New England Patriots

New England Patriots

New England Patriots

Oct 1, 2023; Arlington, Texas, USA; Dallas Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence (90) and defensive end Dorance Armstrong (92) rush New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (10) in the second quarter at AT&T Stadium. Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, the New England Patriots picked up their first win of the year while the Dallas Cowboys – a projected Super Bowl contender – suffered a surprise multi-score defeat at the hands of the Arizona Cardinals. With the two teams facing off in Week 4 some wondered, would both sides continue their turning point?

No. No, they didn’t.


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Instead, the Cowboys reminded everybody why they are expected to be one of the top teams in the NFL this year, while the Patriots were dealt a crashing reality check. After leading 28-3 at the half – the biggest lead against a Bill Belichick-coached team in his 29 seasons have a head coach, the Cowboys went on to win 38-3. The 35-point losing margin is the biggest of Belichick’s 29-year career as a head coach.

It was especially ugly on the offensive side of the ball. The Patriots managed just 253 yards and 4.6 yards per play, while turning the ball over 3 times. They struggled to stay on the field, going 4-13 (31 percent) on third downs.

So, how did a week that started with so much promise go so wrong? Let’s go through it in this week’s takeaways…

  • Getting behind the sticks early

    Oct 1, 2023; Arlington, Texas, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (10) is stopped short of a first down in the second quarter against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium. Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

    Oct 1, 2023; Arlington, Texas, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (10) is stopped short of a first down in the second quarter against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium. Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

    The Patriots were behind the sticks early, literally and figuratively. There were two chances early in the game for the Patriots to keep their offense on the field, that blew up in their faces.

    On their first drive of the game, the Patriots drove inside the Dallas 10. On a 3rd & 1 from the 9-yard line, the Patriots elected to throw the ball into the end zone. Mac Jones targeted Mike Gesicki, who failed to reel in a pass over his head. Instead of going on fourth down the Patriots instead kicked a field goal. At the time, that tied the game at 3-3.

    Early in the second quarter, the Patriots had a 4th & 1 from the Cowboys 41 yard line. Keep in mind it was a 4th & 1, but a long 4th & 1. Still the Patriots went with the tush push quarterback sneak. While that play is very effective for what it is, it’s not exactly designed to gain a full yard.

    As such, the Patriots came up short and turned the ball over on downs. While the defense held, it allowed the Cowboys to flip the field with a point, and with the Patriots backed up to the red zone Jones committed the first of his three turnovers on the day, getting strip sacked by Cowboys linebacker Dante Fowler, with Leighton Vander Esch recovering the fumble for a touchdown.

    The common thread here? Once again the Patriots seemed tentative (at best) to run the ball traditionally, even in clear run situations. Instead they either tried to throw the ball or call non-traditional run plays, which didn’t work. For a team built to run the ball, that is a concerning sign.

    In particular, it was concerning to see Ezekiel Elliott play such a limed role in this game. Coming into the game there was a lot of talk about Elliott’s return to Dallas, and NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported leading up to the game that the Patriots would increase his role to “starter reps.” Testing a Cowboys defense that allowed 222 rushing yards last week with Elliott’s power rushing style would have made sense, but he had just six carries and three catches. While at a certain point the Patriots did have to abandon the run game, Elliott’s absence in short-yardage situations early in the game was notable.

  • Mac Jones gets the hook

    Oct 1, 2023; Arlington, Texas, USA;  New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (10) looks on from the bench during the second half against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium. Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

    Oct 1, 2023; Arlington, Texas, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (10) looks on from the bench during the second half against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium. Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

    Things didn’t get much better when the Patriots threw the ball. If this wasn’t the worst game of Mac Jones’ career, it certainly was up there. He finished by completing 12-of-21 passes for 150 yards and two picks. He was pulled from the game midway through the third quarter, with Bailey Zappe replacing him.

    The game spiraled on Jones early. Dealing with pressure early, Jones spent much of the early part of this game using his legs to extend plays in the pocket. He made a couple of plays very early doing so, but it wasn’t sustainable. Jones turned the ball over multiple times, mostly while on the run. Both his fumble and interceptions felt like panicked moves, trying to create/force plays that simply weren’t there.

    It didn’t get much better as the Patriots’ deficit grew. Jones regularly targeted covered receivers and missed throws.

    Simply put, it looked like Jones let the game get away from him. He tried to overcome early mistakes – by both himself and others – by doing too much. That led to him playing outside of his skill set. As a result, both his decision-making and mechanics both deteriorated.

    After the game, Bill Belichick seemed to indicate the plan is still to start Jones next week. Zappe’s significant struggles during the preseason probably give Jones a bit more room for comfort, but he can’t afford any more performances like this one.

