What should we make of Patriots after win over Jets? Still hard to say

Curran: Are the Patriots 'good'? No, but at least they're interesting originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Beating a hated division rival that’s one game ahead of you in the standings? That’s sweet enough.

Doing it at the buzzer? On a punt return? When said rival thinks you suck and promised revenge after its previous embarrassing loss to you three weeks earlier? And then seeing their head coach describe his team’s second half offensive output as "dogs---," the rookie first-round wide receiver question the effort of everyone on offense and the out-of-touch, would-be franchise quarterback say, "Who? Me?" when asked if his offense squandered an amazing defensive performance? That’s heaven.

Are the Patriots entitled to luxuriate in the warm bath of Jets tears after their 10-3 win? Yeah. For a few minutes, maybe. The weekly goal is to perform better and beat the other team. And despite their still-appalling inability to get into (or near) the end zone offensively, the Patriots did those things Sunday.

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They are nestled nicely at sixth in the AFC’s seven-team playoff field. The Jets are eighth. The Bengals (6-4) are right behind the Patriots and with a Christmas Eve matchup against Cincy at Gillette, New England’s in prime position for a Wild Card if they can just keep bobbing along and avoid their annual post-Thanksgiving swoon.

We had a VERY SPIRITED postgame debate on the telly as to whether the Patriots are a "good" team or not. I say they’re a flawed team with a good record.

You can’t be as inept offensively as the Patriots are -- two touchdowns in their past three games; eight touchdown drives under the guidance of Mac Jones in the six games he’s played -- and think that’s something any objectively "good" team has ever been associated with.

But my longtime friend Michael Holley says any team with a record that qualifies it for a playoff spot is, by definition, "good," since only good teams make the playoffs.

Good. Bad. At least the Patriots -- unwatchable as they are offensively -- don’t spark indifference. What are the 2022 Patriots? There’s no way to tell at this point.

Is Jones to blame for the statistical and on-field ineptitude? Or has he been thrown behind the wheel of a 1983 Datsun and told to shut up and drive?

Is it his fault Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith, DeVante Parker, Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne have combined for 89 catches in their combined 46 games while consuming $50M in cap space? Or is it the fault of de facto offensive coordinator play-caller Matt Patricia?

Is it Patricia’s fault Jones has been sacked 21 times in six games (once every 9.7 attempts)? Or is it the offensive line? And is the offensive line’s performance the fault of line coaches Patricia and Billy Yates? Or is it the fault of Bill Belichick for both the players he’s picked and the heaping helping of work he put in front of Patricia, who wasn’t exactly on a heater coming off his stint as head coach of the Lions?

Or … ORRRRRRR!!!! Is it too soon to lay blame and find fault while the season’s still unfolding lest egg be smeared on the face of anyone doubting too soon? Personally, I feel comfortable saying the Patriots offense will not be objectively "good" this season.

Perry's Report Card: Special teams, defense save the day in sweep of Jets

They’ve gained more than 300 total yards four times in their last six games. They’ve been over 400 yards once (vs. Baltimore). For a team with an allegedly potent rushing attack, they haven’t averaged more than 3.7 yards per carry in their past five games and have collectively rushed for more than 100 one time in that span.

Not only are they 31st in converting red zone drives into touchdowns, they are on pace to set the NFL record for pooping themselves when they get to the 50. The Patriots have had 64 drives to the 50 or better. They have 186 points on those drives.

In the past four games, they’ve been to the 50 or better 25 times. They have four TDs, 10 FGs, three interceptions, four punts, two missed field goals and two turnovers on downs. It’s like tantric offense. All foreplay. No finish. With a side of masochism given the number of times they beat themselves with penalties or sacks.

Here’s the game-by-game on Patriots drives to the 50 or better and points realized. I did the work so I have to include it, like it or not.

  • Miami: 6 times, 7 points

  • Pittsburgh: 7 times, 17 points

  • Baltimore: 7 times, 27 points

  • Green Bay: 6 times, 17 points

  • Detroit: 6 times, 22 points

  • Cleveland: 7 times, 38 points

  • Chicago: 4 times, 14 points (2 TD, 2 INT)

  • Jets: 11 times, 22 points (1 TD, 5 FG, 1 INT, 2 punts, 2 downs)

  • Indianapolis: 6 times, 19 points (1 TD, 4 FG, 1 punt)

  • Jets: 4 times, 3 points (FG, 2 MFG, punt)

Bad as the Patriots' numbers are when they get into the red zone (they’ve only been there 28 times all season with 12 TDs to show for it -- tied with Houston, one behind the Panthers), what’s bizarre is they had the best starting field position in the NFL going into Sunday (average start at their own 32.6).

That’s a tribute to how good their defense and special teams have been. And the defense has been objectively good-to-great, especially when it sees a quarterback who can’t run through them like Lamar Jackson and Justin Fields did.

There is the massive defensive "Yeah, but …" to consider. The pelt collection of Mitch Trubisky, Sam Ehlinger, Zach Wilson (twice), Jared Goff and Jacoby Brissett is not impressive.

Even though those teams got mostly suffocated, we did see this last year and in 2019 when the Patriots defense was lights-out then got cuffed around mercilessly by quality opponents. Were you aware the Bills didn’t punt in their final two meetings against the Patriots last year?

That’s the other intrigue we get to watch unfold. I’m not deluded into thinking the Patriots are going to shut down the Vikings and Bills on the next two Thursdays. But can they not get boat-raced? Can they keep them under 24? Under 20? Because, let’s be honest, the Patriots offense isn’t on the cusp of dropping 24 or more on anyone right now.

The team will go as far as their defense can lug it. Anything they get from the 11-man lead weight that is their offense is gravy.

This week, we get to see if the Patriots defense can deal with an upper-mid-tier quarterback in Kirk Cousins and a fleet of skill position threats. And whether the signs of offensive life were more than a flicker of life.

The 2022 Patriots. Hard to watch. But you just can’t look away.