If the Patriots never left home Sunday morning, it would’ve been hard to tell after the performance they put on the field against the visiting Saints. Rookie QB Mac Jones finally put up a rookie stat line while big ticket offseason item Jonnu Smith appeared to be playing for an endorsement from a certain crispy, crunchy chocolate bar. The Patriots were losing by 15 in the third quarter, but the deficit felt much larger than that. Saints’ kicker Aldrick Rosas did his best to keep the Patriots in the game missing two field goals before any real separation on the scoreboard had occurred.
The offense seemed clunky again-like 2020 clunky. The decision makers at 1 Patriot Place made the decision to go with the rookie signal caller in large part due to his ability to run a smooth offensive operation. The Patriots had to wait until the second quarter to get their first first down of the game and it may well have cost them James White for the season. It didn’t get much better for the offense from there. The Patriots got to midfield before stalling and having the subsequent punt blocked by the Saints. For a team that carries four players on the active roster solely for special teams, the third phase of the game was unbelievably sloppy throughout.
After getting the ball back after a missed Saints field goal, the Pats drove 18 yards before Mac made his first rookie mistake of the season, lofting a pass in the face of pressure that was easily intercepted by the Saints defense. The Saints would score three plays later on a Jameis Winston touchdown pass. For anyone watching, the 14-point deficit already seemed insurmountable.
After a two-minute drill that featured some questionable play calling in the green area, the Pats opened the second half with the ball down 14-3. Que the circus music. Mac Jones threw a crossing route to Jonnu Smith who promptly bobbled it and popped it into the air where Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins was more than happy to snag it and take it back the other way for 6.
The next time the offense got the ball they executed their patented dozen-plus-play-drive-that-ends-in-a-field-goal to perfection. The Patriots used 16 plays to drive 82 yards before settling for a field goal. With three such drives against the Dolphins in the opener, the Patriots now have four drives this season that went for 14 plays or more and ended in a field goal. For a team that invested heavily in the top two tightends available this offseason, those kids of red zone woes are unacceptable.
The Pats made it close in the third quarter scoring on a 22-yard touchdown pass to WR Kendrick Bourne. The Patriots took advantage of the short field by driving 44 yards in 3 plays.
After a strong performance throughout the second half, the defense allowed the Saints offense to not only salt away the clock but get points in a “gotta have it moment.” It was blouses as Saints QB/TE/RB Taysom Hill plunged into the end zone with 2:41 remaining. Mac would fire his final interception on the day in desperation mode as the Pats limped home 1-2.
The Saints were able to bring constant pressure at Mac and seldom had to pay for it. Losing passing back James White will further compound this issue going forward as the pass protection has been an issue three weeks in a row. RT Trent Brown’s return will be an added boost but the line needs to come together quickly to keep the young QB healthy.
All three of Mac Jones’ interceptions were ugly. The first was a poor decision by the rookie, a case of trying to do too much. His second is squarely on Jonnu Smith. Jones made a good throw and put it away from the defender before Smith gifted it away. His third and final interception came on a miscommunication with Nelson Agholor in the waning moments of the game. Jones threw out, Agholor broke in. It wasn’t the only time during the game that Agholor was on a different page than his QB.
Jones pushed the ball downfield more against the Saints with limited success. With the Saints freely blitzing the Patriots offense needs to get some respect on their deep passing game. If they continue to be unable to spread out defense vertically, defenses will continue to crowd the line and get free runs at Jones.
Despite the horrendous showing, Jonnu Smith will continue to be a part of this offense going forward and the Patriots need him to be. He is a dynamic play maker and a monster after the catch-he just needs to do the catching first. Perhaps the Patriots begin keeping second year tight end Devin Asiasi on game days if the problems for Smith continue.
Despite the score the Patriots defense played well. The Saints had 177 total yards of offense before their final scoring drive. The Saints were able to convert a short field from an interception into a touchdown and added another on the pick-six. Despite the strong showing up to that point, the defense needs to win in that situation. This is a team that is supposed to support their young QB with a strong running game and an elite defense. The defense looked tired despite its strong showing in the second half but also had a change of mentality. After featuring aggressive play calling that had the Saints going backwards for a majority of their second half plays, the Patriots played extremely conservatively on a third and long call with the game in the balance. Sending only four in the pass rush, Winston was able to sit in the pocket and find Deontae Harris for 12 yards and a huge conversion for the game.
The sky was falling after the game in New England. But the offense is progressing, albeit at a slower rate than many fans would appreciate. All three interceptions came on plays with shared blame for the offense, not a single one was completely Mac Jones’ fault. With the GOAT returning next Sunday night, the Patriots need to get the little things figured out-starting up front on the offensive line.
James White’s injury bears watching. If it is a hip subluxation, White might be able to return much later this season. If it is a fracture in the joint, it may meet career ending status due to his position and age.