By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
For a Patriots front-seven that was gutted and left wondering where the playmaking would come from, a certain long-haired, milk-chugging pass-rusher has been Herculean.
Chase Winovich added a forced fumble to his impressive array of stats in the Patriots’ 36-20 win over the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday. The second-year edge rusher played only 32 snaps (54 percent), and Ja’Whaun Bentley and John Simon have out-snapped him so far on the season. But Winovich is best maximizing his impact.
With three weeks in the books, only four players in the NFL have amassed at least five QB hits and one forced fumble: Aaron Donald, Myles Garrett, Bud Dupree, and Winovich. Add at least 10 combined tackles to the criteria and the list shrinks to just Donald and Winovich (Update: add the Chiefs’ Chris Jones to the list). Solid company.
Winovich threw a hand into Derek Carr’s throwing motion like a tree branch into bike spokes, popping the ball out of the quarterback’s hand just as he cocked it back. Lawrence Guy fell on the fumble, flipping what at the time was a 3-3 game with the Patriots offense sputtering early. But Winovich’s spark allowed the Pats to take the lead and dictate things from there.
“Obviously anytime you can get a turnover, it’s a huge opportunity in terms of momentum and helping the team win and it’s something that any good defense, in my opinion, constantly emphasizes,” Winovich said after the game. “We always talk about it from an offensive perspective, you know, certain defenses especially are really taught to go after the opposing team’s, I don’t want to say ball, but try to create turnovers, whether it’s a fumble or an interception. Ball disruption, basically.
“So, yeah, it’s definitely a point that is emphasized, but really we’re just having fun trying to play fundamentally-sound defense and play technique to the best of our ability.”
It’s important to highlight Winovich’s classmates in what he termed “The Breakfast Club,” the Patriots’ early birds who put in extra work on their pass-rushing. Deatrich Wise had arguably his best game as a Patriot, finishing with a half-sack, five tackles, one QB hit, and most notably a fumble recovery for a touchdown. Shilique Calhoun also showed up, forcing the Raiders’ other two fumbles and notching a half-sack of his own.
But Winovich has been a borderline special player. Perhaps he’s crossed that border. For a guy who has only played 65.8 percent of snaps so far in 2020, he’s made a high number of impactful plays. Depth questions will continue to follow the front-seven as the season progresses. But if Winovich keeps playing like this, the Patriots know they have at least one player up front who’s capable of game-changing moments.
Some final thoughts from Patriots-Raiders and notes for the day…
Belichick wasn’t as impressed with the defense. Though he acknowledged the big plays up front from Winovich, Calhoun, and Wise, Bill Belichick wasn’t so quick to heap praise on a defense that allowed two touchdowns in the final two minutes of each half.
The Raiders drove 75 yards in 28 seconds on their final drive of the first half. A 28-yard pass interference penalty on Stephon Gilmore and a 26-yard near-touchdown catch by Hunter Renfrow set up Foster Moreau’s one-yard score to keep the Raiders within seven at halftime. And while Hunter Renfrow’s late-fourth-quarter touchdown came with the game well-in-hand for the Patriots, Belichick always preaches playing a 60-minute effort. Which he most famously demonstrated in 2009, when he screamed maniacally at the defense for dancing like a bunch of punks before giving up a touchdown to cut their lead to 35-7.
“There were some good things there to build on defensively, but still 20 points is 20 points, and we want to try to keep it to a little less than that,” Belichick said after the game on Sunday.
That may seem harsh, considering the turnovers and the nature of the Raiders’ final touchdown. But if they lose focus in the closing minutes next Sunday against the Chiefs in Kansas City, the defense will be in much bigger trouble. However, giving up only 20 points to Patrick Mahomes should be considered a win.
Deatrich Wise keeps his touchdown ball. Patriots edge rusher Deatrich Wise told reporters on Monday that he kept the ball he scooped up in the end zone for his first career touchdown. In fact, it was the first time he scored a touchdown at any level in his life.
It had been a couple years since Wise even scored a TD in a video game.
“Definitely better than any touchdown I’ve ever scored in life, whether it was backyard or in Madden,” Wise said. “And last night, I spent my time relaxing with the wife, answering calls from my family, brothers, mom, dad. And we just kind of just reminisced over that play and talked about that. The whole thing was great.”
Onwenu on the rise. Clearly, Bill Belichick felt comfortable putting “Smokin'” Joe Thuney at center for the first time in his career. But what made the move more notable is that it allowed him to put in rookie Mike Onwenu in at left guard. Belichick called it “the best combination we had for this particular game,” indicating that he already considers Onwenu one of the team’s five best offensive linemen with David Andrews on the shelf.
Onwenu finished with a league-best 86.7 grade at guard on Pro Football Focus after his performance against the Raiders. He has yet to play the position he played the most at Michigan, right guard. He’s played entire drives at right tackle, blocked as an eligible tight end, and now gone an entire game at left guard. And shifting from right to left isn’t exactly easy.
“It’s kind of like playing left-handed when you’ve been playing right-handed your whole life,” Belichick said on Onwenu. “I think he’s done a really good job. He’s a smart kid, he’s got a lot of physical playing strength, he’s a good athlete, he’s got good football smarts and awareness and he’s done a good job for us, playing right tackle and then yesterday at guard he handled some good situations. He learned a lot and he’s still got a long way to go but did a lot of good things.”
Patriots re-sign former cornerback. The Patriots officially announced Tuesday that they brought back cornerback Michael Jackson, whom they acquired from the Detroit Lions for a conditional seventh-round pick in August. Jackson signed with the practice squad, where a roster spot opened up after the team signed C/G James Ferentz to the main roster.
The Patriots promoted WR Isaiah Zuber and DT Nick Thurman to the main roster as well. They are eligible to be moved back to the practice squad without passing through waivers. Zuber played six snaps and got his first NFL touch on Sunday, taking a jet sweep for 13 yards.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Yell at him on Twitter @mattdolloff or send him a nasty email at email@example.com.