‘He’s a fighter’: How Mac Jones kept the Eagles on the ropes as the Patriots seemed to head for disaster
Despite early struggles, Kendrick Bourne states his case as Patriots No. 1 receiver with 2-touchdown game
The Patriots had a pair of opportunities at the end of the game to score a late fourth-quarter touchdown and stun the Super Bowl runner-up Eagles with an opening-day upset in front of Tom Brady.
But, it wasn’t meant to be. New England was unable to complete the kind of game-winning drive that Patriots fans had seen Brady complete countless times over the years.
The Eagles kept the Patriots out of the end zone in the end when it mattered, dropping the Patriots to an 0-1 record with a 25-20 New England loss in Foxborough.
But, it wasn’t all bad. The Patriots showed flashes of what could end up making this season an exciting one.
The defense played held Jalen Hurts to 170 yards and one touchdown, a remarkable performance against one of the NFL’s top quarterbacks. Mac Jones and the offense looked lightyears ahead of where they were last year with a competent coordinator in place. And, rookies Christian Gonzalez, Keion White, and Marte Mapu played well in their NFL debuts.
Here are three final thoughts from the action.
Jabrill Peppers gave Mac Jones what every quarterback wants: A chance to win late in the game
The crowd let out an intense roar when Jabrill Peppers leveled Jalen Hurts with a crushing hit that forced a Philadelphia fumble with 3:32 remaining in the fourth quarter.
It was a crucial turnover that gave New England the ball back and sent a dose of hope coursing through Gillette Stadium. It was the kind of opportunity that quarterbacks like Jones live for.
“That was a great play. Pep [Jabrill Peppers], he is the man,” Jones said. “He told me to go win it, and we couldn’t, and that hurts me.”
Peppers said that he didn’t know that the ball came out at first, but felt that he had landed a quality hit on Hurts.
“I wanted to get him more airborne and put him on his back,” Peppers said. “But, he squats a lot so I kind of took him off to the side. It still was a good little pop.”
The offensive line held its own against the “monsters” of Philadelphia’s front seven
The Eagles had 70 sacks last season, which was the third-most in NFL history according to the Patriots media guide.
The Patriots only allowed Jones to get sacked twice Sunday. And that was without both starting guards, Cole Strange and Mike Onwenu, who were out with injuries.
“When you go into a game with that type of pressure on your shoulders, you know you have to keep Mac clean in order for him to make plays,” offensive tackle Calvin Anderson said. “And, you’ve got to keep all the backs clean so they can get upfield. You’ve got to step up to those challenges, you can’t shy away thinking these guys are too good. This is the league, we’re all here for a reason. You have to go in there with that mentality.”
Rookies Sidy Sow and Atonio Mafi started in place of Strange and Onwenu. David Andrews and Trent Brown were the lone offensive line starters from last year. Anderson, who signed in the offseason, filled in at the right tackle spot.
“They played damn good,” Peppers said. They’ve got some monsters on that d-line and I felt they held their own tonight. They gave Mac nice clean pockets, and the run game. I tip my hats to those guys, but at the end of the day, it wasn’t good enough to win.”
Have the Patriots addressed their weakness against mobile quarterbacks?
It’s the first game of a long season and an incredibly small sample size, but keeping Hurts in check is no small feat, and the Patriots appeared to do just that.
Hurts had as many turnovers (one) as touchdowns. He was limited to 37 yards rushing. The Patriots sacked him three times.
That’s a performance you’ll take for a team that has struggled against mobile quarterbacks in recent years.
“We knew that was one of our focal points this year,” Peppers said. “Just lane integrity, everybody having their eyes on the quarterback, playing with instincts, and when you get a chance to hit him, wrap him up.”
The rain helped as well, Peppers said. But so did disguising coverages and forcing Hurts to throw while on the run to limit explosive plays.
“We disguised with our safeties and made sure we were deep enough,” Adrian Phillips said. “We know that they like the 50-50 balls, they like to throw it up to [A.J.] Brown, they like to throw it up to 16 (Quez Watkins) and 6 (DeVonta Smith). We just made sure that our rush had to get there, [Hurts] couldn’t have time to sit back there and we were always showing high with our safeties to discourage that.”
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