Sunday 7: Mac Jones may have found his go-to pass catcher

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Merloni and Fauria
M&F - Mike Lombardi joins us to talk about the 2-3 Pats and Sunday vs Cowboys 10-15-21
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1. When it comes to the Patriots offense, they do not have a true No. 1 wide receiver. And over the first few weeks when it came to the most dependable pass catcher, it was James White. But, following being lost for the season with a hip injury in Week 3, Mac Jones was forced to find his next go-to player and it appears he’s found one in Hunter Henry. Henry is coming off his best game of the season against the Texans when he caught six of eight passes thrown his way for 75 yards and a touchdown. Jones spoke highly of their growing connection this week. “He’s a great dude,” Jones said. “Just going back to OTAs, when he came, I got to throw with him, and he’s just a real likable guy. A great teammate, and he has fun with the game, but he also takes it very seriously. It means a lot to him to do it the right way. He’s a perfectionist like a lot of us on the offense. He’s been great. He’s a new player in this system, too. We have a few of those, but at this point, we’re kind of evolving away from the kind of new player. At this point, we need to come together and we are. He’s doing a good job just like a lot of the other guys are.” Of Henry’s 20 catches, 11 (55%) have gone for first downs, which shows he’s making them count. While it’s certainly not the Tom Brady-Rob Gronkowski connection from past years, Jones and Henry are building something and could be the connection to watch on crucial plays moving forward this season.

2. Speaking of tight ends, could this be the week Jonnu Smith breaks out? Henry had a lot of praise for him when speaking this week and Dallas comes into the game as one of the worst teams in the league when it comes to defending tight ends. Smith has just 115 yards receiving as it seems like he’s fighting the ball a lot and has yet to look comfortable.

3. It’s hard not to look into the subpar performance from J.C. Jackson last Sunday against Houston, which came following the team trading away No. 1 cornerback Stephon Gilmore during the week, and think of his future with the team. It just doesn’t seem like the Patriots will be willing to give the free agent to be a big money contract next offseason. It feels like there will be a decent amount of interest and a lot of money thrown his way, but it just won’t be coming from New England.

4. Looking at the books for 2022, the Patriots have a lot of money committed to the free agents they signed last offseason. Matt Judon has a cap hit of $16.5 million, Nelson Agholor $15 million, Henry $15 million, Smith $13.750 million and Davon Godchaux $10.250 million. Do not be surprised if at least one of these players is let go after one season, as the Patriots will need to free up some salary cap space going into next offseason.

5. With all the mental errors the Patriots have had this season (substitution issues, starting slow at beginning of halves), how much of that is on the coaching staff? It could be the turnover on the coaching staff is finally catching up to the team with so many coaches leaving the last few years and relatively inexperienced ones taking over.

6. Linebacker Jahlani Tavai, who came over from Detroit following training camp, was signed off the practice squad to the 53-man roster this week and he spoke about having his former coach Matt Patricia on the Patriots’ staff. “It’s been great,” he said. “He’s helped me a ton, especially learning this defense. When he gave me the call on the day I got waived by the Lions, I was just excited. I knew this was the place to call home next. It’s been great.” It’s unclear how much Tavai will play, but he does like to move all around the defense, which could be what the Patriots have in mind.

7. Looking ahead to next week, the Patriots will close their season series with the Jets. New England comfortably won in Week 2, forcing four Zach Wilson interceptions, but the Houston game showed no opponent can be taken lightly. It’s also worth noting the Jets will be coming off their bye week, so they will have extra time to prepare.

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