9 takeaways from the Patriots’ embarrassing loss to the Saints

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The New England Patriots defense did what it could to stop the New Orleans Saints and give Mac Jones opportunities to win the game. Under constant pressure and playing victim to the coaching staff’s overly conservative decisions, Jones couldn’t muster enough offensive firepower to get into the game against the Saints, who beat the Patriots 28-13.

Jones threw three interceptions, with a 58.8 completion percentage and 270 yards. He missed his fair share of open receivers, but was hardly the person to blame for the loss. The offensive line was the biggest culprit, allowing 11 quarterback hits and two sacks. The Patriots’ skill players weren’t all that impressive either.

It’s clear New England hasn’t figured out its recipe to scoring points — let alone winning football games — in the Jones era. The Patriots will have to start by getting their penalty problems (four for 30 yards) under control and shore up the offensive line. Then, perhaps, they’ll stop burning themselves and get competitive.

Here are our nine takeaways from the game.

Mac Jones kicked things off by passing deep

It just didn't work out. During the first drive on second down, Jones threw the ball roughly 35 yards downfield to Nelson Agholor, but the ball was a yard or two deep. Jones then faced pressure on third down, and couldn't get his feet set, which seemed to prevent him from delivering a touch pass to James White over the top. The arcing rainbow throw had too much air. So after a week of scrutiny, Jones tried what everyone said he couldn't execute: deep and intermediate passing. The problem? He couldn't execute. The drive was a three-and-out.

The Saints' first touchdown was a product of bad play-calling and busted coverage

The Patriots let up an embarrassingly bad touchdown to open scoring in the game. Running back Alvin Kamara, the team's biggest weapon (a.k.a. the guy Bill Belichick is famous for taking away), was wide open in the middle of the field for a touchdown. Kamara finished with 24 carries for 89 yards and three catches for 29 yards and the touchdown. It's unclear how the breakdown happened, with linebacker Kyle Van Noy trying to pass Kamara on to ... no one. There was no one in the section of the zone where Van Noy forced Kamara. Busted coverage. Because of that, it's unclear who was at fault. Ultimately, the Patriots shouldn't have been in a zone where Kamara could end up getting passed between Van Noy and a safety (perhaps Kyle Dugger). They need to do a better job of accounting for the Saints best offensive weapon. https://twitter.com/NFL/status/1442177503901089795 This is bad play-calling and worse execution.

The Patriots offensive line is in shockingly disastrous form

It's not just the pass protection, though that was a clear problem. Here's an example of a breakdown that led to an interception. https://twitter.com/Saints/status/1442190575235633154 New England also blew its blocking assignments on screen passes and running plays -- the stuff that's supposed to be their bread and butter while they get Jones comfortable. As the second quarter wrapped up -- and Jones threw his first interception -- he got hit and taken to the ground on three consecutive plays. The third hit was the most costly, with the contact disrupting Jones' throwing motion. He threw the ball directly to safety P.J. Williams. There was no way the Patriots could win this game if their offensive line was going to struggle like this, even with Jones moving relatively well in the pocket.

How much freaking money did the Patriots spend on their skill players?

It's a rhetorical question. I know how much they spent. The Patriots put up $37.4 million on Hunter Henry, $50 million on Jonnu Smith, $24 on Nelson Agholor and $15 million on Kendrick Bourne. Bourne buoyed the group with six catches 96 yards and a touchdown. Even when Jones made something happen when nothing was there, his receivers always return the favor. Smith, for example, dropped what would've been a big play for the offense in the second quarter. https://twitter.com/McKennAnalysis/status/1442188371347087361 While improvising from a collapsed pocket, Jones chucked up an arcing pass that was safe from coverage. It came down right along the sideline, but Smith couldn't haul in the target.

The defense did what it could to keep the game tight

In the first half, the Saints had excellent field position, and even with the Patriots offense flailing, New England managed to allow 14 points over those first 30 minutes -- which felt like a herculean effort. Kicker Aldrick Rosas missed two field goals. On one drive, the Patriots got a third-down tackle from J.C. Jackon. That brought about Rosas' first attempt. Then New England got a timely sack from Matthew Judon in the red zone which led to Rosas' second miss. Then in the second half, the Patriots defense began to control the field, allowing just one first down over the Saints first three drives of the second half. That's when New England built a little momentum. The Saints, however, iced the game with a touchdown drive which took 6:45 and 13 plays. At that point, the Patriots didn't have enough time to make up for a 15-point deficit.

Jonnu Smith was to blame for Jones' second interception

The tight end finished the game with three drops (counting the ball he couldn't corral on the sideline) and one 4-yard catch on six targets. Smith's worst drop led to an interception. He bobbled the ball and fell to the ground, which left the ball in the air for Malcolm Jenkins to log an interception. The safety took it to the house. https://twitter.com/NFL/status/1442199036862218240 New Orleans should never have picked that ball. Smith needs to catch the target and pickup a first down.

It felt like offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels killed the Patriots' hottest drive

The Patriots marched down the field, showing resiliency after Jones' pick-six (that, again, wasn't his fault). They went 72 yards in 10 plays. The problem? They faltered in the red zone, and it's easy to question McDaniels' decision-making. On first-and-10 from the 11-yard line, the offensive coordinator called back-to-back runs for Brandon Bolden, which went for a total of minus-1 yard. Then McDaniels called a swing pass to tight end Jonnu Smith, who only mustered eight of the 11 yards New England needed. It seemed like the kind of call that set up a fourth-down conversion attempt, right? But the Patriots sent out the field goal unit: an oddly conservative decision for a team that, at the time, was trailing 21-3 and closed the gap to 21-6 with Nick Folk's field goal.

It's never a good day for the offense when Mac Jones is the rushing leader

The Patriots, who had clearly built their offense to run on anyone, resorted to the quick passing game, because they couldn't get any push against an impressive Saints defense. Damien Harris had six carries for 14 yards. James White had a 6-yard carry before leaving the game with a hip injury. So Jones led the team with five carries for 25 yards.

This team isn't ready for Tom Brady and the defending Super Bowl champions

As much as the narratives will be fun, with Brady matching up against Bill Belichick and the Patriots. The game is a clear mismatch. New England is rebuilding, with a huge influx of young talent, both arriving in free agency and in the draft. The team also looks surprisingly sloppy, with penalties galore in the last few weeks. It will be fun to see how long Jones and the Patriots can keep the game tight. But it may not last long.

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