  • Penalties a problem too

    ARLINGTON, TEXAS - OCTOBER 01: Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots looks during the first quarter against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium on October 01, 2023 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Sam Hodde/Getty Images)

    ARLINGTON, TEXAS – OCTOBER 01: Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots looks during the first quarter against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium on October 01, 2023 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Sam Hodde/Getty Images)

    Both pressure and penalties were problems for the Patriots’ offensive line in this game. The Patriots were down two starters, yet it was starting right guard Mike Onwenu who committed three of the four penalties on the offensive line with a hold and two false starts.

    Onwenu has been tasked with a lot so far this season, with the Patriots having a revolving door next to him at right tackle through four games. This felt like another case of one player being asked to do too much, to compensate for talent shortcomings elsewhere on the field.

    Still, Onwenu’s penalties weren’t the only calls in tough spots for the Patriots. Rookie left guard Atonio Mafi was called for an illegal blindside block, a rare call at the line of scrimmage. On special teams, Joe Cardona was called for a hold on a punt.

  • JuJu Smith-Schuster struggles again

    Mike Giardi on Twitter: "No rub out of trips. No explosion out of the cut by JuJu. Just sort of rolls into it. Not hard to defend. https://t.co/er086cwhY1 pic.twitter.com/eB2vOshgCH / Twitter"

    No rub out of trips. No explosion out of the cut by JuJu. Just sort of rolls into it. Not hard to defend. https://t.co/er086cwhY1 pic.twitter.com/eB2vOshgCH

    In a game where a quick-pass attack would have been beneficial, JuJu Smith-Shuster was mostly uninvolved once again. He caught just one of his five targets for 14 yards. On Mac Jones’ final interception, he was targeted but failed to separate. Later in the game, he caught a pass down the sideline from Bailey Zappe but didn’t tap his second foot in bounds.

    Smith-Schuster still doesn’t look as explosive or dynamic as he did in Kansas City last year. With changes seemingly needed on offense, and speedster Tyquan Thornton eligible to return from IR next week, how the team manages Smith-Schuster’s snaps will be worth watching.

  • On the other side of the line…

    Oct 1, 2023; Arlington, Texas, USA;  Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Pollard (20) has his face mask grabbed by New England Patriots defensive tackle Christian Barmore (90) in the third quarter at AT&T Stadium. Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

    Oct 1, 2023; Arlington, Texas, USA; Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Pollard (20) has his face mask grabbed by New England Patriots defensive tackle Christian Barmore (90) in the third quarter at AT&T Stadium. Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

    It wasn’t just on the offensive side of the ball that the Patriots couldn’t establish themselves in the trenches. Defensively, the Patriots struggled up front as well.

    There were some questions coming into the game about the Patriots’ ability to stop the run after losing Daniel Ekuale to a shoulder injury last week, and with Davon Godchaux playing through an ankle injury. Their loses were felt, as the Cowboys ran for 4.7 yards per carry before their final clock-killing drive.

    If the Patriots are going to come from behind in games, they’ll have to be able to stop the run. Sunday showed they have work to do in that regard.

  • One positive

    Henry McKenna on Twitter: "#Patriots TE Hunter Henry with the SNAG on third down.🔥👋👋🔥 pic.twitter.com/u98nSiIuqA / Twitter"

    Patriots TE Hunter Henry with the SNAG on third down.🔥👋👋🔥 pic.twitter.com/u98nSiIuqA

    Yes, we can find one positive in what was otherwise a mess of a game. As has been the case for the first month of the season, no matter what’s happening around him, Hunter Henry remains unphased. Henry was the Patriots’ leading receiver on Sunday, catching four passes for 51 yards including a highlight grab on a third down when the game was still close early.

    Henry is in a contract year, so his performance under these circumstances is notable. If the Patriots’ offense turns things around, expect him to be a key part of whatever that turnaround looks like. And if he keeps playing well but they can’t, he could be a valuable asset at the trade deadline.

  • Injuries

    Oct 1, 2023; Arlington, Texas, USA; New England Patriots linebacker Matthew Judon (9) walks off the field injured during the second half against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium. Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

    Oct 1, 2023; Arlington, Texas, USA; New England Patriots linebacker Matthew Judon (9) walks off the field injured during the second half against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium. Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

    Finally, there are two key injuries to monitor from this game. Both are on the defensive side of the ball.

    Matthew Judon left the game late with what was later confirmed to be an elbow injury. According to reports, Judon will undergo an MRI on Monday but is expected to miss some time.

    Christian Gonzalez left the game in the first half with a shoulder injury. There was no immediate condition on his status after the game.

  • Alex Barth is a writer and 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. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at [email protected].

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