New England Patriots: As the running game goes, so does this team

J.J. Taylor #42 of the New England Patriots (Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images)
J.J. Taylor #42 of the New England Patriots (Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images) /

The New England Patriots season could be categorized as something of a disappointment up to this point. They have lost a couple of very winnable games, and have struggled through a myriad of issues, whether it be from the players or the coaches. As a result, it felt like their Week 7 contest against the New York Jets was a must win in order for their miniscule playoff hopes to remain alive.

The Pats responded by absolutely demolishing the Jets by a score of 54-13. The game was never in doubt, especially after the offense drove down the field for 65 yards on just four plays to score a touchdown. The Jets offense lost Zach Wilson early in the second quarter to a knee injury, which likely contributed to the blowout nature of the game, but New York was already down 17-0 at that point.

Obviously a lot has to go right when you beat a team by 40 points in the NFL, and that was certainly the case today. Even when Wilson was in the game, it was clear that the Patriots were a vastly superior team in every facet of the game.

But there was one area of the team that stepped up in a way that they hadn’t done throughout the first six weeks of the season, and that area was the running game. The New England Patriots torched the Jets on the ground with a diverse rushing attack, and one thing became very clear as the game progressed; the Patriots can win any football game when their running game gets going.

New England Patriots running game is crucial to the team’s success

First, it must be acknowledged that this standout rushing performance came against a subpar Jets team. Not to mention, they already played this team in Week 2 and came away with a victory. They had familiarity with this team, and they exploited their many weaknesses in this one.

Throughout the preseason, New England’s running back room was considered one of the biggest strengths of this team. They dominated the preseason action, with Rhamondre Stevenson and J.J. Taylor being so good that they essentially forced the front office to trade away Sony Michel to the Los Angeles Rams.

The first six weeks of action were pretty much a polar opposite. The running back room struggled to find any sort of consistency (hence the Week 4 performance against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers where they finished with a total of -1 yards rushing), and even when they did, they have made a large amount of mistakes. Stevenson, Taylor, and Damien Harris have all had crucial fumbles at one point or another that have come back to hurt this team.

But today was different. For once, the running backs stepped up and were up to the challenge, and they played a key part in helping the offense move up and down the field with ease, while also opening up the aerial attack for Mac Jones. They probably could have won this game without them today, but considering how much they have struggled in previous outings, this is a great sign.

Let’s start with a look at Harris, who turned in a wildly efficient performance this afternoon. He only got 14 carries, but he managed to turn that into 106 yards and two touchdowns, good for 7.6 yards per carry. If you have a running back that can basically average a first down every two rush attempts, you are most likely going to win the game.

Harris has had an up-and-down season, and if weren’t for a pair of costly fumbles he’s made deep in the red zone, his season so far probably has a different feel to it. There’s no question that Harris is one of the better running backs in the league when he gets some blocking, and whenever he got the ball today, you had a feeling a big play was coming, which is a great sign for the New England Patriots.

Harris has been counted on for solid outings all season long. A guy who hasn’t been counted on for contributions all that much is Brandon Bolden. Bolden’s recent inclusion in the offense due to James White’s season-ending injury has drawn the ire of a large section of New England Patriots fans, but Bolden had a fantastic outing this afternoon.

An initial look at the stats will leave you questioning how that is possible considering Bolden only managed two carries for 0 yards. But Bolden was Jones’ top receiver in this one, and he hauled in six passes for 79 yards and a score. There were stretches in the game where it seemed like Jones refused to target anyone other than Bolden. Credit is due for offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels in finding ways to get the veteran open out of the backfield.

Since White was forced out with injury, Bolden has largely been called upon to fill his shoes. Up until this point, he had failed mightily. But Bolden is the best pass protector out of the running backs, and offers the potential to rip off a big play when his number is called. The problem is those good moments have been all too fleeting.

Some of it isn’t his fault, as McDaniels playcalling all season long has been spotty at best. But today was different, and it begs the question of what this team’s record would look like if White was still healthy. Bolden did his best impersonation of White today, and it was no surprise to see the offense put up some big numbers.

That leads us to Taylor, who was ended up being active in favor of the rookie Stevenson. Taylor didn’t have a huge contribution to the game up until the fourth quarter, but the diminutive back continues to prove how dynamic he can be when he gets his shot.

Taylor only finished with 21 yards on nine carries, but he turned two of those totes into touchdowns late in the game. You can make the argument that these were garbage time scores that really mean nothing, but Taylor continues to flash game-changing abilities when used properly, and it’s something the coaching staff has to take note of.

Rhamondre Stevenson ready to rumble. dark. Next

With all three of these guys firing on all cylinders, the Jets lost this game before they even took the field. It’s clear that when their running backs are finding room to navigate, whether it be on the ground or in the air, this team has a different look to it. At 3-4, the New England Patriots are still in the thick of the wild card race, and if they have any intention of taking one of those spots, they are going to need more performances like the one they got from their running back room today.