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Knee Jerk Reactions to Week 8: Patriots vs. Jets

Things to consider while suggesting a costume that will scare your Jets fans neighbors and intrigue your mom's girlfriends:

--I'm not going to claim this one was a masterpiece. I'm not saying it belongs in a museum or is even worthy of having someone throw a can of Chunky Cream of Mushroom on it and Gorilla Glue himself to the frame so you'll stop heating your house or whatever. Nor am I going to undersell the importance of it or suffer anyone else to, either. This was a significant win on a lot of levels. Beginning with what it means to the season. According to Football Outsiders, a loss would've left the Patriots with a 13% chance of making the playoffs. The win puts them at 39%. Which is nobody's idea of good enough, but it's a baseline they can work with if they can go on a 2021-like run heading into the second half of the schedule. It's also monumental when you think of what we were looking at six days ago. We were walking through a crash site, with smoldering wreckage and disembodied limbs all across the debris field. But on a short week they found a way to get it together, go on the road against a divisional opponent, and get a win. The Bears game looked like a team imploding. This one proved they still have the mental toughness and the coaching to bounce back and do nothing less than save the season. Even with all the stuff that still needs to be cleaned up if any of this is going to work, we should take that and rejoice. 

--As a side benefit, this win has the Jets and their fans questioning themselves. And that is always a pure good. They were ready to be 6-2 with New England as 3-5. Which would've been unthinkable. Instead, they feel like the good old reliable J-E-T-S we're accustomed to. They're still like the guy that TV trope where one character says, "Not to worry. I'm sure he has everything under control ..." Smash cut to the guy putting out fires in the kitchen while the alarm sounds, water sprays out of the sprinklers, and wild animals are running all over the house. It's still in the Jets DNA to be the team that helps you right the ship when it feels like it's sinking.

--Obviously the top item on the punchlist of things that need to be fixed in order to increase that 39% metric is Mac Jones. Look, I'll admit that when it comes to Jones, I'm an easy lay.  He's my QB1 and want it to stay that way for the next 20 years. So saying he needs to get straightened out is not something I expected to be saying eight weeks into the season. But between the coaches reworking - make that "streamlining" - the offensive system all summer, deciding to scrap that idea and going back to what always worked before, and Jones missing time with his high ankle sprain, he's still not right. He's a kid who was pulling straight A's in math until they changed the curriculum. Then the school was shut down for a while, and he didn't take to the remote learning. (You can talk like this on Twitter now without getting shadowbanned, so I'm feeling it here as well.) So now his proficiency is a full grade behind and he's struggling to catch up. 

--Take for example, that 4th & 1 they couldn't convert late in the half. They ran a designed roll out left off play action with a 2X2 on the outside. Hunter Henry (outside) and Jakobi Meyers (slot) ran a crosser, with Meyers stopping in order to freeze Jordan Whitehead as Henry ran into the flat behind him. It worked as a rub route, as by the time Jones had his feet set, Henry was at the sticks with a good 4-5 yard cushion. But Jones had missile lock on Meyers, gesturing to him to release up the seam, while he should've switched to guns and picked up the easy 1st down. Freeze this at 0:04 and you'll see that Brandin Echols was just crossing the line of scrimmage so there was no pressure. Jones only had to concern himself with half the field and two receivers, and simply never saw the 50% of them that were open for the pitch and catch that would've given them a fresh set of downs:

--I don't even want to talk about his worst throw of the day. In the span of about 90 seconds of game clock (which I prefer to measure as 3 promos for CBS's hilarious new No. 1 sitcom Ghosts, immediately following Young Sheldon for an hour of laughs), we went from that turnover on downs, to Zach Wilson's first interception to a Pick-6 that would've cost us the game to being saved by the flag to putting points on the board. That sequence gave me the emotional bends from sinking to the depths and then surfacing too soon. I'm going to need to put my feelings in a hyperbaric chamber for a day or two before it's safe for me to discuss it. Though it looked in real time like an option route where Jakobi Meyers cut inside, where there was a lot of room to operate. Whereas Jones expected him to go outside, where there was an overabundance of Michael Carter. Advantage: Meyers.

--Let's just say that while the Roughing the Passer call on John Franklin-Myers might have been somewhat dubious, aren't the quarterbacks getting all the calls on those borderline plays now? As in 100% of the time? Didn't we all agree on that when Tua Tagovailoa was writhing in distress to his central nervous system that we wanted officials to err on the side of caution with these QBs? That the tie would always go to the passer, in order to spare us the sight of them stumbling off the field with cartoon birds flying around their heads? It's like any rule; it's fair as long as it's called the same way in every situation and with every player. You have a legitimate beef with the one where Jones was running for the 1st down and got hit the same way every running back does a dozen times a game. But officials are gonna over-officiate on these RTPs. 

