Biggest Takeaways from New England Patriots' Week 7 Win
The New England Patriots made just enough plays to beat the New York Jets, but a 30-23 victory is hardly solace for the Patriots given the way they played for most of Sunday's game.
"It definitely wasn't our best performance," Patriots head coach Belichick said after the win, "a lot of things that we left out on the field, just didn't do well enough, but in the end we were able to make the plays we needed to make when we needed to make them, and that was critical in all three phases of the game."
Were it not for 10 minutes' worth of mistakes by the Jets, beginning with an unacceptable 3rd-and-17 conversion given up to the Patriots, who knows what the outcome would have been. Ultimately, those hypotheticals don't matter because the Jets made those mistakes and the Patriots capitalized on them for the win.
But can they continue to win when playing their worst? Can they correct those errors in time for Thursday's game against the Miami Dolphins?
Here are a handful of takeaways from the game.
Danny Amendola Is Emerging as a Key 2nd Option at WR
When other receivers are held in check or the Patriots' game plan is pass-heavy, wide receiver Danny Amendola has proved that he's ready to deliver.
He has now posted 15 receptions for 191 yards and a touchdown over the past two games, with seven catches against the Indianapolis Colts and eight against the New York Jets. He had an insane, athletic touchdown catch in the fourth quarter that put the Patriots ahead and gave them a lead they would not relinquish.
Tom Brady leaned on Amendola quite a bit down the stretch in the playoffs in 2014, with 12 receptions for 137 yards and three touchdowns in three playoff games. He had been held mostly in check in the first four games of the 2015 season, with just 10 receptions for 98 yards and a touchdown, but he has come into his own over the past two games.
According to Pro Football Focus, Amendola was the only Patriots pass-catcher with more than two targets and no drops on Sunday.
Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski will always be the top two options in the passing game, but Amendola has proved he can be a great complementary piece.
Health Is an Issue
As some players are starting to get healthy, the injury bug is biting others.
Wide receiver Brandon LaFell made his return to the lineup, but the Patriots were without running back Dion Lewis. Quarterback Tom Brady told WEEI's the Dennis and Callahan Show that the Patriots made changes to their game plan up to the 11th hour, literally. They adjusted based on who was active and inactive, which was only announced an hour-and-a-half before kickoff.
Based on just who we figured out who was going to be active for the game, and the personnel. Without Dion Lewis out there we just adjusted some things. Part of that package that we put in late in the game with the four receivers and the tight end was just something we kind of drew up as the week went on. It's just always adjustments. You adjust all the way up to the point of the end of the game. That’s just what it takes.
The Patriots were also without defensive end Jabaal Sheard and offensive linemen Marcus Cannon and Shaq Mason. They had just six offensive linemen and two running backs active Sunday.
Health issues could be one of the biggest tests the Patriots face this season. With three games down and 10 to go on their run of 13 straight games after the bye week, there will be no rest for the weary.
Brandon LaFell Needs to Knock off the Rust
Patriots wide receiver Brandon LaFell made his return to the field, but his hands have still yet to show up.
The Patriots' X receiver saw eight targets and caught just two of those passes. He could have finished with seven receptions but finished the game with five drops, according to Pro Football Focus.
He echoed the sentiments of many Patriots fans on Sunday.
"If I had to give myself a grade, it would be an 'F,'" he said. "I let the ball get out of my hands too many times. Tom [Brady] threw some good balls, I should have caught them. But overall we got the win. I just have to get back to it. We have a short week. Dust the cobwebs off and come back out here and play."
The Patriots are counting on LaFell to make tough catches, such as the 20-yard catch he made on 2nd-and-20 where he took a huge hit from safety Calvin Pryor on the sideline. They need to depend on him to make the easy catches, as well.
Malcolm Butler's Season off to Up-and-Down Start
The Patriots were not going to let wide receiver Brandon Marshall have a huge game against their secondary. They rolled extra coverage to his side, and as a result, cornerback Malcolm Butler was left all alone for long stretches.
He drew a difficult assignment in one-on-one coverage of Jets wide receiver Eric Decker, and according to Pro Football Focus, Butler gave up five receptions on nine passes thrown into his defense for 82 yards. If that were all, Butler's outing might have been acceptable. Coupled with three penalties, including two on the same play, he was on the "stock down" side in the Patriots' win.
No one expected Butler to be Darrelle Revis, and although he's been strong at times this season, he's given up five or more receptions for 80 or more yards in three of the Patriots' six games.
The Patriots are showing a lot of confidence in him by leaving him all on his own, but he'll line up across from some talented receivers in the next few weeks, including Jarvis Landry (Miami Dolphins), Odell Beckham Jr. (New York Giants) and Demaryius Thomas (Denver Broncos).
Short Turnaround to an Amped-Up Dolphins Team
The Patriots are hot off an emotional, narrow win, but the Dolphins are riding a tidal wave with two big wins in a row. The Dolphins fired head coach Joe Philbin and promoted tight end coach Dan Campbell to interim head coach, but that one move (along with a change of defensive coordinator) has resulted in a night-and-day difference in the Dolphins.
A team that once was unbalanced on offense and passive on defense is now showing the world it can pound the football down opponent's throats and attack on defense. Through the first four games, the Dolphins had 65 rush attempts, but in the past two games, they've run the football 67 times. They had just one sack in their first four games, but 10 sacks in their past two.
They've outscored their opponents 82-36 in the past two games. Those opponents were the Tennessee Titans and Houston Texans—not exactly teams of the Patriots' championship caliber—who share a combined record of 3-10.
That being said, the Dolphins have the formula to give the Patriots a tough time.
If the Dolphins can play a ball-control style of game and put suffocating pressure on Brady, they could make Thursday night's meeting a close contest—and could even put themselves in position to come out with an upset win.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand.