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Knee Jerk Reactions to Week 7: Patriots vs. Jets

Things to consider while being grateful Carl wasn't here to witness this:

--If you're going to be one of those people who just dismisses a 54-13 win out of hand because "it's only the Jets," then you just make me angry. Not because I don't care for your opinion. But because you're clearly suffering from some kind of mental illness and someone is going to approach me for money to sponsor them in a Road Race for Awareness or a Bike-a-Thon for a Cure or some damned thing and I'm going to get guilted into ponying up. All thanks to your crippling depression and inability/unwillingness to recognize an impressive victory when it's staring you in the face.

--The Jets are not good. But 41-point annihilations don't just happen in the NFL. More relevantly, they don't get carried out by teams that are merely "average" or "not good anymore," which is how the 2021 Patriots have been described. Last week my gripe with the Pats was that they were playing to the level of their opponent, squeaking out a win against Houston but unable to close out last minute losses to Tampa Bay and Dallas. Which begged the question of whether they were capable of simply putting someone away. Asked and answered. Emphatically. They're 3-4, and are a couple of fumbles against Miami, a clanged field goal vs. Tampa and a defensive stop in the Dallas game away from being 6-1. No, they don't get credit for those ones. But they do for this. They've got a makeshift offense that's been rocked by injuries all over the line and the backfield that's being run by a rookie who was the fifth quarterback off the draft board, and they just scored 54 points in a game. They possessed the ball 10 times not counting a kneel down at the end of the 4th quarter and scored on nine of the drives, with seven touchdowns. If you can't appreciate that because of who the opponent was, screw you. I'm not sponsoring a Walk for the Cause or whatever will cure you. You're making a conscious choice and don't deserve happiness. 

--The Patriots had a 100 yard rusher (7.6 YPA), a 300 yard passer (67% completions), 11 receivers with catches, nine of them with 20+ yards, no turnovers, and were perfect in the red zone after struggling all year. But I'm not going to start with any of the skill positions. If I did a gimmick like giving out game balls or one of those panel show bits where the props department made me a plastic trophy with a knee jerking that I could pretend to award to the player of the game, this week it would go to the offensive line.

--A lineup that has been shuffled like a cribbage deck all season has come a light year in the last three weeks. In this one they started (L to R) Isaiah Wynn, Ted Karras, David Andrews, Shaq Mason and Michael Onwenu. James Ferentz took snaps when Mason came out and Justin Herron saw quite a few reps as a blocking tight end. And collectively had the best game the unit has put together yet. They allowed one sack. The Jets had four tackles for loss. John Franklin-Myers, who is arguably their best defensive player was rendered invisible, with just one tackle. Mac Jones was blitzed on just 12 dropbacks and went 6-for-11 for 84 yards and a touchdown. There was the one unaccounted for rusher on the lone sack, but overall they communicated as well as they have all season. It's astonishing how far they've come since the team produced negative rushing yards in the Brady Bowl. "So the Patriots O-line is the recipient of my award as the Biggest Knee Jerks of the Week. Back to you, Terry and Howie!" 

--Robert Salah is a Kyle Shanahan discipline. And as such, his defense is mostly predicated on taking away the deep part of the field. It's a top-down scheme, heavily reliant on a lot of Cover-3 and even some Quarters to keep everything in front of them and play zone under. So it made sense that the plan going in was to do what  Jones does best, work the short and intermediate stuff. And it worked to near perfection. On throws of 0-10 yards, he was 13-for-15 for 129 yards. In the 11-20 yard range, he was 4-for-6 with 68 yards and a touchdown. As the game progressed and the running game established itself, Salah was forced to play more Cover-1 with a Lurk defender in the box, and Jones began taking shots to the deep outside zones. One of which was the best throw of his career. But I don't want to get ahead of myself. 

--The fact is, Josh McDaniels has taken a lot of guff so far. I don't even know what guff is; I just know that he's taken a lot of it. But he came into this game more prepared than a Varsity Blues mom in an admissions office with pictures of her daughter photoshopped into a crew boat. 

