FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — The Patriots ended last season in need of a new direction on offense.
The changes New England made this offseason weren’t enough to avert a 25-20 Week 1 loss to Philadelphia. But the Patriots appear to be in a better position to succeed going forward.
New England’s biggest impediments on offense last season were turnovers, inconsistency in the passing game and an inability to score touchdowns in the red zone.
Those problems resurfaced early on Sunday in the form of a pick-6 thrown by Mac Jones on the first drive and fumble by Ezekiel Elliott that contributed to a 16-0 first-quarter deficit.
But after Jones failed to attempt a pass beyond 10 yards in the first quarter, new offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien used some bunch formations to free up receivers over the middle of the field. Jones completed 11 straight passes, including a 23-yard strike to rookie DeMario Douglas and touchdown passes to Hunter Henry and Kendrick Bourne, to get the Patriots back into the game.
“We just had to get things going,” Henry said. “We put ourselves behind the 8-ball. We were just playing from behind for way too long, and we can’t do that.”
Though New England’s inability to produce points in the red zone on two late fourth-quarter drives ultimately stalled its comeback attempt, it did outscore Philadelphia 20-9 over the final three quarters and for the game outgained last season’s top-scoring offense 352 yards to 251.
Aside from his interception, Jones also had a solid performance, ending the day 35 of 54 for 315 yards and three TDs. His lone three-touchdown game in 2022 didn’t come until the season finale.
The good news, Jones said, is that he felt in sync with O’Brien’s play-calling. That was rarely the case last season with Matt Patricia in charge of the offense.
“I felt like we did some good things, but it wasn’t consistent enough,” Jones said. “I felt like we had a good plan. Kind of like the game declared. We knew what they were kind of doing. So came up with some plays that we liked, and just need to execute a little better in those critical points.”
With the exception of a few additions, New England kept its defense mostly intact from last season.
That chemistry was on display as it limited the the Eagles to one offensive touchdown. Philadelphia quarterback Jalen Hurts was mostly one-dimensional, rushing for 37 yards, and the Patriots held the Eagles to 3.9 rushing yards per attempt.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
While playing from behind and injuries to starting guards Cole Strange (knee) and Mike Onwenu (ankle) played a role in the play selection, New England totaled only 76 rushing yards.
Rookie cornerback Christian Gonzalez drew a tough assignment in his debut, often tasked with covering two of the NFL’s most elusive receivers in A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith.
Gonzalez held his own, finishing with five tackles, a sack and a pass breakup.
Elliott is still learning the offense after signing late in training camp, but the former Dallas star and three-time Pro Bowler will be expected to produce more than just two carries for 29 yards.
His fumble in the first quarter also set up Philadelphia on the Patriots 5-yard line. Hurts connected with Smith for a touchdown four plays later.
No Patriots player had an injury that required a stoppage of play.
65 — Rookie Bryce Baringer had a 65-yard punt in the third quarter. He had four 60-yard punts in the preseason, including a 69-yarder at Tennessee.
The Patriots’ defense will be tested again this week when New England hosts division rival Miami. The Dolphins are coming off an impressive debut, producing 536 yards of offense in their comeback win over the Chargers.
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