FOXBORO — As Mitch McDeere (of John Grisham’s The Firm) once said, “It might not be sexy, but it’s got teeth.”
While blustery New England afternoons are not typically-known for their aesthetic beauty, the results were pretty enough for the New England Patriots in their Week 11 matchup with the New York Jets.
Quarterback Mac Jones completed 23 of 27 passes for 246 yards, with neither an interception or a touchdown. Kicker Nick Folk connected on a 24-yard field goal for the game’s first points. However, he missed two attempts from inside 50 yard, keeping New England deadlocked in a 3-3 tie with less than a minute to play in the fourth-quarter.
It was then that New England’s rookie return specialist earned the game ball.
Cornerback Marcus Jones readied himself to return a punt from Jets punter Braden Mann from his own 16. The ex-Houston Cougar made the catch and returned it 84-yards to break the tie and seal the 10-3 victory for New England at Gillette Stadium on Sunday.
With the victory, the Patriots improved to 6-4 on the 2022 season, and into third place in the AFC East.
The Patriots continue to be plagued by pressure, with Mac Jones spending the day under constant duress. While some of the Pats offensive line struggles can be placed on the loss of both David Andrews and Isaiah Wynn to game-ending injuries, as well as ill-timed penalties, Jones failed to develop any type of offensive rhythm. The Jets aggressive defensive front took full advantage of the situation, making life difficult for Jones and the Patriots offense. New York’s defense compiled six sacks, eight tackles-for-loss and eight quarterback hits. Save for Marcus Jones game-winning punt return, New England’s offensive futility would have been the centerpiece of its postgame narrative.
Though New England’s offense did not register many bright spots in Week 11, they did get another solid, dual threat performance from running back Rhamondre Stevenson. The second-year back carries the ball 15 times for 26 hard-earned yards against a tough Jets runs-toppage unit. However, the ex-Oklahoma Sooner also led all Patriots pass catchers with 6 receptions for 56 yards. Damien Harris also chipped in nicely, with eight carries for 65 yards.
While the Jets’ defense was eye-catchingly stifling on Sunday, New England deserves plenty of credit for their play, as well. Collectively, the Pats sacked quarterback Zach Wilson four times, while logging six quarterback hits, and seven tackles-for-loss. Linebacker Matthew Judon continues to be the Pats’ Principal of Pressure, as he logged 1.5 sacks — pushing his league-leading total to 13, while setting a new career-high. Wilson finished the day having thrown for only 77 yards, while the Jets rushed for only 59 yards as a team.
Safety and team captain Devin McCourty nearly had a game-changing interception with time winding down in the second quarter. McCourty was hit in the chest with a pass from Wilson that could best be described as “ill-advised.” The Pats veteran seemed surprised by Wilson’s throw, as he failed to secure the catch. Ironically, he had plenty of space to return it for the would-be pick-six. Considering the nature of the game, as a whole, McCourty’s near-interception could have been a game changer.
Cornerback Jonathan Jones suffered a similar fate in the fourth quarter. With under two minutes remaining, Jones was unable to corral Wilson’s pass intended for receiver Denzel Mims. While Jones’ grab was not a sure-fire pick-six, it would have tipped the scales decisively in New England’s favor.
What the Folk?
In the previous meeting between the two teams, Folk connected on all five field goals (31, 42, 49, 45 and 52 yards) to tie a career high. It is the fifth time - second time this season - that Folk made five field goals in a game.
However, Folk was unable to master the unforgiving wind at Gillette Stadium on Sunday. The incredibly reliable veteran kicker missed form inside the 40-yard line twice; a 44-yard miss in the second quarter which hit the crossbar, and a 43-yard attempt which sailed wide left in the third quarter.
In fairness to Folk, each of his failed attempts were made facing the open north part of the stadium, into the winds which reached close to 40 mph gusts at times.
Folk was also attempting to find a synergy with new Pats’ holder Michael Palardy, who will be handling both the holding an punting duties for at least the next few weeks. The Patriots placed incumbent Jake Bailey on injured reserve on Saturday with a back injury.
Center David Andrews (thigh) and tackle Isaiah Wynn (ankle) each left the game in the first half, with neither player returning to action.
Both offensive linemen will be closely watched in the short week ahead. Andrews’ looked particularly painful, as the long time team captain required the assistance of several Patriots trainers to reach the locker room.
On a short-turnaround, New England will travel to the Land of 1000 Lakes, as they take on the Minnesota Vikings on Thanksgiving night. Kickoff is set for Thurs. Nov 24 at 8:20 p.m. from U.S. Bank Stadium.
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