Until 1:47 hung on the game clock Sunday, only two teams in the NFL had yet to score 20 points in a single game.
Both were playing in Las Vegas.
The Patriots had the ball, but it was the Raiders who were about to end their drought.
You’ll remember Las Vegas dropped Mac Jones in the end zone for a game-sealing safety and won 21-17; a microcosm of this miserable Pats season.
In sacking Jones, the Raiders beat left guard Antonio Mafi and center David Andrews with the same pass-rushing stunt that produced a sack in the first quarter. Simultaneously, Las Vegas defensive end Maxx Crosby tallied the 18th pressure Patriots right tackle Vederian Lowe has allowed this season when he met Raiders Bilal Nichols in the backfield to split credit for the safety.
But before Jones went down, 3.2 seconds passed from the time of the snap and the moment he was first hit. In that time, Jones quickly cocked his arm before collapsing on himself. He could have flipped the ball to a scurrying Rhamondre Stevenson over the short middle of the field or Mike Gesicki waiting as a release valve in the right flat; anything but take a sack that would lose the game.
Downfield, the Pats’ receiving corps again failed to create meaningful separation. That group has four catches versus man-to-man coverage in the last two games, a sad number. But not as sad as DeVante Parker’s shrug of an explanation for why he dropped a perfect 40-yard pass the snap before Jones’ safety.
Yet the hardest truth of Sunday is that the Patriots and Raiders intended to play the same, safe game. Both teams schemed around subpar quarterbacks and porous front lines. Defensively, their plans leaned into zone coverage and hoped to force the opponent into mistakes via long, patient drives.
Accepting that dare, the Pats offense actually stayed on-schedule with steady gains more often than Las Vegas did. But the Raiders’ raw talent generated more explosive plays, and thus four extra trips into the red zone. While questionable coaching and poor execution steered some of those drives into quicksand, Las Vegas nonetheless staked an early lead, and widened its margin for error.
The bare-bones Patriots have no margin for error. They do not start fast and cannot play from behind. In 38 career starts, Jones has managed one fourth-quarter comeback. This season, the Pats have led in one game: their Week 3 win over the Jets.
Each Sunday, Jones and Co. walk a tightrope that springs them off again and again sometime in the first half when they inevitably trail by double-digits. It’s not strictly because of Jones or his receivers or the coaches or an overmatched offensive line that committed three penalties over the Patriots’ first and final drives.
It’s all of them. Blame is on everyone’s hands, and the stains aren’t washing away anytime soon.
Here’s what else the film revealed about Sunday’s loss:
24-of-33 for 200 yards, INT
Accurate throw percentage: 86.7%
Under pressure: 2-of-5 for 13 yards, INT, 2 sacks
Against the blitz: 2-of-3 for 6 yards
Behind the line: 9-of-10 for 54 yards
0-9 yards downfield: 13-of-15 for 116 yards
10-19 yards downfield: 2-of-3 for 30 yards, INT
20+ yards downfield: 0-of-2
Notes: Jones’ 2.2-second average snap-to-throw time was the fastest of any quarterback in Week 6, per Pro Football Focus. The Patriots hammered their quick-game concepts, which directly explains why Jones attempted just five passes more than 10 yards past the line of scrimmage and never threatened Las Vegas. His passing plan was safe and plain.
Jones even hit the same “stick” concept twice in three plays during the Pats’ touchdown drive that opened the second half.
But the key to Jones’ performance wasn’t distance or design so much as time.
Any time Jones held the ball longer than 2.5 seconds he found trouble. On those snaps, he went 4-of-9 for 32 yards, three sacks and an interception, per PFF. Jones panicked again under pressure, most glaringly on his second-quarter pick that sailed over Hunter Henry’s head and into the arms of Raiders safety Trevon Moehrig. He also gifted a near interception to linebacker Robert Spillane inside the tight red zone during the fourth quarter.
Jones later took a delay of game penalty before the game-ending safety. His deep pass to Parker should finish among his prettiest throws of the season, but it will instead be remembered for a hideous drop at the end; another painful example of how this Patriots offense cannot get in sync or close tight games.
