Ladies and gentlemen, it’s the triumphant return of “44 Lines on 22 Takes.” Bite-size, digestible observations on a Patriots team that’s become hard to swallow.
-- Bailey Zappe threw harder, moved better and didn’t have any full-body freakouts when faced with pressure Sunday against the Chargers. All of that (and zero turnovers) was better than Mac Jones.
-- But Zappe wasn’t more accurate. And while the NO TURNOVERS!!! pre-programming worked it also meant the ball was glued to Zappe’s palm when the poop started hitting the fan.
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-- Bill Belichick wasn’t spinning in the postgame. The four second-half possessions were 11, seven, six and seven plays long after five of their six first-half possessions were five plays or fewer (four three-and-outs).
-- But all season long the Patriots have inched the ball down the field and you saw it writ large on those drives. The Patriots gained 39, 46, 42 and 24 on their second-half possessions which is caused by their utter lack of explosiveness.
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-- Am I beating a dead horse here reciting the statistical woes for the offense? Feels like I may be beating a dead horse.
-- Let's leave it with this: Zappe should be out there against Pittsburgh on Thursday and for the foreseeable future so the team can determine whether he’s a backup or a No. 3.
-- What about Malik Cunningham? You keep looking for chances to get him on the field in the final five games and you’re more aggressive about doing it than they were on Sunday.
-- The Patriots literally didn’t have the ball long enough on most of their drives to wedge Cunningham into the offense, and the day was kind of about getting Zappe comfortable. But at this point, what’s the worst that can happen?
-- Jabrill Peppers is the Patriots' 2023 MVP. Everything about him feels like old school Patriots: production, leadership, physicality, intelligence and passion.
-- There’s no getting around it: 2-10 is 2-10. But check out the list of Patriots projected to contribute in 2023 who weren’t out there on Sunday to start or finish the game: Matt Judon, Christian Gonzalez, Demario Douglas, Deatrich Wise, Kendrick Bourne, Kayshon Boutte, Jack Jones, Marcus Jones, Riley Rieff, Calvin Anderson and Mac Jones.
-- There’s a confluence of bad luck, bad signings, bad attitudes, bad play and a knee-buckling lack of depth at some of those spots that meant the Patriots put the NFL’s worst team on the field on Sunday. That’s not what you’re looking for when you’re paying the head coach/GM an estimated $25 million and he’s the highest-paid coach in American professional sports by a far sight.
-- Which is why I remain doubtful the market for head coach/GM/football overlord Bill Belichick at $25 million a year for three years or more is going to be enticing to some other owner when Belichick and the Patriots inevitably part ways.
-- I thought the Patriots would be a playoff contender and win double-digit games because I assumed the Patriots would once again play Belichickian football. In the season preview I wrote this: They don’t have to win like they did from 2001 to 2019. But they do have to be like they used to be. A team nobody wants to play. Plucky. Smart. Not the doormat the league’s better teams now clean their shoes off on with alarming regularity.
-- Now the doormats clean their shoes off on the Patriots too. Mainly because the players aren’t good enough and the lack of development for drafted players at position after position -- especially on offense -- is a feature of the program, not a bug.
-- Nobody can be blamed for believing in Bill’s ability to turn the thing around. The 2020 season was a reset and they went 7-9. They made the playoffs in 2021. They improbably went 8-9 in ’22 with a dysfunctional offensive setup.
-- This kind of bottoming out seemed impossible. Everything had to go completely wrong and it has.
-- Finally, after about 48 questions regarding Mac Jones, Bailey Zappe and the starting quarterback spot for the worst offense in football, Belichick answered the question Sunday as to why Jones was benched and Zappe started, saying: “Because we gave Mac [Jones] the opportunity to work through his progression with the offense. Obviously we hadn’t had a lot of production. I thought Bailey deserved a chance to play, so he played today.” How hard was that?
-- The Patriots have scored 26 points in the first quarter this season and 26 points in the third quarter. That’s an average of just over two points coming into the game and coming out of halftime.
-- Kendrick Bourne is still the team’s most productive wideout with 37 catches for 406 yards and four touchdowns and he hasn’t played since October. Mike Gesicki, DeVante Parker and JuJu Smith-Schuster have combined for 68 catches, 616 yards and two touchdowns in 31 combined games while Jakobi Meyers is at 52, 591 and six in 11 games while catching passes from Jimmy Garoppolo, Brian Hoyer and Aidan O’Connell out in Vegas.
-- Wherever the Patriots end up in the draft, I would be a huge proponent of trading down, taking Marvin Harrison Jr. and Jayden Daniels/best available OT. Then I would bring Mac back for the final year of his rookie contract until the new QB was ready (ducking to avoid projectiles being launched at my head).
-- How many Patriots with expiring contracts will want to come back for the rebuild? Among the bigger-name guys – Hunter Henry, Trent Brown, Kyle Dugger, Mike Onwenu, Bourne, Josh Uche, Ezekiel Elliott, Matt Slater, Mike Gesicki – there are some the Patriots can live without, but there’s also a lot of talent and/or leadership with that group too.
-- From 30,000 feet it’s easy to look at the ineptitude of the offense and then at the offensive coordinator and say, “Well, Bill O’Brien’s sucked too.” It’s harder to do that when you get close and see the training camp injuries to Cole Strange and Mike Onwenu, the staffing issues at right tackle, the lack of a slot receiver or change-up back, the lack of explosiveness of Smith-Schuster and Parker and the lack of development from players like Thornton and believe O’Brien’s the problem.
That’s just me. I may be wrong.