Welp, that was certainly one way to go into the bye week. Now at 2-8, the Patriots have some dead serious problems on their hands going into the final seven-game stretch and have a quarterback in Mac Jones who looked and played like a complete shell of his 2021 form before getting benched for Bailey Zappe on the final drive. Not all on the quarterback, of course. The offensive line had their worst pass-blocking game of the year, giving up a whopping five (5) first-half sacks and getting continuously beat on third down. The defense did their job, holding the Colts to just 10 points, but of course, it's always something for this Patriots team. Here's what I saw on tape.
Broken Mac Jones
Jones had plenty of chances to win in this one, especially down the stretch when the offensive line got it together. Even then, he blew a couple of golden opportunities to put the Patriots ahead. The first was this miss to Hunter Henry late in the third quarter.
So this is a little timing corner route to Henry, and in fairness to Jones, he makes the right read at the right time, but this is a horrible throw. If he gets this on the numbers, this is easy, and I mean easy six points, but he sails a ball with not much zip and should have been picked off here, quite frankly. For those keeping track, that's four points taken off the board in a four-point loss, remember that. Now, onto the pass that was picked off, and yes, it's far worse on the All-22 than it was live, which is saying a lot.
Focus on all the room Mike Gesicki has working to the far right pylon, where Jones puts this ball, and how he gets this out mechanically. Even if the right side of the pocket is collapsing in on him, throwing this off the backfoot, sidearm, with zero semblance of zip, is 100 percent bench-worthy. Even if Jones takes a sack here, you're still setting yourself up for a reasonable field goal to try to make the final possession for the win with just three points. We heard the report from Bert Breer that the Patriots were frustrated with the decision-making of Jones, and it's plays like these two that validate that line of thinking. We're quite literally talking about the difference between a win vs. a loss on two plays that are 100 percent on the quarterback. With that in mind, I had no issue with Bailey Zappe going in for that final drive.
Run the Damn Ball
The Colts famously started showing up to work sporting "Run the Damn Ball" hats back in 2019, en route to being a top 10 rushing unit in the wake of Andrew Luck's sudden retirement. Well, the Patriots took a page out of their playbook, doing much of the same on the ground. 33 runs between Rhamondre Stevenson and Ezekiel Elliott for 142 yards. This didn't help them win this game, but the rushing attack turning a corner before the bye is a positive development. On that first drive alone, the two combined for six straight runs for an average of 5.6 per. Here they are in order.
I Thought Zeke looked pretty good on those three straight carries at the end. He found rushing lanes very easily, and didn't go down the moment he found contact. Also a big fan of B.O'B trying to get 'Mondre working outside the numbers. Got some good blocks there too, specifically Mike Gesicki, of all people, sealing up the edge on his second run shown. Not every run defense left on the schedule has as many holes as this Colts unit did, but I'd like to see the Patriots do more of this moving forward. Both backs were excellent on Sunday.
Extending the Play
I'd mentioned in the preview of this game that Gardner Minshew had the potential to extend plays and buy himself more time with his legs, and oh boy, did he. With that said, the first time he had a shot to deal a crushing blow on the run, Jahlani Tavai made maybe the play of the game with a batted ball that turned into a Myles Bryant interception.
All things considered, Tavai played this as well as anyone could have, and the results reflected that. He reads Minshew's eyes perfectly and was in a perfect position to pursue after him had he ran, but also to try and make a play on the ball if he went to Michael Pittman, and he certainly did just that. But on the other side of the coin, you have the Josh Downs play where Minshew threw up a prayer to the rookie out of UNC, and it was answered. There were a few other play extenders as well, but this was the most costly.
I don't even think the Patriots played this badly. Keion White, specifically off the edge, just trying to hold Minshew in the pocket. But when you're asking defensive backs to cover for that long, these things can happen. Give Minshew credit though. This was a great throw, given the circumstances, and likely cost the Patriots an extra 30-40 yards in starting field position on their final drive.
Mapu, Where Are You
On a day when Ja'Whaun Bentley was inactive, J.C. Jackson was sent home earlier in the week, and Jack Jones was all but out the door, the Patriots could have used some guys to help shore things up, one of whom could have been Sacramento State rookie Marte Mapu. However, he got just four (4, 2+2, or 2x2) the entire game. The good news is that three of those were in the box and not playing in center field (he would have gotten a second as a single high safety if not for a Colts false start), but half were on the Colts' final true offensive possession.
Mapu was a guy I got a chance to know right before the draft and loved his game, and the fact the Patriots brought him in, but this is a disappointing rookie season for reasons mainly outside of his control. Either the Patriots don't know how to use him yet, or they don't trust him enough to make plays, neither of which reflect great on the organization when they took him with a third-round pick. For the record, Marte Mapu is good, in my opinion, I simply think the Patriots are afraid to let the rookie go out there and make mistakes. That's all fine and well when you're in a playoff position jockeying for playoff seeding this deep in the year, but we all see what the Patriot record is by now. This team has no reason to not afford Mapu the chance to prove himself at this point. What's the worst that could happen?
Final Score: Indianapolis Colts 10, New England Patriots 6
Gaffney's Three Stars from Patriots-Colts
3rd Star - Ezekiel Elliott (13 Rushes for 54 Yards, 2 Catches for 34 Yards)
2nd Star - Davon Godchaux (8 Tackles)
1st Star - Rhamondre Stevenson (20 Rushes for 88 Yards, 3 Catches for 14 Yards)
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