Despite the New England Patriots falling to the Philadelphia Eagles 25-20 in their 2023 season opener, there was still plenty for the losing side to feel good about. There were also things that will need to improve if the Patriots playoff aspirations are to come to fruition. A look back on the highs and lows from Week 1…
WEEK 1 HIGHS
Bill O’Brien – The new offensive coordinator had an impressive debut in his return to New England. The Patriots offense amassed 382 total yards and had three passing touchdowns yesterday. Last season, New England’s offense did not accomplish those totals in the same game all year. Diversity of plays and options led to a far less predictable offense than a year ago. There were arguably too many screens, and routes ran short of the first down marker on crucial plays, but O’Brien and Mac Jones did a nice job involving all of the Patriots offensive weapons. A tough Eagles defense was kept off balance for long stretches. Very promising that bigger and better things lie ahead for this offense.
Mac Jones – Nobody was harder on Mac Jones performance than the New England Patriots quarterback himself. Jones took the blame for the loss in his postgame presser, stating “I felt like in the most critical times, I played my worst.” While it was a solid leadership move by Jones to shoulder the blame, he wasn’t being fair. Was he perfect? No; but he was excellent for long stretches. He gave his team an opportunity to win the game on their final drive. His final numbers: 35-for-54, 316 passing yards, three touchdowns, and one interception. Very solid start to 2023 from the Patriots QB.
Kendrick Bourne – Since he came to New England in 2021, some people have been repeatedly pointing out that Kendrick Bourne is a playmaker. Unfortunately, too often those screams have fallen on deaf ears. Yesterday Bourne appeared to emerge as Mac Jones new favorite target, following the offseason departure of Jakobi Meyers. Bourne was targeted a team-high 11 times. He finished the game with six receptions for 64 yards and caught two touchdowns.
David Andrews – The veteran team captain was his usual solid self in the middle of the Patriots offensive line. Andrews had even more responsibility than usual, with a rookie backup guard playing on each side of him. He was up to the task against a talented defensive front for Philadelphia. Andrews anchored a line that appeared overmatched on paper, and the man in the middle was the Patriots most reliable player along the offensive line.
Christian Barmore – A member of the 2021 NFL All-Rookie Team, Barmore took a step back in 2022, largely due to unavailability. In Week 1 Barmore seemed ready to build off his rookie campaign, being a disruptive force for the Patriots once again. PFF graded Barmore as the Patriots best defensive player yesterday (84.1) and it’s tough to argue. He finished with 4 pressures, a hurry and a run stuff.
Jabrill Peppers – The Patriots safety was very active throughout the game, playing in 88% of the defensive snaps, and finishing third on the team in tackles. He also had the defensive play of the game for New England. His vicious hit on Jalen Hurts in the fourth quarter forced a fumble, Philadelphia’s lone turnover of the game. The Patriots safety group overall had an excellent game, completly eliminating Eagles tight end Dallas Goedert from the contest.
Myles Bryant – The much-maligned Patriots DB played an excellent game for New England. He finished tied with Peppers for third on the team in tackles with six (five solo). Bryant had several big plays on third downs, getting the ball back for the Patriots. He played both the pass and run game well. Anyone with multiple highlights, and no lowlights, classfiels for the “Highs” of Week 1.
It would be great to simply celebrate everything the New England Patriots did well yesterday, but that would be dishonest. If everything had gone well, the Patriots would not have left Gillette with a loss. There was another side to the team’s performance yesterday…
WEEK 1 LOWS
Fourth Down Decisions – Twice the New England Patriots made questionable decisions to go for it on fourth down yesterday, with both attempts falling short. The first occasion came with the Patriots trailing by eight points (22-14) with 10:13 to play in the fourth quarter. New England had worked the ball down to the Eagles 17-yard line but opted to go for it on fourth and three. The dump off attempt to Ezekiel Elliott fell to the field and gave the ball back to the Eagles. Two possessions later, Bill Belichick against pressed his luck on fourth down, with the Patriots again coming up short. New England had the ball just over midfield, following a sack, an incompletion, and a delay of game penalty. Facing fourth and 17, Belichick opted to go for it. The attempt to Hunter Henry was incomplete and would have been short of a first down even if he had caught it. With the Patriots defense playing great, and an opportunity to pin the Eagles deep in their own end, the decision to go for it was a strange one. Giving away possession risks not getting the ball back; but trusting the defense and special teams seemed like the smart play.
Turnovers – Simply impossible to win against a quality opponent like the Eagles while committing turnovers. The pick-six from Darius Slay was the result of a poorly thrown ball by Mac Jones, and Kendrick Bourne failing to bring it in. Both of those guys played well enough to land on the top list anyway, but turnovers are brutal. The fumble by Ezekiel Elliott on the very next play was nearly soul crushing. After the Eagles converted the second Patriots turnover into a 16-0 lead, nobody in attendance would have been surprised if the game turned into a blowout. Credit to the Patriots for now allowing that to happen, but there is no way New England can expect to lose the turnover battle and still win the game against quality opponents.
Health of Offensive Line – The starting offensive guards for the Patriots were both out with injuries. Unfortunately, it showed. Cole Strange and Mike Onwenu were sorely missed in the trenches. With backup rookies filling in, both pass protection and running room suffered. The Eagles have a great defensive front, so it would be a tough matchup even with Strange and Onwenu active. After seeing how things looked like with second stringers playing however, getting the starters back on the field ASAP is of primary importance for the Patriots.
Clutch Play – The Twitter contingency that continues to be anti-Mac Jones as the Patriots QB points to a lack of clutch performances as one of the reasons. To date, Jones has led the Patriots to only one fourth quarter comeback, and just one game winning drive. Both of those happened to occur in the same game in 2021. The losing Houston Texans squad would finish that season with a 4-13 record. As much as Jones defenders will have his back, this narrative will exist until he and his teammates do something to change it; namely win in the clutch. It is unfair to expect Mac Jones (or anyone) to become Tom Brady 2.0. It is fair, however, to expect the Patriots to come out on top in more of the games they have a chance to win.
Deatrich Wise Jr. – A longtime steady player at defensive end in New England, Wise struggled mightily in the opener. The captain had a pair of foolish penalties, which were costly. Aside from turnovers, mental mistakes (especially those that are flagged) might be the quickest way to end up in Bill Belichick’s doghouse. Wise also got caught inside on a crucial play, failing to secure containment, resulting in a long run by Jalen Hurts. Expect a big turnaround in Week 2 from the wily veteran.
JuJu Smith-Schuster – Although JuJu Smith-Schuster wasn’t particularly bad in Week 1, he also wasn’t particularly noticeable. He was targeted seven times, recording four receptions for 33 yards. That pace would put Smith-Schuster on pace for 561 yards over a 17-game season. That is not the type of production the Patriots were hoping for or expecting, especially with DeVante Parker sidelined.
Those on the “Highs” list will attempt to remain there, while the “Lows” will look to clean things up moving forward. It should also be noted that Hunter Henry (high) and the New England Patriots rookies (both highs and lows) could have been included on this report, but more on those guys coming soon.