Grading the New England Patriots over their previous three games has been easy. It was not fun, especially rewatching the ugly losses to the Cowboys and Saints; but it was easy. Determining that the coaching, quarterback, offensive line and special teams deserved failing grades in those blowout losses is not difficult. Last week against the Raiders the report card improved significantly despite the defeat. But this week, the Patriots players and coaches are finally not going to complain about their grouch who keeps handing out lousy grades. They got good grades, and they earned them.
Not everything went perfectly on Sunday, but there’s more good than bad in this week’s New England Patriots Report Card…
It was tempting to give the staff an ‘A’ after the big win, but as Bill Belichick said in his postgame remarks, there is still room for improvement. That includes the coaching staff. Bill O’Brien did a great job with the offensive game plan, especially at the bookends of the game. On the Patriots opening drive they were using more pre-snap motion and the Bills defense appeared confused. Play calling did a nice job mixing up pass and run plays. This is obviously much easier when the offensive line is doing their jobs, and the offense is not trying to climb out of a deep hole from the outset. Game winning drive was called perfectly by O’Brien (and perfectly executed too).
Why did the Patriots look more efficient and productive on Sunday?
"[Bill] O'Brien. He did a great job calling a good game."
— NFL on CBS 🏈 (@NFLonCBS) October 22, 2023
The defense did a great job taking away Buffalo’s main offensive weapon in Stefon Diggs. But once again the Patriots struggled defending the opposing tight ends. Perhaps a new strategy (Marte Mapu?) in coming weeks on that front. Overall, team tackling was very poor. The game would not have been decided in the final seconds if the defense had tackled better.
Discipline was improved from a penalty perspective, regardless of two roughing the passer calls. The special teams unit did not have enough men on the field for a field goal attempt, forcing New England to use a timeout which may have come back to haunt them. But overall, a very well coached game against a tough division rival.
Mac Jones did a lot to silence his critics in this one. Of course, it was only one game, but it was a great one. Jones looked poised, hung in the pocket, made quicker reads than he has all season, and threw the ball with both authority and touch when needed. It was clear that getting solid pass protection had a very positive effect on the Patriots QB.
Jones finished the game 25-of-30 for 272 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. When people visualize how a team lead by Mac Jones can be successful in the NFL, it cannot be written up any better than that. Ball security cannot be stressed enough. When the quarterback turns the ball over three times, as Jones did against both the Cowboys and Saints, the team has no chance. When he has no turnovers, anything is possible.
The narrative of Mac Jones not being able to lead a comeback or beat a good team also took a hit. If the New England Patriots can figure out a way to clone this performance from Jones, they’d take it every week.
Running Backs: B
The ground game was not explosive, but it was effective. Rhamondre Stevenson and Ezekiel Elliott ran the ball for a combined 65 yards on 20 carries. But the run game showed enough that it had to be respected and accounted for. They got tough yardage when needed and each back took a carry for 10-plus yards.
Stevenson also made a huge contribution as a receiver. He was targeted six times and caught all six passes. The big gain came on the final drive. His 34-yard catch and run along the sideline got the Patriots in position where they weren’t just thinking of tying the game with a field goal but were in position to try and win.
Wide Receivers: B-minus
Kendrick Bourne’s fumble could have proven costly. As in ‘game losing fumble’ costly. Fortunately for the Patriots, they recovered to win and their lone turnover became a mere footnote. Bourne was otherwise very good, He made six receptions for 63 yards and a touchdown. Demario Douglas continued to flash big play potential whenever he has the ball. ‘Pop’ finished with four receptions for 54 yards. He also had the longest run of the season for the Patriots, a 20-yard gain on a jet sweep.
Demario Douglas 20 yard run! The first 20 yard run of the season for the Pats! pic.twitter.com/tzH9uTMNPy
— Video from: @TSV__1 (@TSV__1) October 22, 2023
DeVante Parker played a season-low (when active) 35 offensive snaps. He was not very noticeable but did have a clutch eight yard reception on the game winning drive. Jalen Reagor also had one reception (11 yards) and had a nice block on Douglas’ run. He is out of elevations from the practice squad; will be interesting to see if he will be added to the New England Patriots 53-man roster. Tyquan Thornton only played three snaps and had a two yard reception.
