New England Patriots

New England Patriots

New England Patriots

Anfernee Jennings made five tackles in 19 defensive snaps on Sunday. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

No sooner than immediately after losing to Miami, Patriots players were thinking aloud about urgency.

Like in Week 1 vs. Philadelphia, they had failed to fully emerge from a hole they dug themselves early. Against the Eagles, it was 16-0. Facing the Dolphins, the deficit was 10-0. Both opponents began by driving for more than seven minutes and a dozen plays en route to the lead.

“When we take the field, we got to have some type of energy, we got to have some type of juice,” Matthew Judon told us from Gillette Stadium’s press-conference podium a week ago Sunday. “Everybody has got to look inward and go out there and be motivated to make the play, to get the ball rolling.

“We can’t look to one another to do it. Everybody’s got to do their job, and everybody’s got to go out there and make a play.”

Someone who obviously took Judon’s words to heart was a teammate who had to wait until this latest Sunday for his chance to make a play.

As a fourth-year linebacker, Anfernee Jennings enjoyed a solid preseason. But, seemingly healthy, he was inactive for each of New England’s first two games. In Week 3, however, he was in the starting lineup.

From the first snap to Zach Wilson through the last of his nineteen plays defensively, Jennings was a factor. Lined up on the left edge, he jumped out to tackle Garrett Wilson a yard off the line of scrimmage for the game’s first takedown on a pass in the right flat. Jennings then made the second stop, juicing the Pats’ defense by bringing down Breece Hall six yards behind the line.

Confronting 3rd-and-15 in the rain and wind, Wilson the quarterback was in a bad way. His next throw was an incompletion leading to a punt and a Pats’ field-goal drive. The rest of his day would get worse.

Jennings’ afternoon, albeit limited by substitution packages, would entail more of the same.

New York’s second series started with another Hall run. Tackle by Jennings, after a gain of three. Dalvin Cook’s first rush, three plays later, resulted in another three-yard pickup stopped by Jennings.

Overall, Jennings was credited with five tackles — essentially one for every four plays he was out there. Afterward, he was credited by Judon.

“For Anf to go out there and play with as much moxie, swag and composure and get some big TFLs, like to start the game, it wasn’t like, ‘Alright, he watched us do it.’ He took it on himself,” Judon said from a MetLife stadium lectern, choosing to abbreviate ‘tackles for loss’ as a speaker never at a loss. “He came out there, he prepared, we seen the plays we wanted to run, we called some plays to get him moving and we know how he can set the edge and how physical he is in the run game.

“And he went out there and did that. I’m just proud of him. I’m happy that he’s doing it. I think he can do it on a consistent basis and that’s what we need for our defense.”

On Monday morning, head coach Bill Belichick indicated that Jennings’ opportunities vs. the Jets arose from a different schematic approach by the Patriots, who utilized more defensive backs opposite Philly and Miami.

“We played more base defense in this game than we have in the first two, so that put him on the field more in those situations,” Belichick said. “A big emphasis for us was handling the outside runs better than we did against Miami, and I thought Anfernee did a really, really good job of that. He plays with good awareness and he’s a strong, physical player.”

  • Three's Company

    EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY - SEPTEMBER 24: Pharaoh Brown #86 of the New England Patriots makes a catch in the first half of a game against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium on September 24, 2023 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

    Pharaoh Brown hauls in a 58-yard touchdown pass from Mac Jones. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

    Before Pharaoh Brown first played in Bill O’Brien’s offense for the Texans, his former team beat his current one as the then Houston head coach, who’s now New England’s offensive coordinator, made extensive use of three tight ends.

    It was the night of Dec. 1, 2019. The Texans defeated the Patriots, 28-22. Highlighted in Houston by a variation of the dreaded ‘Philly Special,’ producing a DeAndre Hopkins touchdown pass to Deshaun Watson, the loss is perhaps most remembered in New England as ‘the flu game.’ Roughly a fifth of the Pats’ roster entered NRG Stadium that evening under the weather.

    The Hopkins-to-Watson wizardry wasn’t O’Brien’s only wrinkle. Nor was widespread illness the sole affliction for the Pats, as they were beaten by O’Brien’s Texans for the first time in six tries.

    At critical points in a close game, they struggled to defend Houston’s tight ends. Two, Daniel Fells and Jordan Akins, played extensively. The third, Jordan Thomas, played a quarter of his team’s offensive snaps.

