The Patriots keep finding new ways to reach new lows.
After losing at home to a Commanders team that had seemingly waved the white flag on its season, the Patriots traveled to Frankfurt eyeing a bounce-back effort against the sub-.500 Colts. What unfolded was an ugly loss on the international stage that ended with Mac Jones being benched and his replacement -- whom the Patriots unceremoniously released earlier in the offseason -- throwing the game-sealing pick.
Let's sort through this week's grades in our Week 10 report card.
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The play that got Mac Jones benched was his worst of the season and perhaps the worst of his three-year NFL career. He had at least a 10-yard window in which to drop his throw to Mike Gesicki for a touchdown, but instead he short-armed it and threw with his feet shifting parallel to the line of scrimmage beneath him. Easy pick.
In all, the Patriots attempted 20 passes with Mac Jones in the game. He was sacked five times and scrambled twice. That makes for 27 total pass calls with Jones behind center. But if you were to remove the sacks, scrambles and screen passes, Jones had 15 true drop-back pass plays. Three resulted in turnover-worthy plays. That's a whopping 20 percent turnover-worthy-play rate on those types of calls.
When Bill Belichick said Monday morning it wasn't "one play" that got Jones benched -- as bad as his interception was -- you can take him at his word. The Patriots entered the day with a run-heavy, don't-put-too-much-on-the-quarterback kind of game plan, and still there were too many points in the game where the Colts could've made game-altering turnovers.
Even if there's little to trust behind Jones in the Patriots quarterback room, it's hard not to make a change when the quarterback is performing in that fashion.
Bailey Zappe didn't help this grade at all by coming in during the two-minute drill and throwing into a Colts team meeting deep down the field for a game-sealing interception.
Running back: A-
This group got off to a nice start with Rhamondre Stevenson picking up yards after contact on a 7-yard zone run with three tight ends on the field. Later, out of a "Pony" set, Ezekiel Elliott took a screen pass for 19 yards thanks in part to a good block from Stevenson.
Stevenson is looking more and more like the Stevenson of a year ago with his ability to cut on a dime, give himself a longer runway and then allow his power to take over. He forced two missed tackles on his first carry of the second half and then ran over the Colts defense on a 6-yard draw play soon thereafter.
His patience and hard-charging style was on display again late in the third quarter on an eight-yard run up the gut and another eight-yarder inside moments later. He was stopped for little-to-no gain in the fourth quarter, but he kept his legs churning and picked up seven yards on first and 10.
The only reason this grade isn't higher? Stevenson whiffed on a pass-protection assignment -- a difficult one at that, taking on defensive end Tyquan Lewis -- that led to a sack. Elliott and Jones also collided on a handoff where it looked like Elliott might've turned the wrong way.
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Wide receiver: C-
Not a whole heckuva lot happening with this position group. Demario Douglas led the way with six catches for 84 yards, but 30 of those came on a screen at the end of the first half with the Colts likely expecting a Hail Mary.
JuJu Smith-Schuster made a couple of impactful blocks in the running game, but he was only targeted once. He caught it for a nice leaping grab on third down. But that was about all from this unit during a run-heavy day. Kayshon Boutte played 26 snaps -- more than Jalen Reagor (one) and Tyquan Thornton (zerio) -- and caught one pass for 11 yards.
Smith-Schuster got flagged for two separate penalties -- illegal motion and false start -- which dropped this grade down a mark.
Tight end: B-
This unit deserves real credit for how the running game performed (4.6 yards per carry). On the very first drive of the game, it was clear the plan was to lean heavily on Hunter Henry, Mike Gesicki and Pharaoh Brown. The team had 10 plays with multiple tight ends on the field to start the game, and Brown ended up playing 33 snaps to go along with some typically-large workloads for both Henry (50 snaps) and Gesicki (46).
Gesicki had two grabs for 11 yards each, and Henry ended up with three catches for 21 yards... but both those numbers were hurt by quarterback misses. Gesicki and Henry both could've realistically had touchdowns next to their names in the final box score.
