FOXBORO — The New England Patriots produced an NFL-best 18 pass interceptions last season. New England has taken 23 airballs away this season, second only in the NFL to Dallas’s 25 — swiping three of Trevor Lawrence’s tosses Sunday that turned into 50 points in a 40-point win over Jacksonville and a berth in the AFC playoffs.
The Patriots turned a pair of second-quarter pass interceptions, the 21st and 22nd aerial takeaways by New England this season, into 14 points and a 28-3 halftime lead.
Second-year man Myles Bryant clutched a tipped pass off the hands of Jags’ wide receiver Ryquell Armstead from Lawrence at the New England 34-yard line, his first takeaway of the season. He returned the ball 33 yards to the Jacksonville 38-yard line to set up the first of two TD receptions by free-agent WR Kristian Wilkerson.
Fourth-year cornerback J.C. Jackson had his eighth takeaway of the season on the very next Jacksonville series at the Jags’ 43-yard line to set up Jones’s 20th TD pass of the season, a 4-yard toss to Jakobi Meyers with 48 seconds left in the first half.
“We talked about it all week, being aggressive,” Jackson said of the Patriots not allowing Jacksonville a TD through its first seven series, letting the Jags across midfield just twice. “We created three turnovers. They couldn’t score; it felt like we did a hell of a job. We went out and made plays.”
To further humble Lawrence and the two-win Jags, second-year safetyman Kyle Dugger grabbed his fourth pass interception of the season on Jacksonville’s first series of the season half at the Jags’ 21-yard line. He returned the ball 20 yards to the Jacksonville 1-yard, where a play later Rhaomondre Stevenson scored.
“It came down to everybody doing their job and the results showed,” Dugger said. “It’s great when everybody can have success doing the right things and playing good defense. That creates confidence for everybody. We were able to help the offense by playing defense.”
With so many interchangeable roles in the Patriots’ defensive secondary, “You never know who is who on what play and who is doing what and who is where — that’s confusing for the offense,” Dugger added, as the Patriots limited Jacksonville to just 11 first downs, 80 rushing yards and 23 minutes of ball-possession time. “It’s great to be in a role like that: when everybody can eat and everybody can have success doing the right things and playing our individual jobs in the defense.”
Jackson’s eighth pass interception of the season, in the second quarter at the Jacksonville 43, was the 25th of his career, tying him with Lester Hayes and Everson Walls for the most in the first four years of an NFL career. He became the only Patriot ever with eight pass interceptions in two seasons.
“We made some progress,” coach Bill Belichick said of the Patriots allowing just a field goal through three quarters. “We’ve still got a long way to go here, just need to keep grinding it out day-by-day. Hopefully we’ll do that and see where it takes us.”
Lawrence entered the game with only 14 pass interceptions on 543 throws for the Jags. The Patriots’ pass defense ranks No. 3 in the NFL (193.7 yards on average allowed) and Lawrence matched that number on 17 completions.
“Just seeing how far we grew with the guys that we had, how tough it was coming back (from a 2-4 start), just wanting to get this thing turned around,” DB Adrian Phillips said.
“There was a lot of talk, we dropped the last two games. We had to focus on going out there and dominate,” Phillips said of the defensive secondary and team defense. “We wanted to get this thing turned around.
“We kind of forgot about football and we were focused on outside noise rather than play between the whistle. It was, don’t worry about anything else, it was a step in the right direction. We’re glad that we have the opportunity to be in the playoffs.
“We had a little hiccup, starting off the season and then really buckling down (during the seven-game win streak). You could see the kind of guys that we had — everybody really cares about football and one another. Whatever happens after Miami, we’ll worry about that when we get there.”