Ryan L. Fox
After a disappointing 2020 season that saw the team go 7-9 and miss the playoffs for the first time since 2008, the New England Patriots went into the offseason with a lot of questions and uncertainty. But the team went through a roster change as they added key free agents like TE Jonnu Smith, DB Jalen Mills, and WR Nelson Agholor as well as made a big change at quarterback as they went with rookie QB Mac Jones (who they took at 15th overall out of Alabama in the 2021 NFL Draft) and cut last year’s starting QB Cam Newton just a week before the start of the regular season.
With a new looking and wanting to shake off a terrible 2020 season, the Patriots began the 2021 NFL season with a sense of optimism. They opened up at home at Gillette Stadium, welcoming in their AFC East divisional rivals the Miami Dolphins a warm, September day. Instead of an offensive shootout between two teams with former Alabama Crimson Tide quarterbacks (Tua Tagovailoa for the Dolphins and Mac Jones for the Patriots), it was a defensive showdown with some sloppy play on both sides. But in the end, it’s was the Patriots’ sloppiness that utimately cost them.
The Dolphins won the opening toss but elected to defer to the second half, giving the Patriots the first possession of the game.
Following a touchback on the opening kickoff, the Patriots started on their own 25. On the first play of the game, RB Damien Harris burst through the offensive line and down to the Miami 40 for 35 yards. But the drive ended up stalling as the Patriots were forced to punt the ball away.
Miami started their first possession of the game at their own 20 following a touchback on the previous punt play. QB Tua Tagovailoa gashed the Patriots secondary in the air while RB Myles Gaskins gashed them on the ground. The Dolphins got all the way down to the New England 3 where on 2nd and 2, Tua simply jogged into the endzone for the score. K Jason Sanders booted the PAT through the uprights as the Dolphins took the early 7-0 lead with 5:29 left in the first quarter.
The Dolphins had another great opportunity to put more points on the board as Miami CB Eric Rowe jarred the ball loose from Patriots rookie RB Rhamondre Stevenson as teammate DT Zach Sieler recovered the ball at the New England 48. But the drive went backwards (they lost -11 total yards) as the Dolphins were forced to punt.
Following the punt, the Patriots got the ball back at their own 26. From there, Patriots rookie QB Mac Jones lead the offense down the field including keeping the drive alive on a 3rd and 7 at the Miami 36 with a 22-yard pass to WR Jakobi Meyers down to the Miami 14. Two plays later, Harris seemingly bowled his way into the endzone (but was ruled down at the Miami 1). But a holding penalty on LT Isaiah Wynn negated the play and put the ball back to the Miami 24. The Patriots ultimately had to settle for a field goal attempt as K Nick Folk booted a 27-yarder through the uprights to make it 7-3 with 10:17 left in the 2nd quarter.
Following an exchange of punts, the Patriots got the ball back at their own 37. Again, Jones lead the offense down the field including a deep pass to WR Nelson Agholor for 25 yards down to the Miami 25. But it looked like the drive was going to be squashed as Jones was seemingly sacked by Dolphins LB Elandon Roberts on 3rd and 1 back at the Miami 12. But instead, Roberts was flagged for roughing the passer (he ended up taking Jones down at the knees) as the New England drive continued. Two plays later on 2nd and goal from the Miami 7, Jones found Agholor for the 7-yard touchdown. Folk knocked the PAT through the uprights as the Patriots took their first lead of the game 10-7 with 2:30 left in the second quarter.
The Dolphins responded with that touchdown with a 48-yard field goal with time running out to tie the game up at 10-10 as both teams went into the locker room for half time.
The second half opened up as the Dolphins got the ball at their own 25. Again, Tua drove the offense down the field including hitting WR DeVante Parker for a 30-yard strike to the New England 43 on 3rd and 8 to keep the drive alive. The Dolphins kept churning yards against the Patriots defense, getting all the way down to the New England 3. On 1st and goal from the 3, Tua rolled left and found rookie WR Jaylen Waddle on the left side, who dove over the pylon for the score. Sanders PAT made it 17-10 with just under 11 minutes left to play in the third quarter.
The Patriots responded with a 14-play, 77-yard play drive that ate up 8:01 off the clock. But instead of getting touchdown to respond to the Dolphins’ touchdown, the long drive ended with a 42-yard field goal by Folk to make it 17-13 with 2:50 left in the third quarter.
Following a Dolphins punt, the Patriots had another 14-play drive. This time it went 72 yards and ate up 5:37 off the clock but the end result was the same, another Folk field goal. This time it was a 33-yarder to make it 17-16 with 10:35 left in the fourth quarter.
Then on the ensuing Miami drive, Tua was pressured by LB Matt Judon. He heaved the ball to the right sideline in a sea of players as the ball bounced between hands before landing in the arms of CB Johnathan Jones at midfield.
With the big play made on defense and in perfect field position, the Patriots looked to capitalize the on the big turnover. On the arm of Jones and on the legs of Harris, the Patriots got all the way down to the to the Miami 11. On 1st and 10 from there, Harris took the handoff and bullied his way through down to the Miami 9. But on that play, Dolphins CB Xavien Howard knocked the ball out and came away with the football to give his team the ball at their own 9 with 3:31 left in the 4th quarter.
