Tom E. Curran

Week 6 preview: Patriots enter Raiders matchup facing a new reality

We've seen enough signs that this team might be truly broken.

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Smile, Patriots. Today is the first day of the rest of your season.

It’s a mulligan. A do-over. Attack the day with the zest, intensity and grateful vigor of a man given a new lease on life.

Go. And sin no more.

Just … one thing before you do. Those four losses do actually count. And the fresh mental scars from the 38-3 and 34-0 beatdowns the past two weeks? Ya gotta bring those too.

And you gotta bring them onto the field in Las Vegas Sunday afternoon. Same place your quarterback had the worst game of his career (until the last two) and the team submitted the top Football Folly of this century in a 30-24 loss to the Raiders.

So “starting over” maybe isn’t the right term for what you guys get to do this week despite what Bill Belichick said after the Saints game.

It’s not a mulligan, per se. You’re still on the tee. But you’re hitting five. Cheers! Try not to fall behind by 20 before people have found their seats.

Reader … I hear you asking yourself: “Isn’t this the clown who said he was bullish on the Patriots? Who said they’d win 10 games? Who said they’d beat Dallas 31-23? Who loved him some Mac Jones and Bill O’Brien? Where’s he get off piling on? He thought they were gonna be good!”

Fair point! I’ll accept it may seem hypocritical on the surface, but I’ll also say that I’m a man betrayed.

My rosy outlook was based entirely on the presumption that the demon seed of the 2022 season was exorcised in the offseason.

I figured that mistake-prone, situationally-stupid, turnover-happy, offensively-stagnant football was over. The Patriots would emerge unscathed from the dysfunction and decline and come back in 2023 fresh as a daisy.

I underrated the trauma. I overrated the ability of the offensive line to block for Mac Jones and Rhamondre Stevenson and I figured their crappy training camp performances would vanish when they got all their starting linemen back and healthy. I didn’t know the lack of consistent protection would turn Jones into a panicky, indecisive squirrel capable of just about anything.

I knew that DeVante Parker, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Kendrick Bourne and Tyquan Thornton were a very jaggy group but I thought if Jones got some time, the complement of skills could actually work. I liked the defense and loved Christian Gonzalez. I was giddy at the prospect of Bill O’Brien coming back and at least making sure plays got called with reasonable speed. Yay! Watchable offense!

I ignored the warning signs. In March, when Belichick sniffed at the question of why fans should be optimistic by saying, “The past 25 years…” then continued attacking the team’s roster rebuild with all the vigor of a 14-year-old Bassett Hound, I still believed he’d figure it out.

Because he always had. I took two-plus decades of covering Patriots football with him in charge and thought that -- while they may not be talented or explosive -- he would still make sure his team was well-coached, well-prepared and able to do its job.

They ain’t. So I guess that’s on me.

Now, for the first time, I think the Patriots are really broken. How do you “start over” without your best two defensive players (Matt Judon and Christian Gonzalez)? With an offensive line that is still pockmarked by injury and running out rookies who really aren’t ready to block for a quarterback with a fried brain, a below-average arm and modest (at best) elusiveness?

As Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio said on my podcast earlier this week, “You can talk about playing chess vs. playing checkers all you want. But if all you have are pawns and no kings and queens, you’re not going to win.”

🔊 Patriots Talk: Do the Patriots have enough to actually fix Mac Jones? | Listen & Subscribe | Watch on YouTube

The Patriots are so bad off that, three years into Jones’ career, the first-round pick is near abandonment and the team doesn’t have a single quarterback it trusts on the roster to replace him.

The second-best arm on the team last year may have belonged to Jakobi Meyers. Belichick said this week that re-signing Meyers was a priority. Well it sure wasn’t a high priority, otherwise he’d be with the Patriots. Instead, he’s with Vegas playing on a contract that pays him at the same rate the Patriots paid Nelson Agholor the past two years.

I mean, what are we supposed to do … pay him like he’s Nelson Agholor or something?

If the Patriots don’t somehow win in Vegas, they’re 1-5 with the Bills and Dolphins up next licking their chops. That’s a likely 1-7 heading into November.

Two weeks ago, the Patriots were headed to Dallas and we were aflutter (at least I was) at the prospect of one of those validating road upsets that signaled they were a frisky team.

They threw up down the front of their shirt. Then they did it again. And even if they hold it down this week, there’s more mess to come.

Prediction: Raiders 27, Patriots 13

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