The road to 2-7 has been even more miserable than imagined.
There are multiple “rock bottom” games to choose from. Cowboys game? 38-3 with Mac Jones turning into a puddle with a helmet on top. Saints game? 34-0 at home with Jones getting benched for the second straight week for non-performance. Raiders game? 21-17 to a team that didn’t score more than 18 points in any other game before the firing of Josh McDaniels. Commanders game? Outplayed at home by a team that bailed on 2023 earlier in the week with another Jones turnover sealing it (although this one – unlike the ones against the Eagles or in either of the Dolphins games – wasn’t on him).
It's not, to put it nicely, what Robert Kraft had in mind when he spoke optimistically about the 2023 turnaround he was expecting after a disastrous 2022 (8-9 record be damned).
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But maybe this trip to Germany to play the Colts is just what the Patriots need. A chance to create a little “ubuntu” as the Boston Celtics famously did during a trip to London and Rome in 2007. That message carried the C’s to a championship. The Patriots' goal for the rest of 2023 is more modest. Just don’t become totally dysfunctional and have a bad situation turn worse.
For what it’s worth – and we’ll find out by about 1 p.m. EST on Sunday exactly what it was worth – the tenor Friday was good. Jones and Bill Belichick were upbeat in their media sessions. Jones, who took to shooting it straight in last week’s postgame about the challenges the overmatched and ever-changing roster posed, talked at length about what HE needs to do to hold up his end of things.
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The fact remains, though, that everyone’s on trial right now. Jones is trending toward being gone once the Patriots find a better option whether it be through the draft or free agency. Belichick has eight games to make a case for finishing out his much-discussed “new” contract. And with the team spiraling on both sides of the ball thanks to the personnel misses (and injuries, yes), a total overhaul has to at least be considered.
It's worth revisiting exactly what Kraft said in his letter to season ticket holders on January 9.
“Unfortunately, our season ended sooner than we hoped (Sunday) afternoon in Buffalo. While we always want to be playing games with playoff implications in Week 18, our expectation was to perform better throughout the season and to advance through the playoffs. We can assure you that no one in our organization is satisfied with the results from this past season.
“In the weeks ahead, we will be making critical evaluations of all elements of our football operation as we strive to improve and return to the playoffs next year.
“When we welcome you back for the 2023 season, we anticipate presenting you with an improved product on the field, as well as many exciting new features and additions to Gillette Stadium."
Three days later, the Patriots announced negotiations with linebackers coach Jerod Mayo and their search for an offensive coordinator which wound up being Bill O’Brien.
So if you give the coach/GM/football overlord a new contract, re-sign Mayo as a possible successor to Belichick, and get exactly the man you think could return Jones to being an effective quarterback and it winds up being WAY worse by the midpoint of the ensuing season, what’s Kraft going to do?
Believe me, he’s not going to simply shrug and say, “That’s how it goes…”
Sadly, the Patriots are overmatched even against the rebuilding Colts with first-year coach Shane Steichen and journeyman quarterback Gardner Minshew.
Indianapolis scores points. The Patriots have been over 20 points once all season. Indy hasn’t scored fewer since Steichen took the reins. They’ve scored 92 in their past three games (going 1-2). The Patriots have scored 91 combined in their seven losses.
The 29 scored by the Patriots in that giddy game against Buffalo was an aberration. Found money. And injuries have made them worse since the Buffalo game.
The roster is the roster. Trent Brown didn’t make the trip. An injured ankle and “personal reasons” were cited. So the tackle by committee operation will continue. DeVante Parker will miss his second straight game with a concussion. The wide receiver corps, which is arguably the worst in football, has rookie sixth-rounder Demario Douglas as a reliable option then … really nothing else.
The Patriots' offensive drives are all about baby-stepping downfield with the very rare exception of an explosive-play touchdown (Rhamondre Stevenson’s 64-yard run last week; Pharaoh Brown’s 58-yard touchdown against the Jets). They’ve had 35 drives in the last six games that were four plays or fewer. They have 17 pass plays of 20 or more yards (28th fewest) and two runs of 20 or more (also 28th).
They don’t make big plays on offense. They give them up on defense (11 plays of 20 or more the past two weeks).
And they’re facing an Indy team that’s fourth in explosive runs and 11th in explosive passes. Indy’s offense is based around backs Jonathan Taylor and Zack Moss and wideout Michael Pittman. Moss and Pittman have combined for 1,315 yards from scrimmage so far. That’s about the same as what Stevenson, Ezekiel Elliott, Hunter Henry, and Douglas have combined for.
The Colts are a better team than the Patriots. New England may not find a win in Europe. But maybe they’ll find something that can sustain them through the darkest season they’ve had in 31 years.