It was a frustrating 28-13 loss for the New England Patriots on Sunday afternoon. The offense couldn’t move the ball consistently against the New Orleans Saints until it was too late and the defense — for the second time this season — couldn’t get a stop when they most needed it. Mac Jones spent most of the afternoon on his back as the offensive line, once again, failed to protect their young quarterback and the big-money signings couldn’t produce in the game’s most crucial moments.
Just three games into the 2021 season, the Patriots have had a whole lot of ups and downs but have repeatedly beat themselves due to miscues during crucial moments of the games.
Winner: WR Kendrick Bourne
Kendrick Bourne had his coming-out party at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, picking up 96 yards and a touchdown on six catches. When Jonnu Smith made it clear he didn’t have it, the Patriots went to more three-wide receiver sets, which allowed Bourne to demand more targets. He had a big play that went for 36 yards when the offense was stagnant before hauling in an acrobatic touchdown grab to put New England in contention to make a comeback late in the game.
The Patriots have lacked speed and playmaking ability at the wide receiver position for the last three seasons and Bourne seems to be coming around as a key target for Mac Jones as the weeks start to pile up.
Loser: TE Jonnu Smith
There wasn’t much Smith did on Sunday to be happy about. He totaled three drops, one of them turning into a pick-six to open up the second half. Smith saw just 30 snaps against the Saints and didn’t see much time after his back-to-back drops that killed the Patriots’ comeback chances. Aside from the drop that led to a pick-six and a drop on the ensuing drive that forced the Patriots to punt, Smith dropped a jump ball on a nice throw from Jones, who eluded pressure and threw a catchable ball to the sideline that Smith couldn’t haul in. Smith was the Patriots’ lowest-graded offensive player on Sunday with a 27.2 grade from Pro Football Focus.
It is still early, but Smith has been a disappointment for the Patriots. They brought him and Hunter Henry in to help an offense desperate for production at a position that has been non-existent since Rob Gronkowski left.
Loser: CB Jonathan Jones
Jonathan Jones had a rough Sunday, playing just 17 snaps and coming in as the lowest-graded defensive player on the team, per PFF. Jones, who primarily works out of the slot, was beaten by Deonte Harris twice in crucial third downs when the Patriots needed a stop and failed to knock the ball out of Marquez Callaway’s hands in the back of the end zone that gave the Saints a 14-0 lead late in the first half. Jones gave up three receptions for 23 yards in coverage and was one of the weaker links in their secondary.
Loser: LB Dont’a Hightower
After opting out of the 2020 season, the Patriots’ front seven was believed to be much better heading into the season with their captain back in the middle of the defense. However, Hightower has struggled since returning from his year off and was even pulled out late in the game Sunday even with Ja’Whaun Bentley leaving for injury. Hightower missed two tackles and blew his assignment in coverage that led to Alvin Kamara’s walk-in touchdown early in the first quarter to put the Saints on the board.
With the Patriots desperate for a run stuffer and leader in the heart of their defense, Hightower needs to improve in order for the defense to operate the way it’s expected to.
Winner: WR Jakobi Meyers
No matter what the outcome of the game is, Meyers seemingly is one of the bright spots for the Patriots’ offense on a weekly basis. The third-year wideout picked up nine catches for 94 yards on 14 targets and became his rookie quarterback’s security blanket once the Patriots lost James White in the first half. Meyers has proven once again he can be a chain-mover for the Patriots as they search for consistency through the air.
Loser: OT Justin Herron
With Trent Brown inactive for the second straight week, Herron got the start over Yasir Durant at right tackle. However, it was more of the same for the Patriots on Sunday as they lacked production in both pass protection and run blocking at the right tackle spot. Herron gave up six pressures, five quarterback hurries and allowed two quarterback hits in Sunday’s loss. Herron was later replaced by Yasir Durant mid-way through the second half as the Patriots continue to get zero production out of their swing tackles with Brown out.
Winner: QB Mac Jones
Jones was much better than the box score may have shown, he had a 71.7 passing grade when he had a clean pocket on Sunday and moved the ball efficiently through the air, putting the Patriots in position to score points and get back into the game. Jones had some nice throws but was plagued by drops from Smith, Nelson Agholor and a miscue on a crucial fourth down when Henry jumped offsides. Jones has handled everything the Patriots have thrown at him and has consistently put the Patriots in a position to score points and win games. Unfortunately, the help around him hasn’t been able to hold up their end of the bargain through the first three games.