If it wasn’t already obvious to you before kickoff Thursday night in Atlanta, the New England Patriots are really building something here.
No, the competition hasn’t been quite to the level Bill Belichick, Steve Belichick, and Josh McDaniels are hoping for. But it’s obvious that tough early-season tilts against the Cowboys and Buccaneers have helped this young core of Patriots players age into game speed quickly, and now they’re reaping the rewards.
Mac Jones’ progress has been, uh, obvious. He put on another absolute clinic on Thursday night, buoyed by a special first half where he parlayed conservatism with skill.
Most of his throws were safe and effective. Sometimes, when they had to be, they were special (that ball placement to Hunter Henry…).
Jones was not the only Patriot youngster who grew up in this one, though. One week after manhandling the Cleveland Browns to the point of extinction, it was clear early that none of the swagger had dissipated during the short week of prep.
The Pats’ offense was still functioning at a high level and running hard. The defense was still getting pressure everywhere, destroying plays at the root and at the point of catch, when necessary.
We were blown away by the explosiveness and the enthusiastic youth we watched on Thursday night. Bottom line, the Patriots’ young stars made this game completely noncompetitive.
And, even when it briefly got close, you could always count on a little bit of the Falcons’ voodoo to undo any of their progress.
These 3 young Patriots stars grew up against the Falcons on Thursday night.
3. Kyle Dugger
Kyle Dugger made his second-year presence known on the very first Falcons drive of the game.
We spilled a lot of ink prior to this game talking about Atlanta’s complete lack of offensive options, which would surely lead to the Belichick Boys being able to blanket hybrid tight end Kyle Pitts at all times.
And yet, on the very first drive, Belichick isolated Dugger on Pitts on Matt Ryan’s third down play, only to watch him sprint alongside him perfectly and stick his hand into Pitts’ gut at the nick of time. Deflection, and he made it look easy.
Perhaps Belichick had a sixth sense, knew his team would be able to overcome any early deficit it faced, and decided to chance it to test Dugger early? This PBU was special. Simply put, it was the moment Dugger became an adult in this one.
Oh, and let’s not forget his tackle of Russell Gage in space at the tail end of the first quarter. A lesser safety gets juked out of his shoes on the sideline there. Dugger didn’t let Gage breathe or even consider finding space.
At every turn, he was there to snuff out trouble before it began, and was a major contributor to a defense that extended their streak of empty opponents’ drives to 17 straight in this one.
Seems like a pretty solid piece of a young defensive core to us. When Belichick goes off the draft board, you know he’s got something special planned.