A year ago at this time, the Patriots had just beaten the New York Jets, finishing their season at 7-9 and out of the playoffs. Now, the Patriots have officially clinched a playoff spot with at least 10 wins, as New England produced their second 50-point game of the season in their win over the Jaguars. What a difference a year makes.
After back-to-back losses due to slow openings, self-inflicting mistakes, and offensive inefficiencies, the Patriots tightened up their focus and got back to winning football. Although competing against one of the league’s worst teams, the Patriots started off the new year getting back to their style of play.
What Went Right For New England Patriots?
First Half Offense
Mac Jones and the Patriots offense were mainly responsible for the team’s two-game losing streak. Especially the offense’s start to these games. This week, they got back on track. The Patriots had four possessions in the first half. All four possessions led to 17 first downs, while all resulting in red-zone touchdowns.
Third Down and the Red-Zone
In order for the Patriots to succeed beyond a wildcard spot, the offense will have to produce on third down and inside the 20. These two areas of the game have often dictated the Patriots success. This week, the team went 8-10 on third down and a perfect 6-6 in the red-zone. Five of those six trips resulted in touchdowns. Toss that in with no turnovers and the Patriots will win every time.
Kristian Wilkerson may have earned himself a starting job for a Patriots playoff push. While it was only one game, Wilkerson built a strong connection with Mac Jones this past summer, securing a roster spot. In his first start, Wilkerson displayed a smooth chemistry with Jones, fighting for extra yards, creating seperation down the field, nearly recording three touchdowns.
What Went Wrong?
Hard to find a negative scoring 50 points in a game, but the Patriots missed two extra points, one due to a bad snap. Against a much better team, in crunch time, mistakes like these could end up costing New England.
With one final week left of the regular season, the Patriots are in the place they should be: Playoff contenders. More on what turned a 7-9 team into playoff contenders to come, but for now, the Patriots are onto Week 18.