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This was shaping up to be THE Mac Jones game everyone had been waiting for all season.
Instead, it ended up even more disappointing than most peoples’ worst fears could’ve drawn up in a 33-26 Thanksgiving night loss.
Despite a rebound performance from Jones (a career-high 382 yards, 2 TDs) and the offense, the red-zone problems (0-for-3) loomed large again. That wasn’t good enough to carry a defense that struggled against a real quarterback in Kirk Cousins (299 yards passing, 3 TDs) and couldn’t stop Justin Jefferson (nine catches for 139 yards, TD).
To top this disaster cake off, the special teams lost its mind on several occasions after several weeks of strong complementary football.
You can be mad at the referees for some egregious missed calls that could’ve swung the game, but the Patriots can’t afford to make any excuses.
Here’s what happened.
Mac Jones can't get Patriots over the hump
This was the best a Patriots quarterback has played in 2022 and Jones’ second 300-yard game of the year. Unfortunately, both of his season-best performances have come in losses.
From the first throw of the game – a dime on a corner route to Jakobi Meyers for 26 yards – he was dialed in and throwing the football well.
The offensive line protected him, Matt Patricia called a strong first half and Jones delivered dot after dot down the field. Also, he managed not to turn the ball over for the third straight game, which continues to be a positive sign.
But it still couldn’t be without warts.
Jones slid into a sack with less than a minute left in the first half instead of throwing the ball away, arguably taking away a shot at a touchdown to finish the half.
Also, if his throw to Hunter Henry had been a little more out front, perhaps the tight end doesn’t have to make the contested touchdown catch that ended up getting taken off the board.
Just generally, the Patriots’ offense just ran out of magic in the second half, and the team’s final two drives in particular were not pretty for Jones: a sack (not on Jones) just before the failed fourth-down throw (come on, Nelson Agholor) on the penultimate drive, then a sack taken on first down (can't take that one, Mac) and a brain-dead throw into the middle of the field with no timeouts remaining as the clock ticked to zero on the last possession.
Jones is well down the list of reasons the Patriots lost this one, but he also wasn’t able to overcome the chaos around him once again. At times, he seemed to succumbed to it, which didn’t help matters.
Defense melts down with penalties, poor play
Look, it’s hard to get mad about Justin Jefferson going off. He’s the best receiver in football.
What you can’t have is the lack of discipline that plagued this unit.
Myles Bryant essentially handed the Vikings a touchdown with a multi-penalty drive, including a personal foul penalty for a bad hit to the back of Adam Thielen’s neck area. He also fell down in man coverage on a key completion and might not last much longer as a starting option in the slot.
Either Jack Jones or Jabrill Peppers (or both?) appeared to draw Jalen Mills’ ire on a late Kirk Cousins touchdown to Thielen as he appeared to be expecting help he didn’t have on the play.
Jonathan Jones had his moments against Jefferson, but he also had two facemask penalties.
The defense also struggled to get off the field on third down (8-of-15 third down allowed), which in large part was due to the pass rush’s inability to get to Cousins (just one sack). Matthew Judon had a hurry and was credited with two quarterback hits but couldn’t register a sack, and the rest of the Patriots front couldn’t pick up the slack.
To be blunt, the unit failed its first test against a good defense, and it’s not going to get easier from here.
Special teams goes from GOAT to goat
We all know Bailey hasn’t punted very well this season – okay, he’s arguably been the worst punter in the league in 2022.
But he’s generally done his job in another less-heralded aspect of the game: sending the ball out of the back of the end zone on kickoffs.
Nick Folk’s inability to do that partly contributed to seven points for the Vikings when the Patriots got burned for a 97-yard touchdown return by Kene Nwangwu. But aside from that, Nwangwu had five kickoff returns on the night, which probably wouldn’t happen if Bailey was in the game.
If only that had been the only issue with the special teams in this one.
Then, you had the running-into-the-kicker penalty on Pierre Strong Jr., whose only purpose on this roster is to provide special teams value, essentially gifting the Vikings a touchdown drive.
Michael Palardy even shanked a punt late, though it ended up not hurting the Patriots in the end.
The defense and special teams have carried the offense for so long. This time, they let the offense down. The result: a loss in a game the Patriots really could’ve used.