Patriots back in the thick of it

NE Patriots keep momentum as they work towards Super Bowl LVI.

Daniel L. Kuester

NE Patriots keep momentum as they work towards Super Bowl LVI.

Luke Moran, Crier Staff

After starting the season 2-4, many were down on the New England Patriots. In year 2 without Tom Brady, the questions became louder. Can Bill do it without Brady? Is Mac Jones really the future? In the 7 weeks since this team has answered the bell. They have won all 7 games since a 35-29 loss to the Dallas Cowboys on October 17, and in these 7 wins have been first in points scored, points against, and become the league leaders in the efficiency stat, DVOA. After beating the Buffalo Bills 14-10 on December 6th, the Patriots are now 9-4, first place in the AFC East, and currently the top overall seed in the AFC. How did they get here?  

One factor that cannot be overlooked is the losses the Patriots had early in the season. They lost by one score to both the defending champion Buccaneers and the Cowboys, two of the best teams in the NFC. They only lost to Miami in week one because of an ill-timed Damien Harris fumble in the red zone. There are no “moral victories”, but there are learning curves. These close losses helped this team to learn what it takes to beat these top teams, and they have paid off in wins over playoff contenders in the Chargers, Browns, Titans, and Bills. And now, the Pats control their own destiny and seem poised for a playoff and potential Super Bowl run. 

This team has also learned to play complementary football. The defense has emerged as one of, if not the best, in the NFL. Led by free agent signing Matthew Judon on the defensive line and ballhawk J.C. Jackson in the secondary, the defense has emerged as a top unit. They are second in takeaways this season and have allowed an average of 10.2 points per game during New England’s winning streak. Judon is having a career year with 11.5 sacks, and Jackson just won AFC defensive player of the month for November, with 4 interceptions, 6 passes defended, and a forced fumble. The defense also benefits from strong veteran leadership by championship players in Devin McCourty, Dont’a Hightower, and Kyle Van Noy. The strong mix of young and old have meshed into a smart and capable defense that doesn’t give up points and gets turnovers, setting up the offense for success. 

The Patriots offense is the true success story of the season. Rookie quarterback Mac Jones has been steady and gradually improving, and now has a poised command of the offense. In 2020 the offense was clunky and constantly out of rhythm, and this year they look like a fully oiled machine. Jones has performed exceptionally well for a rookie, completing over 70% of his passes with 16 touchdowns and only 8 interceptions. Jones won AFC rookie of the month for November, completing 76.8 % of passes for 7 touchdowns and 2 INTs. Jones was drafted 15th overall, and the future and the present seem bright. 

Jones of course does not function alone. The biggest development has been the stabilizing of the offensive line. Early in the season, they were riddled with injuries and as a result were unable to develop the running game and failed to adequately protect Jones. Now, Jones has more time to throw, and the running game has emerged to the level that was expected of the Pats in the preseason. Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson are bruising 1-2 punch, being able to wear down defenses and close out games when the time comes. The receiving core has come into form as well. Kendrick Bourne has become a lightning rod, giving energy to the whole team and also being a steady receiver with hands and speed. Nelson Agoholor is a complimentary piece that can stretch the field and create space for his teammates. Hunter Henry is a red zone monster, with 7 touchdowns this season. All of these players were acquired this offseason for New England, and have found their roles in the Patriots offense.  

New England has a football team to believe in again. The turnaround over the last 7 weeks has the Foxboro Faithful confident, and the rest of the league scared. A dominant defense and a complimentary offense that gets better every week has New England primed for a run down the stretch, and the rest of the league shaking in fear. Bill Belichick and the Evil Empire are back, and they have one destination in mind: Inglewood, California and Super Bowl LVI.