Ben Volin’s thoughts immediately after the Patriots’ 33-0 win over the Jets:
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The Jets may be terrible, but this was a terrific win by the Patriots, their best of the season. They started fast on offense, scoring 24 points on their first four possessions and putting the game away early. And the defense had its most dominant performance yet, forcing four Sam Darnold interceptions and so thoroughly confusing him with their blitz packages, ESPN mics caught Darnold telling his coaches that he’s “seeing ghosts.”
The Patriots improved to 7-0, and they put the rest of the league on notice that they’re still the class of the NFL.
■ The offense did hit a bit of a wall in the second and third quarter, with five consecutive drives ending in a punt or interception. And the final stats weren’t great: Just 323 yards of offense, and 4.1 yards per play. But this was still an excellent night, especially when you consider they didn’t have Josh Gordon, Rex Burkhead, or either of their two starting tight ends. They had to play Ben Watson and Eric Tomlinson off the street, and had to use Elandon Roberts as a fullback on the goal line.
But they controlled the game from the get-go, marching 78 yards over 8:47 of game clock on their first touchdown. They were a respectable 7 of 16 on third down, gained 22 first downs, and held the ball for 38:27.
“I think that was one of our best drives we’ve put together as a whole this season,” receiver Phillip Dorsett said. “Any time you get a long drive like that, it definitely does help, gives you confidence.”
This wasn’t the most dynamic offensive performance, and the Patriots still should look to add a receiver or tight end in the next week. But Josh McDaniels and Tom Brady used the mini-bye weekend wisely. Considering how shorthanded the Patriots were, this was a statement performance.
■ A few areas of concern still with the offense: Sony Michel still didn’t run great (2.2 yards per carry) despite the three touchdowns, and twice got stuffed on the goal line. Brady only averaged 5.5 yards per attempt, more proof that they’re a little thin at receiver. And they had a few bad drops. Most notably, Julian Edelman dropped a potential big play over the middle, Watson let the first pass to him bounce off his facemask, and Michel dropped a screen pass that probably would have been a touchdown.
■ One big positive was rookie receiver Jakobi Meyers, who finished with five catches for 47 yards. Brady went to him right away on the first drive, and Meyers responded with a nine-yard catch on third-and-7, and with a 23-yard catch over the middle. Meyers also had a terrific block to spring Edelman for 14 yards on a third-and-12 swing pass. With Gordon ailing and the Patriots needing to find more weapons, Meyers is proving to Brady that he can be trusted.
■ Darnold was brutally bad on Monday night, but most of the credit has to go to the defense. Just last week, Darnold threw for 338 yards in a win over the Cowboys and was AFC Offensive Player of the Week. Monday, Darnold had one of the worst quarterback performances in the 20-year Bill Belichick era. Darnold finished 11-of-32 passing for 86 yards, four interceptions, and a 3.6 passer rating. Darnold became just the 10th quarterback to throw at least four interceptions against the Patriots — the first since Matt Cassel did it in 2014 with the Vikings — and the 3.6 was the lowest ever passer rating against Belichick’s Patriots, unseating Kerry Collins’s 4.9 with the Titans in 2009.
“We were just locked in tonight,” safety Devin McCourty said. “When you get a lot of time to prepare for a game you just start going over everything, and it showed for us tonight.”
■ The Patriots were lethal with their blitz packages all night, disguising their rush and forcing Darnold into myriad bad decisions. He didn’t just throw interceptions, he threw them with no Jets receivers within 10 yards of the pass. The Patriots forced six turnovers, and everyone got into the act: Stars Devin McCourty, Stephon Gilmore and Kyle Van Noy; contributors Duron Harmon and John Simon; and role players like Terrence Brooks.
The Patriots lead the NFL with 18 interceptions this year. The Panthers are second with nine.
■ Two other stats that exemplify just how dominant the Patriots have been: Through seven games, the Patriots have allowed their opponents to enter the red zone just six times. And in those six drives, the Patriots have forced three turnovers.
There is no other way to describe them than simply incredible.
■ The Patriots still haven’t played any good quarterbacks yet. Darnold, Daniel Jones and an injured Ben Roethlisberger have been the “best,” if you can call it that, but watching the Chargers lose to the Steelers’ third-string quarterback two weeks ago makes you appreciate what the Patriots’ defense is doing. No, they haven’t really been tested yet, but they are squeezing every ounce of life out of their opponents and pounding them into submission.
The NFL is a passing league in 2019, but the Patriots look like they can win a Super Bowl just with their defense.