Week four of the NFL season saw the New England Patriots facing their first team with a winning record. It was actually their first time facing a team with a win. To say that it was a bumpy performance would be an understatement. Previous weeks have proven difficult to find areas of the team to critique, this week didn’t present the same issue.
There was a pretty clear disparity in the level of performance between the offensive and defensive units of the Patriots, landing members of each side of the football on the week four edition of three up three down.
J.C. Jackson: Jackson joined the team as an undrafted free agent out of Maryland following the 2018 NFL draft. Following a strong rookie campaign and offseason Jackson earned more playing time opposite of all-pro cornerback Stephon Gilmore.
Jackson had undoubtedly the strongest game by any New England Patriot. A very strong case can be made that the team’s record may have fallen to 3-1 if it weren’t for the play of Jackson. Recording two interceptions and a punt block that was returned for a touchdown, Jackson halted two Bills drives and blocked a punt that was returned for a touchdown by fellow special teams player Matthew Slater.
The special teams touchdown started by Jackson’s block was the push that New England needed on a day that saw the offense struggle, helping the team to hang on for a 16-10 victory. Jackson’s play on both defense and special teams was critical to the Patriots maintaining their undefeated record.
Devin McCourty: McCourty’s future with the Patriots was up in the air following the Super Bowl LIII victory over the Los Angeles Rams. News broke later that offseason that the nine year veteran was contemplating retirement. The decision was ultimately made to return to the team and play out the one year remaining on his contract. So far that decision appears to be a mutually beneficial one.
Through four games McCourty has as many interceptions recording one in every contest. These four interceptions match the total number of interceptions that McCourty had in his previous 68 games. McCourty’s career high of seven interceptions is within reach for him this season, and playing some of the best football of his career
The 16 interception pace that McCourty finds himself on is unlikely to be maintained, however with upcoming matchups against rookies Dwayne Haskins, or whoever else the Redskins deploy at the quarterback position, and Daniel Jones it wouldn’t be surprising to see his strong start continue into the upcoming weeks.
Jamie Collins: Collins return to the New England defense, and the impact that it has had on the unit can not be overstated. Through the first four weeks of the season Collins is making a legitimate case as a defensive player of the year candidate racking up three and a half sacks, three interceptions and a touchdown.Statistics don’t do justice to the impact that Collins has had however.
In the game Sunday against the Buffalo Bills Collins’ athleticism was on full display. There is a rule now in the league that prevents players from taking a running start and hurdling over the line on special teams in an attempt to block kicks. This was a weapon in Collins arsenal that was taken away due to the rule change. Or so we thought.
Collins can be seen in this video posted by NBC Sports Boston reporter Phil Perry (@PhilAPerry on Twitter) lined up on the defensive front, completely stationary. At the snap of the football Collins leaps the entire offensive line and nearly blocks the field goal attempt from Stephen Haushka. While this play won’t show up on the stat sheet, it’s a perfect example of the impact Collins has for this football team
Tom Brady: The New England Patriots have never been a team to make excuses. Nobody was making excuses for them after a 3-0 start that saw the team scoring over 35 points per game. The excuses can’t come into play following a sloppy performance against the Buffalo Bills; not even for Brady.
Brady had one of the worst games of his career completing 18 of 39 passes for 150 total yards and his first interception of the season. An interesting and equally concerning stat; ever since taking a 20-0 lead over the New York Jets in week three the Patriots have had 22 offensive possessions. Only 18.2% or four of those 22 drives have lasted longer than five plays.
Perhaps a calf injury limited Brady, perhaps it was the result of a banged up offensive line and inefficient running game, or maybe Brady just played a bad game, and that’s okay. The Patriots were able to secure a W but did so in spite of Brady rather than because of him.
Philip Dorsett: Coming into the week three matchup with the New York Jets Dorsett had an impressive streak going of 23 consecutive targets secured for catches. That streak ended on a controversial incomplete cal that was upheld upon review ending the impressive streak at 26. That streak is now a distant memory.
Dorsett was targeted nine times against the Buffalo Bills, but was only able to secure two of those nine targets for ten yards. On a day that saw his counterparts at the position banged up, Julian Edelman battling a rib injury and Josh Gordon a wrist, Dorsett was asked to take on a larger role and didn’t look to be capable of doing so.
Dorsett’s role on this team is that of a speedy receiver who can produce with mismatches against an opponent’s number three cornerback and make big catches when Tom Brady needs it most. Dorsett is not the type of receiver that can go out on a week to week basis and produce as a number one option for New England and Brady.
Stephen Gostkowski: Another week, another extra point missed. Something is wrong with Gostkowski. Whether it is a physical ailment affecting his accuracy or a mental hurdle he’s struggling to overcome due to the misses beginning to stack up, there’s very clearly something going on with the normally dependable kicker.
So far this season Gostkowski has missed four extra points and one field goal. This is an issue that has yet to come back to bite the Patriots as they haven’t found themselves in particularly close contests. However with upcoming matchups against the Cleveland Browns, Baltimore Ravens, Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles, and Kansas City Chiefs uncertainty at the kicking position could be the difference between going 4-1 over that stretch versus 3-2 or 2-3.
UPDATE: Gostkowski has landed on injured reserve and will undergo season ending surgery on his left hip. The Patriots have signed veteran kicker Mike Nugent to fill the kicking position, as well as adding Younghoe Koo to the practice squad.
The injury bug finally appears to be catching up to this Patriots team. The matchup against the Bills finally saw the short handed offensive line and banged up receiving corps take their toll on the offense and Brady. Although the Patriots were able to escape with a victory, the defense and special teams units were the reason why, and the injury to Stephen Gostkowski only further compounds the issues the Patriots may have moving forward putting points on the board.
–Adam Myers is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage and covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @AdamTMyers