Turnovers: Patriots 2, Raiders 1
Explosive play rate: Patriots 3.6%, Raiders 7.7%
Success rate: Patriots 51%, Raiders 37%
Red-zone efficiency: Patriots 2-2, Raiders 1-6
Defensive pressure rate: Patriots 21.1%, Raiders 21.6%
- Personnel breakdown: 51% of snaps in 12 personnel, 41% of snaps in 11 personnel, 4% snaps in 21 personnel, 2% in 13 personnel, 2% in 23 personnel.***
- Personnel production: 5 yards/play in 12 personnel, 3.1 yards/play in 11 personnel, 10 yards/play in 21 personnel, 8 yards/play in 13 personnel, 7 yards/play in 23 personnel.
- First-down down play-calls: 65% pass (2.3 yards per play), 35% run (6.1 yards per play)
- Play-action rate: 16.2%
- Broken tackles: WR Kendrick Bourne 3, RB Rhamondre Stevenson 2, RB Ezekiel Elliott, TE Pharaoh Brown
- Pressure allowed: LG Atonio Mafi 3 (sack, 2 hurries), RT Vederian Lowe 2 (1/2 sack, hurry), Team 2 (2 hurries), C David Andrews (1/2 sack)
- Run stuffs allowed: Lowe
- Penalties: TE Hunter Henry (holding), LG Atonio Mafi (holding) LT Trent Brown (ineligible man downfield), RT Vederian Lowe (false start), RG Sidy Sow (false start), QB Mac Jones (delay of game), Team (illegal shift)
- Drops: WR DeVante Parker, RB Rhamondre Stevenson
- Let’s start with the good: the Patriots ended their longest touchdown drought, streak of unanswered points allowed and scoreless stretch of the Belichick era Sunday.
- The Pats also rose from ranking dead last in pass offense and rush offense by Expected Points Added (EPA) to 31st in both categories after the game.
- Back to reality. The Patriots started and finished the game with offensive penalties: Vederian Lowe’s false start, Trent Brown’s ineligible man downfield, Atonio Mafi’s hold and a delay of game. Flat-out inexcusable.
- Bill O’Brien also set his offense back with a curious play-calling. Despite facing one of the NFL’s worst run defenses by every metric, O’Brien called passes on 75% of first-down plays in the first half. The Pats averaged 2.5 yards on those plays and scored three plays in the entire half.
- Then, to open the second half, O’Brien called four straight first-down runs for a total of 36 yards, and the Patriots chugged to their first touchdown since late September.
- The Pats mined success with downhill, man-blocked run schemes. Stevenson and Elliott finally enjoyed real rushing lanes, but also ran with great pad level and power, as seen on Elliott’s 2-yard touchdown.
- A reminder: all of the Patriots’ playmakers need space created for them more than most. According to PFF, only four Pats have broken tackles since their Week 3: Stevenson, Elliott, Kendrick Bourne and Pharaoh Brown. Elliott and Brown were both added in August.
- As for Bourne, he was spectacular. He broke tackles, ran sharp routes and gained extra yards in the open field. Bourne had seven touches over the Patriots’ second touchdown drive, one even he admitted took too long.
- That series also benefited from new life thanks to a Maxx Crosby roughing the passer penalty. Though it’s worth noting Las Vegas survived a would-be, 74-yard Elliott touchdown because of a questionable holding call on Hunter Henry in the first quarter.
- Henry saw just three total targets. That’s far too low for arguably the best pass-catcher on the team.
- Ultimately, the Pats couldn’t throw well enough from spread personnel or in obvious passing situations. Working from three-receiver sets, they averaged 3.1 yards per play, took two sacks, including the safety, and threw a pick.
- The Raiders blitzed just three times all afternoon, sitting back in basic zone coverages and allowing their front four to hunt Jones. That speaks directly to a defense’s lack of confidence in an opponent’s ability to throw against them.
- When Las Vegas played man-to-man, the Pats completed a single pass: Mike Gesicki’s low, 15-yard grab that cut the field grass and may not have survived a review.
