Foxboro - Well, what did we learn Sunday in the Pats 38-3 victory over the Jets that clinched a first round bye. The first lesson is that the Pats passing offense is fine. Is it the best passing offense of the Tom Brady era - the answer is unquestionably no. It was, however, encouraging that the Pats were able to get Phillip Dorsett involved who had four catches for 27 yards in the first half and one touchdown.
The Pats will need to find another option at receiver besides Julian Edelman (who had 74 catches in only 12 games this season after being suspended the first four games) to be successful in the playoffs. Edelman's value was tremendous to a team that struggled in the first four games in his absence. The Pats were 2-2 without him and 9-3 with him.
"It’s definitely a big win for us, winning decisively for one of the few times this year. I think offensively, defensively, on special teams, I think we played complementary football and it’ll definitely be a big help having a bye week, let some guys heal up and definitely got to be ready to go once we step back on the field," James White said.
This need for another receiving option is especially true, since Rob Gronkowski is slowing down. Gronk could become the old Gronk in the playoffs, but that is unlikely if he is injured. There were concerns about the passing offense the last two weeks and the Pats answered at least some of those concerns on Sunday. Dorsett, Chris Hogan and Gronkowski, all of whom had no catches in the Pats win a week ago over Buffalo, combined for 13 catches for 127 yards Sunday against the Jets.
"Yeah, that’s what we’ve got to do. I mean, to be a good offense, everyone’s got to touch it, everyone’s got to be involved in the offense and run it, throw it, throw it to everybody – the receivers, the backs, the tight ends. Everyone blocks in our offense, and that’s what makes it tough to defend. If they’ve got to defend everything, I feel pretty good about where we’re at. If they don’t have to worry about something, it makes it pretty tough on everyone else. So, glad we were able to score the points we did today. We’re going to need more of that in a couple weeks," Tom Brady said.
Despite being called a bust by some local talk radio hosts early in the year, Sony Michel has had a really good year. Michel finished with 931 yards for the season even though he missed most of training camp and missed three regular season games. The Pats also found a way to get White involved with a touchdown catch. White, who was an all-star the first half of the season, has slowed down the second half of the season.
White is a versatile player who can save the offense if all the receivers are covered. The Pats running game was strong again Sunday with more than 100 yards rushing. The Pats also averaged more than five yards per carry. The Pats have looked dominant the past two weeks. The competition, however, must be considered. It is also obvious that the Pats are much better at home than they are on the road where they finished the season 8-0. On the road, they were 3-5 and a Miami miracle away from being 4-4.
Defensively, the best news to come out of the past two weeks is that the run defense has improved. After two bad performances against Miami and Pittsburgh, the Pats shutdown any hope of a Bills or Jets running game. That will be important because if the Pats face the Ravens in the playoffs with Lamar Jackson - they will want to run the ball.
The Pats have players on the defensive line, who many fans might not even know, that were productive players Sunday. Adam Butler forced a fumble that led to a touchdown. The Pats also stopped the Jets twice in the red zone on fourth down. Lawrence Guy had a sack. Danny Shelton, who was inactive for three straight games earlier this year, has shown he can be effective against the run. The Pats acquired him to stop the run from Cleveland.
This nuanced criticism shows that New England fans are spoiled. This is the ninth straight year the Pats have had a first round bye and 10th straight year they have won the division. The AFC East has become the Pats division. The Buffalo Bills last won the division in 1995, the Jets 2002 and the Dolphins 2008.
It is understandable if fans are slow to embrace this Pats defense. Everyone remembers when they could not stop Nick Foles and the Philadelphia Eagles in the Super Bowl last year. It is better, however, to feel good about the defense going into the playoffs than the alternative. It is questionable whether the defense can generate enough of a pass rush to stop a strong passing offense - particularly on the road.
"I think we can," Butler said.
The Pats have a very good secondary. Stephon Gilmore is an elite player and J.C. Jackson has learned how to be physical without being flagged like he was earlier in the year. It would be nice if the safeties made a few more plays.
Fans now have two weeks to analyze every aspect of this team. The Pats will play in the divisional playoffs on either Saturday January 12th or Sunday January 13th. Win one home game and they are in the AFC Championship Game.
Not bad, for a team that started 1-2.