Curran: For Halloween, Patriots come dressed as a giant question mark


Whatever case you want to make about the Patriots through eight games, you’ve got the ammo to do it.

Wanna say they might just be good? They’ve won three of their last four and have mercilessly harassed quarterbacks in each of the three wins. Sunday they went on the road and beat a Jets team that was on a four-game winning streak.

Wanna say they aren’t that good at all? They lost to a really underwhelming Bears team a week ago. Got pummeled by them. At Gillette. They were the beneficiaries Sunday of a flag that wiped out a pick-six AND an opposing quarterback who apparently doesn’t realize his co-workers are strong, large and aggressive adult males trying to make a living while he’s out there flipping the ball into wherever.

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Wanna say they are staggeringly mediocre? The four teams they’ve beaten -- Steelers, Lions, Jets and Browns -- have a combined record of 10-18. The four teams they lost to are 16-16.

The Patriots are 29th in red zone offense right now, scoring touchdowns just 45.83 percent of the time. They’re tied (ironically) with Tampa Bay. Only Denver and Seattle are worse.

They’re a tick better in the red zone with Mac Jones (6 for 12). He’s led them to seven touchdowns in four games. Mac’s the 32nd-highest rated quarterback (73.8), ahead of Kenny Pickett, Zach Wilson and Baker Mayfield while trailing Joe Flacco, Jameis Winston and Mitch Trubisky. Jones is 33rd in attempts (138) and fourth in picks (seven).

Are they improving? Well, Jones looked better in the second half than he did in the first. But the Patriots still had five possessions BEGIN INSIDE JETS TERRITORY and emerged with nine points.

After eight games, the Patriots arrive at Halloween dressed as a question mark. Kinda good. Kinda bad. Treading water. Spinning their wheels. Which -- as someone who predicted an 8-9 season and believed 2022 success would be merely avoiding the now-annual late-season faceplant -- is no surprise at all.

They’re not fine with being an enigma. But they know they are, as safety Devin McCourty acknowledged after the game.

"(The Bears loss) was ugly for us," McCourty said. "Chicago whooped us ... We were excited to get back on the field, but I think it’s the ability to (show we can) turn the page. And if you’re being honest, you don’t know what that looks like.

"We talked about it all week, but come Sunday, what’s going to happen? How are we going to show up? And I thought the guys did a good job of just showing up. It wasn’t perfect out there today, but the ability to reset, come out here with that mindset (of resetting)."

The Patriots aren’t going to be severely tested over the next three weeks. They host hobbling Indy with second-year quarterback Sam Ehlinger making his second start. Then they have their bye. Then they get the Jets at Gillette. They oughta be 6-4 heading into their Thanksgiving night game at Minnesota.

That’s a checkpoint. But even three weeks away, the expectation won’t be that the Patriots walk in there and win. Just hang around. Be in it into the fourth. Then avoid getting boat-raced by Buffalo the following week.

It’s a low-bar season. You can stomp your feet and bang your spoon and wail that "ANYTHING LESS THAN WINS IS UNACCEPTABLE!!!" Have at it. All us other kids are going to be living in reality.

Bill Parcells' "You are what your record says you are…" trope isn’t really gospel. We’ve all seen good teams with bad records and mediocre ones with great ones. But the Patriots are very much true to their 4-4.

They are what they are. What will they be?

McCourty hopes they’ll build.

"We’ve got a lot of young guys that are playing, we’ve got guys that didn’t start their careers here," he pointed out. "It’s not like in years past where it just felt like we had so many names that had been here for a while, so I think each time you (turn the page and succeed with a win), you build trust, you build that mentality of, 'I got the guy next to me’s back and we can go play free and do our job.' And I think we need to do more of that.

"Today was a good start, but it’s what we said all year, it’s about being consistent. So, we’ve got to be prepared and go next Sunday and consistently play good football to try and build and get wins. Not win, lose. Win, win, lose. We don’t want to live in that world. So, it’s a good game today but I think the focus has to stay. How do we reset and do it again next week?"

You can squint and tilt your head while looking at the 2022 Patriots all you want. A clear picture of a truly GOOD team will never come into focus. It’s a work in progress and they don’t know any better than we do what it’s going to look like at the end.

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