Down to the final seconds: 11 takeaways from the Patriots’ 10-3 win over the Jets
The Patriots’ playoff hopes got a major boost on Sunday. It was one of the most gut-wrenching wins the franchise has seen in some time, but with a dramatic 10-3 win over the Jets on Sunday, the Patriots improved to 6-4 on the season.
The win is the Patriots’ 14th consecutive over the Jets, and completes the season sweep. With it, New England jumps New York in both the AFC East and Wild Card standings.
What propelled the Patriots to the win, and what do they need to clean up as they continue this stretch of three games in 12 days? Let’s take a look…
Nov 20, 2022; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots cornerback Marcus Jones (25) runs past New York Jets punter Braden Mann (7) on a return for a touchdown during the second half at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports
Say what you will about that game, and how tough of a watch it may have been at times, but deep down a day like that is at what makes football so great at its core. Coming off of the bye week and having faced each other less than a month ago, these teams spent two full weeks combing through every little detail of what they could tweak from the first matchup and first half of their respective seasons, putting in hours and hours in the film room and in practice. When it came to the game itself, every single yard was contested tooth and nail. In the end, all that hard work came down to a rookie – Marcus Jones – who had previously left the game with an injury, getting blocks from among others a number of UDFAs, to deliver a walk-off touchdown on the first punt return TD of the season league-wide.
“My main thing is I thought they were going to let him try to kick it out of bounds due to the time on the clock,” Jones said after the game. “But the first thing was trying to make sure that I followed my teammates’ blocks. Then I saw the punter and I was like, if I make him miss, then I should be able to go the distance.”
“It’s special,” special teams captain Matthew Slater said of the Patriots’ kicking game unit after the game. “It’s one of the hardest-working groups I’ve been around in terms of a special teams unit. They really play for each other and I really feel like we love each other. It’s a good mixture of young and old and we go out there and play for each other. It’s nice to see that monotonous work that we put in pay off in a situation like that.”
“How the game ended was phenomenal. It was like a movie script,” Deatrich Wise said after the game. “Out of all the football movies – Rudy, Any Given Sunday, Remember the Titans – this beats it.”
The other great thing about sports – as much of a cliché as it is – is you never know what you’re going to see when you turn on a game. Sunday was just the fifth time since the merger a game featured a special teams touchdown without an offensive or defensive touchdown, and the first such game since 2009.
Bob & Zo’s call of Marcus Jones’ punt return TD
FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – NOVEMBER 20: Mac Jones #10 of the New England Patriots is helped up after getting sacked during the second quarter against the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium on November 20, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
The reason the Patriots needed that dramatic ending of course, is because of another lackluster performance from the offense. Their 297 total yards of offense were their most in a game since Week 6, but that doesn’t tell the whole story.
For most of the game the Patriots were able to succeed at moving the ball in the middle of the field, but stalled out once they crossed the bench lines. Just one of their 11 drives reached the red zone, a 14-play, 79-yard march in the first quarter that ended with a field goal.
It’s not just that the Patriots couldn’t move the ball forwards, but they often found themselves heading in the wrong direction. The went into the bye week with a league-high 70 negative plays this season (per Pro Football Reference), and coming out of the week off such plays were still an issues. They lost yards on 12 of their 59 offensive snaps (including six sacks of Mac Jones) and then were backed up another five times on penalties.
“Every time you’re moving the ball towards the goal line, it’s good. When you’re going backwards for whatever reason, it’s not,” Mac Jones said after the game. “We want to be able to create those explosive plays, like the Damien [Harris] long run, for example, and then finish off those drives. We need to do that in the red zone. We need to do it in the open field. But it comes down to execution and watching the film and seeing what we can do better.”
There’s nothing wrong with meticulously moving the ball down the field, but the thing about that strategy is there’s very little room for error. Both of Nick Folk‘s missed field goals on Sunday were immediately proceeded by sacks and holding penalties, changing the distance and impacting the approach of the kick. If the Patriots want to be able to string drives together on a more regular basis – and finish in the end zone instead of with field goals – being better at not moving backwards is where they need to start.
Offensive line remains a work in progress
FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – NOVEMBER 20: David Andrews #60 of the New England Patriots walks off the field after an injury during the first half against the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium on November 20, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)
Heading into the bye week, many suggested (myself included) that figuring out a way to stabilize the offensive line should be the No. 1 item of the Patriots’ to-do list. Sunday’s game saw the team go with a new look up front, but similar results.
Isaiah Wynn, who has spent most of the season at right tackle, got the start on the left side against the Jets. Yodny Cajuste started at right tackle. Trent Brown, who has been the Patriots’ best tackle this season, began the game on the bench.
