By Phil Dickson – New England Patriots Writer
On a blustery evening at Gillette Stadium, turbulent times lasted longer than the New England Patriots would have liked. With nine minutes to play in the fourth quarter, a stout Giants defense forced another turnover-on-downs and Foxboro collectively groaned. Daniel Jones – the New York Giants rookie quarterback under the watchful eye of Patriot slayer Eli Manning – took over on his own 40-yard line trailing by just seven points. However, the Duke University star could not replicate the previous glories of his now-mentor. Buoyed on by their first-ranked defense, New England sealed the victory, 35-14, and marched, or rather limped, on to 6-0 for the fourth time in their history.
With the Giants’ leading tight end and wide receiver inactive alongside their star running back and his replacement, the New York newspapers begged Bill Belichick for mercy on their back pages. Mercy, however, is not something Belichick is familiar with on the football field.
Entering the game with an 11-0 home record against rookie quarterbacks, the HC quickly got to work on implementing his game plan. Having thrown three interceptions in his last two games, Jones was presented with his biggest challenge to date. By frequently switching coverages, both pre- and post-snap, the Patriots forced Jones to read and adjust constantly under pressure. The result was a further three interceptions on the night, taking New England’s total on the season to 14.
However, it was not plain sailing for the Patriots as many predicted. The Giants produced their best defensive performance on the season to date, restricting the home team for much of the first half and leading to an interception of their own. After last week’s substantial improvements on the ground for Sony Michel, many expected more of the same. However, the inconsistencies of their beleaguered offensive line provided much hope for the visitors. With Michel only able to muster 28 rushing yards in the first half, a frustrated Brady began to take chances down the field in swirling conditions, much to the delight of New York cornerback Janoris Jenkins who picked up his third interception of the season.
It was the Patriots who drew first blood though. In a first quarter dominated by opposing defenses, it was New England’s special teams unit that broke the deadlock. A Riley Dixon blocked punt was collected by Chase Winovich, the talented rookie out of Michigan, who returned it the short distance for the first score of the game. As both quarterbacks continued to misfire in tricky conditions, it was Jones who faltered again. His second interception of the night gave New England terrific field position in the red zone. A short drive later saw veteran running back Brandon Bolden cross for his third touchdown in as many weeks, extending the Patriots lead to 14-0.
As the New York media made fresh cries for mercy, their young quarterback did nothing of the sort. Inspiring confidence, he responded quickly and decisively, connecting with Golden Tate on a 64-yard touchdown to inflict the first passing touchdown of the season on this New England defense. In a matter of minutes, the deficit had been eradicated. Giants linebacker Lorenzo Carter powered through TE Ryan Izzo – whose blocking abilities leave Patriots fans yearning for the return of Rob Gronkowski – resulting in a blindside sack and fumble, which resulted in a 41-yard return that tied up the ball game.
That play became all the more costly as Josh Gordon limped off the field with a knee injury following an attempted tackle. An offense lacking rhythm and weapons grew weaker still as Gordon failed to return. With Philip Dorsett inactive, it was the turn of undrafted rookies Jakobi Meyers and Gunner Olszewski to step up and join Edelman. When tight end Matt LaCosse and fullback Jakob Johnson also left the field, the Patriots were left with a dearth of options. This resulted in the New England offense playing with just one personnel grouping on every offensive snap of the second half: one running back, three wide receivers and one tight end. For a team that thrives on its ability to rotate players and schemes, they had to find a new way to win.
The decisive play of the half, and potentially the game, occurred in the lead up to the two-minute warning. When Michel was stopped on his own 41-yard line to bring up 3rd and 6, Pat Shurmer showed his faith in Jones by calling a defensive timeout in the hope of making a stop and giving his rookie signal caller a shot at taking the Giants in to the locker room with a lead. Unfortunately for the New York faithful, his bravery was not rewarded. A missed tackle by Jabrill Peppers allowed James White to pick up enough for the first down. The Patriots did not look back and marched down the field with the drive culminating in a 1-yard quarterback sneak for a touchdown and a half-time lead.
With the Patriots boasting a 96-1 record when leading at the half at home, Jones and the Giants faced a mammoth task and it was one that proved too much. The New England secondary continued to smother and confuse their passing attack, resulting in a Stephon Gilmore interception that rounded off a tremendous individual performance.
Conditions worsened and impacted the decision making of both sides. The wind did nothing to aid the Patriots kicking woes on the season as Mike Nugent’s 40-yard attempt hit the right post. On their next drive, facing a long field goal, they opted to go for it on 4th and 5. However, with ever-increasing pocket pressure, Brady was unable to find a receiver and the Giants took over on their own 40, trailing by just 7 in the fourth quarter. The Giants had a glimmer of hope.
As was so often the case though, the Patriots defense stepped up. Jamie Collins continued his resurgent start to the season by forcing a fumble which Kyle van Noy gleefully scooped up and returned for another defensive touchdown. The Giants had nothing in response and when Brady snuck over for his second rushing touchdown of the night for only the third time in his career, the game was over.
For all his struggles on the night, Brady finished with 334 yards and moved into second in all-time total passing yards behind Drew Brees. As he continues to defy time at the age of 42, a small part of him will surely delight in the mini bye-week that now awaits before a divisional match-up with the Jets on 21 October.
Feature Picture – Credit: AP Photo/Charles Krupa