With a momentous 27-13 victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Monday Night Football at State Farm Stadium, the Patriots’ playoff dreams are still alive for another week. The Patriots’ erratic offence was back for a second straight week, making Monday night’s crucial performance feel like the season as a whole for New England. With this Patriot’s momentous win, hopes will be absolutely bolstered.
At halftime, New England was down 13-10, but a short field goal early in the third quarter tied the score at 13 all. Later in the third, when McMillan recovered a fumble and returned it 23 yards for a touchdown, the Patriots scored, taking the lead 20-13.
By stripping three-time All-Pro receiver DeAndre Hopkins of the Cardinals, who had just caught a ball, Kyle Dugger forced the turnover. The Patriots don’t appear to be a club that can handle a four-game final stretch that includes contests against the Bengals (9-4), Fins (8-5), and Bills (10-3), teams that will undoubtedly require a considerably stronger offensive showing to win.
On Pierre Strong Jr.’s 3-yard run to start the fourth quarter, the Patriots increased their lead to 27-13. They then relied on their defence to secure the crucial victory.
For New England (7-6) to end a two-game losing streak and remain in the AFC postseason race, Jones completed 24 for 35 with an interception. Arizona (4-9) has dropped five out of the last six contests, including the previous three.
Kevin Harris, a rookie, rushed 14 yards to the end zone for the Patriots’ lone first-half touchdown. On the third play of the game, Murray was injured, completely altering the course of the evening.
The Patriots are currently in control of the seventh spot and are back in the AFC playoffs as the third wild-card club. The Pats are in charge of their own fate since they have a better conference record than the Chargers and possess the head-to-head tiebreaker against the Jets.
New England’s home game against the Dolphins in three weeks could provide them the edge they need to pass Miami in the race for the wild-card spot. It’s also fair to note that they played the majority of the game without their top two wide receivers (Meyers, Parker), as well as their running backs (Stevenson, Harris).
Under unofficial play-caller Matt Patricia, the offence lacks creativity, downfield threats, and three-play sequences that end in punts. Examples of these three-play sequences include stuffed runs (on first down), incomplete screen passes (on second down), false starts on offensive tackles (Brown), and a third-and-14 play where they declare victory. For those who still need examples, here are a few: first down stuffed run, second down Agholor drop, game delay to make it third-and-15, and third down surrender.
We could also cite another chaotic two-minute drill where the quarterback saved a field goal opportunity after a botched handoff nearly cost them three points.
Following a knee injury to two-time Pro Bowl quarterback Kyler Murray on the third play of the game, the offence is in a groundhog day-like loop where it produces the same results every week in another victory over a backup quarterback. Although mathematically this team is in a postseason race, we can pretend for another week that they aren’t since our eyes and gut feelings tell us otherwise.
Let’s face it, this club has miles to go until the offence resembles a decent operation and the defense dispels concerns about their performance against elite offences.
The best way to put it is when Patriots quarterback Mac Jones names Stevenson as one of the greatest players on the squad. For the last stretch, the Pats need their second-year running back, who left the game twice and ultimately didn’t come back, to be healthy. The good news is that Stevenson wasn’t on crutches, his ankle wasn’t in a cast, and he was upbeat following the game. I hope they managed to prevent calamity here.
It’s possible to view the Patriots quarterback becoming the eighth talking point in this game in both a positive and negative way, but from this team’s standpoint, it’s a positive. In order to open up the passing game against a blitz-happy defence, the Pats lack the necessary tools, thus Mac did his best to choose his throws carefully.
The two best downfield passes made by New England’s starting quarterback were seam passes to tight end Hunter Henry, which the Pats do every time they turn it up. In a situation where New England ran four verticals against a cover-three scheme, Jones connected with Henry on a 39-yard pass to set up a score that ended the game. Mac first glanced to the left to shift the zone in that direction, then quickly turned around to face an open Henry and strike the Patriots tight end in stride.
The offensive line needs to rediscover its groove if you want the Patriots to move the ball downfield more. Technique issues are particularly prevalent among the Pats tackles. they overshot their landmarks, lost balance in their pass setups, and threw explanation-needed cut blocks at the wrong times. Unfortunately, a reliable answer might not be present on this roster, making offensive tackle a top priority heading into the offseason—like a first-round pick priority.
