FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- By a number of metrics, the Patriots had the best defense the NFL had to offer in 2019 and it was spearheaded by the likes of Dont'a Hightower, Patrick Chung, Jamie Collins, and Kyle Van Noy. What those four players have in common, however, is that none of them were donning a Patriots uniform as the club opened up the 2020 season. While their departures (either via free agency or opt-out) will likely be felt at some point during the year, they weren't needed in New England's 21-11 win over Miami.
Bill Belichick watched as a number of his younger players emerged in the opener, taking the added opportunity by the horns and executing in the clutch. In the secondary, J.C. Jackson -- who is entering his third year in the NFL -- arguably made the play of the day, intercepting Ryan Fitzpatrick in the end zone to essentially clinch the win.
That interception was helped made possible by second-year corner Joejuan Williams. The former second-round pick out of Vanderbilt spent time with the safeties over the course of training camp as the Patriots are seemingly trying the 6-foot-4, 208 pounder out at covering tight ends, a job that Chung previously held. Williams made a couple of solid plays against Miami tight end Mike Gesicki, including locking him up on that final play to help Jackson snatch the interception.
That pick also earned him a special shoutout from Bill Belichick, who went out of his way to praise the 24-year-old corner/safety hybrid.
"I would just say that I really take my hat off to J.C. [Jackson]," said Belichick. "I thought J.C. really competed well today. He showed a lot of mental toughness and a real competitiveness of the game, and then for him to make that play at the end just sealed the win, along with the run that we had there to get the first down to run out the clock. But the interception that J.C. had in the end zone, I thought he showed a lot of mental toughness and a high competitiveness in today's game. So I just want to personally congratulate him for that because that was good."
Of course, the Patriots front-seven was gutted the most this offseason, particularly off the edge with the departures of Van Noy and Collins. As veteran John Simon manned one side, pass rusher Chase Winovich began his second season in the league on a strong note, totaling six tackles and one for a loss. The 2019 third-rounder out of Michigan didn't start a single game for the Patriots over his rookie season, but that is primed to change in 2020 where he already has one start under his belt.
"I think Chase has been a good player for us and that he played well last year," said Belichick. "We had some experienced players last year, Kyle [Van Noy] and Jamie [Collins], and so there was just some other players playing ahead of him and now he's the most experienced player along with John Simon, so that shifted quickly in a year, but Chase has done a good job for us on all downs.
"When he played last year he was productive on a per-play basis and I thought he showed that today. But Chase has got good energy, he's in good condition, he's got good stamina, he's got speed, he's got power and he's a very instinctive player. I would expect him to be out on the field a good part of the time in all games."
While the Dolphins are hardly a high-flying offense with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center, this unit was able to hold them to just 11 points while forcing three turnovers, which is impressive given the inexperience of some and the roster turnover New England has seen over the offseason. If these youngsters continue on their current path, the Patriots defense should continue to be a force to be reckoned with in 2020.