Mac Jones and members of the Patriots offense were smiling and laughing on the sidelines after Pierre Strong’s touchdown gave them a two-score lead against the Cardinals in the fourth quarter.
Jones was hugging and patting Matt Patricia, his play-caller, following the five-play drive. It was fun times on the sideline.
The Patriots were understandably thrilled to be coming away with a must-win over Arizona. And they should be, considering the 27-13 decision put them back in playoff position.
Does that mean all’s well, that ends well for the Patriots offense?
Let’s recall that following the loss to Buffalo, it sure seemed like things were unraveling on that side of the ball.
There was unrest and turmoil with the players and with Jones. The players openly squawked about the offense.
And those complaints had merit, it was just odd to hear the players verbalize them so publicly.
This performance against the Cardinals wasn’t exactly what the doctor ordered, but they’ll take it.
For good chunks of the game, the much-maligned offense still struggled and looked like the Keystone Cops at times.
And this was against a Cardinals defense that was allowing 26.8 points per game (31st), had the league’s worst red zone defense, and the fourth-worst third down defense.
They certainly did some good things, with rookie backs Kevin Harris (8 carries, 26 yards, TD) and Pierre Strong (5 carries, 70 yards, TD) coming to the rescue, along with Marcus Jones. They scored twice in the red zone, and got it together in the second half.
But it’s still hard to overlook the problems, especially with a tough slate of games left.
For starters, did they make Vance Joseph eat his words?
The offense pretty much remained a sea of screens and quick passes, just as the Cardinals defensive coordinator predicted it would be.
Because the Patriots have a defensive coordinator calling plays. And the offensive line continues to be a problem.
But this wasn’t all on Matt Patricia.
There were penalties and more mistakes from a team that can’t afford to make them. Even with 11 days to prepare, this didn’t look much different from the past two train wrecks against Minnesota and Buffalo, especially early on.
Just like the Thanksgiving night game against the Vikings, the Patriots were in botch-it-up mode for much of the game, and that kept a Cardinals team, who lost Kyler Murray after the first series, in the game.
With a first-and-10 on the Cardinals 28-yard-line, with 11seconds to go before the half, Jones and Kevin Harris botched a handoff that created a fumble. Jones recovered, and Nick Folk kicked a field goal, but why was he handing it off in the first place?
Granted, the Patriots had to rely on many of their rookies — Harris, Pierre Strong, Marcus Jones, Tyquan Thornton — thanks to injuries to both running backs (Rhamondre Stevenson and Damien Harris) and two receivers (DeVante Parker, Jakobi Meyers).
But the constant confusion and mess-ups remain a concern.
And how is an offense supposed to move the ball when it keeps setting up third-and-long?
In the first half, they faced a third-and-11 after a negative run, a third-and-15 after a penalty, a third-and-13 after a screen went backwards, and a third-and-14 after a false start.
That’s not how it’s supposed to work.
All of the pre-snap penalties were once again a joke. And then, Jones had to call a timeout a few minutes into the third quarter, it appeared, because Patricia didn’t get the play in fast enough.
That’s beyond ridiculous 13 games into the season.
Jones, of course, let out another expletive that could be heard around the world after calling the timeout.
And so it went.
Bill Belichick said there weren’t going to be any changes on offense, they just needed to do it better.
Well, it wasn’t that much better. But they’ll take the win, they’ll take a deep breath before heading to Las Vegas after practicing out in Tucson, and enjoy the fact they were able to score enough — with the help of a defensive touchdown — to get by Arizona.