BOSTON – The New England Patriots have thrived this season thanks to a defense that’s limited opponents’ abilities to get in the end zone and an offense that’s found ways to adjust to injuries.
You can add one thing to that list: an ability to be unpredictable.
New England disguised a myriad of blitzes to bewilder New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold in its 33-0 win on Monday night . The Patriots also continued to be creative on offense, this time inserting linebacker Elandon Roberts as one of the four fullbacks they used to boost their rushing attack.
It has them at 7-0 for the first time since 2015 with just two games left before their bye week.
“I think we’re confident, but we’ll have to start all over again. We emptied the tank,” coach Bill Belichick said. “We’ll have to fill it up for next week and be ready to empty it again next week against Cleveland. That’s the way it is every week in this league.”
That matchup with the Browns and quarterback Baker Mayfield will be New England’s third straight against a quarterback in his first or second season.
Recent history will be on New England’s side.
The Patriots have won 20 straight games against a first or second-year quarterback, the longest such streak in NFL history.
Darnold was optimistic last week about an offense that was much healthier after dealing with some early season injuries, including his three-game absence with mononucleosis.
Darnold was also coming off being selected as the AFC Offensive Player of the Week after leading the Jets to a 24-22 win over Dallas in Week 6 in his return.
He was hopeful that the momentum of picking up their first victory of the season would carry over against New England.
Instead the Patriots forced six turnovers against the Jets, intercepting Darnold four times as they sent a wave of pressure his way.
The Patriots have allowed a league-low 48 points this season and have an NFL-best 18 interceptions. That is the most through seven games since the Green Bay Packers had 20 in 1996.
While Tom Brady and the offense have had to adjust to injuries on the offensive line, in the backfield and at receiver, they are feeling a lot better after scoring four touchdowns against the Jets.
One of the scores included an assist from Roberts, who logged snaps at fullback with James Develin and Jakob Johnson both on injured reserve.
New England will have a little more help against Cleveland after acquiring receiver Mohamed Sanu in a trade with Atlanta on Tuesday. Sanu adds another threat in the passing game with Josh Gordon recovering from ankle and knee injuries.
The Patriots did their best job this season using their pressure to force turnovers. And most of their blitzes weren’t called by New England’s coaches, Belichick said. Instead they were on-field adjustments by a defense that safety and captain Devin McCourty said is finding new ways to be aggressive.
“At times it can be a safety, it can be one of the backs or one of the lineman. Understanding that it can keep switching. That makes it tough on teams. We just have to keep doing those things,” said McCourty, who had his fifth interception of the 2019 season.
What needs help
Roberts did a good job of jumping in at fullback, but New England could clearly benefit from some full-time help at the position. While Sony Michel had three rushing TDs, he only averaged 2.2 yards per carry. Adding a proven blocker to lead the way out of the backfield could be a target for the Patriots at the trade deadline.
Tight end Ben Watson was solid in his debut, catching three passes for 18 yards. He’s no Rob Gronkowski, but his veteran presence does provide some needed stability at the position.
It wasn’t noticeable, but LB Dont’a Hightower had his quietest game of the season, notching only one tackle.
Two. For the second time this season the Patriots scored 30 or more points and shut out their opponent. They join the 1991 Redskins as the only teams in the Super Bowl era to have multiple 30-point shutouts in their first seven games.
New England has a short turnaround for the Browns, who have lost two straight games but are rested coming off their bye week.
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