--That said, while we're not supposed to compare Jones to Tom Brady, I'm proud to see he's developing the GOAT's ability to draw dubious penalties. Now if we can just teach him to lose Drew Bledsoe's ability to pull up at the boundary to get clobbered, instead of running safely out of bounds, that'd be grrreat

--Now comes the part where I say, "Still, there were positives. ..." And there were. Particularly when Jones found Meyers. On that last drive of the 1st quarter, the two hooked up to convert 3rd & double digits twice. The second of which was this nice little shallow cross where Jones hit Meyers in stride scraping behind the line and then following Hunter Henry and Rhamondre Stevenson as they threw the sort of upfield blocks that are considered TV-MA adult content at coaches seminars:

Then the touchdown (note the singular form of the noun), which was a ballsy, yet successful call by Belichick and Matt Patricia. Going for it on 4th & 1 early in a 4-point game. The Patriots in a bunch formation and Meyers in the backfield before motioning to the slot right. Jones called for the snap the instant Meyers got set and before the Jets could get their coverage adjusted. Watch CJ Mosley motion Lamarcus Joyner over, but too late to close the gap:

Meyers followed Henry's block on Sauce Gardner and it was just a matter of diving inside the pylon. The key being that Jones was able to make a presnap read and understand his best option before the defense could adjust. That's the sort of thing he was doing routinely when he was at his best as a rookie. And what the primary focus needs to be going forward. 

--Which brings us to the real key to this offense as it's currently constituted. The true Chosen One who brings balance to the Force, as spoken of in the prophecies, is Stevenson. And he sports the Princess Leia buns:

Simply put, Stevenson invaluable right now. Everything this scheme is doing best goes through him. When they first drafted him out of Oklahoma, I looked at his size and thought that maybe with time they can develop him into a low-cal, gluten-free LeGarrette Blount option. Or maybe one of those replacement droids they've always been able to find; another Ben-Jonas Gray Bolden or whatever. I certainly didn't project him to be an every down back. Particularly on 3rd down, where he's a better receiver out of the backfield in his second season than James White was in his third. He's become the underneath safety valve. Made a one-handed grab in stride to start the drive that ended with a field goal just before the half. Picked up 22 on a wheel route on 3rd & 8. And led the team in receiving yards on the day. I can't imagine anyone thinking catching passes would part of the skill set of a guy with his physical profile. It's like finding out Russell Crowe can do musicals

--But until further notice, power running remains the most reliable club in his bag. If he's ever made a better run than that 35-yarder, I can't recall it. Though I'd like to. Because this was a backbreaker for the Jets defense. On a tough day for the Pats O-line in pass protection (more on that in a bit), they motioned Jonnu Smith in to H-back and act as lead block on this one. He hit the right side A-gap between James Ferentz and Michael Onwenu to seal off Quincy Williams, but Whitehead came in to plug the hole behind him. Only to be run over like a Mini Cooper cutting off an amphetamine-addled Teamster as Stevenson built up a head of steam. Ten yards upfield, he crashed through Joyner's roadblock and the chase was on:

I can't imagine where this offense would be without Stevenson. Some questions are just best left unanswered though.

--As far as that pass protection, part of it can be blamed on Jones being indecisive and holding the ball too long. But when you see the difference between him taking sacks (which hurt a little) and Wilson chucking it deep when he feels pressure (which was fatal), it's reasonable to think some of that is Jones being coached to minimize risk. Belichick has long told QBs that they're never going to come off the field on with the punt team coming on saying, "I just cost us the game." But after turning the ball over, you will. 

--Yet in general, it's like the offensive linemen take turns being the Penalty Committing Sack Allower of the Week. Last week it was Trent Brown. This week Cole Strange got to take a spin. Literally, as he got turned around by Quinnen Williams on a sack, three QB Hits, a tackle for a loss and got flagged twice for holding. It's happened to other guards, obviously. And Strange had been playing fairly solidly the last month or so. But this was his "We're not in Chattanooga anymore" game. 