Offensive line: C-
This might've been the most difficult grade to come up with from this game. There was good. There was bad. There was ugly. It all nearly balanced out in the end for a just-below-average grade of "C-."
The Patriots allowed five sacks on the first five series of the game. All five occurred in the first half, and four of them came on third down. Jones had the second-fastest release time in the league for Week 10 (2.54 seconds), and on all five sacks, pressure got on him relatively quickly. Even on his interception -- while he wasn't yet under pressure -- Jones likely would've been pressured by a rusher working on third-string left tackle Vederian Lowe.
But aside from four drive-killers (one sack was on a Stevenson whiff) and a false start on Conor McDermott, this unit looked strong in the running game.
The Patriots attacked the interior of the Colts defense with their "gap" play that relies on double-teams at the line of scrimmage. But there were also moving-tight-end split-flow inside-zone runs, wide-zone runs and a short-yardage direct-snap for a first down. Good push by this unit on early downs, and they'll surely be asked to do more of it now that it looks like the two big backs on the roster have found their footing.
Special teams: D
Chad Ryland's 37- and 24-yarders weren't enough to elevate this grade from where it sits. Very little you could call "redeeming" here.
Ryland missed a 35-yarder. Ty Montgomery could have fair-caught the opening kickoff in the end zone but didn't, getting the ball to his own 20 and sacrificing five yards of field position to start the game. Bryce Baringer punted into the end zone for a touchback on two separate occasions -- once from 79 yards away and once from 65 yards away.
And then there was the 70-yard field-position flip that happened when the Patriots went all-out to block a punt and opted not to put a return-man deep.
Baringer banged a couple of effective punts -- a 49-yarder to the Indy 13 and a 57-yarder to the Indy 18 that was returned 11 yards -- which prevented this from sliding to an F. But it was close.
Defensive line: B+
It took this unit a possession to wake up, but when they did, they were stout.
On 14 rushing attempts after Indy's first series of the game, the Colts gained just 30 yards (2.1 per carry). And even though there wasn't much pass-rush coming from this unit (the Colts didn't allow a sack), Deatrich Wise and Lawrence Guy both batted passes down.
Christian Barmore recorded the only quarterback hit of the day for the Patriots and had a tackle for a loss. Also worthy of note: Davon Godchaux had a season-high in tackles for the second straight week (eight) and was a rock in the middle of the line for New England.
This grade would've been even a little bit higher -- despite the lack of production in the pass game -- had it not been for the opening drive. They helped allow a 30-yard scramble-drill throw on third down by losing contain on quarterback Gardner Minshew. Then they allowed a 10-yard run up the guy and a six-yard run three plays later. The Colts ran at will at times, racking up 30 yards on their first six carries on the series.
This unit deserves a piece of the praise for Colts' 2.7 yards-per-carry average. Especially with run-stuffing linebacker Ja'Whaun Bentley out of the game with a hamstring injury.
In Bentley's place, Jahlani Tavai played 100 percent of the snaps and ended up with a pass breakup that turned into a Myles Bryant pick. Mack Wilson was next up as an off-the-line 'backer (29 snaps) and practice-squad call-up Calvin Munson (11 snaps) chipped in as well.
One of the highlights for this unit came in the second quarter when Munson made a nice track-down tackle that led to a third-and-one situation. That was when outside linebacker Anfernee Jennings stepped up with a tackle for a loss and forced a punt.
It was far from perfect, but given the Patriots only allowed 10 points on the day, it's harder to drop this grade any further.
Bryant's pick, generated thanks to Tavai's tip, ended up being a key play in a low-scoring affair. Shaun Wade and Kyle Dugger both had tackles for a loss, and Jabrill Peppers made a nice pass breakup (that was eventually wiped out because the Patriots accepted a penalty).
But early in this game, the defensive backs got caught leaving a soft edge along the goal line on fourth down. Wade was flagged for a holding penalty late in the game. Peppers had a pressure but might've had a sack had he been able to rush with a touch more control off the edge. Against a better quarterback, it might've been a longer day for this defense.