Hard Truths: Patriots offense finds its identity vs. Jets


There have been years when the Patriots can smirk at the suggestion they spend more time running the football. This isn’t one of them and they know that better than anyone.

So when they hit the field against the Jets on Sunday, they did so hell-bent on seeing if the Jets -- who allowed 179 yards to the Bears and 212 to the Bills in recent weeks -- had done anything to improve their run defense.

They had not.

New England ran for 215 yards on 36 carries and had another 38 yards wiped out by penalty. Sony Michel had 133 including 41 in the fourth quarter after he came back from a back injury suffered when he got bent backward like a lounge chair in the third quarter. James White had 73 on nine carries and Cordarelle Patterson had five carries for 10 yards, a key fourth-down conversion and one malevolent twisting of an opponent’s genitals.


That the Patriots needed to run the football effectively not just on Sunday but for the rest of the regular season was so obvious even a sportswriter could see it. In the games Michel’s been healthy and the offensive line has been intact in front of him, the offense has been able to benefit from A) his production out of shotgun and behind a fullback, B) the impact he makes on play-action, and C) more security for Tom Brady since defenses can’t just sell-out to get after him.

Sunday was that kind of day.

Coming out of the bye with six games left and a passing attack that isn’t magically going to improve to the level of previous seasons, the Patriots had all the elements in place to -- finally -- begin developing the offensive personality they haven’t so far done.

Shaq Mason was back from his calf injury, Rob Gronkowski returned from missing three of the past four games and the rest of the offensive line was healthy.

So they ran. On the Patriots first drive, they ran it three consecutive times to pick up a first down. Perhaps not coincidentally, the next play was a 36-yard catch-and-run for Julian Edelman.


By halftime, the Patriots had almost perfect balance on offense -- 16 runs, 17 throws. By the end of the game, they’d run it 36 times and thrown it 31.

When drives bogged down, it wasn’t because the running game failed them. It was generally because of penalties and/or red zone inefficiency.

Which is the other layer to the Patriots offensive story on Sunday.

Their first drive ended when Brady (20 for 31 for 283 and 2 TDs) was late getting it to Gronk (7 targets, 3 catches, 56 yards and a 34-yard TD) at the sticks.   

Their second drive ended with a touchdown, but they only came to pass after a failed out-and-up route to Julian Edelman fell incomplete on third down. A flag was thrown for offensive pass interference, the Jets took the penalty and Brady found Gronk on third-and-12 from the Jets 34.

The third drive was cruising and Brady was ripping passes until a chop block called on David Andrews put them in third-and-18.

(A brief word on the penalties. There were a lot (11 for 105). Some were run-of-the-mill bad football. But the chop block, for instance – while correct – was the result of Andrews fanning on his block and hitting the legs of a Jets defender. White’s OPI was fairly questionable as was an earlier hold by Trent Brown. It was a little too tightly-called.)


The fourth drive went belly-up ended with a field goal when they got into the red zone and Brady threw twice to Gronk in the end zone. On the first, a second-and-4 from the 16,  Brady saw Gronk with Adams up close and tried to lob it up to him. Gronk got ridden off and had to break the pass up. On the second, Brady again keyed on Gronk with Adams on him and missed an easy throw to Gordon on the back side which would have been an easy conversion. They settled for a field goal.

It continued in the second half, when the Patriots’ first drive stalled at the Jets 9 after Brady threw incomplete three times to the left side to White, White and Gronk and the Pats again had to settle for a field goal.

The difficulty the Pats have in finding throws down the middle of the field continues to be an issue, especially relative to past seasons.

But there’s more upside than downside to what the team unearthed Sunday. Brady, when comfortable in the pocket, will distribute. Josh Gordon caught all five passes thrown his way (5 for 70), including a brilliant, drive-extending catch in the fourth on the drive that iced the game. Edelman caught four of the five passes he was thrown for 84 and a touchdown. Chris Hogan had two catches for 47, Philip Dorsett had two for 10. Throwing to wideouts on Sunday, Brady was for 14-for-16.  And there were some lasers in there.

What the Patriots did to the Jets is what they’ll try to do the rest of the year. Stay balanced. Protect Brady. Distribute.

It won’t be as easy as it was Sunday because they will see more potent offenses that will make them pay for settling for field goals instead of touchdowns. And the run defense the Jets displayed wasn’t daunting.

But it was a good start to the end.

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