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From Jim Davis, Boston Globe. Via Getty Images

What Pats Fans Have to be Thankful For

What a difference a year makes, huh? This time last season, the Pats were 4-6. Cam Newton was a shell of his former self. Bill Belichick was approaching his first losing season since 2000, his first year as New England’s head coach. When Thanksgiving rolled around, Pats fans were mostly just thankful for the glorious past.

In 2021, they can be thankful for a bright future borne mostly from these three things.

1. A Rejuvenated Defense

Bill traded away star cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who was injured at the time, after week 4. This move was criticized by some, especially considering the return: Carolina’s 2023 6th round pick. Plus, Gilmore is a stud, albeit an aging stud. The problem was he never stood a chance at a big payday in New England. Few do. He would have been released had the Panthers not swooped in and made an offer.

The immediate aftermath of this trade was not pretty. The Patriots pass defense allowed an average of 325 yards through the air over the next three weeks. This became the team’s most obvious flaw, one that could no longer be fixed by the return of arguably their best player in Gilmore. They needed to find answers.

They did.

Belichick adjusted, as usual. Aided by a vicious pass rush, the Pats defense has allowed just 153 passing yards over the last four weeks. They have the top scoring defense in the NFL (16.1 PPG). They’ve allowed 13 total points over the last three weeks. QBs are constantly under pressure. There is no running room. The pass defense is airtight. This has been some of Bill’s finest work, and that is saying something.

2. The Rushing Attack

Another complete turnaround the Patriots have enjoyed this season is in the running game. They averaged 69 rushing yards per game through week 4. The lack of space on the ground culminated in a week 4 effort against the Bucs in which they gained, wait for it…-1 yards. Less than zero.

They’ve averaged 144 rushing yards in the seven games after that, never going below 120. Good defense and a multi-faceted rushing attack is a staple of a Bill Belichick team, and the 2021 Patriots are about as Belichick-y as it gets. Damien Harris, Brandon Bolden, and the recently-emerged Rhamondre Stevenson form a three-headed monster that takes the pressure off Mac Jones and keeps the offense on schedule. Speaking of Mac…

3. The Right Guy Under Center

Mac Jones looks more and more comfortable under center as the season progresses. It’s become a clich√© to compare his run to Brady’s first go at it, but the similarities are just too hard to ignore. Similar skillset. Similar approach. Both were propelled by a lights-out defense and a solid running game. Tough to ignore.

Even if you ignore the Tom Brady-ness, it’s clear Mac Jones is doing exactly what Bill Belichick needs him to do. Take care of the football. Spread the ball around. Keep the offense on schedule. That’s really it. The “game manager” label is often thrown out as an insult, but sometimes this is exactly what a team needs. The Patriots need it, and the Patriots have it in their rookie QB.

Be thankful, Patriots fans. A top-flight defense, versatile running game, and savvy young quarterback have New England in first place in the division and looking like one of the most dangerous teams in the AFC. Happy Thanksgiving.