3 Takeaways from Patriots' Week 15 Loss

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistDecember 20, 2021

3 Takeaways from Patriots' Week 15 Loss

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    Aaron Doster/Associated Press

    The New England Patriots lost a pivotal AFC showdown with the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday night—an outcome that could have a huge impact on New England's bid for the AFC's No. 1 seed.

    The outcome put an end to New England's seven-game winning streak. It also dropped the Patriots out of the conference's top spot and—coupled with a Buffalo Bills victory Sunday—cut their AFC East lead to just one game.

    Week 16's matchup with Buffalo is now a monumental one.

    Perhaps more importantly, Saturday's loss showed that New England isn't quite the invincible AFC powerhouse that it has appeared to be over the last two months. Here's what else we learned during the Patriots' 27-17 loss in Week 15.

Mac Jones Can Have a Rookie Outing

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    AJ Mast/Associated Press

    For most of the 2021 season, quarterback Mac Jones has performed more like a seasoned vet than the rookie signal-caller that he is. However, Saturday's performance highlighted the fact that the Alabama product is still capable of novice mistakes.

    The Colts focused on limiting New England's rushing attack—the Patriots totaled just 81 yards on the ground—and dared Jones to beat them. That strategy hasn't worked well for opponents over the past eight weeks, but it worked perfectly in Week 15.

    Jones finished 26-of-45 for 299 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, one inside the red zone. He often appeared unsure of where to go with the football and was off on several throws.

    "I think people forget, he's still a rookie," tight end Hunter Henry said of Jones, per Phil Perry of NBC Sports Boston.

    Jones is probably still the favorite for Offensive Rookie of the Year—his passer rating of 94.6 is quite good—but opposing defenses can take advantage of his inexperience.

    Bill Belichick's decision to take an easy field goal to make it a 10-point game midway through the fourth quarter suggests that his confidence in Jones was not at an all-time high. It'll be worth watching to see just how much the Patriots trust Jones in critical situations over the final three weeks.

The Run Defense Could Be a Problem

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    AJ Mast/Associated Press

    Through the Patriots' winning streak, the defense was tremendous overall. However, it was susceptible to the run, even if opponents weren't willing to stick with the ground game.

    The Colts stuck with their rushing attack and a heavy dose of Jonathan Taylor on Saturday, and New England failed to find an answer. Taylor rumbled for 170 yards and score a late 67-yard touchdown that essentially put a stamp on the game.

    In all, Indianapolis racked up 226 yards on the ground while averaging 5.8 yards per carry. Colts quarterback Carson Wentz attempted a mere 12 passes, finishing with 57 yards, a touchdown and an interception.

    This wasn't an aberration by the New England defense, which ranks 24th in yards per game allowed and 26th in yards per rushing attempt surrendered.

    The Patriots defense is still very good and can be a force in the postseason. However, a poor run defense could become a significant issue if New England finds itself playing from behind in a win-or-go-home matchup. It could also be a problem if the Patriots see the Colts again in January.

The Patriots Aren't Good Enough to Survive Multiple Mishaps

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    Aaron Doster/Associated Press

    Despite getting a rookie performance from Jones and being dominated on the ground, the Patriots still could have escaped with a win. However, New England was undone by mistakes and miscues throughout the contest.

    Seven of Indianapolis' points came from a blocked punt that linebacker E.J. Speed returned for a touchdown. Another three came after a missed Michael Badgley field goal was negated by a Patriots offsides penalty.

    In all, New England was penalized eight times for 50 yards. It was an undisciplined evening for the Patriots that—coupled with the blocked punt and Jones' two turnovers—proved to be too much to overcome.

    The big takeaway is that while New England looked like a juggernaut coming into Saturday, it isn't quite good enough to survive a sloppy brand of football. Few teams are, but this should serve as a bit of a wake-up call for any Patriots who were taking their winning ways for granted.

    We can fully expect Belichick to work on the fundamentals and smarter play heading into the home game against Buffalo.