The 2020 season is finally over for the New England Patriots. They finished 7-9, their first losing record since 2000 and will miss the playoffs for the first time since 2008. They finished third place in the AFC East after winning the division the past 11 seasons, and will pick 15th in the 2021 NFL Draft. The Patriots ended their season on a high note as they defeated division-rival New York Jets 28-14 this past Sunday, completing their season-sweep of the Jets. For the last time in the 2020 season, here is my breakdown of the Patriots’ most-recent game.
Sunday’s game against the Jets was most likely quarterback Cam Newton’s final game as a Patriot. As he auditioned to not only possibly return as the starting QB next season elsewhere, Newton played one of his best games of the 2020 season, throwing for 242 yards on 21 of 30 attempts and three touchdown passes. This was the first time Newton threw multiple touchdown passes in a game this season, finishing the season with only eight. This ranks 34th and for perspective, Dallas Cowboys’ QB Dak Prescott threw nine touchdown passes in his five games before his season-ending ankle injury. While he had a rough season, he finished with his best overall game. He also ran for 79 yards, a season high, and caught a touchdown pass from Jakobi Meyers in the third quarter. This started a streak of three consecutive touchdown drives, allowing the Patriots to take control after trailing 14-7 in the third quarter. While Newton may not be a starting-caliber QB in the NFL anymore, he will be a valuable backup somewhere in 2021.
Running back Sony Michel had a good game, totaling 136 yards from scrimmage and his first career receiving touchdown. One aspect to watch out for the Patriots in 2021 is how they shuffle their backfield. Rex Burkhead and James White are set to be free agents this offseason. While Burkhead recovers from his season-ending knee injury, White caught a seven-yard touchdown pass on the game’s opening drive. With Michel and Damien Harris, the team’s leading rusher in 2020, expected to be the 1-2 punch next season, some tough decisions will need to be made.
Meyers finished as the team’s leading receiver in 2020 with 729 yards, but finished without a receiving touchdown. He is a dependable slot receiver and someone the Patriots should keep going forward. The best part of the game offensively was the production of rookie tight end Devin Asiasi from UCLA. Production from tight ends in the passing game have been hard to come by as Ryan Izzo, their top tight end, ranked 45th in receiving yards at his position. Asiasi hadn’t caught a pass until Sunday where he caught two passes for 39 yards and a 26-yard touchdown pass. It was the first time in 2020 a TE caught a touchdown pass for the Patriots. This is a good sight for the team as they hope Asiasi can develop into a dependable option at a position which has been sorely in production since Rob Gronkowski left the team after the 2018 season.
Once again this season, J.C. Jackson was the story of the game defensively. Jackson recorded an interception and a touchdown-saving deflection in the first game against the Jets, but was burned twice by Breshad Perriman for touchdowns. On Sunday, it was more of the same as Jackson was burned by Perriman for a 53-yard reception to set up the Jets’ touchdown drive to start the second half. However, late in the third quarter, Jackson intercepted Jets’ QB Sam Darnold, setting up the Patriots’ go-ahead touchdown to Asiasi four plays later. Jackson finished the season with nine interceptions, the second-most in the NFL. Jonathan Jones also intercepted Darnold late, sealing the win for the Patriots. The team finished eighth in pass defense.
Chase Winovich picked up two sacks on Sunday and Adam Butler sacked Darnold as well. Winovich and Butler led the team in sacks this season with 5.5 and four sacks. The lack of defensive penetration was apparent all season as the Patriots finished 26th in rushing defense and was tied for 27th with the Detroit Lions for the fewest sacks. Improvements in the front seven should be a point of emphasis this offseason.
The special teams’ role in this game was marginal. Nick Folk made all four of his extra points and did not attempt a field goal. Folk finished with a career high in field goal percentage of 92.9%, topping his previous record of 91.7% with the Jets in 2013. Jake Bailey punted six times with three punts inside the 20 and two touchbacks. Punt returner Gunner Olszewski returned three punts for 36 yards. Olszewski finished the season with a NFL-high 346 yards on punt returns. He was a nice spark for a team which struggled on offense throughout the season.
The Patriots head into the offseason with the 15th pick in the NFL Draft, approximately $58 million in cap room and uncertainty about their QB position. My recommendation: focus on the lines in free agency and spend the draft getting the long-term QB while supporting him with wide receivers.