After the game, Belichick called Brown not starting “a coaching decision.” It was suggested that Brown may be sick, as the Patriots have had an illness going around the locker room the last few weeks.
As mentioned above, the Patriots struggled to move the ball on Sunday and most of those issues were directly related to the offensive line. Sacks and negative running plays primarily reflect the group up front, and against the Jets that was not exception.
Things went from bad to worse as the game went on. Wynn left the game with a foot injury, and Brown didn’t look like himself when he came in the game. Then after the game, it was reported center David Andrewscould miss the rest of the season with a thigh injury. Andrews had just returned after missing two weeks with a concussion, and his absence was clearly felt by the entire offense.
Now, the Patriots have just a couple of days to re-shuffle everything again. The bye week may be passed, but concerns about the offensive line remain.
Sign of progress?
FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – NOVEMBER 20: Mac Jones #10 of the New England Patriots throws a pass against the New York Jets during the first half at Gillette Stadium on November 20, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
Yes, Jones was sacked six times. But when he wasn’t on his back, he quietly played one of his better games this season. He completed 23 of his 27 pass attempts for 246 yards, and didn’t even come close to turning the ball over.
“We won the game. I think obviously we moved the ball pretty well today, so that’s a fact,” Jones noted after the game. “We’ve got to be able to move it through that fringe area better, and we’ve got to watch the tape and see what we can do better, but I thought we stayed together as a unit, didn’t lose our cool and worked together to try to win.”
Obviously, by the time Thanksgiving rolls around teams are looking for more impact from their starting quarterback. But given the way Jones looked heading into the bye week, his performance was encouraging. His play was far from the Patriots offense’s biggest issue in this game. Now the question is can he build on it moving forward (and will the offensive line give him a chance to do so)?
A more balanced backfield
FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – NOVEMBER 20: Damien Harris #37 of the New England Patriots carries the ball against D.J. Reed #4 of the New York Jets during the second half at Gillette Stadium on November 20, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
Leading up to the bye week, we talked a lot about the sheer volume of Rhamondre Stevenson’s role in the Patriots’ offense. He led the team in touches heading into the bye, with twice as many as the next closest player.
Stevenson was still plenty involved on Sunday. He carried the ball 15 times for 26 yards, and had six catches on six targets for 56 yards.
However, it wasn’t all on his shoulders this time. Damien Harris ended up with the ball 10 times – eight carries for 65 yards and two catches for 28 yards on two targets.
As the Patriots come down the stretch here, balancing the workloads of both running backs will be key to keep both players fresh for key games and key moments. The Patriots are generally very cognizant of that factor and deliberate in their backfield approach. They’d gotten away from it in the few games prior to the bye with Harris banged up, but Sunday seemed more like their usual approach.
Jonnu vs. the Jets
FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – NOVEMBER 20: Jonnu Smith #81 of the New England Patriots carries the ball against the New York Jets during the first quarter at Gillette Stadium on November 20, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
In last year’s second meeting with the Jets (the first one came in Week 2 when the offense was still very much finding its footing), Jonnu Smith was targeted in the passing game or handed the ball six total times in the first quarter. He was injured on his seventh touch on the first place of the second quarter, but it looked as though the Patriots wanted to get him involved in that game.
Three weeks ago against the Jets Smith saw a season-high four targets. He was involved heavily once again in the second matchup, catching four passes for 40 yards and carrying the ball once for five yards.
Smith against the Jets seems to be a matchup the Patriots find favorable. But could his involvement on Sunday also be a sign of a bye week offensive adjustment to get him more involved?
“Jonnu is a great player. He’s a great teammate. Does what he’s supposed to do on every player,” Mac Jones said after the game. “Him and Hunter [Henry] do a great job. Really happy to have those guys. Want to be able to give them the ball as much as possible. I like throwing to those guys, so any way we can. Jonnu has got unique speed for a tight end and also unique strength for run blocking and things like that. Definitely want to use those guys as best we can, and he did a good job.”
Overall defensive dominance
Nov 20, 2022; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots linebacker Matthew Judon (9) celebrates a sack with linebacker Mack Wilson Sr. (30) and defensive tackle Daniel Ekuale (95) after sacking New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson (not seen) during the second half at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports
The Patriots held the Jets to 103 total yards of offense on Sunday. New York managed just 2.1 yards per play. They had negative-21 passing yards in the second half (if you didn’t know, sacks count as negative passing yards).
Just let those numbers sit for a second. That’s a rare performance. Yes, the Jets’ offense is bad (more on that in a second) but the Patriots have played their fare share of bad offenses in their time. Still, this was the fourth lowest yardage total they’ve allowed in franchise history per Pro Football Reference, and their lowest yardage total allowed since 1988.