Tight Ends: A
It was “National Tight Ends Day” and the New England Patriots tight ends represented well. All three members of the unit made solid contributions in the win. Hunter Henry, Mike Gesicki and Pharaoh Brown combined for six receptions on seven targets. They amassed 83 yards receiving, and Gesicki scored the game winning touchdown. Brown had big gains of 26 and 25 yards himself. He was also very active and effective blocking yet again. So far, Pharaoh Brown has been one of the nicest surprises of the New England Patriots season. Henry continues to be very steady and had a huge catch to help set up Gesicki’s touchdown. Aside from the dancing, this group was outstanding.
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) October 22, 2023
Offensive Line: A
Perhaps this is generous, but with the amount of improvement this group showed it would be cruel to find fault. Having Mike Onwenu sliding over to right tackle had a positive effect on the entire line. After the game Bill Belichick would not commit to who would play where moving forward, but it is tough to imagine thinking Sunday’s group is not the best unit when everyone is available. Onwenu was very solid, as evidenced by how little he was noticed. RG Sidy Sow had the best game of his young NFL career. He looked very comfortable and did a nice job helping on double teams. David Andrews played his best game of the season in the middle. Like the rest of the group, he was effective getting push in the run game and did a nice job in pass protection as well.
LG Cole Strange was very good. He was not perfect, allowing a few pressures, but overall was solid. Strange showed very little rust for somebody that has played so little this year, including training camp. Left tackle Trent Brown continues to be excellent for the New England Patriots this season. His future remains a point of interest, especially as the NFL Trade Deadline approaches. Vederian Lowe got a penalty on the first play he filled in for Brown. Fortunately, Brown was able to return after sitting for only one offensive possession.
Defensive Line: B+
Christian Barmore had his third elite game of the season. When Barmore is healthy, he looks like a Pro Bowl player. He was effective against the run and also registered the Patriots lone sack of the day. Davon Godchaux also had a very effective game, leading the defensive line with five tackles (three solo). He really showed up when rewatching the game. Deatrich Wise Jr. certainly has the trust of the coaching staff. He played 97% of the defensive snaps and was solid, if unspectacular. Wise is a smart player, good at setting the edge. Though not a stat stuffer, he did record a QB hit. Along with Sam Roberts, Wise was also in on the Barmore sack.
With Matthew Judon and Josh Uche both missing, the Patriots were undermanned at linebacker. Fortunately for New England, those able to play, came to play. Anfernee Jennings was excellent. In fact, Jennings has been more effective than Josh Uche this season as an all-around linebacker. Ja’Whaun Bentley had a missed tackle but made up for it. Bentley broke up a pass attempt to Dawson Knox on fourth down that got the ball back for the Patriots in the fourth quarter. Jahlani Tavai continues to be a reliable player for the Patriots this season. Mack Wilson Sr. was also credited with a forced fumble on the final play of the game.
Defensive Backs: B-minus
Safety Jabrill Peppers was the defensive star of the game for New England. Peppers set the tone out of the gates with an interception on Josh Allen’s first pass attempt of the day. He also led the Patriots (along with Bentley) with nine tackles. J.C. Jackson did a nice job in coverage, mostly on Stefon Diggs. His only gaffe was the touchdown by Diggs, in which he got back up to his feet after the reception and got into the end zone. Myles Bryant was also there on that completion and failed to get Diggs down.
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) October 22, 2023
Limiting Josh Allen’s effectiveness got high grades here, but there were too many missed tackles. Along with Jackson and Bryant (who also whiffed on a potential sack) there were other misses. Kyle Dugger and Jalen Mills were among those with whiffs. Jack Jones looked good in coverage, aside from his penalty in the end zone. Jonathan Jones was very solid, while still recovering attempting to get up to full strength.
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) October 22, 2023
Special Teams: A-minus
Easily the best effort of the year from the special teams group. Two mistakes prevented a solid ‘A’ but otherwise it was an excellent showing in all aspects. First the negative, so this report card can end on a positive note. Brendan Schooler was called for a false start on a fourth-and-short situation. It was not necessarily costly, though it did eliminate the option of a fake. The other negative play was not having enough men on the field for the final field goal attempt. This forced Bill Belichick to use a timeout, which could have been useful in their final drive. Fortunately for New England, it did not come back to haunt them.
The positives were everything else. Chad Ryland had a perfect game, going 3-for-3 on field goal attempts. Punter Bryce Baringer had a great game. He boomed a 64-yard punt on his first kick of the day. The next time Baringer got the opportunity, he pinned Buffalo at their own two-yard line with a 46-yard punt out of bounds. Tough to imagine a better performance from the rookie punter. Demario Douglas helped on special teams with a 25-yard punt return. Coverage units were all very good as well.