Patriots players, fans, and media were in shock as they saw the Dolphins simply ran out the clock down to the two-minute warning. Afterwards, it was ‘Knee on Three.’ Tua kneeled down on three consecutive plays to run the clock out down to 00:00 to give the Dolphins the 17-16 victory.
Although the Patriots put up a valiant effort, they made costly mistakes at the wrong time which became their undoing and they ended up beginning their 2021 season with a bad loss.
Notable Patriots Players Statistical Standouts
QB Mac Jones: 29-for-39 for 281 yards and 1 TD for a QB rating of 102.6
RB Damien Harris: 23 carries for 100 yards (4.3 yards per carry) and 1 fumble lost, 2 catches (on 3 targets) for 17 yards
RB James White: 4 carries for 12 yards (3 yards per carry), 6 catches (on 8 targets) for 49 yards
WR Nelson Agholor: 5 catches (on 6 targets) for 72 yards and 1 TD
K Nick Folk: 3-for-3 on Field Goals, 1-for-1 on extra points for a total of 10 points
FS Devin McCourty: 7 tackles (4 solo, 3 assists) and 1 pass defended
LB Kyle Van Noy: 2 tackles (1 solo, 1 assist), 1.0 sacks, and 1 pass defended
The Dawn of the Mac Era
All last year, everybody in New England could see that one of the failures of the team was the quarterback play. Between Cam Newton, Jarrett Stidham, and Brian Hoyer, the Patriots were sorely hurting at the position.
So in the offseason, they went into the draft and selected QB Mac Jones out of Alabama with the 15th pick overall. After a lengthy training camp and preseason battle between Jones and the incumbent starter Cam Newton, Jones won the starting job.
But before that, you heard all the reports from the beat writers who covered the team rave about Jones’ performance in training camp. How the ball came out crisp, faster, and more importantly accurately. He didn’t have the prestige of a Trevor Lawrence or the appeal of a Trey Lance, but Mac Jones was a solid college quarterback who performed well during game time and exceled during crunch time.
In his first NFL game, Jones didn’t look like a rookie QB. Rather, he looked like a seasoned veteran NFL QB. He almost had a clean game (had a fumble in the first quarter that was recovered by teammate TE Jonnu Smith), the ball looked crisp coming out of his hands, and he was able to hang in the pocket while taking some shots in the process.
But what stood out to me the most was that on his first touchdown pass, you saw his teammates celebrate and try to give him the game ball. Instead of keeping it and jumping around all excited, Jones simply passed the ball off, ran to the sideline, sat down, and started to go over what happened on that drive with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. That was very Tom Brady-esque. Don’t rest on your laurels, focus on what’s about to happen next.
Although the Patriots ultimately lost the game, they were never out of it thanks to the play of Mac Jones.
Toughness, grit, intelligence, as well as a good throwing arm. He was the quarterback the Patriots were sorely missing last year. It seems they may have found their guy. Don’t get me wrong, there’s no way in hell that Mac Jones will make Patriots fans forget about Tom Brady nor will he be able to accomplish what #12 accomplished in his 20-years with the team. But he’ll help keep the team in games and make things exciting around here for the next few years to come.
Numbers! Numbers! Numbers!
4 – The number of career 100-yard rushing games RB Damien Harris has in his NFL career now
1 – The number of receiving touchdowns by Patriots WRs in 2021, 25% of the total receiving touchdown by Patriots receivers in 2020 (4)
13:26 – The difference of time between both teams (Patriots with 36:43 while Dolphins with 23:17)
68.6 – The third down percentage efficiency of the Patriots (11-for-16) for the entire game
36.4 – The third down percentage efficiency of the Miami Dolphins (4-for-11) for the entire game
.786 - Bill Belichick’s winning percentage during home season openers during his 22-year coaching career with the Patriots (11-3)
.773 – Bill Belichick’s winning percentage during in season openers during that same span (17-5)
10,223 – The number of days since the last NFL debut of a Patriots rookie QB (Drew Bledsoe back on September 5, 1993 in a 38-14 road loss against the Buffalo Bills)
Fox Fist Bump
Ladies and Gentlemen, the Mac Jones Era for the New England Patriots has begun.
In his NFL debut, the former Alabama quarterback did not disappoint. He looked poised in the pocket, he was accurate (74.3 completion percentage for the game), he didn’t look lost like a deer in the headlights, and he kept putting his team in position to win games.
He put up good stats against a stout Dolphins defense (29-for-39 for 281 and 1 TDs) and had 0 turnovers for the entire game. Not a bad debut for the kid out of Alabama.
The Meatball of the Game
The first meatball of the 2021 NFL season goes to…the entire New England Patriots team.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. Why is the team getting a meatball even though they played a tough game against an AFC East divisional rival that has given them fits in the past? The Patriots won the time of possession battle (36:43 vs. 23:17), outgained the Dolphins (397 yards vs. 259 yards), were more efficient on third downs conversions (Patriots went 11-for-16 while Dolphins went 4-for-11), and had more first downs (24 vs. 16)
But when you have 4 fumbles in the entire game with 2 lost fumbles (including a fumble by RB Damien Harris that ultimately cost the team the game). Not to mention the lack of discipline by the team with 8 penalties for 84 yards. I can’t remember a time where I saw a Belichick-coached team commit nearly double-digit penalties for almost 100 yards in a single game.
They better fix their turnover and penalty problems ASAP otherwise it’s going to be a looooong 2021 season.
Play of the Game
The Rookie’s First TD Pass
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