--The really disturbing thing is all the penalties, which go on the pile of unforced errors that is becoming a mountain peak this season. You can forgive the holds, because that's something you do while losing a one-on-one battle to a guy. The unforgivable ones have become part of this team's weekly routine, though. Smith gets flagged for Illegal Formation. Jabrill Peppers tacks 15 yards onto a long gain by hitting a guy clearly out of bounds. Pierre Strong throws a Block in the Back as Marcus Jones is letting a punt go into the end zone.There was another 12 Men in the Huddle call. Josh Uche jumps early, turning a 3rd & 10 into a 3rd & manageable. I never thought I'd live to say this, but this is a Bill Belichick team that lacks discipline and attention to detail. Now there's a muscle I'm not used to using. I'm going to be sore in the morning. 

--Needless to say, the best parts of this team yesterday were the special teams and defense. So allow me to needlessly say so. Beginning with the teams, who were coming off one of the worst performances we've seen in 23 years in these parts but pulled a complete and positive 180. And it was every unit. Twice Braxton Berrios tried to return a kick and couldn't make it back to his own 20. Marcus Jones returned a punt 32 yards. And Nick Folk was the unit's Employee of the Week. Once again Big Kick Nick reminded me that he is to the Pats what Koji Uehara was to the 2013 Red Sox. They settled on him after going through like four other closers. Same with Folk in 2019. The difference being that four years later, he's still answering this team's prayers. The mystery of why he was unemployed in a league with so many substandard kickers is one best left unsolved.

--I'm actually embarrassed it's taken me this long to mention the defense, because Steve Belichick's side of the ball had the biggest bounceback week of anyone. Yes, there was the business of putting Joshua Bledsoe in solo coverage on Tyler Conklin in the red zone, which looked like the match between Hornswoggle and The Big Show. And there were chunk plays. But overall, it felt like one of those game plans they've had over the years where they know they're facing a quarterback who is prone to mistakes and a coordinator without the patience to take what you're giving him. So they set the trap and waited for the Jets to take the cheese.  

--I feel like we saw a lot of deep shell zone with disguised coverages, inviting Wilson to take the underneath stuff and pressuring him when he refused to play it safe. With an emphasis on three safeties and at times seven DBs, relying on the defensive tackles (primarily Davon Godchaux at nose, Lawrence Guy at 5-tech, and a rotation of Carl Davis and Daniel Ekuale mixed in) to hold up against the run and the linebackers to hold the edges. With Mack Wilson and Jahlani Tavai playing a lot of Sam LB opposite Matthew Judon.

--Take McCourty's first interception. He and Peppers were lined up in Cover-2, with Peppers ready to drop down and take the shallow middle while McCourty played post safety. Prior to the snap, Conklin came in motion, so the safeties switched, with McCourty stepping up. And Judon chased Wilson into letting go of the ball without the slightest idea McCourty was already in the area to defend the deep curl:

We've seen this movie before. In some of the best seasons of the Dynasty era. When a QB completes a lot of passes, throws for a ton of yards, wins the box score, and tempts you to think he had a good game. Unless you actually watched it. Then you understand the impressive numbers were baked into the game plan. The price the coaches were willing to pay in order to get the turnovers.

--I mentioned Mack Wilson, and will again. Because this was by far his most impactful game of his Patriots career. On McCourty's second pick, he was lined up inside Judon, spying Ty Johnson. When Johnson stayed home in protection, he rushed, shed the block, chased Zach and forced him to purchase the Bad Idea Jeans once again:

I'm still waiting to live out my dream of Mack Wilson and Adrian Phillips to get to the quarterback at the same time. And if Wilson Phillips hold on to share the sack, I won't be held responsible for my actions.

--Credit where it's due though. There's not a passer in the league with Zach Wilson's ability to slip tackles, escape pressure, get out of the pocket, throw on the run and deliver a perfect ball to the open safety the way he can.

--My brother Jack and I were talking after the game and agreed on three things about Deatrich Wise. First, neither of us much cared for him and were stunned when he got the coveted second contract. Second, we were both wrong about him since he is much, much improved. And third, he rushes the passer like he's got oven mitts on. Meaning, he can invade a QB's personal space with practically anybody, but then whiffs on more sacks than anyone too. He must have the lowest rate of sacks-to-pressures of any DE/OLB in the league.

--This Week's Applicable Movie Quote: “It’s Halloween, everyone’s entitled to one good scare.” – Halloween 

--To come full circle from what I said at the beginning about masterpieces? This scene is most definitely suitable for framing. Such a shame these guys have no fun and can't stand playing for this coach:

--Happy Halloween, kids.