The New England Patriots kept their playoff hopes alive on Sunday night with a 23-17 win over the Baltimore Ravens. It was a gritty win in some ugly New England weather against a team the Patriots were not suppose to beat. Staring a top five pick in the face, down two scores to the Jets last Monday night, it seemed as if making the playoffs was impossible. The comeback win over the Jets and the win against the talented Ravens do not just keep the Patriots playoff hopes alive they actually put them in a position to have a really strong second half and make those once playoff dreams a reality. This reality is because of a multitude of reasons, lets take a look at them.
Huge Positives in Primetime
The Patriots have played well in primetime games this season especially in their last two games. Both games had significant positives that should have Patriots fans encouraged going forward. In the victory over the New York Jets, Jakobi Meyers looked awesome hauling in 12 catches for 169 yards. This was a trend that continued against the Ravens as Cam Newton looked his way on big third downs and Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels called a Meyers pass in which he threw a touchdown to Rex Burkhead. This shows that important members of the Patriots trust Meyers.
The next huge positive is how well Cam Newton and the offensive line have played in these past two games. Newton has not been doing anything crazy, but he has not turned the ball over and has been picking up big third and fourth downs with his arm and his legs. A huge factor in Newton’s recent solid play is that he has been sacked once in the past two weeks. When Newton has time he makes smart decisions and the patriots offense keeps the ball and controls the game. Another big positive was seeing the ability to slow down the Ravens run game. The Patriots have had a really hard time stopping the run so seeing them slow down the run first Ravens is a massive building block. The last huge positive is how the young guys have stepped up and have played pretty well as of recent.
The Young Guys
All season long coach Bill Belichick has been heavily criticized on how he has drafted in recent years. If you have actually watched the last two games that narrative should be beginning to shift. We’ll start at arguably the most impressive guy who has been drafted in the last two seasons, 2019 3rd round pick Damien Harris. Man has he been good since he came back from injury, gashing the Chiefs, Bills, Jets, and Ravens defenses. Harris looks like a stud so expect him to be a big part of the offense going forward.
Sticking with the 2019 trend Chase Winovich played (as most would say) the best game of his career against the Ravens. He had 10 pressures, a QB hit, a run stuff, and drew a holding penalty in his career high 65 snaps. Belichick hit on two more picks in the 5th round of this 2019 draft with defensive tackle Byron Cowart and punter Jake Bailey. Cowart has been solid all year long and played a role in the back to back wins over the Jets and Ravens with his run stuffing and pressure abilities. Jake Bailey has been a stud on special teams. That Ravens game should show how valuable of an asset he is. He punted very well given the crazy winds and pouring rain, but no one thinks about how hard it is to also be the holder in those conditions and Bailey just produced.
Shifting to the 2020 draft class that has been criticized the most, 2nd rounders Kyle Dugger and Josh Uche were key in the Patriots victory over the Ravens. Uche helped stop the run and had a sack on the elusive Lamar Jackson. Dugger stood out in this game, as he was all over the field with 12 tackles, 7 of them being solo tackles. One of those solo tackles was on Ravens rookie running back J.K. Dobbins on the final drive of the game that kept Dobbins in bounds and ultimately ran out the clock. He also covered the best Ravens receiving threat Mark Andrews most of the game and held him in check. The other rookie from this class who has been phenomenal is 6th round offensive lineman Michael Onwenu. Onwenu has been shifted around the line all season due to injuries and has excelled in his chances which led to him getting the start last night at tackle even with a healthy Jermaine Eluemunor. Belichick selected all of these players that made impacts in the huge win last night (not even to mention the undrafted guys in these years) so lets watch the young guys play before we give up on them and Belichick’s ability to draft. The young guys will be key to a playoff push.
What the Schedule ahead Holds
The Patriots now sit at 4-5 with 7 games remaining and are still facing an uphill battle to make the postseason. The Patriots have wins over the Dolphins, Raiders, and Ravens (the 3 current wild card teams) which gives them the head to head tiebreaker against these teams. That being said the schedule ahead makes a postseason birth look more and more possible. The Texans, Chargers, and Jets are not easy games but should be wins for New England. The Patriots have some tough games but do not face anyone that is viewed as unbeatable. They take on the Rams and Cardinals which are games that can go either way, however with the current momentum the Patriots could have an advantage. Every remaining game seems like a must win, but the two most important are week 15 at Miami, and week 16 at home against Buffalo. These two games can have impacts on the division winner and wild card spots. The Patriots could go 1-6 or 6-1 in the last 7 games, but there is a sense that 6-1 in more possible as long as things keep rolling against Houston this weekend.
Reinforcements are Coming
The Patriots have been clicking the last two weeks which gives them significant momentum to push for the playoffs, but they will be getting a boost on both sides of the ball. On defense the Patriots have been without former defensive player of the year Stephon Gilmore and starting linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley for a few games and have rattled off two consecutive wins. These two starters returning could help sure up the defense during this crucial stretch.
The offense will be getting a bunch of reinforcements in the coming weeks. Julian Edelman, Sony Michel, Devin Asiasi, and Dalton Keene are all offensive pieces on IR that could return and make an impact going forward. Edelman’s return will be a boost to a wide receiver group that has looked better since Jakobi Meyers started playing more snaps. Michel will make a four man running back platoon with Harris, Burkhead, and James White that can all give you production. The two rookie tight ends Asiasi and Keene have more time to learn the playbook while on IR and will try to make an impact when/if they return. Another piece that could help the Patriots moving forward is wide receiver Isaiah Ford who was acquired from the Dolphins at the deadline. Ford does his work in the slot and could become another Newton favorite. Jordan Thomas is another guy who the patriots claimed off waivers who could make an impact in the tight end department especially in the red zone. These guys have good size at their positions (Ford 6’2, Thomas 6’5), so look for them to make an impact when they learn the playbook more and opportunities on the field. All of these players who are returning could play roles in the Patriots playoff push.