After a disheartening overtime loss to the Dallas Cowboys in Week Six, a game in which they missed multiple chances to win and got shredded by Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott on their way to a 35–29 overtime loss, the New England Patriots fell to 2–4 and had to make up a lot of missed time just to have even a fighter's chance of making the playoffs. Since then, the Patriots have won five in a row, and as of this writing are 7–4, in control of the top spot on the American Football Conference East. This was a remarkable turnaround for a team that looked like it was on its way to another forgettable season about a month ago. What was behind this stunning change of fates for the gridiron gang of Foxborough? Well, multiple things played a role.
The most important factor is the emergence of rookie quarterback Mac Jones. It's hard to believe that, heading into the 2021 NFL Draft, multiple teams passed on Jones, considering him to be too slow, too un-athletic to succeed at the NFL level. Boy, does that seem silly in hindsight! Of all the rookie signal-callers making their debuts in 2021, Jones had undoubtedly been the best. He has five games in 2021 with a passer rating above 100. No other rookie QB has one. Not one! Boy, did the Pats score a coup with him or what? Early in the season, Jones had some impressive performances—Week One against Miami, Week Four against Tampa Bay and Week Six against Dallas—but mostly in games the Pats ended up losing. But now, Jones is a major factor in his team's success in the win column. In the Patriots' 45–7 whooping of Cleveland in Week 10, Jones completed 19 of 23 passes for 198 yards, three touchdowns, and a 142.1 passer rating.
Another reason for improvement is the Patriots' defense, which is establishing themselves as one of the best in the league. After getting shredded for over 500 yards and 35 points in Week Six, they have yet to allow more than 24 points in a game and have turned in multiple dominant performances. They held the New York Jets to 13 points in Week Seven, the Carolina Panthers to six in Week Nine, the Browns to seven in Week 10, and the Falcons to zero in Week 11. Perhaps no one on New England's stop unit has been more dominant than edge rusher Matt Judon, picked up as a free agent this past offseason. Judon has 10.5 sacks on the year, tied for fourth in the league, and ranks fourth in the league in total quarterback pressures, according to the advanced metrics website "Pro Football Focus." Other guys have jumped in on the fun as well. Cornerback J. C. Jackson—now the team's number one due to the departure of Stephon GIlmore via trade—has been one of the best corners in the game, leading the league in passes defended and is second in interceptions.
And perhaps the biggest factor in the Patriots' resurgence this year has been the man who built their dynasty in the first place: Head Coach Bill Belichick. After a disappointing 7–9 finish in 2020, Belichick reloaded the team in the offseason, not the least of which involved drafting Jones and signing Judon, but also bringing in many other players who've made an impact this year. For example, wide receiver Kendrick Bourne and tight end Hunter Henry, both of whom have been major cogs of the passing attack so far. Belichick took a lot of heat for letting Tom Brady leave in free agency without having a clear succession plan. Well, now his team is once again among the NFL's elite. Looks like the old man had a plan all along!