Want a silver lining? OK. Try this. At least there’s no ambiguity going on with the Patriots.
At 2-9, they’re the worst team in the league. The first-round quarterback at the top of their depth chart has become unusable, benched four times in 11 games for a backup taken in the fourth round who isn’t NFL caliber.
They can’t score. They’re cutting players and benching players. There’s sideline bickering and shrugging resignation. In the final minutes of Sunday’s 10-7 loss to the Giants, they played for overtime after taking over at the 50 with 3:15 remaining.
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There is literally a new rock-bottom every single week and six more meaningless games for the team to stiff-upper-lip-it through.
It won’t be a close call for ownership on whether they should clean house and part ways with Bill Belichick. And there’s no doubt remaining the team needs a quarterback not named Mac Jones at the top of the 2024 depth chart.
In a perfect world, Belichick would have gotten win No. 348 and passed Don Shula for the all-time record sometime around midseason of 2024. Jones and his teammates would have carried him off the field. It’s not going to end perfectly.
The question now is how messy it gets over the next 41 days before the season ends at home against the Jets on January 7.
Which, in my opinion, sucks. Yes, a change will do the team good. But Belichick has delivered too much success as the developer, architect and builder of the greatest dynasty (my opinion) in NFL history for anyone to revel in an ignominious end for the man here in New England.
He’s a living legend and it’s been a privilege to watch his leadership and football genius up close for all 24 seasons. The success he’s been largely responsible for stuffed billions of dollars into the local economy and the pockets of players, coaches, executives, media entities and the people who hired him.
Do the Patriots now stink because of the decisions Belichick’s made with coaching and personnel? Yes.
But watching his team flounder in 2023 is no more enjoyable than seeing Larry Bird lying on his stomach in front of the Celtics bench because his back couldn’t take it anymore, or a battered Muhammad Ali slumped on his stool after being battered by Larry Holmes in 1980. (The Sports Illustrated cover that week remains seared in my brain.)
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Maintaining dignity for 41 days ain’t gonna be easy. Not with constant speculation about how and when the official split happens. Not with the presumption that Belichick will want to continue coaching elsewhere and how, exactly, he gets to the next location (not to mention where that next location might be).
And not with 360 minutes of football remaining for a team that’s not even equipped right now to start looking to 2024 because there are really no “young kids” who aren’t already playing. Nor is there a quarterback to develop.
Belichick is a lame duck coaching a lame team. This fall is so precipitous and unforeseen -- to me at least -- that it’s actually distressing to watch and realize that we’re just getting warmed up.
This week, we’re playing Pin-The-Mac-On-The-Donkey and trying to ascertain whether or not Belichick was forced into drafting Jones.
After the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, JFK said, “Victory has 100 fathers; defeat is an orphan.” In the case of Mac, though, everyone shows up on the DNA test.
On WEEI Monday morning, Belichick said that, “Organizationally, we thought it was the right thing to do.”
Watch the video of the draft night discussion among the Patriots brass before Jones was drafted. Belichick asked everyone if they were “good with this” and even called out to personnel man Matt Groh to make sure.
Was that an effort to show the “collaboration” that Robert Kraft desired? An effort to make sure it was recorded for posterity that everyone -- not just Belichick -- agreed Jones was the pick? Was it Belichick passing the buck? Was it just business as usual?
Regardless, the Patriots needed a quarterback because Cam Newton couldn’t throw. And nobody was talking about Jones being a bust at any time during his rookie season. Or in the summer before his second year when he made “dramatic improvement” (Belichick’s words) from his very good rookie season.
Clearly, it’s gone sideways. But drafting Jones made complete and perfect sense then and it does still, even with the arm limitations and the melting poise we’ve seen on a regular basis.
What doesn’t make sense? All the things that happened to land Jones on the bench behind Bailey Zappe, All the factors that have landed the Patriots at 2-9 and falling. And the fact the team feels like it's in the middle of the sea, clinging to a hunk of driftwood with no rescue ship on the horizon.