Defense finds groove as New England Patriots pick up 1st win

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP)The New England Patriots struggled on both sides of the ball in their season-opening loss to Miami.

Led by their defense, they took a big step toward finding some consistency in Week 2 against the Jets.

The Patriots intercepted rookie Zach Wilson four times in Sunday’s 25-6 win at New York, their most in a game since 2019. It helped New England extend its streak without a 0-2 start to an NFL-best 20 consecutive seasons.

It’s a great sign for the Patriots as their offense continues to progress behind rookie Mac Jones.

”You make plays, and your teammates feed off of you, that’s what defense is all about,” said cornerback J.C. Jackson, who had two of New England’s INTs. ”Don’t wait on nobody to make plays, just go out there, set the tone and hopefully your teammates feed off that.”

Jackson notched his first pick on the Jets’ first drive, setting up a field goal. Safety Adrian Phillips’ interception on New York’s second drive led to a James White 7-yard touchdown run that put the Patriots in front 10-0.

A lot of the opportunities the secondary had came as a result of pressure by the defensive line. Wilson was sacked four times and hit another seven.

It’s a positive sign for New England, which shared the league lead for interceptions last season with 18.

The Patriots have a plus-three turnover margin through two games and through Sunday’s games were tied for second in the NFL, allowing 11.5 points per game.

They may need that cushion after Jones took some steps backward in his second NFL start.

The rookie was 22 of 30 for 186 yards. But according to Pro Football Focus, he was only 2 of 5 for 17 yards and a sack against the blitz, compared to 16 of 20 for 138 yards and a sack in Week 1. He also had a fumble.

”I can push the ball down the field more,” Jones said. ”(The Jets) obviously have a good defensive line … and I can definitely just hold the ball in a good way, and maybe just move and try to make a better throw down the field on a lot of plays.”

WHAT’S WORKING

A week after his costly fumble in the fourth quarter helped cement the Patriots’ loss to the Dolphins, running back Damien Harris responded with a team-high 62 yards rushing and a touchdown against the Jets.

His score came via a 26-yard run in the third quarter in which he appeared to elude seven different tackle attempts.

”Everybody was blocking their butts off,” Harris said. ”I got a lot of help from a lot of guys. Apparently, I got some help from Mac Jones, too. I’ll have to watch the film to see that. It was a great play. It was just great to have that moment with the team.”

WHAT NEEDS HELP

Right tackle Trent Brown was sidelined by a calf injury after he got hurt in the season opener. His status for this week is uncertain, but coach Bill Belichick said he’s comfortable with the team’s depth at the position.

Yasir Durant (31 snaps) and Justin Herron (30 snaps) shared the spot against the Jets, though Durant allowed all three Jets sacks.

”I think we’re all right here,” Belichick said. ”We planned to play Justin and Yasir both, and we did, and they both got some good experience, and they both had a lot of good plays. So, we’ll see where we are this week and go from there.”

STOCK UP

Linebacker Josh Uche had his first career NFL game with multiple sacks, getting to Wilson twice. He leads the team with three sacks on the season.

He had one sack as a rookie in 2020.

STOCK DOWN

The Patriots’ offense continues to struggle in the red zone. It was just 1 for 3 on Sunday after going 1 for 4 in Week 1. That success rate of 28.6% ranks 31st in the NFL.

KEY NUMBER

19 – The number of interceptions for Jackson since 2018, tied with Xavien Howard for the most in the NFL over that time period.

NEXT STEPS

The Patriots return home to host New Orleans on Sunday. It’s their final tune-up before their highly anticipated matchup with Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

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