FOXBORO — The Patriots used the bye week to try and fix Mac Jones and the offense. At least, that was the hope from all of the self-scouting and adjustments made by the coaching staff.
Jones also did his fair share of “self-auditing” to try and stop the bleeding, both personally, and as a unit given how poorly he and the offense looked over the course of the first nine games.
Punt returner Marcus Jones was the offense. Not Mac & Co.
The rookie’s 84-yard punt return for a touchdown in the closing seconds beat the Jets, and put the Patriots over the top, 10-3, in the AFC East showdown. It was the rookie returner and the defense that did the job in the pivotal division matchup with the Jets.
And, the Patriots, now 6-4, will take it. A win is a win, especially in a tight AFC East race.
The offense, however, remains an eyesore and a concern going forward.
About the only good thing it did was give the defense a breather, putting together extended drives, most of which ended without points.
And Mac Jones, statistically, at least, played what many would consider a very good game, completing 23 of 27 passes for 246 yards. He also didn’t have a turnover, one of his bugaboos from earlier in the season.
On paper, it was one of his better games. Only it really wasn’t if you look at the big picture.
The same problems that plagued the offense before the bye were still very evident in the victory.
The unit was poor on third down (4 conversions on 15 chances), and poor in the red zone (0-for-2).
And, much of it wasn’t necessarily Jones’ fault.
The Patriots would frequently get into Jets territory on what appeared to be a promising drive, only to shoot themselves in the foot and go backwards every single time.
The usual culprits were penalties, negative plays, a struggling offensive line – Jones was sacked six times – and poor play calling.
It should. Those were many of the same issues that had been sabotaging the offense before the break.
While the Patriots absolutely had to win the game to keep themselves in the playoff hunt, and deserve credit for taking the Jets down one more time, it’s hard not to think that at some point, the offense has to get off the mat.
They can’t be a work in progress forever. It’s been 10 games, and the encouragement level isn’t very high for them to improve.
The players, however, did their best to take whatever positives they could from moving the ball, being in Jets territory five times, even if they only came away with only three points.
For them, the drives were progress, especially against a very good defense, and the Jets deserve some credit for keeping the offense in check.
“There are things we did well. There were a lot of things we would like to do better,” running back Damien Harris said afterwards. “I guess the positive mindset needs to come from … we are moving the ball. We know we can have positive plays. We know we have guys that can make plays. We just need to do it more consistently.”
That would be an understatement.
In the first half, they moved to the Jets six, and Nick Folk kicked a field goal. They also got to the seven facing a 3rd-and-2, and wound up on the Jets 26 after a holding penalty (Yodny Cajuste), and sack of Jones. Folk then missed a 44-yarder into a nasty wind.
In the third quarter, they got to the 22, went backwards, and once again saw Folk miss another field goal from 43 yards out into the same wind.
Also in the third, they quickly moved to the Jets 45 after after back-to-back 20-yard completions to Jakobi Meyers and Hunter Henry, but wound up punting.
Then, with a 4th-and-3 from the Jets 40, Rhamondre Stevenson was stopped in his tracks.
They just can’t complete drives.
“I think it’s super disappointing. We put too much work in to get that result,” Mac Jones said after the win. “I think it starts with us, the execution part, and then obviously trying to figure something out here, just make it work and get through that, like you said, from the 35-, 40-yard line and just see if we can get through that and see what happens.
“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.”
Rhamondre Harris agreed.
“We’ve moved the ball down the field. We don’t have any trouble moving the ball,” he said. “But once we get past the 50-yard line into their territory we don’t do well. That’s something we need to work on.”
They had some really nice runs, with Harris busting one for 30 yards. They had some long pass plays, with Jonnu Smith taking a pass for 26 yards, and both Jakobi Meyers and Hunter Henry grabbing 20-yard completions.Stevenson also converted a 3rd-and-18 with a dazzling run-after-catch, making Jets miss all over the field.
It’s what happened after those plays that’s troubling.
The Meyers and Henry catches came back-to-back to set the Patriots up first down at the Jets 45 in the third quarter.
The play calls after that?
Rush for two yards. Rush for minus-two. Sack for minus-six. Punt.
“We want to be able to create those explosive plays, like Damien’s long run, for example, and then finish off those drives,” said Jones. “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.”
Jones had spent the bye week working on syncing up his drops with his wide receivers. Their timing had been clearly off during the first half of the season, with Jones getting ready to throw the ball, and no one looking for it.
That definitely improved a bit, and so did plays where Jones utilized play-action.
But then the Patriots quarterback was once again sped up, having little time to throw the ball when he did drop back. Center David Andrews, who returned after missing the previous game with a concussion, went down with what’s being called a serious thigh injury.
Isaiah Wynn, who curiously started over Trent Brown at left tackle, also left with a foot injury.
So the line continues to be a problem. And just about everything else.
Receiver Kendrick Bourne said it was just a matter of sticking it out. He still thinks the offense will get there.
“I think we’re close. We just have to keep building every week,” he said. “It’s late in the year, teams are getting better … it’s just about sticking with it, taking the coaching and studying what we need to fix.”
The trouble is, that’s what they’ve been saying every week.
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