EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The Patriots first drive of the game Monday night was the dagger before all the other daggers, and fatal by itself.
You could say things went from bad to worse for the Jets, but things were pretty bad from the moment Tom Brady stepped on the field at MetLife Stadium and began leeching the life out of his opposition and minutes off the game clock.
The drive lasted 16 plays, which tied for most of a Patriots drive this year. It took 8 minutes, 47 seconds, the team’s second-longest since 2011 and 13th-longest under Bill Belichick. It ended in seven points. Seven different skill position players touched the ball, and Brady was 8 of 9 for 55 yards passing. For the Jets, it was an agonizing bleed. For the Patriots, it was an opportunity to assert themselves and kickstart a few parts of the offense that, lately, have sputtered a bit.
“A 16-play drive,” said Phillip Dorsett. “It set the tone for the game, and we just had to feed off it.”
It began with the Patriots doing something to try to help their run game. Blocking has often been poor, so New England opened in a heavy personnel grouping with two tight ends, Ben Watson and Eric Tomlinson, and handed the ball to Sony Michel, who ran behind the right guard, the side with extra blockers, for six yards.
Both Watson and Tomlinson would line up at fullback, as well as tight end, on the drive. Later in the game, linebacker Elandon Roberts and backup lineman James Ferentz were added to the fullback rotation, showing that the Patriots don’t wish to eliminate the position from their offense despite having both James Develin and Jakob Johnson on injured reserve.
“On offense we always want to start fast,” said Watson, who made his season debut Monday. “We have our openers that we like to call. Things were going well for us. We were executing. It just goes to build confidence that we can do that.
“Now it’s just a matter of consistency.”
The running game was still a slog later on, and Michel still had a pair of negative plays on the first drive — he was tackled for a loss of two yards and stuffed on another run — but finished it with a 3-yard touchdown run to the outside, where the Patriots have struggled most running the ball. Michel scored on a third and 2 from the Jets’ 3-yard line, with Watson playing the fullback role.
Watson wasn’t only a blocker on the drive. He did drop the first pass Brady targeted him on, which got to him earlier than anticipated and bounced off his facemask, but then converted a third and 5 and brought the Patriots into the red zone with a 10-yard catch, as if it were 2005 all over again.
“I’m sure Twitter is lighting me up, probably,” Watson said of his blooper-reel moment. “But you know, it happens in a game, and you always have another play.”
The offense also converted for the touchdown on third and 2, as well as a third and 10 in which Julian Edelman took a short toss from Brady for 14 yards, thanks in part to a good block from rookie receiver Jakobi Meyers. Meyers himself caught a 9-yard pass over the middle to convert on third and 7 during the first drive.
Meyers had two catches on two targets on the drive, the start to a promising 5-catch, 47-yard night.
“That’s tough to do against any team, the Jets, that’s a great defense we played against today,” Meyers said. “To go 4 for 4 on third down in the NFL, that’s a pretty big accomplishment. We’ll come back, learn what we did, move on, and try to take it to the next week.”
The Patriots love to start fast, and most of their best offense came early on Monday night. They slowed down later in the game, comfortably ahead with the defense delivering a demoralizing demolition of Sam Darnold and the Jets. But the offense had its moment, too, right at the start.