There will be plenty of criticism levelled at the unofficial play-caller for the Patriots if the offence has another underwhelming week. Even though Mac averaged only five air yards per throw attempt, New England once more relied on the quick game and screens. Given the Cardinals’ propensity for strong blitzing, that is not surprising, but it prevents an exciting offence from producing thrilling plays.
The game plan wasn’t our biggest complaint; rather, it was the matchup and the injuries to the offence. As they did on Jones’ interception, the Pats should not put tight end Hunter Henry in a one-on-one situation with an edge rusher. The purpose of the play design is to sell the fake by simulating a duo run with inside double-teaming. However, Henry can’t keep up with those blocking responsibilities.
The finest strategy employed so far by the coaching team involves a developing package for young speedster Marcus Jones. His return skills have translated effectively to offence, giving the team a much-needed game-breaker who can potentially score on any play. In the victory on Monday night, Jones served more as a distraction on motion and option plays when the defense’s response created openings for other players elsewhere.
The Patriots have a number of various play options they may use in conjunction with Jones’s role, including possibly a fake-and-go where they bluff the screen to target receivers in the distance. Let’s hope that happens soon.
In keeping with a pattern where the defence frequently prevails on fourth down to force de facto turnovers by removing the offence from the field, the defense’s ability to hold the Cardinals to one conversion on five fourth-down attempts was another plus for the defence.
Linebacker Jahlani Tavai intercepted a pass on fourth-and-one near the end of the first half, which was one of the game’s pivotal early moments. As the receiver was moving, Tavai first misread the crack toss, but he had the flat in cover three and was able to recover underneath the tight end’s route. Before the half, the offence scored three points as a result of the fourth down stop, which was a significant turn for the better.
The defensive front can pursue the quarterback and control the game when the Patriots force opposition teams into passing situations. Josh Uche (three sacks) and Matthew Judon (1.5 sacks) led the charge on Monday night as they finished off the Cardinals. Judon has drawn more offensive attention over the past two weeks, which has given Uche the chance to take advantage of one-on-one rushes.
Uche’s crucial rush forced McCoy to short-arm a pass meant for DeAndre Hopkins, which fell into Marcus Jones’s lap for an easy interception despite the Pats’ sack tandem lighting up the stat sheet late. On Cardinals left tackle Josh Jones, Uche executed a speed-to-power move all night that opened up the pocket for a big play.
As we mentioned, the Patriots offense played almost the entire game without four key contributors (Stevenson, Meyers, Harris, Parker) and still found a way to get a win in the desert.
The rookies stepped up for the veterans, offering a legitimate source of optimism for the offense moving forward. First-year running back Pierre Strong led the team in rushing with two explosive runs (70 yards), Kevin Harris had a bruising touchdown, Tyquan Thornton had four catches for 28 yards, and Marcus Jones’s game-breaking ability was once again a major threat.
The Pats defence stuck to their cover-three, zone-heavy game plan against McCoy, who was occasionally in a rhythm and finding opportunities in the post-safety zones, despite Kyler Murray’s injury on the first drive.
When Cardinals wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins was tackled by safety Kyle Dugger while the All-Pro receiver was in motion, the game—and perhaps the entire season—flipped. Hopkins was careless with the ball when Dugger’s spinning tackle forced him to spit it out. McMillan was there as Johnny Come Lately to scoop up the football, remain within the lines of the play, and return it to the house.
Uche, a former second-round pick out of Michigan, has become better recently. The 24-year-old has produced 10 sacks this season, all of which have occurred in the previous six contests. He has three games with two or more sacks in the last five games, including three on Monday and three in the victory over Indianapolis in Week 9.
Although Uche started the season as a situational pass rusher, his workload has subsequently increased. He played a season-high 48 snaps (64%) on Monday, following 32 against Buffalo (second-most). The next stage of Uche’s growth will be securing a permanent position opposite Judon on a Patriots defence that might help New England qualify for the postseason.
Before playing division rivals Miami and Buffalo in its final two regular-season games, which will be critical to the team’s postseason prospects, New England will next play the Raiders and the Bengals.