FOXBORO — The Patriots’ season opener began like one of those games where everything that could go wrong would go wrong.
Costly penalties on defense allowed the Eagles to keep drives alive. A Mac Jones errant pass clanged off Kendrick Bourne’s fingertips and into Eagles cornerback Darius Slay’s waiting arms for a pick-six. Running back Ezekiel Elliott was easily stripped for another turnover.
Down 16-0 just over 10 minutes into the contest, halftime looked like it would be a wake for the Patriots’ 2023 season rather than a celebration of Tom Brady.
But the Patriots showed life and made it a game. Their defense grounded the typically high-flying Eagles and continually neutralized quarterback Jalen Hurts’ legs in the second quarter. Bill O’Brien continued his creative and constantly-in-motion offensive play calls. An offensive line that was missing three of its five starters held up, and Jones was suddenly looking like the better of the two former Alabama signal callers.
And then the game broke wide open with 3:35 left in the fourth quarter, when Patriots safety Jabrill Peppers forced Hurts to fumble with a textbook tackle. Cornerback Marcus Jones fell on the ball, and the defense gave Mac Jones and the offense a chance to win it trailing by 5 points.
Ultimately, it wasn’t enough as the Patriots fell 25-20 to the Eagles in Week 1.
The Patriots turned the ball over on downs after Jones was sacked for the first time all game and Bourne dropped a third-down heave from the QB. Jones’ pass to tight end Hunter Henry on fourth-and-17 — after a delay of game penalty — was dropped and short of the first-down marker anyway.
The Patriots forced the Eagles to turn the ball over on downs and then had 1:57 to complete the comeback. They made it down to the Eagles’ 22-yard line before rookie wide receiver Kayshon Boutte caught a pass that would have gone for a first down, but he couldn’t get both feet in bounds. The Eagles kneeled on the ball for the win.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick took a risk early in the fourth quarter down 22-14, going for it on fourth-and-3 on the Eagles’ 17-yard line rather than attempting a manageable 34-yard field goal with rookie kicker Chad Ryland. Jones was pressured and threw incomplete to Elliott for a turnover on downs. The Patriots’ defense bent but didn’t break, allowing a 51-yard field goal from Jake Elliott to put the Eagles up by 11 points.
The Patriots’ offense made quick work of the Eagles’ defense on their ensuing drive with a six-play, 75-yard scoring drive that was capped off by an 11-yard touchdown pass from Jones to Kendrick Bourne. The Patriots’ successful two-point conversion was called back by a holding penalty. Jones’ next two-point attempt fell incomplete, making the game 25-20.
The Eagles kicked off the scoring in the first quarter after a 14-play, 61-yard drive that ate up 7:18 on the clock with a first-drive field goal.
The Patriots’ offense showed some promise early on its first drive before Jones’ throw to Bourne was too high and wide of its target. Bourne leapt, adjusted in the air and got his hands on the ball, but he couldn’t haul it in, and Slay came down with it for a 70-yard pick-six.
Elliott’s fumble then put the Eagles 21 yards out of the Patriots’ end zone. Eagles wideout DeVonta Smith — a favorite target of Jones at Alabama — beat Patriots cornerback Marcus Jones for a 5-yard touchdown catch.
The Patriots’ defense forced four straight three-and-out drives to finish out the first half while the Patriots’ offense began to hit its stride before Brady’s big ceremony, when owner Robert Kraft announced the QB will be inducted into the team’s hall of fame next June.
The Patriots put together a 10-play, 71-yard drive highlighted by chunk plays to wide receivers JuJu Smith-Schuster and Demario Douglas that was capped off with a 9-yard touchdown pass from Jones to tight end Hunter Henry.
Jones’ final drive of the first half was a six-play, 58-yard series that saw him connect more with Henry and culminated with a 19-yard passing touchdown to Bourne.
TE Hunter Henry: Henry caught a touchdown and kept a fourth-quarter drive alive with an Stretch Armstrong one-handed snag. He caught five passes on six targets for 56 yards with the score.
CB Christian Gonzalez: The rookie more than held his own in coverage against Smith and A.J. Brown. For a cornerback who fell in the first-round for his perceived lack of physicality, Gonzalez also showed up multiple times as a run defender. He also sacked Hurts and had a massive pass breakup on fourth-and-2 late in the fourth quarter.
DE Keion White: It seemed like every time the rookie edge rusher was on the field, he was pushing an Eagles offensive tackle 5 yards into the backfield on a bull rush.
QB Mac Jones: Jones couldn’t complete the comeback, but he bounced back from some ugly early play by going 35-of-54 for 316 yards with three touchdowns and one interception.
Run game: A two-headed monster of Elliott and Rhamondre Stevenson looked meager Sunday, combining for just 54 yards on 19 carries.
Defensive penalties: An offsides call against defensive end Deatrich Wise and a holding penalty against safety Kyle Dugger prolonged early Eagles drives in the first quarter. Wise was called for holding offensive tackle Lane Johnson later on a screen.