FOXBOROUGH – You could hear the whoops of joy. You could see the smiles. the patriots The locker room was packed on Sunday night. Behind Marcus Jones’ 84-yard line game winning punt return for a touchdown, the players were elated inside Gillette Stadium.
It’s hard to win in the NFL. It’s hard to beat divisional opponents. It’s even harder to beat those division opponents twice. For those reasons, patriots the offensive players were happy. For other reasons, they were not.
They put on smiling faces afterwards, but they knew what they did — scoring three points at home against the New York Jets — wasn’t good enough.
“It’s super frustrating. He’s not good enough on our side of the ball. It just isn’t,” tight end Hunter Henry said. “We are not going to bring it. We moved the ball around, but we just beat ourselves up and didn’t do very smart things. It’s the same script. We have to fix it.
Another Sunday meant another slow offensive performance. Two steps forward and two steps back. There were more negative plays and penalties. Most porous offensive line game. The game had an offensive pace that made you numb or made you want to bang your head against the wall. To make matters worse, this 3 point performance comes from the bye week where the hope was for this group to improve.
The offensive players left Gillette Stadium with mixed emotions. They improved to 6-4 and are in position to fight for a playoff spot. However, it is 11 weeks into this NFL season and they have the same struggles that we saw in Week 1.
“That’s been all year,” right guard Michael Onwenu said. “We have been trying to stop sanctions and stop punishing ourselves.”
Can the Patriots figure this out?
Mac Jones upgrade gives teammates optimism
From the outside, people question whether the Patriots have the talent to be better on the offensive end. In the building, it has never been a matter of trust. Even through Mac Jones’ rocky start to the season, the players truly believed they had the right pieces to win games.
If there was a silver lining Sunday, aside from the fact that the Patriots gained 297 yards, it was that Jones seemed better.
The last time Jones played against the Jets, he threw for 194 yards to go with one touchdown and one interception. Truth be told, he was lucky to finish with just one interception. In that game, Jones sacked a career-high six times. The Jets resacked the quarterback a career-high six times on Sunday, but this time he looked different. Jones completed 85% of his passes (23/27) for 246 yards.
On a day when the offense looked bad, the quarterback didn’t seem to be the problem.
We have to get the ball out of Mac’s hands. As you saw, when he’s on time and everything is right, he’s one of the best. He’s great,” Henry said. “We have to protect it. Everything has to come out on time. You can see how good it is when those balls come out.”
“He’s been doing a lot of good things and being very careful with football,” added Jonnu Smith. “He’s getting the right readings and doing everything he can. Mac is a great player, a great teammate and I have all the confidence in the world in him.”
In the last two games, against two good defenses, Jones has completed 75% (43/57) of his passes for 393 yards. He now has gone two straight games without an interception going back to Week 12 and Week 13 of last season.
“It’s not all on Mac. We’re all together,” said Kendrick Bourne. “Yes, we need to be better, obviously, but we are winning.”
Added Damien Harris: “Our entire team feels very lucky to have Mac as our quarterback.”
The offensive line is a bigger problem than the quarterback.
The hard truth about the 2022 Patriots is that their offense isn’t talented enough to overcome negative plays. It’s almost December and it seems like a certainty that any time you see a negative first down run or a call on hold, the Patriots will call their kicker.
Those issues became clear on Sunday.
The first drive saw the Patriots give up a first-down sack for a loss of seven. In the second, the first down run gained only one yard. It shouldn’t have been surprising that both series ended with three and out.
The two missed field goals on Sunday followed a common theme. The Patriots moved into field goal position and then were pushed back by a holding call and sack on back-to-back plays.
“It was very frustrating. Put it online,” Onwenu said. “We have to do our job better and be in scoring position and when we have those opportunities, score.”
“It seemed like every time we crossed the 50, we were getting in our own way,” added center James Ferentz. “It’s one of those things where I don’t know if it’s a mental thing right now, but whatever it is, we have to find a way to get through it. We’re getting to a point where every game matters, but even more so now that we’re getting closer to the end.”
Do the coaches lack confidence in Mac Jones or the offensive line?
Although the players have great confidence in Jones, it’s fair to wonder if the Patriots’ offensive coaching staff feels the same way. There were several plays Sunday where it seemed like the Patriots were simply trying to avoid a turnover instead of getting a first down.
For example, the team’s second drive in the third quarter. Jones started this drive with back-to-back 20-yard passes to Meyers and Henry. What he followed was a two-yard run, a negative two-yard run, and then a third-down sack.
The next drive saw Jones start the drive off with a 13-yard pass to Harris. What followed was a 6-yard run, a three-yard loss run, a four-yard run on third down, and then a head-scratching run for zero yards on fourth and 3.
As the Patriots opened the second half, their best offensive plays came when Jones threw the ball. His worst offensive plays came when they ran the ball. Is Matt Patricia afraid of a Jones turnover or was he cautious because of the leaky offensive line?
The Patriots have four days to answer some of these questions. With back-to-back Thursday night matchups with the Minnesota Vikings and Buffalo Bills on deck, time is running out for this offense to prove better than it has this season.
“Yeah, it’s frustrating,” Bourne said. “We just have to stick together. We’ve been dealing with this for the past few weeks, so we know what we need to fix. It’s just about doing it. It’s sticking to that, sticking together and not pointing fingers as a group. A win is a win and we’re happy about that, but we want to score points. Hopefully we can figure it out.”