By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — To be 100 percent honest, it felt incredibly uncomfortable to speak about James White’s production on the football field last year.
Yes, the job of playing football is the job of playing football. And yes, the job of analyzing football is the job of analyzing football. But the reality is that White experienced an unspeakable tragedy, in the midst of the worst calendar year of most everyone’s life. So what if his numbers were down? Are you a human being? Talking about his decreased role in the Patriots’ offense felt beyond out of place.
Yet time — as it tends to do — has moved on. It is indeed a new year. And while free agency might not have been robust for White last spring as it would’ve been under normal circumstance, the 29-year-old showed Sunday that when needed, he can still be the lethal dual threat he’s always been.
White was, for all intents and purposes, the spark that finally woke up the Patriots’ offense on Sunday, as he more or less carried the team to its first touchdown drive of the game. With the Patriots leading 3-0 and having just picked off Zach Wilson for the second time, the drive looked like this:
–Screen pass to James White, 28 yards
–James White, 5-yard rush
–Damien Harris, 2-yard rush
–Mac Jones completion to Jonnu Smith, 19 yards
–James White, 7-yard rush
–James White, 7-yard rush, touchdown
White contributed on the first scoring drive, easily running to the line to gain and making a 5-yard catch to convert a third-and-4. But on this drive, White turned into, well, James White, accounting for 47 of the team’s 68 yards of offense, picking up two first downs and scoring the touchdown.
The screen was well-blocked initially, but after the first eight or so yards, White’s unique ability to turn a decent gain into a huge one was on display:
“James is one of our best players,” Belichick stated after the win. “He has tremendous consistency, he can really do whatever we ask him to do — third down, first down, run the ball, catch it, blitz pick up. He gives that group great leadership with his preparation and performance, he is always ready to go on game day. Whatever you need him to do, that’s a guy you can really count on. And yeah, he came through big today. He was able to make a number of good plays for us — runs and passes and some key plays. He’s a guy we really count on, and he delivers.”
On a team that’s utilizing a rookie quarterback, the contributions of a player like White — both on the stat sheet and in ways that can’t be measured — are immense.
“I think just in meeting him all the way back in OTAs, like, he was just — he’s the man,” Mac Jones said. “And he knows every little thing about the offense, and if I ever struggle in the huddle, he’s like, ‘Yep, here it is.’ He kind of knows the call too, so he helps me out, and that’s something that I always kind of look at him in the huddle if I’m struggling or anything like that. Because he’s just really a calm, cool and collected guy and he makes plays when the ball is in his hands, and all our running backs do. I think James definitely just being older, he knows the system and I know that I can trust him because he’s doing the right thing 99.9 percent of the time.”
Damien Harris, who turned in the highlight play of the day by embarrassing nearly every Jets defender on the field, spoke to White’s impact with and without the ball in his hands.
“When you have a guy like James White, who’s played in multiple Super Bowls and played big time football, obviously, it helps our team. He gives everybody else confidence,” Harris said.”We see him going out there and making plays and we know we can go out there and make plays. He’s always encouraging other guys. James is a great guy, he’s an incredible leader, incredible teammate, incredible guy. I could stay up here and talk about him forever. He really does a lot for our team.”
White helped the Patriots on another field goal drive before halftime, gaining 11 yards on a second-and-7 screen pass which required him to break a tackle in the backfield before bursting for the chain-moving pickup:
And he sold the trick play well before firing an accurate spiral back to Jones:
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) September 19, 2021
Again, it was by and large a very underwhelming offensive day for the Patriots. But can you imagine what it would’ve been like without James White?
Let’s tackle some more leftover thoughts from the 25-6 Patriots win over the Jets.
–It’s my story, so I’ll start it how I please. And I’ve decided to start it with Chase Winovich absolutely wrecking Braxton Berrios on a kick return.
Buckle your DANG seatbelt, folks:
He stole the football! As if absolutely leveling someone and then lying on top of them wasn’t disrespectful enough, he took the darn football.
OK. That’s like some smelling salt to get this party started.
–Was that the most boring Patriots game ever? Ah, jeez. The smelling salt wore off.
Sorry, but, it was. The answer is yes. The four interceptions from Wilson were funny, but there’s just something about an overly sunny September game in the Meadowlands that inherently makes a game tough to watch. Add in a quarterback who turns it into a non-competitive afternoon, and a Patriots offense that was intent on doing just enough to win, and it was … boring.
Not a criticism of anyone or anything. Merely an observation. Congratulations to all of us for sticking it out. We are truly brave.
–Mac Jones is getting hit with plenty of internet criticism for only throwing short passes, and I get it. We love to see the deep ball and whatnot. But as I just mentioned, the Patriots were all about ball control and careful drives. I don’t know if that was the plan going in, but once Wilson started gift-wrapping footballs to their defense, that’s certainly how it played out.
Unlike in Week 1, when Jones made a handful of impressive throws under pressure, there weren’t many highlights for Jones coming out of this one. His drop in the bucket to Jakobi Meyers for 24 yards was the beginning and the end of that highlight reel.
