LAS VEGAS -- Bill Belichick just... can't... get this team to play the way he needs them to play.
Remember that line? The one he delivered to Tom Brady in New Orleans in 2009? Belichick lamented that his team didn't have the requisite mental toughness to overcome adversity. The harder things got, the worse off they were.
"So [expletive] frustrating," Belichick said at the time.
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Sound familiar? Fourteen years later, same story. And every week is a nightmarish version of Groundhog Day for Belichick's team. Penalties. Turnovers. Negative plays. Mental errors.
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Happened again in Week 6 in Las Vegas, after a week of Belichick imploring his team to "start over." They were going to get back to fundamentals. They were going to reestablish their identity and show that they'd mastered a streamlined playbook loaded with the core concepts they'd emphasized all the way back in the spring.
Instead they racked up 10 penalties. They turned it over when sniffing points. They allowed four sacks. They found themselves facing a double-digit deficit at halftime for the fifth time in six games. They were, once again, decidedly unprepared. Once again, they were decidedly unable to establish any kind of identity offensively.
Through six weeks, they're one of the 10 worst early-season offenses in the last decade based on expected points added per play.
Bleeping frustrating, Mac Jones indicated after the fact.
"It's just been not good," Jones said Sunday night when asked about the team's offensive identity. "It starts with me as a quarterback, and as a football team you want to be aggressive. You want to be able to run the ball and all that stuff. We take a lot of pride in that, and we just haven't been able to do it as well as we want.
"Definitely going to look at the process and see where I can get better to get better results. I know we're all working really hard; we all really care for each other, and we have a good group of guys. So, I know it's frustrating for everybody. We're the most frustrated there can be."
Adding to that sentiment has to be that, right now, there are no easy answers for how to fix it. Before we get into what awaits this team moving forward -- Are they selling? Who are their foundational leaders? What usefulness can the Patriots wring out of the next three months? -- let's dig into Sunday's mess and hand out some grades.
Mac Jones did enough to buy himself another week as the team's starter. And he didn't get much help. Again. But this was not a this-is-my-job-and-no-one-is-taking-it-from-me kind of performance.
His interception was egregious, exactly the type of play the team has been imploring him not to make. It took three points (at least) off the board for the Patriots and led to three for the Raiders. That's a six-point swing in a game that was decided by four.
He also had another throw that should've been picked prior to Rhamondre Stevenson's fourth-quarter touchdown, but it was dropped by linebacker Robert Spillane.
Jones' pass protection was a mess, but he had time to get rid of the football on two sacks. On the game-ending safety, it took 3.05 seconds for Maxx Crosby to get home. On an earlier sack by former Patriots defensive lineman Adam Butler, it took 3.24 seconds to get home. Not an eternity. But also enough time to try to find a way to throw the ball away or find a checkdown, generally speaking.
His third sack was a clear miscommunication between him and Ezekiel Elliott, which could've been on Elliott. But as the quarterback and the primary on-field communicator, how the message is received relates back to Jones' responsibilities.
Jones also had some responsibility, it appeared, for an illegal shift call when he didn't see Kendrick Bourne and Pharaoh Brown swap places on the line and called for the snap before Bourne was set. The Patriots were also flagged for a delay of game penalty prior to the late-game safety, which is an infraction that often falls on the quarterback's ability to get his team aligned and in order.
Helping Jones' grade was his dime to DeVante Parker late in the game that was dropped. He also found Kendrick Bourne time and again for key gains, and he beat Raiders pressure with quick throws and good decisions to the perimeter. But the Patriots will need more from Jones moving forward if they're going to hang with tougher competition coming up on their schedule in the next few weeks.
Running back: B
Elliott and Rhamondre Stevenson had one of their best games of the season as a tandem, which makes you wonder why they combined for only 17 carries total in a game that was tight enough that the running game should've been an option on Bill O'Brien's call sheet throughout. Both got into the end-zone for short-yardage scores. Both flashed a gear that hasn't been seen from them consistently this season, as well.
Elliott averaged 4.9 yards per carry, including 3.6 yards after contact per carry. His catch-and-run would-be touchdown -- called back because of a Hunter Henry hold -- showed he still has some straight-line juice, too. His botched hand-off with Jones led to a sack, hurting this grade.
Stevenson, meanwhile, averaged 4.6 per carry and 2.0 yards after contact per attempt. His drop early in the game dropped this grade a tad. But all in all, it was a solid day for the player who was perceived to be the team's best offensive weapon coming into the season. Ditto for his new partner in crime.
Wide receiver: C
Kendrick Bourne carried this group. His 10 catches easily led the team, and his 89 yards receiving were more than triple the No. 2 pass-catcher on the day Mike Gesicki (28 yards).
What had to make Bourne's day an encouraging one -- and perhaps it was why it looked like Jones wanted to throw to Bourne over the middle of the field on the end-of-game safety -- was his effort after the catch. Bourne racked up 68 yards after the catch, allowing him to be as productive as he was despite just a 2.1 yards average depth of target on the day.
One more interesting note on Bourne's day: He played 56 percent of his snaps in the slot, by far his highest percentage of the season. Jones typically does his best work in the middle of the field, so perhaps Bourne should see more time inside moving forward.