- Gesicki was the only receiver or tight end out side of Bourne to collect multiple catches. Former second-round pick Tyquan Thornton finished with two targets and one catch in his season debut.
- However, the Patriots may have found something with Thornton executing the pre-snap “burst” motion popularized by the Dolphins this season.
- In the fourth quarter, Thornton sprinted across the formation with his 4.2 speed, then turned upfield at the snap, a la Miami star Tyreek Hill. His speed and motion helped create a window for Jones to hit Bourne for an easy 6-yard gain.
- The Malik Cunningham experiment proved much ado about nothing. The undrafted rookie played six offensive snaps, including three under center. Those plays consisted of an option run he handed off that he should’ve kept, a sack and Elliott’s direct-snap touchdown where he aligned out wide.
- Based on Sunday’s tape, it’s difficult to see Cunningham replacing Jones for significant stretches in the near future, though the Patriots may soon (or already do) have nothing to lose.
- Left tackle Trent Brown posted a clean sheet, as did right guard Sidy Sow (excluding his brutally-timed false start in the fourth quarter.)
- Left guard Atonio Mafi and right tackle Vederian Lowe should both be considered candidates for the bench. It’s impossible for an offense to function with two positions serving as revolving for extended stretches. Not only have Mafi and Lowe surrendered the most pressure of the Patriots’ O-linemen, they also rank among the worst run-blockers.
- Personnel breakdown: 37% base defense, 26% dime package, 21% three-corner nickel package, 15% three-safety nickel.****
- Coverage snaps breakdown: 65% zone, 35% man
- Blitz rate: 21.2%
- Blitz results: 4-of-7 for 58 yards, INT, 3 first downs
- Interceptions: LB Jahlani Tavai
- Pass deflections: S Jabrill Peppers 2, DL Chritian Barmore 2, Tavai
- Pressure: LB Ja’Whaun Bentley 2 (2 QB hits), Team 2 (2 hurries), DL Davon Godchaux (hurry), OLB Anfernee Jennings (hurry) Peppers (hurry), Tavai (hurry)
- Run stuffs: Barmore, Peppers
- Missed tackles: S Jalen Mills 2, CB J.C. Jackson, DB Myles Bryant, OLB Josh Uche
- Penalties: Jackson (pass interference), Tavai (unnecessary roughness), DL Deatrich Wise (offside), DL Sam Roberts (leverage on field goal),
- Old friend Josh McDaniels had a two-pronged game plan: early-down vertical shots and outside running from heavy personnel.
- McDaniels frequently deployed multi-tight end packages and groups featuring six offensive linemen, an effort to control the game and force the Pats’ worst pass defenders on the field in simple zone coverages.
- Aside from a 21-yard Brian Hoyer pass to Davante Adams in the third quarter, the Pats denied most deep passing concepts on first down. That left Hoyer and Jimmy Garoppolo searching for checkdowns, which occasionally proved problematic because of how unbothered they were in the pocket.
- With extra time, Hoyer and Garoppolo found tight ends Michael Mayer and Austin Hooper and running back Josh Jacobs for a combined six first-down completions; back-breakers for a secondary that maintained solid coverage of Las Vegas’ top receivers, Adams and Jakobi Meyers, for most of the game. The Raiders finished 8-of-16 on third down and scored on more than half their drives.
- McDaniels also attacked the Patriots’ man-to-man coverage on third down with intersecting shallow crossing routes. He called variations of this “Mesh” concept several times. The Pats frequently got caught in traffic or failed to pass off routes in time to stop them.
- Garoppolo’s second-quarter touchdown to Meyers offered the clearest example of secondary miscommunication, which has now stretched to three straight weeks and often involved safety Kyle Dugger and backups Jalen Mills and Mack Wilson.
- During Meyers’ touchdown, Dugger and linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley both drove on a shallow crossing route, while the Patriots somehow dropped eight into coverage without a deep safety. Running a seam route, Meyers beat corner/safety Myles Bryant, who expected help inside.
