3 Takeaways from Patriots' Week 12 Win
Don't look now, but the New England Patriots might just be the best team in the AFC. With a 36-13 win over the reeling Tennessee Titans on Sunday, New England drew even with Sunday's opponents at 8-4. With the head-to-head tiebreaker in their pocket, the Patriots have a huge edge in the race for the No. 1 seed.
Perhaps more importantly, the Patriots rattled off their sixth straight win and looked like a championship-caliber squad in the process.
For the fourth straight week and fifth time in six games, New England's defense allowed fewer than two touchdowns. Quarterback Mac Jones continues to look like the favorite for Offensive Rookie of the Year, and the Patriots receiving corps appears to be a more cohesive unit than the patchwork position group it seems on paper.
New England's 1-3 start to the season feels forever ago. As the Patriots head into a pivotal AFC East showdown with the Buffalo Bills, there isn't a hotter team in football.
Here's what we learned during New England's big win in Week 12.
This Defense Might Take New England All the Way
Following Week 11, we noted that Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson deserves consideration for Defensive Player of the Year. That feeling only grew Sunday, as Jackson notched his seventh interception of the season.
Jackson is the epitome of the Patriots defense in 2021. The unit may not regularly grab headlines, but there might not be a defense better suited to sparking a championship run. The Pats aren't perfect defensively—they allowed 270 rushing yards Sunday—but they have been fantastic at forcing turnovers and keeping opponents out of the end zone.
Against the Titans, the Patriots forced five fumbles, coming away with three of them. Jackson's pick of Ryan Tannehill gave New England four takeaways in the game and eight over the past two weeks.
New England came into this game ranked third in total defense and first in points allowed, and this unit seems to get better every week. The only question remaining is whether it can continue maintain it through February.
Matthew Judon Deserves Some DPOY Consideration Too
Jackson isn't the only standout on the Patriots defense. Offseason acquisition Matthew Judon has brought an energy and some serious talent to New England's pass rush. And if he isn't the team's defensive MVP, he's proving to be New England's best defensive addition.
The linebacker came into Week 12 with 10.5 sacks, 11 tackles for loss, 40 total tackles, 22 quarterback hits and an impressive 35 quarterback pressures. He added another sack Sunday to go with a pair of hits on Tannehill.
What's been impressive about Judon this season is how well the former Baltimore Raven has fit into the team's system and bought into the Patriot Way. Like a true Patriot, Judon has been quick to credit head coach Bill Belichick.
"He knows so much football," Judon said in Week 10, per Jake Levin of NBC Sports Boston. "He knows what positions to put you in to have success."
Belichick usually knows how to get the most out of his defensive players, but Judon deserves plenty of credit for emerging as one of the league's biggest game-wreckers this season.
Mac Jones Is No Longer Good for a Rookie; He's Just Good
Jones has unquestionably been the best rookie quarterback in football this season. While it's fair to note that he landed in a better situation than Trevor Lawrence or Justin Fields did, it would be unfair to dismiss the progress he has made.
The Alabama product continually shows full command of Josh McDaniels' offense, and his value goes far beyond being able to make all the throws. Jones has shown the ability to read the field, avoid game-killing mistakes and learn from the miscues he does make.
During the Week 3 loss to the New Orleans Saints, Jones tossed three interceptions. He hasn't had a multi-interception game since, and he's thrown just two picks during New England's six-game winning streak.
Against the Titans, Jones was an efficient 23-of-32 for 310 yards with two touchdowns and no turnovers. He posted a passer rating of 123.2 after recording 94.7 through the first 11 weeks.
Jones has gone past the point of being a promising rookie and is playing like a potential Pro Bowler. He made that case one again by carrying the offense on a day when it barely topped the 100-yard rushing mark.
Advanced statistics from Pro Football Reference.