mitigating the Patriots’ pass rush.

Wise knows what it will take to avoid disaster striking twice.

“Effect the quarterback and get off the field on third down,” he said.

No secret behind it.


Owen Pence can be reached at owen.pence@globe.com.