- Meyers’ route followed an in-breaker from Adams, who cleared out space for his teammates to make several other catches.
- The most glaring example of Adams’ gravity as a decoy was Hoyer’s 48-yard strike to speedy rookie Tre Tucker in the third quarter, which set up a field goal. Tucker worked 1-on-1 upfield, while Adams drew Dugger down from his deep safety position.
- Up front, the Patriots’ Judon-less pass rush is officially concerning. Sunday’s 21.2% pressure rate was their lowest of any game this season. The defense hasn’t cracked 25% in three weeks and didn’t record a sack in Las Vegas.
- Sunday’s pass rush plan was built on early-down slot pressure and interior blitzing on third down to force Garoppolo on the move. On third downs, the Pats rotated a host of players over the Raiders’ center and guards in a two-point stance pre-snap, threatening to blitz.
- Whether or not these players rushed, the tactic effectively ensures 1-on-1 matchups for edge rushers, who failed to deliver. Outside linebacker Josh Uche failed to tally a pressure for the first time all season.
- When these players did blitz, they also failed to reach Garoppolo in time. He went 3-of-5 for 52 yards and the interception caused by Jabrill Peppers’ jaw-dropping hit.
- On a positive note, Peppers was everywhere. He, Bentley and linebacker Jahlani Tavai were the Pats’ best defenders Sunday.
- Tavai helped stabilize the Pats’ run defense after rookie defensive lineman Keion White left with a head injury. He regularly set a strong edge, turning back toss play after toss play around a few outside zones.
- On the ground, the Pats limited Jacobs to 3.1 yards per carry overall, and the Raiders to 4.3 yards per rush on outside runs. Las Vegas finished with a miserable 21% success rate on early-down runs, but a robust 59% on later downs.
- J.C. Jackson started his first game since returning to New England and played 67 snaps, more than any defender outside of Bentley.
WR Kendrick Bourne
His best game as a Patriot. Bourne played so well he drew double coverage while Parker dropped Jones’ bomb down the sideline on the final drive. His 10 catches may not be matched by another Patriots pass-catcher for the rest of the season.
S Jabrill Peppers
Peppers delivered the hit of the season on Davante Adams, creating the Pats’ first turnover since Week 2. He also tallied a run stuff, a hurry and one pass breakup on Las Vegas’ final possession. Peppers is playing the best football of his career.
LB Jahlani Tavai
After committing a 15-yard personal foul, Tavai collected an interception off Peppers’ carom and added a QB hit. His sturdy run defense also quietly helped contain Josh Jacobs and keep the Patriots in the game.
WR DeVante Parker
One catch on three targets for seven yards is bad enough for a starting NFL wide receiver, but to drop that ball at that time is terrible. Parker must be better.
LG Atonio Mafi
Mafi was victimized for one allowed sack and two hurries. He also committed a costly holding penalty on the final drive. The fifth-round rookie was by far the Pats’ worst O-lineman Sunday.
RT Vederian Lowe
Even setting aside the QB hit he surrendered, the hurry he allowed, run stuff he was responsible for and half-sack at the end of the game, Lowe got beat often despite receiving regular help against Crosby. Another rough outing.
Statistics for passing depth, broken tackles and missed tackles courtesy of Pro Football Focus.
*Explosive plays are defined as runs of 10-plus yards and passes of 20-plus yards. Explosive play rate is one of the most strongly correlated metrics with wins and losses.
**Success rate is an efficiency metric measuring how often an offense stayed on schedule. A play is successful when it gains at least 40% of yards-to-go on first down, 60% of yards-to-go on second down and 100% of yards-to-go on third or fourth down.
***11 personnel = one running back, one tight end; 12 personnel = one running back, two tight ends; 13 personnel = one running back, three tight ends; 21 = two halfbacks, one tight end; 22 = two halfbacks, two tight ends.
****Base defense = four defensive backs; nickel defense = five defensive backs; dime defense = six defensive backs; goal-line defense = three defensive backs; dollar defense = seven defensive backs.