It’s not like the Jets offense is completely void of talent either. When we say “the Jets’ offense is bad,” we’re really talking about Zach Wilson. Although he didn’t turn the ball over once, he played one of his worst games of the year completing 9-of-22 pass attempts for 77 yards.
After the game, things didn’t get much better. While most of his offensive teammates took responsibility for the loss, Wilson replied “no” when asked if New York’s offense “let the defense down.” That’s not going to go over well. In just his second year in the league, Wilson’s job may already be on the ropes.
A milestone for Matthew Judon
FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – NOVEMBER 20: Matthew Judon #9 of the New England Patriots celebrates during the first quarter at Gillette Stadium on November 20, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)
Last year, a lot was made about Matthew Judon’s lack of production coming off the bye week. He entered the bye week with 12.5 sacks, then didn’t record another for the rest of the year. Judon has since said he made working on his conditioning a focus over the offseason, to position himself better as the Patriots make a playoff run.
Fast forward a year, and Judon once again went into the bye week with 12.5 sacks. This time, he didn’t waste any time adding to that total with a 1.5 sack performance against the Jets on Sunday.
With those sacks, he passed a couple of notable milestones. First, he set a new career high for sacks in a season. He also now has the most sacks by a Patriots player in the Bill Belichick era, having previously been tied with Chandler Jones (2015) and Mike Vrabel (2007). He’s now tied with Tony McGee (1977) for the third-most in a season by any Patriots player. Andre Tippett holds the top two spots with 16.5 (1985) and 18.5 (1984) sack seasons, but Judon still has seven games to go. Next week, he’ll face a Minnesota Vikings team likely playing a backup left tackle.
Cornerback mixing and matching
FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – NOVEMBER 06: Jalen Mills #2 of the New England Patriots reacts in the second half of a game against the Indianapolis Colts at Gillette Stadium on November 06, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images)
Prior to the bye week, the Patriots’ cornerback usage hadn’t had much variation. Jonathan Jones, Jalen Mills, and Jack Jones were rotating on the boundary, with Myles Bryant getting most of the snaps on the inside spelled by Marcus Jones.
Sunday saw the team go to a new wrinkle though. Mills and Jack Jones played on the boundary, with Jonathan Jones in the slot. With that alignment, the Patriots have their three best cornerbacks on the field. It will be interesting to see moving forward if that was a matchup decision, or something the team plans to deploy again. Given some of the explosive passing offenses ahead on their schedule, that unit could get some serious run.
With Jake Bailey going on IR on Saturday, 30-year-old Michael Palardy made his 2021 season and Patriots debut on Sunday in conditions that had the goalposts moving in the wind. The Patriots needed him too, tying a season-high with seven punts in the game.
Palardy absolutely delivered. Of his seven punts, two were downed inside the 20 with only one touchback, and just one was returned. He averaged a net for 41.1 yards per kick, regularly flipping the field.
Given how inconsistent Bailey has been this season, it was encouraging to see that kind of performance. Moving forward, Palardy’s holds may head under the microscope with Folk missing two field goals (albeit in unfavorable conditions), but the Patriots’ punt unit appears to be back on track.
FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – NOVEMBER 20: Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots looks on during the second half against the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium on November 20, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
With that win now in the books, the Patriots turn their attention towards Thanksgiving and their matchup with the Vikings. They’ll have just two days to prepare for that one, with Wednesday being a travel day as they fly to Minnesota.
“You have just got to realize that tonight is Wednesday, it’s Wednesday already. Whatever you would normally do, you can’t do after a game. You want to hang out, you want to stay up, we can’t. We have to reset and realize this is Wednesday. I am going to try and get ahead and watch some film tonight,” Devin McCourty said after the game. “They have been on a heck of a streak this year winning football games so we are going to need our best game going into Minnesota. That’s what I plan on bringing and trying to lead the guys in. We will have a tough week, a short week, not as much practice time. So it will have to come from watching the film and working together and then being ready to adjust within the game.”
“We have a game in four days and we have to get on these guys. We have to understand what they like to do, understand who they are, understand their go-to plays,” Judon added. “And we don’t have a lot of time to do it, and we also have a travel day. That’s difficult, but it’s the NFL. You get paid to do that, so enjoy as much as you want to do tonight, but hopefully we start watching the Vikings and getting on them because that’s a good team.”
The Patriots will be in the facility both Monday and Tuesday this week. Things get started with Belichick’s press conference at 7:30 a.m. Monday morning.
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 @RealAlexBarthor via email at abarth@985TheSportsHub.com.