If anyone came to play this Sunday, it was the Patriots' defense. For four quarters they did precisely what they were supposed to do and then some against an under-matched Colts squad. Frank Reich’s offense was manhandled in the run game, and in pass protection, in a game where the Patriots were regularly at the LOS or in the backfield. Sam Ehlinger additionally was sacked nine times on the day and pressured at least that many for the rest of the day. The special teams unit also had a bit of a revenge game, avenging the blocked punt they allowed last year with one of their own, leading to a Rhamondre Stevenson TD.
Although there was a lot to like about how the Patriots played on defense and special teams, they didn’t inspire much confidence on offense. Ball security was surprisingly an issue with the receivers this week, with Jakobi Meyers turning it over on a fumble, with Kendrick Bourne nearly doing the same later. Red Zone offense and in general play calling was once again underwhelming from Matt Patricia, something that the team wouldn’t have skated by with against a better opponent. Nevertheless, the Patriots are above .500 for the first time this season.
Judon for DPOY? (Part 2/TBD)
This may come as a shock, but Matt Judon was borderline unstoppable once again this season. Picking up a season-high three sacks on the day, he became the first player in the NFL to reach at least 10 sacks in 2022. His first two, both coming in the opening seven minutes, were on stunts back up the middle, going right at Matt Pryor who has had a brutal season in pass protection. Indianapolis decided to give him a free release on the third sack which was…a choice to put it lightly.
You can say this wasn’t a good offensive line, and you’d be correct in that assessment, but this is what you’d hope Judon would get done. Nine weeks in, Red Sleeves should comfortably be in the Defensive Player of the Year hunt. Before last night's tilt between the Chiefs and Titans, Judon has a three-sack lead over Za'Darius Smith of the Vikings, and Nick Bosa of the 49ers.
Another standout performer on Sunday was Josh Uche, who put up three sacks of his own against the Colts. All four of his sacks this season have come in the last two weeks, already giving him his career high in his third season. Judon was asked about the University of Michigan product postgame and levied some high praise. According to Judon, Uche is responsible for getting things set up on third downs, and outright called Uche “the best pass rusher we got”. That is some incredibly high praise, which wasn’t just from Judon. Deatrich Wise was asked about his teammate and mentioned that he had been through a good bit, seeming happy with how today turned out. If this breakout is permanent, that is huge for this defense.
Right out of the gate regarding Mac Jones’ Week 9 performance; zero turnovers for just the first time this season. That enough was a huge win, as he had at least one turnover in every other start he had this season. His decision-making was good with some room for improvement, but once again the offensive line held him back in this one, along with some Matt Patrica play calling, which was especially bad in the first half.
Will say that on the intermediate and deeper throws he made, Jones was solid, outside of a misfire down the sideline to Tyquan Thornton and Rhamondre Stevenson. His 30-yard gainer to Hunter Henry right down the pipe was probably his best call of the day. Now he has a bye week to get refreshed, but a good end to what was an iffy first half of the season when he was out there.
Is it Time to Panic about Jake Bailey?
Last week Jake Bailey had a good rebound game, but this week he was once again well off from what we’ve been used to seeing. He had three punts under 40 yards and ended things with a seven (7) yard punt in the fourth quarter. To put things into context, Bailey was averaging just shy of 49 yards per punt in 2020 when he made First-Team All-Pro. This year he is averaging just under 43 yards a punt. That doesn’t sound like a lot but given how well he had been, that’s significant. This all happened after Bill Belichick brought in some competition for Bailey a few weeks back. I’d say Bailey’s seat isn’t red hot, but it isn’t lukewarm either.
Up Next: No Seven Days Off
This year the Patriots get a much better shake with the bye week, getting just passed the midway point as opposed to the last possible bye week. Looking back, this team would absolutely want the Bears game back for sure, and perhaps the Miami opener as well. Personally, I can live with the Ravens and Packers losses, even with the latter looking worse with each passing week. Zappe taking them into OT on an emergency basis has a lot to do with that.
Even at 5-4, the Patriots are only two games out of first place in the AFC East with four divisional games left to make up ground. They knock one of those out once they come back in two weeks against the Jets, who just upset the Bills in the Meadowlands. Other notable games down the stretch are of course the two Bills games and a trip to Minnesota on Thanksgiving night. Additionally, both the Dolphins and Bengals come to Foxborough in December. Hard to say where this team ends up, but the Patriots need to be better down the stretch if they want to make the postseason. For now though, there above .500 so that's a start.
Final Score: New England Patriots 26, Indianapolis Colts 3
Gaffney's Three Stars:
1st Star – Matt Judon (3 Sacks, 3 TFL, 4 QB Hits)
2nd Star – Jonathan Jones (Pick-6, Blocked Punt)
3rd Star – Josh Uche (3 Sacks, 3 TFL, 2 QB Hits)