I tried. I really did. I believed the elements were in place for the Patriots to be a good football team in 2023.
Maybe not the most talented. But balanced. Composed. Consistent. Above all: well-prepared.
With a very good defense, a cerebral quarterback and a head coach who became a legend because his team’s didn’t self-immolate, it didn’t seem a stretch.
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I’ve seen enough. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck. If a team keeps playing in a way that yields bad results, it’s a bad team.
Rationalizing that “they’ll be better if …” won’t change that.
Since that stupid, 14-10 wind game win in Buffalo back in 2021 that totally sucked me in, the Patriots are 10-16. That includes their lone playoff game, a 47-17 demolition in Buffalo when it wasn’t so windy.
They’re 9-12 since the start of last year. They’ve scored more than three offensive touchdowns four times in their last 37 games.
When, you ask? Five TDs against Cleveland last year. Seven each against the Jets and Jags in 2021. Four against the Cowboys in October 2021.
At this point, 21 offensive points is a damn bonanza. Mistake-prone and boring is no way to go through life, son.
After that playoff loss to the Bills, Belichick said, “Last night’s game was the least competitive game that we played last year. Is that what we are or is that a bad night? We’ll see when we start playing next year, I guess.”
Dakota Randall from NESN was intrepid enough to ask Bill Belichick the same question Monday morning.
“Well, I guess we’ll find out going forward,” said Belichick. “So, that’s really what will determine it, not anything that gets said or doesn’t get said. Our performance will be what we are.”
Honestly, we already have the answer. They’re a 9-12 team since that night. That’s not good. It’s bad.
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Most mystifying to me is the total transformation the team has made from being one of the NFL’s smartest and least mistake-prone for two decades to one of its … ummm … not smartest. And most poorly prepared.
Last Thanksgiving, the 6-4 Patriots played at Minnesota. It was a great game. Tight the whole way through. The Patriots lost 33-26.
Here’s how things have gone at the beginning of games since:
- vs. Buffalo: Trailed 17-7 at half (lost 24-10)
- at Arizona: Trailed 13-7 late in 2nd quarter (won 27-13)
- at Las Vegas: Trailed 17-3 at half (lost 30-24)
- vs. Cincinnati: Trailed 22-0 at half (lost 22-18)
- vs. Miami: Tied 7-7 at half; fell behind 14-7 early in the third (won 23-21) *No Tua Tagovailoa for Dolphins
- at Buffalo: Allowed opening kickoff TD; tied 14-14 at half (lost 35-23)
- vs. Philadelphia: Trailed 16-0 in first quarter (lost 25-20)
- vs. Miami: Trailed 17-3 at half (lost 24-17)
- at Jets: Ahead 10-3 at half (Never trailed; won 15-10)
- at Dallas: Trailed 28-3 at half (lost 38-3)
That’s 10 games. With early deficits in nine. And a wire-to-wire win in one. Even against backup quarterbacks for the Dolphins and Cardinals, they still fell behind. And they’re 3-7 over the last 10.
I kept getting snowed by the comebacks.
Like the one in Vegas. If not for one of the most embarrassing plays in the last 50 years, you’re going to overtime.
Or the one against Cincy. Just don’t fumble at the 5-yard line with a minute left and you steal one.
Or the Eagles and Dolphins games this year where, if you were willing to squint real hard, you could see the Patriots actually outplaying two of the league’s better teams. I was willing to squint.
This loss to Dallas? This whacked me upside the head. It opened the eyes.
Before Mac Jones melted into a puddle of Jell-O with a helmet in the middle, the Patriots had their requisite questionable decisions and penalties.
Down 3-0 facing third-and-1 at the Cowboys 6, they threw to the end zone and then kicked a field goal. Dallas is the better team. Maybe try and take a lead on the road? Down 10-3 with fourth-and-1 at the Dallas 41, and you try to Tush Push the Slim Jones rather than either handing to one of your two power backs? I liked the call to go for it. Hated the play call.
They were in fourth-and-1 because of a third-and-15 play that came up just short. They were in third-and-15 because of Mike Onwenu’s false start.
Soon after, they were in second-and-12 at their own 8 two plays following an Onwenu false start when Jones got strip-sacked from behind and the Cowboys scurried in to make it 18-3 (after the two-point conversion).
And then Jones began to disintegrate.
A dainty and panicked flip incomplete to Rhamondre Stevenson. A cross-field balloon that he completed to Kendrick Bourne. Another cross-field balloon (this one even slower) that turned into a pick-6. A freakout throw on the sidelines into the chest of Dallas’ Jayron Kearse on a third-and-8. A fourth-and-2 lollipop to Juju Smith-Schuster that was easily picked. And finally, a third-and-6 grenade in the general direction of DeVante Parker that had the whiff of “Get me out of here …” rising from it.
At that point, Belichick did just that.
“I didn’t think there was any point leaving him in the game,” he said.
Belichick was asked if the benching was for performance. He reiterated that there was no point leaving him in.
That’s a distinction without a difference. There was no point leaving him in because he was junk at that point and getting worse. It was clear Jones -- and Belichick -- had had enough. The point in leaving him in would have been to have him get reps, show fight, go down with the ship and find a spark to ignite as the team did back in 2014 when it was getting blown out in Kansas City in similar fashion.
The risk of harm Jones would have been exposed to over the final 20 minutes was as much mental and reputational as it was physical.
So what now? Matt Judon’s going to be down a while. Christian Gonzalez has a tender shoulder which means the team’s three best outside corners (Gonzalez, Jonathan Jones and Jack Jones) are in disrepair. Cole Strange’s knee injury has lingered into the regular season and he sat Sunday.
Right tackle is a disaster, as we all forecasted since March. Allowing Jakobi Meyers to go and replacing him with Smith-Schuster is another “Hold my beer” idea by Belichick that went sour.
They gave out sweatshirts in the locker room last week that said, “Nobody’s coming. It’s just us.”
Then they got their ass kicked up between their ears and are blowing their nose out their zippers.
Where do you go from Sunday’s result? What happened wasn’t an aberration. It was actually the culmination of scads of games against good teams where they wander onto the field and get pushed around.
Suckers like me. We thought it was an aberration.
Because we subscribed to stuff like this from Belichick.
“I think once we get hitting on a more consistent basis, we can eliminate that one problem, or one technique, or one fundamental thing that comes up on individual plays and the results will be a lot better,” he explained Monday. “But we haven’t done a good enough job on that and until we get there, it’s still obviously a problem.”
Until? I mean … I just don’t think the train’s coming into the station.
ALTHOUGH! If you look at it … is it COMPLETELY out of the question they can beat the Saints, Raiders, Commanders, Colts, Giants, Chargers, Steelers, Broncos and Jets?
That’s nine beatables sitting right there … that’s 10 wins … just sayin’.