Enjoy Patriots’ 2021 run with ‘best secondary’ in NFL while it lasts

If we’re to look around the NFL, many would argue the New England Patriots have been the surprise of the 2021 season. Nobody expected this team, led by a rookie quarterback who was the fifth one chosen in the draft class, to be second in the AFC entering Week 16.

Arguably the biggest reason for the Patriots’ success has been the return of Bill Belichick’s vaunted defense, which was absent in 2020 due to player opt-outs and multiple free agency departures.

This time around, the secondary has specifically been the catalyst for the defensive dominance. The unit, led by JC Jackson and aided by other studs like Devin McCourty, Kyle Dugger and Adrian Phillips, is deep, talent and smart.

The only issue? All of those guys except for Dugger will be unrestricted free agents after the season.

Patriots fans better cherish the team’s dominant 2021 secondary.

That’s why we have to enjoy this dominant crew while it lasts. This campaign could be a memorable one, but we don’t want to let the impending free agency for all of these guys, who are expected to get paid fairly handsomely, overshadow the greatness.

Here’s what ESPN’s Matt Bowen wrote in his rankings:

“This is a lockdown unit, led by the coverage ability and the ball skills of J.C. Jackson, with versatile players who allow the Patriots to play single-high man, move late to zone coverage or identify opposing receivers to erase from the screen.

“With veteran Devin McCourty protecting over the top, plus the versatile traits of safeties Kyle Dugger and Adrian Phillips, this is a deep — and complete — unit, which also features disruptive slot man Myles Bryant and corner Jalen Mills. For the season, New England ranks second in the NFL in QBR (29.1) allowed, completion percentage (58.1) allowed, interceptions (20) and yards per attempt (6.4) allowed.”

It’s beautiful. And there’d probably be more turnovers if opposing quarterbacks opted to throw in Jackson’s direction.

There’s no reason to think this group of defensive backs won’t continue to pad these impressive numbers for the remainder of the year, either. With remaining games against the Bills (without Cole Beasley), Jaguars and Dolphins — the latter two of which have among the least impressive passing offenses in the NFL — we could really be treated to a masterclass when all is said and done.

Just be sure to cherish each moment for the rest of the regular season and the playoffs because we can expect the defensive backfield to look a lot different in 2022.