The rest of this group? Non-factor, which is why this grade can only climb so high. DeVante Parker's drop was one of the biggest plays of the game. Making those kinds of catches is the reason he has a job in the NFL -- he's perceived to have that kind of ability. But perception has not been reality with him consistently enough during his time in New England.
Tyquan Thornton saw two targets, catching one for six yards. He also didn't have a chance to make a play on the deep ball sent his way since Jones sailed it out of bounds.
Malik Cunningham is worth mentioning here, too. He played only six snaps total, including three at quarterback. He was sacked once. He handed off when he should've kept on a zone-read play. And he motioned away from the play on Elliott's short Wildcat touchdown run. For a player who was expected to help change the look of the Patriots offense, he was incredibly quiet.
Tight end: D
Not much happening here. Hunter Henry's holding call on the Elliott long catch-and-run touchdown that wasn't might've been a ticky-tack flag. But that's how this officiating crew called the game. And that ended up being a four-point mistake as the Patriots finished the drive with a field goal.
Gesicki showed something as a receiver, making a shoestring grab on third down, but he totaled just three grabs for 28 yards. He was also on the scene of the Crosby game-sealing safety, missing his chip on the star pass-rusher, which helped allow him to eventually drop Jones.
Offensive line: D
The Patriots line deserves some credit for helping its running backs pick up 4.7 yards per carry. But there were far too many mistakes here for this group to garner a much higher grade than this one.
Games on the interior gave the Patriots fits on both of Jones' dropback sacks. Atonio Mafi, who had issues with T-E (tackle-end) stunts last week against the Saints, was tested with T-T stunts on Sunday and got burned. Both the safety and the Adam Butler sack came with Mafi trying to handle a twist with center David Andrews.
On the day, Jones was pressured just five times but the game plan was clearly designed to help protect his protectors. Jones had the ball out on average in 2.23 seconds, which was the fastest release in the league prior to Monday Night Football. He also had a meager intended air yards figure of just 5.1... and it was only that high because of some late down-the-field shots. Through three quarters, his average throw traveled just 2.4 yards down the field.
Add all those factors to the myriad penalties for this group? Disastrous day. Vederian Lowe picked up a false start on the first play of the game. On the final drive of the game, Mafi was called for a hold. Sidy Sow had a false start in the game. Rough day.
Special teams: C
Sam Roberts got the day going for this unit with a brutal leverage penalty that extended a Raiders drive. Roberts was bailed out by his defensive teammates getting a red-zone stop that forced another field-goal attempt, but that kind of error could have been a devastating one.
Bryce Barigner began the game with a shanked 34-yard punt, which also hurt this grade, but he was better thereafter with a couple of 50-plus boots. Chad Ryland's 43-yard field goal and two extra points were perfect, but this unit could use more in the way of game-changing positive plays and can't seem to come up with any consistently.
Defensive line: B
The Patriots got a very solid effort from this unit, led by Christian Barmore. He finished with five run stuffs and two passes broken up at the line of scrimmage. Davon Godchaux and Lawrence Guy combined for three more stuffs, helping the Patriots defense limit the Raiders to just 2.5 yards per carry. Clogging running lanes for Josh Jacobs consistently, last year's leader in rushing yards picked up only 77 yards on the ground on 25 attempts (3.1 per carry).
Bill Belichick would likely love to see more in the way of pass-rushing productivity from this group -- Barmore and Godchaux had one pressure each -- but on early downs, they came to play.
This unit deserves credit for New England's handling of the Raiders running game as well. Jahlani Tavai and Ja'Whaun Bentley combined for five run stuffs, and Tavai was in the right place at the right time for his pick off a violent pass breakup from Jabrill Peppers. Had it not been for an unnecessary roughness penalty called on Tavai early in this game, this grade might've made it into the "A" range.
Again, not a ton in the way of pressure here. Bentley was used often as a blitzer, and he got into the Raiders backfield three times to notch two hits. Josh Uche had a hit as well, and Anfernee Jennings tackled Jimmy Garoppolo (and might've knocked him from the game) for a short gain on a scramble. Jennings was a force in the run game as well, with five stops all on his own. Thanks to injuries to Matthew Judon, Keion White (eight snaps, left the game with a head injury) and Uche (19 snaps, left with a foot injury), Jennings could see more time moving forward. Well-deserved as he was arguably the team's best run defender in this one.
The Jabrill Peppers hit on Davante Adams that led to Jimmy Garoppolo's interception was absolutely textbook. "Contagious tenacity" is what Bentley said Peppers brings to the Patriots defense on a consistent basis, and that play was just the latest example. Peppers finished the game with seven tackles and four run-stuffs. He brings it every week and seems to be playing himself into a leadership role of sorts for this Patriots defense.
J.C. Jackson's pass interference penalty in the fourth quarter -- one that he disagreed with and may fall in the ticky-tack department -- hurt this mark. So too did what looked like a busted coverage by Kyle Dugger on Jakobi Meyers' touchdown; there was no help in the middle of the field for Jackson (on Adams) and Myles Bryant (on Meyers), and there were three players (Dugger, Bentley and Jennings) in the area on tight end Michael Mayer.
It wasn't an out-and-out disaster of a day for this group, but there were a couple of mishaps that prevented them from having a win-your-team-the-game kind of performance. That's a high standard for any position group defensively to try to meet, but it may be what this team needs if it's going to make something of this season while its offense continues to struggle.