Three things we learned in a 22-17 Patriots victory in New Jersey Sunday.
1. Malcolm Mitchell may be the real deal
It’s becoming increasingly obvious that the rookie Mitchell has become one of the wide receivers with whom Brady is developing a level of trust. Brady found Mitchell for a dazzling clutch catch for a first down in the first half, a precursor to the rookie’s first professional touchdown, not to mention the game-winner with just under two minutes remaining in the game. The first touchdown was a play during which Brady dropped the football as he rolled right, recovering it in time to find Mitchell in the back of the end zone for the score which tied the game at 10. The fact that Brady has been looking Mitchell’s way the last two weeks in pressure situations was already a clear sign that there’s a connection between the two developing. That he went that way in a clutch moment with the game on the line only secures the thought that Mitchell is an emerging talent of importance in Brady's mind. In a game during which tight end Rob Gronkowski had to leave with what the team called a back injury, developing that sort of rapport with another member of his receiving corps is a pivotal step. It’s admittedly early, but could Mitchell be the best wide receiver that the Patriots have drafted since…Terry Glenn? Considering how barren that draft spot has been under Belichick, he probably already is.
2. What a kick in the …
Just in case you were wondering when exactly the right time to officially freak out about Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski’s would be, well, the floor is now yours. Looking to take a 13-10 lead on the Jets to close out the first half, the Patriots’ kicker kicked a 39-yard attempt wide left for his fourth miss of the 2016 season. That’s one more than he missed all of last season over 36 tries. He ended the game hitting three of four, including a 41-yarder, but the miss was a costly one. It’s not like Gostkowski is the only kicker discovering the yips this season, but his decline has put the Patriots in a precarious position. He’s the highest-paid kicker in the NFL, making a healthy $4.3 million per season, but the potential of Gostkowski missing a kick that costs the Patriots an opportunity come January — again — is a situation that they can still try and avoid by bringing in another kicker. Whether Gostkowski is going through something mechanical, or if the missed extra point in last year’s AFC Championship game is still swirling in his head, it’s turned one of the league’s most dependable kickers into a complete wild card as the regular season ticks away. Would you trust him right now if this were the postseason? Will Belichick?
3. Brady was on the report for a reason
While it seemed a mystery why Brady was listed on the Patriots’ injury report after missing two practices last week, particularly after his performance at San Francisco last Sunday, a game that earned him AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors, the way the quarterback looked for much of the afternoon on Sunday lay reason to the fact that Brady is hurting. Brady’s injured knee hampered him for much of the game against the Jets, whose defensive front absolutely pummeled the New England offensive line in getting a hand on Brady. He didn’t get sacked, but Brady ended up on the ground for much of the first half, during which it might be estimated he played at 65-70 percent of his normal capacity. The Jets’ pressure in the first half led to Brady hitting only 15 of his 25 attempts in the first half for 117 yards. He was 15-of-25 in the second half as well, but did end up leading the Patriots on the game-winning drive, the 50th of his career in his 200th career win in the NFL. Not bad for an afternoon that appeared to be headed in the wrong direction for much of the game.