The Patriots have a lot to sort out if they’re going to have a relevant place in the playoff picture


Mac Jones and the Patriots offense never really found a rhythm on Sunday. Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Welcome to the Unconventional Review, an instant reaction to highlights, stats and storylines from the Patriots’ last game. . .

So the Patriots enter their bye week with a winning record for the first time this season and a pile of contradictions to figure out.

Their suspenseless and defensively dominant 26-3 win over rookie quarterback Sam Ehlinger and his in many ways unfortunate offensive line provided the kind of good vibe a team wants to take in a bye week.

A season ago, the Patriots’ seven-game winning streak was snapped by the Colts after the bye week, and it rocked them. In a way, the Patriots’ performance — they fired Ehlinger nine times and didn’t allow him to complete a pass until halfway through the second quarter — was something of a payback.

But the Patriots have a lot to sort out if they’re going to have a meaningful spot in the playoff picture. They are now 5-4, having won four of their last five games. . . but remains in last place in the AFC East. They lead the NFL with 17 turnovers after Jakobi Meyers lost a fumble in this one. And sophomore quarterback Mac Jones still hasn’t played a good game this season.

Jones, in his second full game since returning from a calf injury, was adequate, completing 20 of 30 passes for 147 yards and a touchdown. But the skills that are supposed to be his strengths – precision, quick processing, seeing the pitch – have been lacking at times this season. He missed an open Rhamondre Stevenson on a deep throw on second possession, and there were other occasions when he didn’t see open secondary receivers.

The Patriots’ priority in the bye week must be to prove him right. I couldn’t be the only one wondering Sunday how brutal the Patriots offense would be right now if it were to play against the Patriots defense.

A few more thoughts, after immediate consideration. . .

Three players who were worth watching

Suggested players in the unconventional preview: Stephon Gilmore, Hunter Henry, Shaquille Leonard.

Matthew Judon: He set the defensive tone for the Patriots on the Colts’ first play after scrimmage, sacking Ehlinger for a 3-yard loss, and he didn’t back down all day. He again reached Ehlinger on the third try of this first series, but his bag was canceled by a Daniel Ekuale who brutalized the passer’s penalty. Judon recovered the No. 2 sack on the Colts’ second possession, burying Ehlinger at third-and-8 for an 8-yard loss, forcing a punt. Judon’s force of nature performance continued with a third sack when, in the third quarter, he looked like he had been shot out of a cannon as he passed the confused and outmatched running back Colts Deon Jackson to crush Ehlinger. For good measure, Judon also made a superb play against the run game, stifling a fourth-and-one pitch to Jackson on the first play of the fourth quarter and smashing it out for no gain. Judon now has 11½ sacks in nine games this season. Andre Tippett holds the franchise record with 18½ in a 16-game season in 1984. For nine weeks that season Tippett had just 6½ sacks – he amassed a remarkable 12 over the last seven games – so Judon is ahead of its pace. All he has to do is stay healthy and avoid a fade after the bye week.

Josh Uche: While Judon was doing his Tippett stuff, Uche was doing a nice impersonation of Tippett’s colleague at outside linebacker on those mid-’80s Patriots teams, the unheralded Don Blackmon. Uche joined Judon in the three-sack club on Sunday, getting Ehlinger twice in the second quarter — including one in which he was on Ehlinger virtually before the Colts left tackle slipped out of position — then adding a third early in the quarter. third quarter, the seventh of the Patriots’ nine sacks. Uche, a second-round pick from Michigan in the 2020 draft, showed flashes of passing talent, but injuries were often a hindrance. He had just five sacks in 29 career games heading into Sunday’s special.

jonathan jones: As relentless as the Patriots pass rush was, it was Jones, a defensive back, who made the game’s two biggest plays. He helped set up the first touchdown when he sprinted to block Matt Haack’s punt from the Colts’ 26-yard line midway through the second quarter. Brenden Schooler recovered at 5, and two plays later Rhamondre Stevenson made a one-handed catch and tiptoed inside the pylon for a more or less insurmountable 13-0 Patriots. Jones himself did the honors on the Patriots’ second touchdown, fending off Ehlinger with just under four minutes left and returning him 16 yards for a touchdown.

Game grievance

Jake Bailey’s afternoon didn’t start badly. He threw a 58-yard punt at the end of the Patriots’ first possession. But at the end of the game, announcers Greg Gumbel and Adam Archuleta had fun at his expense after his last-minute punt traveled 7 yards – yes, 7, the rare single-digit punt distance. Gumbel, who started calling NFL games around the time players stopped wearing leather helmets, wondered if this was the worst punt he had ever seen. . It was Bailey’s worst punt that day, but it wasn’t his only lousy one. In the first quarter, he missed a 36-yarder that went out of bounds at the Patriots’ 42. What happened to this guy?

Three scribbled notes in the margins

(Predicted final score: Patriots 23, Colts 6)

(Final score: Patriots 26, Colts 3)

He’ll get a bit lost in praise for Judon and Uche’s pass-rush fiesta, but inside linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley delivered a terrific performance in his own right. Bentley contributed a team-high nine tackles (one on special teams) — seven in the first half, including a sack from Ehlinger in the first quarter. He was instrumental in holding Colts running backs Jordan Wilkins and Jackson to 36 combined yards on 14 carries. . . That doesn’t exactly qualify them as an end-focused tight offense, but Hunter Henry (30-yard catch on Jones’ best throw of the day in the fourth quarter) and Jonnu Smith (a nifty run-catch for 24-yard lag in the first) were the Patriots’ two longest games of the game. . . Marcus Jones kicking and punting returns have become must-see moments. You pause this trip to the fridge if the Electric Rookie Returning Man is back waiting to field the ball. Jones punted for 23 yards early in the second quarter and kicked off for 32 yards midway through the third. The two eventually led to Nick Folk’s field goals.


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