3 Takeaways from Patriots' Week 17 Win

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistJanuary 3, 2022

3 Takeaways from Patriots' Week 17 Win

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    Paul Connors/Associated Press

    The New England Patriots are back in the playoffs after spending a year away from the postseason. New England was able to clinch a wild-card berth with Sunday's win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, and they still have a shot at winning the AFC East.

    If the Patriots win in Week 18 while the Buffalo Bills fall to the New York Jets—an unlikely scenario—New England will win the division for the first time in the post-Tom Brady era.

    Regardless of what happens next week, the Patriots will be in the dance thanks to a dominant effort against the Jaguars.

    While Jacksonville isn't exactly a playoff-caliber measuring stick, the Jags did knock off Buffalo 9-6 in Week 9. The Patriots managed to not only avoid a Week 17 trap, though, but they absolutely steamrolled the Jaguars.

    It's clear that the Patriots were firmly focused on returning to playoff form following losses to Buffalo and the Indianapolis Colts. Here's what else we learned during New England's 50-10 win in Week 17.

New England's Ground Game Is Lethal in the Red Zone

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    Paul Connors/Associated Press

    The Patriots might have the league's most physical running back tandem in Damien Harris and rookie Rhamondre Stevenson. The duo ripped off some brutal runs against Jacksonville and helped pound the Jaguars into submission.

    Harris and Stevenson also rushed for touchdowns. Twice. Each.

    It's become clear that when the Patriots get into scoring range, they're likely to run it. It's also become clear that New England is likely to score when it does. The Patriots scored four touchdowns on the ground on Sunday and now have 22 rushing touchdowns for the season, third-most in the NFL.

    This is a great asset to have with a rookie quarterback in Mac Jones under center. While Jones has fared well more often than not, he's still an inexperienced signal-caller.

    Passing can become difficult for young quarterbacks in the red zone as receivers have less room with which to work. Fortunately, New England has a powerful rushing attack that can get the tough yards down by the goal line.

    We saw another example of this against Jacksonville, and we're likely to see many more red-zone runs once the postseason begins.

Mac Jones Is Still a Very Capable Quarterback

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    Paul Connors/Associated Press

    Jones has been the best rookie quarterback in the NFL this season. He's thrown for 3,540 yards with 21 touchdown passes and a passer rating of 92.5—all league bests among 2021 draftees. In losses to the Colts and Bills, though, Jones struggled.

    He completed less than 60 percent of his passes in each of those games (after previously twice being sub-60) and tossed a combined four interceptions (he has 12 on the season). According to former Patriots wideout Julian Edelman, Jones may have finally hit the dreaded rookie wall.

    "The rookie wall is real. He's had two games with two picks back-to-back," Edelman said on Inside the NFL (h/t Tyler Sullivan of CBS Sports). "It will be interesting to see how he goes forward and to see really what he's made of."

    Well, Jones rebounded in a big way, going 22-of-30 for 227 yards and three touchdowns with no picks. Again, the Jaguars aren't the most intimidating of opponents, but that shouldn't take away from Jones' accuracy, smart decision-making and poise.

    Jones is still a tremendous first-year quarterback and is still capable of managing New England deep into the playoffs. If he did hit the rookie wall, he found a way over it Sunday.

New England's Offseason Spending Spree Is Paying Off

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    Steven Senne/Associated Press

    One of Sunday's heroes was former practice-squad receiver Kristian Wilkerson. The undrafted Southeast Missouri State product caught four passes for 42 yards and two touchdowns, and his emergence may have spelled the end for 2019 first-rounder N'Keal Harry, who was a healthy scratch.

    But New England also got big contributions from players like Kendrick Bourne (five catches, 76 yards), Hunter Henry (three catches, 37 yards), Jalen Mills (four tackles, two passes defended) and Kyle Van Noy (four tackles). These are all players who were acquired by New England in the offseason.

    In Van Noy's case, he returned to New England after spending a year with the Miami Dolphins.

    Other offseason additions include Matt Judon (12.5 sacks), Nelson Agholor (450 receiving yards, three TDs) and Jonnu Smith (294 receiving yards, one TD). Overall, New England's prolific free-agent class has had a huge role in getting the Patriots back to the playoffs.

    While teams don't win anything in the offseason—and some of them inevitably spend big to no avail—the Patriots have gotten a big return on investment. With rookies like Jones, Stevenson and rookie defensive tackle Christian Barmore also playing extremely well, the Patriots are far and away a better team than they were a year ago.

    It helps to have a veteran coach like Bill Belichick calling the shots, of course, but New England has the overall talent to contend with anyone in this year's AFC playoff field.