--Clearly the idea going in was to feature the tight ends. Jonnu Smith was moved around a lot, from up on the line to half of a split backfield and got the ball in his hands on three of the first four plays. And none was better than the screen that went for 28 yards. The Pats were in 12 personnel, with Damien Harris as the lone back and Smith lined up outside of Hunter Henry on the boundary side. Jones sold the play action while Henry ran a deep slant that took both play side linebackers with him. Smith held his block on the DE to sell the run action before releasing him. Then had three blockers in front of him, but essentially didn't need them. Karras was out in front. Andrews basically had no one to block. And Wynn pretty much whiffed on the linebacker coming downfield. This one was a product of play design, the fake, and Smith's burst once he got into the open field:

--Harris might have had the game of his career as well. McDaniels put the ball in his hands with a combination of gap runs, dives, powers and draws that Salah had no answers for. The being this 32-yarder. Henry and Jakobi Meyers ran a pair of backside slants - which are called Slice in a lot of systems, but Tosser in the Pats scheme - right at the middle of the Jets defense. Jones gave a pump fake to Smith on the backside to freeze the linebackers, while Onwenu (who has transitioned from left guard to right tackle, which Belichick admitted after the game is like crossing the Atlantic) ran Franklin-Myers completely out of the backfield. The rest was all Harris:

--On an unrelated note, it's been a while since I got my vaccine, and my memory might be fuzzy on this. But wasn't one of the shots from a company called Franklin-Myers? It should be. It works much better as a pharma name than a defensive end.

--And while we're giving McDaniels credit for gameplanning, I'm not about to ignore the gadget plays. They didn't all work, but they worked enough to put points on the board and the ones that didn't, did no harm. The double pass from Kendrick Bourne to Nelson Agholor was him calling all the right things at exactly the right time. Just as the Jets began coming down into the box to defend the run, Jones swung the ball to Bourne on a smoke route and everyone bit. Agholor stayed outside and the single post safety had no shot to get over. 

--Just to keep on this roll of breaking down successful offensive plays, that aforementioned best pass of Jones career was the deep sideline shot to Bourne. Again, against a single high safety, Bourne on the outside and Meyers in the slot ran a kind of Fade-Dig combo (which looked a lot like what a Pats playbook from 2004 called a "Lookie," because the inside guy has a sight read, but don't quote me on that). Meyers broke off his route into the deep middle, and the safety Ashtyn Davis bit. Bourne meanwhile took an outside release on Brandin Echols, found his overdrive gear quickly and burned him. I'll be convinced on my deathbed that Bourne broke the plane of the end zone, but I'm not going to complain. One, because the Pats scored. And two, in the words of the late, great Norm MacDonald, I'll just be regretting that I bought a deathbed. Still, this is exactly the kind of throw Jones was hitting in preseason and watching McDaniels give him these shots as we get into the middle third of the season is making life worth living. 

--If I may digress - and I may, since it's my blog and I'll digress if I want to - now that KFC isn't doing celebrity Colonel Sanders impersonations, can we all just agree Norm was the best? 

--And on a related note, is there anyone in America less convincing playing a sports bettor than Patton Oswalt? I mean, he's funny and all. I like his standup and enjoyed one of his books. But nothing about him screams, "He's got money on the hockey game."

--OK, one last play. Just because I think it illustrates what has set Jones apart from the other rookie quarterbacks. The touchdown to Bolden wasn't the most electric, dynamic throw you'll ever see. Or even saw on that drive. But it was a great example of Jones command of this offense. The Jets loaded up the line, so Jones checked out of what he was going to run. Instead, he motioned Meyers in to a 2-RB look, with 2X1 on the outside. As Meyers came in, Javelin Guidry stayed with him, indicating Man coverage, and Jones re-Miked to No. 44, Jamien Sherwood who was up in the B-gap. As he did, the corner heads up on Agholor signaled that he had responsibility to stay with Agholor deep. Ad the snap, Jones ran a play action fake to Meyers which froze Marcus Maye. Three linemen pulled to get out ahead of Brandon Bolden on the backside screen. Sherwood got completely lost in the wash and there was no one left with the sand in the pants to stop Bolden with a full head of steam and blockers to follow: 

--Another Jets name comment that will probably only mean something to baseball fans of a certain age. But Javelin would've been a much better nickname than "Louisiana Lightning." Unfortunately for Ron Guidry, he lived in a time where sportswriters still though alliterations were clever. 

--Anyway, what a breakout game for Bolden. Show of hands for anyone who saw him as the solution at pass-catching back when James White went down for the year. Anyone? Raise 'em up. Nope? No one? Me neither. Remember when McDaniels was getting into the red zone earlier in the year and throwing screens to him that went nowhere and we couldn't fathom why he thought this career special teamer would be a better option than, well … anybody. But damned if he didn't see something there the rest of us missed. Whether it was out of desperation or necessity or just having a better knowledge of Bolden's skills than the rest of us, he's used the same Dark Magic that worked so well on Cordarelle Patterson to maximize Bolden's talents. 

