It was a good Thanksgiving for Patriots fans, who watched their team dismantle the New York Jets 49-19 Thursday night.
Now 4-0 in AFC East division play, and sitting at a solid 8-3 record, New England is in good position heading into the final five weeks of the regular season. But the remainder of their schedule is no cakewalk. They still have to play their divisional rival Miami Dolphins twice, plus the AFC-leading Houston Texans on Monday Night Football and the NFC powerhouse San Francisco 49ers on Sunday Night Football. Oh, and the Jaguars.
So what do the Pats have to do to run the table and earn themselves a playoff bye? Glad you asked.
#1. Keep expanding the offense
It took awhile, but Josh McDaniels is finally coaching this unit like he knows what they’re good at. They’re still too many shots down field for the number of times they actually complete those throws, but opposing defenses know the threat is there and that if the window opens, Tom Brady won’t hesitate to throw a ball into it. That keeps everyone honest. Where the offense is really starting to shine though is with Julian Edelman. Out of nowhere, Edelman has become the most explosive weapon they have, whether it’s in short routes or end arounds. He makes a play happen even when it appears dead. Plus, he does it all with a passion that feels infectious. The offense is having fun. And they’re better for it.
#2. Keep winning the turnover battle
Simple, right? It’s been the most basic principle of success for this team and their mediocre defense for the past three years. But its importance can’t be stressed enough. This is not a Super Bowl caliber defense. Without turnovers, they will not be able to stand up against top-tier offenses like Houston. The follies that happened against the Jets can’t exactly be expected to happen every game. Not every starting quarterback is going to fumble the ball running into their own player’s behind. But there are playmakers on that side of the ball. And the more Bill Belichick works with that unit on a regular basis, especially coaching them up on game day, they’re better they’re going to get. Add in a little help from special teams once and awhile and there’s hope for this team’s Super Bowl hopes yet.
#3. Respect your opponent
Sure, the Jaguars are less than stellar. Sure, the Dolphins are struggling. And yes, the 49ers are in a state of self-imposed flux at the quarterback position. But not one person on the Patriots sideline can take any of these final games for granted. They lost to the Baltimore Ravens earlier this year, which means if they end up at the same record as the Ravens, they could be pushed out of a bye slot. And that could make all the difference. Losing to the Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks was embarrassing (and definitely not “supposed” to happen) but the Pats can’t afford another loss because they didn’t take their opponent seriously (which, in my humble opinion, they did not on either of those occasions). Belichick is good about keeping things in perspective for the team, and since they’ve already tasted the bitterness of defeat by a lesser opponent, they know how much more damage it could do their long-term hopes this season.