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Game Preview: Tommy DeVito to make first home start

TOMMY-DEVITO-FORD

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The New England Patriots needed a victory to end a two-game losing streak and clinch a playoff berth when they hosted the Jacksonville Jaguars on Jan. 2, 2022. In a beatdown reminiscent of the punishment they often delivered when the Patriots were frequent Super Bowl participants, they overwhelmed a Jaguars team on its way to a 3-14 finish, 50-10.

Trevor Lawrence, the Jaguars' then rookie quarterback who was the No. 1 selection in the 2021 NFL Draft, had a forgettable afternoon, throwing three interceptions and just one touchdown pass – and that was with 3:48 remaining and it served only to close Jacksonville's final margin of defeat to 40 points.

Lawrence's performance was neither surprising nor unprecedented. Patriots coach Bill Belichick is a six-time Super Bowl winner, but he built his NFL reputation as a defensive savant. As the Giants' defensive coordinator, he devised plans that throttled the offenses of the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXI and the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXV.

Lawrence is the rookie quarterback to face the Patriots most recently. Belichick's defenses have specialized in tormenting inexperienced passers. In 29 seasons as a head coach– five with Cleveland and 24 with New England – quarterbacks in their debut season are 8-25 against him, with 45 interceptions and 24 touchdown passes. Their 64.2 passer rating would rank 32nd in the NFL if slotted into this season's statistics. Belichick has won four in a row vs. rookie quarterback since Miami's Tua Tagovailoa beat him on Dec. 20, 2020.

The Giants' Tommy DeVito will become the first rookie quarterback since Lawrence to face Belichick. New England is having a down season, lugging a 2-8 record into MetLife Stadium to face the 3-8 Giants, but their defense remains sturdy. The Patriots are ranked 16th overall (allowing 326.5 yards a game), ninth against the run (97.7, including a stingy 3.4 yards-per-carry) and 18th vs. the pass (228.8).

DeVito has played only four NFL games, but he knows where Belichick resides in the league's pantheon of coaches.

"He's one of the greatest of all time or is the greatest of all time coach to ever come through the NFL," DeVito said. "It's an honor to be able to play against him. I've been around him a little bit in the past with the (East-West) Shrine (Bowl); him and the Patriots were my coaching staff for that game. So, I got to know a lot of them and kind of how they go about their business. But it's a challenge I look forward to it. At the end of the day, I'm going to continue to do what I do and prepare and continue to just try to lead this team and lead this offense and not think too much about it."

What did he learn about Belichick in the week they spent together at the postseason all-star game?

"What you see is what you get," DeVito said. "The way he acts, he's always, like, even if there's a touchdown when you see him on T.V. and he's just standing there looking, no emotion, it's kind of how he is. Or that's how he was at least for that one week. I don't really know him besides that. But yeah, he's an awesome coach."

Coach Brian Daboll spent 11 seasons on Belichick's staff in New England and had a simple answer when asked why his former boss is so successful against young quarterbacks.

"He's really good at what he does, and the players are good," Daboll said. "They run a good scheme, give you a variety of looks. He's been doing it for a long time, since the year I was born - 1975, with the Lions, I believe."

Coincidentally, when the Giants last played the Patriots, they lined up with a rookie quarterback playing his fifth career game. But Daniel Jones was the sixth overall selection of the 2019 draft, while DeVito was undrafted this year. Jones was making his fourth start, while DeVito will be making his third.

The last game, played on Oct. 10, 2019, will not be included on any Jones' career highlight tape. He completed 15 of 31 passes, a 48.4 percentage that remains the only time in his career he played a full game and hit less than half his passes and one of three in which he threw three interceptions. Jones did throw a 64-yard touchdown pass to Golden Tate, but the Giants lost, 35-14.

"I think I didn't play well by any means," Jones said after that game. "I don't think it was overwhelming. I think it was just bad plays, bad decisions."

It's happened before when the Giants played Belichick's Patriots. On a rainy day in Foxborough 20 years ago, Kerry Collins threw four interceptions – tying his high in a 205-game career, including the postseason - and the Giants failed to a score a touchdown in a 17-6 loss.

Since DeVito was five years old at the time, it's doubtful he is aware of such ancient history.

The rookie has shown both ability and moxie in starting the previous two games, and he earned his first victory last Sunday, when the Giants defeated the Commanders in Washington, 31-19.

DeVito has already made a little history of his own and can add to his impressive record tomorrow. His 137.7 passer rating in Washington was the highest by a rookie free agent quarterback with 15+ attempts in the common draft era (1967). DeVito is the first undrafted rookie quarterback to throw five touchdown passes in his first two starts in the common draft era. Tomorrow, he can become the first undrafted rookie and third undrafted player since 1967 with 2+ touchdown passes in each of his first three career starts.

"He's doing a great job right now," said wide receiver Darius Slayton, who caught four passes, including a 40-yard touchdown, last week. "I think he's showing a lot of poise. The first throw he threw to me was a big-time throw. Confidence, he threw it with some speed, got it in between those zone defenders, so I think his confidence is growing as he plays. I'm excited for him."

The flip to DeVito's success is he is much less of a mystery as Belichick and other opposing coaches prepare to face him.

"The more tape you have as a coach, the more things you can see," Daboll said. "I'm sure that as he plays, teams will decide to game plan however they want to game plan him, whether it's a different way to rush him or different coverages and things like that. He's so young right now with only the two starts. We've really got to focus on him and the things he does well."

This will be DeVito's first start and second appearance in MetLife.

"It's going to be a lot of fun," he said. "Imagine it's going to be like the last two games, but a little more of my friends and family there. That's really about it. It's a little tougher to play away, in an away atmosphere. So, it'll be home, I'll be comfortable, it'll be a lot of fun."

Hopefully, not for Belichick and his team.

View photos from the Quest Diagnostics Training Center as the Giants gear up for the Patriots.

*A Giants victory would improve their record to 4-8 and move them into third place in the NFC East. Washington, which lost in Dallas on Thursday, is also 4-8. But the Giants two victories against the Commanders give them the tiebreaker.

*Due to anticipated heavy traffic at the conclusion of the holiday weekend, MetLife Stadium and N.J. Transit are encouraging fans to arrive early and use mass transit to travel to Sunday's game. Sunday is one of the busiest driving days of the year. Fans are encouraged to "take the train to the game" and visit https://www.njtransit.com/service-advisory/1683858 for schedule details.

In addition, a traffic alert has been added to the MetLife Stadium website home page in the "Yellow Banner" with details regarding NJ Transit service:

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