And there were a few plays that stand out as misses.
While this technically was a drop by Jonnu Smith, it wasn’t an accurate pass. Had Jones hit Smith on the hands, there’s a chance that the YAC-master could have weaved his way through the Jets’ defense to move the chains on a third-and-14:
Jones’ longest attempt was a prayer into double coverage to Kendrick Bourne. While it’s possible that Jones somehow knew that a flag had been thrown for Tim Ward lining up offside, a rewatch of the play doesn’t indicate that Jones was aware of that fact:
Unless Jones has eyes in the back of his head, that seemed to just be a garden variety bad decision.
Then there was, of course, the spike, which went for an intentional grounding penalty and made life tougher for Nick Folk on the field goal that followed. Jones has mostly been poised through his first 120 minutes of NFL action, but he’s had two brief moments of panic. The first resulted in that backward spike — aka fumble — vs. Miami, and the second cost the team 10 yards.
A mixed bag overall for Jones, but he’s yet to throw an interception, and if not for a Damien Harris fumble in Week 1, he’s probably 2-0. He’s doing what the Patriots want him to do, so that’s all that he should be evaluated on right now.
–Speaking of Nick Folk, it has got to be the most random occurrence that the Patriots legitimately employed two of the best kickers of all time for 20-plus years, yet it’s a veteran journeyman who comes in and sets the franchise record for most consecutive field goals. I’m sure there are some variables we could find that worked in Folk’s favor for this run of 33 straight kicks, but still. The guy hasn’t even technically been on the 53-man roster this season. Franchise record holder. Life is funny sometimes.
–Zach Wilson threw the two best passes of the day, both of them coming on corner routes to the left sideline. He also threw the four worst passes of the day, especially his interception to Devin McCourty. It was so bad that I can’t even show you the actual footage. It’s technically not safe for work. So here it is in dot form:
Devin McCourty intercepts Zach Wilson for the Patriots defense fourth INT of the day.
McCourty was 5.0 yards away from the intended receiver (Elijah Moore) when the pass arrived.
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) September 19, 2021
I mean. Come on, man. We’ve got a game going on here. Can you please partake? Sheesh.
Wilson was clearly rattled after all of the picks, so he decided to miss big if he was going to miss on some later attempts:
Aim big, miss big.
Respect to the Jets fans for saving their meanest boos for those two throws. They’ve seen some bad quarterbacking in their days as Jets fans, so they are what you might consider experts on the topic. The fact that they booed Wilson in his home debut doesn’t bode well for the kid at all. These people know what they’re seeing.
–On that note … this is funny:
This sums up a lot of things:
Zach Wilson is the 4th rookie top-5 pick with 0 Pass TD and 4+ Int in a game in the last 20 seasons. The last 3 QBs to do it were all Jets. Others were Sam Darnold and Mark Sanchez. FYI: Alex Smith did it in 2005. #Jets @ESPNStatsInfo
— Rich Cimini (@RichCimini) September 19, 2021
That is one thing that’s always puzzled me with the Jets and Zach Wilson. The team was locked in on him at No. 2 long before draft night. It was a bit excessive for a guy with one good year of college under his belt, with most of the damage done against some very bad teams (all due respect to North Alabama, Troy, Texas State, and Louisiana Tech).
We can’t sit here after two weeks and say he’s a bust, but there’s really no reason to believe that we’re not witnessing Sam Darnold 2.0 in action. The fact that the Jets would dive right back into the top-10 QB market on a kid with one good collegiate season is … well, it’s perfectly Jetsian.
And if Justin Fields or Mac Jones — or Trey Lance, technically — become long-term stars in the league? Even funnier.
Long way to go on that one, but the early returns are dubious.
–It’s good to see that even in the post-Gronkowski era, the Patriots can get some chunk plays from their tight end against the Zero Humans Defense:
–James White led the story, so consider this a leftover of a leftover: Man got popped by Quincy Williams in the second quarter:
–Speaking of violence, that is what Kyle Dugger chose on Tevin Coleman:
Undoubtedly the best NFL player out of Lenoir-Rhyne of all time.
–We don’t need to go gaga for the defense, because of the opponent, and because at least two — but maybe three — of those picks were complete gifts. However, the defense had a goal-line stand, and they had the four picks (even when it’s thrown to your numbers, you’ve still got to catch the ball), and they had four sacks, and they held New York to 5-for-13 on third-down conversions and 1-for-3 on fourth-down conversions.
We may not see the return of the 2019 Patriots defense ever again, but games like this show that the D should be able to make some game-changing plays and stops when they go up against representative NFL offenses.
–And now, to our top story: The short field goal kicked by Matt Ammendola was the weirdest kick to ever be kicked. I mean, what’s going on here?
The Patriots are better than the Jets. We knew this going in. We know this coming out. And we all get to live it again five weeks from now. Huzzah!