    Occasionally, all three lined up on the same play. Between them, they caught just three passes. But each was vital on one of the game’s most important series, an 88-yard drive to open a two-score lead.

    Fells and Akins converted first downs with grabs of 10 and 19 yards, respectively. Then, at the Patriots’ 22-yard line, they flanked Watson, joining Carlos Hyde in an inverted wishbone. Watson faked to Hyde, rolled left and soft-tossed to an open Fells who galloped behind an Akins block of Pat Chung into the end zone.

    Sunday at New York, Brown, who became a Texan in 2020, played 25 offensive snaps, including a handful as a fullback and many more stacked shoulder-to-shoulder with fellow tight ends Hunter Henry and Mike Gesicki. All three were on the field, with Gesicki used in motion, on Brown’s 58-yard touchdown catch.

    At the mention of “three tight ends” post-game in the visitor’s locker room, Brown smiled widely, thinking of what just took place as well as the range of possibilities as the season proceeds.

    “A lot of three tight ends,” he said. “I think it helps a lot because people get more vanilla. Like defensively, they kind of get (into) base coverages and simple looks. So you get a lot of mismatches. I think we can continue to build on it and it can help us out a lot down the stretch.”

  • Building Blocks

    Sep 24, 2023; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New England Patriots place kicker Chad Ryland (37) looks up after kicking a field goal during the first half against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium. Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

    Kicker Chad Ryland (37) and punter/holder  Bryce Baringer (17) had what Bill Belichick called “a good learning experience” in harsh conditions on Sunday. (Photo by Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports)

    Eleven years ago, Bruce Springsteen released his album, “Wrecking Ball,” whose title song was written using the 2010 demolition of Giants Stadium as a metaphor for hard economic times.  He tells of being “raised out of steel…in the swamps of New Jersey;” references “the meadowlands, where mosquitoes grow as big as airplanes” and “giants (and, we note, Jets) played their games;” and sings of dreams “scattered through the wind.”

    With apologies — and a belated ‘Happy Birthday’ wish — to the Boss if we’re taking too much liberty with his lyrics, on Sunday two Patriots rookies continued their NFL rearing at the behemoth built to replace old Giants Stadium. With Ophelia leaving MetLife’s surroundings swampier and high winds scattering hopes, hard times came. And went.

    Kicker Chad Ryland ended the Pats’ opening drive with a 48-yard field goal, putting them in the lead for good. He later nailed a 51-yarder. In between, toward the opposite end zone, he missed from 48 and 57 yards. 

    Meanwhile, punter Bryce Baringer handled a couple of seemingly and uncharacteristically high snaps from Joe Cardona on Ryland’s placements, while punting eight times in weather that added to the importance of field position. Baringer averaged 40.3 gross yards and 35.4 net yards, placed four punts inside New York’s 20-yard line and prevented Xavier Gipson from an encore to his overtime return that beat Buffalo in Week 1.

    “At the end of the day, it’s just coming down to contact,” Baringer said at his locker. “I’ve got to give credit to Schools (Brenden Schooler) and Slate (Matthew Slater). They covered their butts off. Our guys inside protected really well and Joe was tossing back to me some really good snaps.”

    Although Baringer’s final punt traveled only 22 yards, it was angled away from Gipson, out of bounds at the 17-yard line. The Jets were forced to try to cover 83 yards in just 16 seconds.

    “Gipson, he’s dynamic,” Baringer said. “We don’t want him touching the ball. So, just getting it out of bounds and let our defense do what they did.”

    Belichick, who’s “seen a few wild Springsteen concerts” and more than a few important kicks in inclement conditions at Meadowlands stadiums past and present, assessed his youthful specialists. 

    “It was a tough day to kick,” he said, exhaling. “A bunch of long ones. The weather wasn’t great. I thought (Chad) hit the ball pretty well. Timing on a couple of ‘em could have been better. We need to have a little cleaner operation. But I though he showed a lot of mental toughness coming back and making that kick in the third quarter.

    “Same thing with Bryce. He had a couple of punts there at the end, situational punts, that were what we needed. Those guys (have) been in a couple of bad weather games already in September. That’s not usually the case, but that’s what we’re going to have to play in. So, some good learning experiences for both of them.”

    Building blocks, where once there was a wrecking ball.

    Bob Socci is in his 11th season calling play-by-play for the Patriots Radio Network on 98.5 The Sports Hub.

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