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.”