Patriots clinch a first-round bye, but don’t put much stock in beating the Jets
FOXBOROUGH — Instant Analysis from the Patriots’ 38-3 win over the Jets:
■ It was a “Happy Happy, Joy Joy” type of day for the Patriots. They took care of business, clinched a first-round bye for the ninth consecutive season, and had plenty of reasons to smile. Tom Brady was throwing lasers and moving around the pocket again. Rob Gronkowski rumbled through a few defenders. Rex Burkhead caught his first touchdown pass of the season. Phillip Dorsett and Chris Hogan got involved in the game plan for the first time in weeks. The defense stopped the Jets twice on fourth down inside the red zone. And Kyle Van Noy scored his second touchdown of the season.
I wouldn’t put too much into this win. It felt more like a homecoming game against a directional school, as the Jets fielded a JV squad and looked ready to hit the offseason before the opening kickoff. I definitely wouldn’t say the Patriots’ issues on offense are fixed based on this outcome, especially in the passing game. But the Patriots at least created plenty of positive vibes as they head into the postseason.
■ Brady (250 yards, four touchdowns) looked much more like himself on Sunday, shuffling around the pocket, buying time and finding receivers on broken plays. There was no better example than on Dorsett’s 9-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter, when Brady avoided the rush and threw a nice ball on the run. Brady had been giving up on those type of plays over the last month-plus, but did a great job of keeping the play alive on Sunday.
Brady had his first four-touchdown game of the season, and threw for three touchdowns in the first half for the third time this season (Houston, second Miami game).
■ Brady also threw two beauties — an 18-yarder to Julian Edelman over the middle, and an 18-yard touchdown pass to Burkhead, who had eight touchdowns a year ago but scored his first touchdown of the season Sunday. Burkhead beat linebacker Avery Williamson off the line of scrimmage for the touchdown, which looked a lot like his touchdown against the Saints in 2017. Burkhead is a much better receiver than he is a running back, and it is strange that the Patriots haven’t used him as much as a slot receiver this season.
■ We did see the effect of not having Josh Gordon in the lineup early in the game. On the Patriots’ first series, Brady couldn’t connect with James White on a slant pass over the middle, forcing the Patriots to punt. That used to be Gordon’s play, and he converted it often.
■ But Brady slowed down as the game wore on. He started 13 of 15 for 131 yards and two touchdowns, but then completed just 11 of 18 passes for 119 yards the rest of the way. And Brady still struggled to connect with Hogan, even when he wanted to. Hogan did have six catches (tying his season high) for 64 yards, but Brady missed Hogan WIDE open in the end zone in the second quarter, throwing too high. A few plays later, Hogan had a step on his defender in the corner of the end zone, but Brady threw too high again. Hogan has had some tough luck this season.
■ Meanwhile, the Patriots’ short-yardage run game is still a mess. White got stuffed on fourth and short late in the second quarter, and Sony Michel got stuffed on third and short in the third quarter. Michel has run with decent power this season, making his struggles in short-yardage run situations all the more baffling. The Patriots better spend the next two weeks working on their goal line run game, because they have struggled in this area all season.
■ The Jets were more than willing to lay down for the Patriots on Sunday. Henry Anderson committed a dumb roughing the passer penalty to give the Patriots new life inside the 10-yard line; Brady had thrown the ball away on third down, and the Patriots were going to kick the field goal before Anderson’s penalty. The Jets also went for it on fourth down a couple of times inside the red zone, because why not? They’re 4-11 and headed toward a top draft pick, and their coach is about to get fired.
■ Solid day for the defense, though the Jets aren’t exactly a true barometer. Van Noy’s 46-yard scoop-and-score was his second touchdown of the season, as he also scored on a blocked punt return against the Bears. Van Noy’s score was the Patriots’ second defensive touchdown of the season, as Devin McCourty also scored on a pick-6 against Buffalo.
■ Winning the game was important, but emerging from the game healthy was even more so. But McCourty left the game in the third quarter with a head injury, and CBS reported he went to get tested for a concussion. Dont’a Hightower and Patrick Chung were temporarily dinged, but came back into the game.
■ Not for nothing, but Sam Darnold made a couple of impressive throws, most notably his 22-yard deep out to Deontay Burnett right along the sideline. Darnold looks like a keeper, but the Jets absolutely have to surround him with better talent for next year.