patriots-stir-memories-of-2001-super-bowl-run

Patriots stir memories of 2001 Super Bowl run

Head coach Bill Belichick and rookie quarterback Mac Jones have led the New England Patriots on a four-game winning run

Head coach Bill Belichick and rookie quarterback Mac Jones have led the New England Patriots on a four-game winning run

“Can anybody beat the Patriots right now?!

This is not the early 2000s, where the New England Patriots won three out of four Super Bowls, nor 2007 when they threatened to go the season undefeated. We thought Tom Brady’s exit in 2020, after another successful streak of three rings in five years, had signalled a new era in the NFL – New England finished 7-9 last year without their leading man at quarterback, their first losing record in two decades.

Yet, as Sky Sports’ Neil Reynolds poetically put it this week. it appears the ‘Evil Empire’ is back; the Patriots have won four-straight to sit at 6-4 on the season, comfortably in contention for not only a playoff spot in the AFC but maybe even a division title, with two tussles against the East-leading Buffalo Bills (6-3) to come.

Former NFL offensive lineman Brian Baldinger questions whether anyone can beat the New England Patriots after the team won a fourth-straight game.

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Former NFL offensive lineman Brian Baldinger questions whether anyone can beat the New England Patriots after the team won a fourth-straight game.

Former NFL offensive lineman Brian Baldinger questions whether anyone can beat the New England Patriots after the team won a fourth-straight game.

Bill Belichick has led his team to wins over the New York Jets (54-13), the Los Angeles Chargers (27-24), the Carolina Panthers (24-6) and, most recently and impressively, the Cleveland Browns (45-7).

Their only defeats on the year were an overtime loss to the Dallas Cowboys and a two-point reverse to Brady’s defending Super Bowl-champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, as well as early-season losses to the New Orleans Saints and Miami Dolphins – the latter being the only one of those teams that doesn’t currently own a winning record.

Watch New England Patriots rookie quarterback Mac Jones' best passes from his 275-yard game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week Four.

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Watch New England Patriots rookie quarterback Mac Jones’ best passes from his 275-yard game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week Four.

Watch New England Patriots rookie quarterback Mac Jones’ best passes from his 275-yard game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week Four.

It hasn’t always been flashy. The Patriots rank in the middle of the pack for total offense (15th, 356.2 yards per game), though their defense has been one of the league’s better outfits – sixth in total (328 YPG allowed) and second in scoring (17.7 points per game).

New England’s run and the way they’ve gone about it has garnered comparisons with another unfussy, uncomplicated team that shocked NFL observers in their run to a first Super Bowl title 20 years ago – one which started a dynasty.

“This has a real 2001 Patriots vibe to it,” Good Morning Football presenter Kay Adams said this week. “They’re riding off the offensive line, the run game, and their quarterback is a good decision maker.

“I’m not saying they’re going to win the Super Bowl but, obviously, they’re in the mix.

“The rest of the AFC is so volatile. All you need is consistent play right now, and the Patriots are on the up – which should be very scary for the rest of the playoff contenders.”

The 2001 Patriots, at the same stage of the season, held a 5-5 record too before getting hot down the stretch, riding an impressive, underrated defense and a talented, young ‘rookie’ quarterback all the way to a title.

Brady was in fact in his second season when he saw the field for the first time in taking over from an injured Drew Bledsoe in Week Two. But his and Mac Jones’ numbers from their first 10 career NFL starts are eerily similar.

Tom Brady vs Mac Jones: first 10 career NFL starts

Tom BradyMac Jones
7-3Wins-Losses6-4
66.1Completion %69.0
203.6Pass YPG233.3
16-7TDs-INTs13-7
94.5Passer rating94.1

Jones may have been the 15th overall pick from the 2021 NFL Draft – a whole 184 selections sooner than Brady was taken in 2000 – but they also share in common that they were overlooked by much of the league before ultimately being picked by the Patriots. The four quarterbacks taken ahead of Jones could well become as infamous as ‘the Brady six’ selected ahead of him – Jones’ six wins this season is more than the other rookie QBs combined (5-24).

Jones had his own struggles to start the season, throwing six interceptions in as many games (four of which were defeats), but over the Patriots’ winning run he has tossed six touchdowns and been picked off only once, posting a 102.6 passer rating in the process. He has also posted a completion percentage of plus 70 in six games so far this season – only Dak Prescott has more (nine, in 2016) among rookies in the Super Bowl era.

Former NFL offensive lineman Brian Baldinger, the one to pose the very question to open this article, has been hugely impressed by what he has seen of Jones.

“The quarterback doesn’t make any mistakes,” Baldinger told Inside The Huddle (Sky Sports NFL, Tuesdays, 9pm). “He had four incompletions on the day [against the Browns], to three touchdown passes. That’s a pretty good ratio.

“I remember coming out of Alabama he completed 78 per cent of his passes, but everyone said, ‘that’s Alabama, they’re just better than everybody else’.

Mac Jones was the fifth quarterback taken, 15th overall, in the 2021 NFL Draft

Mac Jones was the fifth quarterback taken, 15th overall, in the 2021 NFL Draft

“No, that’s who he is. He is a precision passer. When you look at quarterbacks, you’re checking ‘do they have poise and are they accurate’? Those two things take you a long way and that’s what Jones is.

“He is getting the ball to all of their weapons. They signed Kendrick Bourne, Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith, Nelson Agholor, to give this offense a lift; he has the timing, the rhythm with those receivers and he’s getting the ball into their playmakers’ hands – his touchdown pass to Bourne was absolute precision.

“This team could go a long way with the way he’s playing right now.”

And it’s not just Jones who is impressing, either. Rookie running back Rhamondre Stevenson delivered his first 100-yard rushing game in the NFL, and his second-straight with over a ton from scrimmage, plus there’s still starter Damien Harris – who tallied three 100-yard efforts earlier in the season – to return following a concussion. Bourne has excelled as a gadget guy at receiver, while tight end Henry has found the endzone seven times in as many weeks.

The offensive line is creating gaps for Stevenson and Harris to feed, while also keeping their rookie QB upright. On the other side of the ball, their defense sacked Baker Mayfield five times and hit the Browns quarterback 12 times in their latest win.

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The next test for this team is a Thursday night road game against the Atlanta Falcons (4-5) on a short week, but Jones this week reflected his team’s confident mood ahead of the contest.

“We’re confident and we know what the formula is for winning the game,” he said. “We just have to continue to do that.

“We can’t be satisfied with where we’re at. We’re not where we want to be and we’re going to continue to work every day.”

Can anybody stop the Patriots? Just like in 2001, the answer could well be ‘no’.

Watch the New England Patriots at the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday Night Football, live on Sky Sports NFL from 1.20am on Friday morning.