--The game was long since over and McDaniels was still pulling stuff out of the Super Secret Trick Plays section at the back of his playbook. Which had to be by design. You don't try that "Direct snap to Harris, throw to Jones, double pass" thing that the Jets had covered when you're up 31-13 because you think you need it to win the game. You do it to put it on tape so the Chargers and everyone else on your schedule has to worry about it. So look for the play off that play, coming to a high leverage situation where it'll actually pay off soon. 

--And of course, one of the biggest benefits of Belichick being on the handle end of the blowout pitchfork for once was that it gave him a chance to go deep into his roster and see what we've got. JJ Taylor surprisingly got to dress over Rhamondre Stevenson and rewarded the faith with some impressive goal line running. On his first touchdown, he Kool Aid-manned his way right through Maye. And on his second, got low and went right between the legs of Noah Dawkins like Gilligan escaping the giant at the top of the beanstalk. (OK, Boomer. Thanks for the deep pull no one gets.) 

--But probably no one on the offensive side of the ball helped himself more than N'Keal Harry. It didn't look good for a while there as they were running exclusively 3-WR sets with Smith out of the game and Harry still wasn't seeing the field except in goal line run plays. But he ended up taking 30 snaps in all. And did the one thing Belichick was dreaming about when he plucked him out of the end of the 1st round three drafts ago:

Plus he got interfered with on a pass he was in perfect position to haul down with no call, so it should've been even better. Listen, I'm not about to talk like I'm ready to romantically make out with Harry under a waterfall. Just point out that he did a thing. And maybe earned himself more opportunities going forward. 

--But no player on the Pats roster acquitted himself better than Joejuan Williams. This was the best game of his career and it's not even close. First of all, he played more than half the snaps as the fourth cornerback in the rotation, both as the Pats went to Money packages as the Jets were forced to spread their offense, and later as the starters came off the field. The Pats were mixing their coverage assignments, so at varying times Williams was on Michael Carter, Keelan Cole, Denzel Mims and Elijah Moore. He was targeted five times, gave up one reception for eight yards, and broke up three passes. Including one where Mims grabbed his facemask - no call - and he still made the play. For the first time maybe in his career, he was mirroring receivers, anticipating their breaks and getting under their routes. And not just the tall, rangy types he was drafted to stay with, but all body types. He might have just found himself. 

--The defensive lineman getting the bulk of the snaps in the Pats interior rotation is Christian Barmore. And with good reason. He was in the Jets backfield much of the game, both as a 5-tech tackle in their base 30 fronts, nose tackle on obvious passing downs, and as the lone down lineman when they go to the bonkers State Worker alignments where 10 guys are standing around doing nothing. On the day Barmore had two QB hits and two hurries. And continues to develop week-to-week as the Nick Saban pipeline continues to produce oil and is single-handedly keeping the Patriots college scouting department talent independent.

--"We always walk tall! We're JETS!!!" - "West Side Story"

--To know me is to know I'm proud of my thick, luxurious mane of hair. Prematurely grey though it may be, it is pH-balance perfection. But if I should ever lose it, I want to be bald the way Salah is bald. That dome of his is hauntingly beautiful. It positively shines. You can see the reflection of the stadium in it. It's like highly polished mahogany. Or one of those shiny balls people have on top of pedestals in their yards. The Jets website should offer pay option to watch an entire game from a camera pointed at his forehead. 

--It's bad karma to ever hope an opponent's starting quarterback ever comes out of a game injured. You don't want that kind of bad juju. So it was disappointing to see Matt Judon leave Zach Wilson lying on the ground like a spatchcocked chicken. I would've like to seen how the Patriots continued to play him and what kind of problems they were going to keep putting on the board for him to solve.

--One thing we know for sure is that Mike LaFleur loves to run play action, and so far the Jets as a team are uniquely terrible at it. The timing is bad, their spacing is atrocious, their protection isn't good enough, and the play fakes aren't very play fakey. And going into this one, Wilson had the 32nd passer rating in the league running play action. Three of the four picks he threw in the first meeting were on run fakes. But he only had one attempt in this one. By contrast, Jones was 11-for-15, with 173 yards, 11.5 YPA and a 133.5 passer rating. It's something he's excelled at all season, even when the Pats were utterly incapable of convincing anyone they have a run game. If there's one thing that separates Mac Jones from the rest of the QB Class of '21, that's it. 

--Having said all that, Mike White looked good at times. The Pats played him mostly in deep shells, dared him to keep moving the chains and waited for him to make mistakes. And he did both of those things. But I think he played well enough that, when Wilson does come back, the Jets might have a quarterback controversy. Which we will then find out was Belichick's evil master plan all along. His appetite for vengeance against that organization will never satisfied.

--And once again I find myself saying that if the Jets didn't exist, we'd have had to invent them.