You can’t gloat too much in these sorts of victories, but having an abundance of positive takeaways is always an excellent side effect.
The Pats took care of business and trounced a horrid Jacksonville Jaguars team, dropping 50 points. This was one of those contests that was never a question. A great first drive ate up 7 minutes on the clock and finished in the end zone; the Pats never looked back.
Rhode Island’s own Andy Gresh went on WPRI’s “New England Nation” with Rosie Langello and made a claim that rounding up a couple of Rhode Island’s best sports news reporters would have beat this Jaguars team, and he makes a legitimate case. The Jags have some major work to do in the offseason; Trevor Lawrence needs some more weapons to live up to his full potential, a total defensive overhaul is in the cards, and hopefully they can find their head coach for the foreseeable future after Urban Meyer left them in total shambles.
Even with the Jags being the dumpster fire that they are, there are some major positives to build upon for the New England Patriots. Let’s dive into the Pats’ Week 17 win.
Are the Pats a running team?
I tweeted yesterday that Damien Harris has the potential to be one of the best RB’s the Pats have had in a long time. He lived up to that expectation yesterday against the Jags, even despite rushing for more than 40 yards - he found the end-zone twice and grabbed his 14th touchdown (averaging almost one TD per game!!). Harris is now tied for second-most touchdowns in a single season by a Patriots player, trailing only LeGarrette Blount’s 18-touchdown campaign in 2016. If you combine Harris’ efforts with rookie Rhamondre Stevenson, you get a 125-yard, four-touchdown performance. The Pats are a better team when they run the football more, and I’m loving how much space Mac Jones has to operate when he has a one-two punch like Harris and Stevenson.
Damien Harris (#37) high-fives Brandon Bolden (#25) after his first touchdown of the game. PIC: David Silverman
Myles Bryant responded to a challenge.
Last week, Twitter came for safety Myles Bryant’s head, and rightfully so. He had a tough week against Buffalo, conceding 6 catches in 7 man coverages; Isaiah McKenzie, who he covered for a sizeable portion of the game, had 11 catches for 125 yards and a TD - not great. But Bryant bounced back, picking off Trevor Lawrence and adding in 3 tackles; his coverages significantly improved, too. Bryant proves to be a quick, high-IQ safety, and with a bit of development, could be part of the future for the Patriots.
Is Kristian Wilkerson what they wanted N’Keal Harry to be?
Nelson Agholor was ruled out with a concussion before this week’s game, so the Pats knew they’d need someone to step up. And fortunately for all Patriots fans, it was not N’Keal Harry, who was a healthy scratch. Kristian Wilkerson seized his opportunity against Jacksonville, scoring his first two career touchdowns. Wilkerson caught 3 passes in the first half yesterday - that’s more than Harry has caught in any game this season. Not too shabby for a guy who found out two days before that he’d be playing. “I was just ready to go,” Wilkerson told the media after the game. “I prepared all year for this, so it finally came. Hopefully, I did what I did. But we got the win, so that’s the best thing.” Really hope Wilkerson continues to find success in this offense.
Related: I would like to see 2021 draft pick Tre Nixon get a similar shot at some point, but when healthy, this is a crowded receiving corps…next year may be a bit more manageable for the UCF product.
AFC Rookie of the Year Debate: Mac Jones or Ja’Marr Chase?
Mac Jones has been comfortably sitting as a betting favorite to win AFC Offensive Rookie of the Year. It would take some monster efforts from Bengals rookie WR Ja’Marr Chase to turn the tides, and sure enough, he broke some records yesterday. Chase grabbed 11 catches for a whopping 266 (!!) yards and 3 TD’s, as the Bengals clinched the AFC North after their last-second victory over the Chiefs.
There are legitimate takes on both sides. Mac Jones has thrown for over 3,500 yards, 21 TD’s and 12 interceptions, all for a 92.5 QBR. Those are some pretty good numbers for a rookie. But for a rookie to haul in over 1,400 yards (#4 in the NFL) and to break records in the process? That’s a hell of a resume. Ja’Marr Chase is now the first rookie ever and the 5th player in the Super Bowl era to rack up 2+ games with 200 receiving yards in a single season. The others are Don Maynard (1968), Josh Gordon (2013), Alshon Jeffery (2013), and Calvin “Megatron” Johnson (2011 & 12)...that’s some serious company. Mac Jones is defying the insurmountable odds of becoming New England’s new franchise quarterback, and that can’t be taken away, but what Ja’Marr Chase and Joe Burrow are accomplishing in Cincinnati may go in the history books. I’m shoving the chips at Ja’Marr in this race.
PLAYOFF PICTURE: Right now, here’s where we stand. If the season ended today, the Pats would be heading back to Buffalo for a third tilt against the Wagon Circlers. Buffalo finishes against the Jets, so it sure looks like the Bills will be the crowns of the AFC East for a second straight year. The Titans weirdly do not scare me as much as the Chiefs, Bengals, and Colts do.
UP NEXT: While conference seeding is on the line, there isn’t much more to play for other than revenge in the Pats’ first-ever Week 18 matchup. It’ll come on the road against the Miami Dolphins, who picked off the Pats in New England to start off this season. These Miami games scare me, and I won’t do you Jets & Giants fans (and others) the service of linking up the Miami Miracle from a few years ago. But this time around, who really cares what the score is? It should be a matter of “next opponent up” for the Patriots. I don’t really care if it’s the Titans, Chiefs, Bengals, or Bills. If you lose, you lose - the most important thing is keeping everyone healthy and in playoff-mode. I have a short wishlist for this game, but the overarching theme is to use Mac carefully. He should not be in the game after halftime; let him get his beak wet, maybe throw a TD or two, and no crazy trick-plays. Brian Hoyer, lace those sneaks up.