New England Patriots

L-R: Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence.

For the second time in 2021, the Patriots need to dig themselves out of a slump. Two straight losses have knocked the team out of the lead in the AFC East, and they now find themselves in a sprint to the finish in a crowded AFC Wild Card race.

After starting the season 2-4, the Patriots recovered to roll off seven straight wins. While this two-game losing streak doesn’t have nearly the duration of the early season struggles, the impact is just as big if not bigger with losses in two highly crucial games against the Colts and Bills.

Last time the Patriots turned things around, it started by blowing out the lowly Jets 54-13 at Gillette Stadium. At the time, some attributed the lopsided result to the Jets just being the Jets but it proved to be a catalyst. Much like in basketball, when a cold shooter may just need to see a shot go in even if it’s a layup, the Patriots seemingly needed to see themselves play a good game, regardless of the opponent. It worked, and Bill Belichick’s team wouldn’t lose again for two months.

This week, the Patriots should have another chance to ‘get right’ against a team from the NFL’s basement in the Jacksonville Jaguars. Not only are the Jaguars 2-13 with the worst point differential in the league (-179), but they’ve spent the week dealing with one of the league’s biggest COVID outbreaks. 27 players were on the reserve/COVID list for the Jags mid-week.

Of course, in the NFL it’s not a simple as snapping your fingers and winning by three touchdowns, no matter the opponent. Here’s three matchup to watch on Sunday…

  • When New England has the ball: Isaiah Wynn vs. Josh Allen

    Nov 28, 2021; Jacksonville, Florida, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Josh Allen (41) looks at the quarterback during the first half against the Atlanta Falcons at TIAA Bank Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports

    The Patriots can’t let Josh Allen ruin their game plan for the second week in a row. This time, the focus is on the Jaguars’ edge rusher who shares a name with the Bills’ quarterback.

    Allen has been the Jaguars’ most effective pass rusher this year, with 12 quarterback hits and 5.5 sacks in 14 games. He usually lines up off the left side off the offensive formation, so containing him will mainly fall on Isaiah Wynn.

    The 2019 first-round pick does drop into coverage at times too, and has recorded four pass breakups and an interception. In that sense, he’s a player Mac Jones will constantly need to be aware of, especially immediately after the ball in snapped.

    This is all contingent on Allen’s availability for the game. He’s one of 27 players on Jacksonville’s reserve/COVID list, and has been on the list since last week.

  • When Jacksonville has the ball: Bill Belichick vs. Trevor Lawrence

    Dec 26, 2021; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) signals to teammates against the New York Jets during the first half at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

    Time to update the Bill Belichick rookie quarterback numbers! With a pair of wins over Zach Wilson and the Jets plus another over Davis Mills’ Texans, Belichick is now 24-6 all-time against rookie quarterbacks in New England. This season is the second time in his Patriots career he’s faced four first-year passers in a single season. In 2012, the Patriots beat Ryan Tannehill twice, Andrew Luck once, and lost to Russell Wilson.

    The Jaguars have seemingly done their best to ruin generational quarterback prospect Trevor Lawrence. To Lawrence’s credit, he seems to be resisting that influence as much as possible. The result has been very timid quarterback play.

    In six of his last eight games, Lawrence hasn’t thrown a touchdown or interception, despite attempting 34 passes per game. He’s averaging just 5.6 yards per attempt, and over 200 per game.

    Can Belichick force Lawrence to be more aggressive, and then force him into mistakes? The quickest way the Patriots can put this game away is turnovers. Will Lawrence be able to be as controlled, albeit limited, against the veteran Patriots defense?

  • Bonus: Gunner Olszewski vs. Joseph Carlton

    CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - NOVEMBER 07: Gunner Olszewski #80 of the New England Patriots returns a kickoff during the second quarter against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium on November 07, 2021 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

    CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA – NOVEMBER 07: Gunner Olszewski #80 of the New England Patriots returns a kickoff during the second quarter against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium on November 07, 2021 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

    Jaguars’ punter Logan Cooke was one of the best players in the league at his position this year. The key word there is was, as the Jags placed Cooke on IR with a knee injury earlier this week.

    Replacing Cooke will likely be Joseph Carlton, who was signed to Jacksonville’s practice squad on Tuesday. Carlton began the year as the punter in Carolina, appearing in five games before being released.

    Carlton’s 37.5 yards per punt is the fewest of any punter in the league this year with at least 20 punts. He hasn’t kicked a touchback in 21 tries, and only two of his kicks have gone out of bounds. That’s a long way of saying there should be plenty of return opportunities for Gunner Olszewski in this game.

    As a team Jacksonville is allowing 8.2 yards per punt return this season, although they’ve yet to allow a touchdown. With a new punter in place, can they continue to corral returners? Or will the 2020 All-Pro make his presence felt?