Bill Belichick often says that before you can win a game in the NFL, you have to not lose it.
Apparently, Jets rookie QB Zach Wilson is not familiar with the theory.
Wilson, the No. 2 pick in the NFL draft, threw four interceptions to Patriots defenders – including two on his first two passes of the day in his first career home opener for Gang Green – on the way to New England’s 25-6 win at MetLife Stadium.
Given the Patriots’ at times lackluster offense and a shoddy run defense which allowed 152 yards on the ground, it’s not so much that New England went to New York and got its first win of the season as it is that Belichick’s team didn’t lose the road rivalry matchup.
That honor went to the rookie QB Wilson, first-time New York head coach Robert Saleh and the Jets.
The Patriots turned Wilson’s four interceptions into 16 points, which just so happened to be the difference on the scoreboard until Nick Folk tacked on a late field goal, his fourth of the day.
It wasn’t like New England’s Mac Jones-led offense rolled. The visitors went just three of 12 on third down. Only one for three in red zone trips. Amassed a pedestrian 260 yards of offense.
But thanks to Wilson’s mistakes and J.C. Jackson’s never-ending ball-hawking ways – the No. 1 corner for now with Stephon Gilmore sidelined, Jackson notched his first of two picks on the second play of the Jets’ opening possession – New England controlled the scoreboard throughout.
“We just need to keep grinding, keep working. Overall we gotta probably do a better job taking advantage of our scoring opportunities,” Belichick said after a win that put his team (1-1) into a three-way tie with the Bills and Dolphins atop the AFC East standings. “Overall we have to do a little bit better. It will come down to good team offense. It’s not one guy. We gotta block, we gotta throw, catch, get open, run the ball. Offensively we just have to string more good plays together.”
While the game was built up as a battle of the two rookie QBs, two of the five first-round picks in April and two of the three to win starting jobs out of training camp, it certainly ended up more about Wilson’s work against Belichick’s defense. The Patriots improved to 21-6 against rookie starting QBs since 2000, those players now having thrown 21 touchdowns compared to 41 interceptions, including Wilson’s contributions.
For his part Jones completed 22 of 30 passes for 186 yards with no touchdowns and, most importantly, no interceptions. He managed the game well enough despite being under some decent pressure that included three sacks and led to a fumble that New England was fortunate to recover.
Jones also showed his gritty, team-first style by helping to push Damien Harris into the end zone to cap a 26-yard touchdown run and chopped down a Jets defender with a block on a Kendrick Bourne end around.
More than making plays, Jones’ greatest contributions to the win were the mistakes he didn’t make, the ones that Wilson did.
Jackson said he “set a tone” with his opening pick and agreed that Wilson got a bit unsettled after the early mistakes.
“Any time your first two passes get intercepted, that’s not what you want,” said Devin McCourty, who recorded Wilson’s fourth interception in the third quarter. “Bill always talks about winning the turnover margin and how big of an indication that is on who wins the game. In order to win the turnover margin we have to go create turnovers. We did a good job of that early in the game and I think that had a big impact on the game. When you can start off getting an interception on the second play it makes it tough on the offense, what they want to do, rookie quarterback, just adding pressure. I think we did a good job of that.”
But as Belichick and many of his veteran players made quite clear, there is much work left to do and plenty the Patriots can improve on.
“It feels good. Just what everyone’s saying, it is hard to win in the NFL,” Jones assessed of his first career victory. “We’ve played two games and won one and lost one. You have to take it for what it’s worth. We’ll get better. I think everybody, including anybody who watched the game, could agree that the offense can play better. And we will.
“On offense we feel blessed to win, but at the same time you have to take it for what it’s worth and move on and try to correct the things we need to work on.”
“We have to do a better job of playing complementary football and turning the defensive turnovers in to touchdowns, not just field goals. Obviously field goals are great, but as an offense we definitely want to score,” James White echoed, the Patriots sounding like a team well aware of its early season lot in life. “We just have a lot of stuff we can work on. Definitely good to get out with a win. Better to correct it with a win than a loss for sure.”
Indeed it is. And whether you truly win or the other team’s young quarterback simply loses, it looks the same in the standings.