Some thoughts on this Thursday:
1) Monday night’s game in Arizona is obviously an important one for the New England Patriots, but it may end up being an even more critical one for Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury.
His football team has followed up an 11-6 season in 2021 with a record of just 4-8, with their playoff hopes for this season essentially hanging by a string. The 49ers (8-4) and Seahawks (7-5) are well ahead of them in the NFC West, with any chance of salvaging their season hinging on a late run here over their final five games.
Any run they might potentially go on obviously kicks off Monday night against New England.
There’s certainly some additional pressure, as Kingsbury is reportedly on the hot seat given how things have gone this season, and a loss Monday night could potentially eliminate them from the postseason. Needless to say, it’s entirely possible that if New England bounces back with a win, and if it happens in convincing fashion, it could be Kingsbury’s former NFL coach who deals the death knell to Kingsbury’s time in the desert.
Bill Belichick’s team had some success against the Cardinals and Kyler Murray in their last meeting. They edged out Arizona at Gillette Stadium back on November 29, 2020, winning 20-17 on a last-second field goal by Nick Folk. That one certainly wasn’t easy, as then-quarterback Cam Newton finished 9-of-18 for 84 yards and 2 interceptions, including a second half where he was just 3-of-8 for 37 yards along with one of his two picks. Murray, who was in his second NFL season that year, actually outplayed Newton in that game, finishing 23-of-34 for 170 yards and one interception.
2) Watching the Patriots’ “Sights and Sounds” video from last Thursday night’s game was a reminder that New England’s meeting against the Bills was likely Devin McCourty’s last against their AFC East rival at Gillette Stadium. The long-time captain opened the game with his teammates saying, “Only thing I’m going to tell you is today, everything I’ve got, I’m leaving it here today for Y’all. Everything in me, I’m leaving it all right here. That’s all that needs to be said.”
Obviously, it wasn’t the desired outcome, but it’s a reminder that by this time next season, the secondary is clearly going to look a little different. While he’s certainly lost a step, his departure is going to leave a massive leadership void in a secondary that will also see defensive back Jonathan Jones potentially hit free agency this offseason.
It’s just too bad that things don’t seem like they’re headed toward a better ending for McCourty, which is disappointing. McCourty at least will get one more shot at redemption against the Bills when the two clubs meet in the season finale out in Buffalo on January 8th.
Will Jones see more snaps on offense? (PHOTO:Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports)
3) It’s going to be interesting to see what happens with Marcus Jones over the final few games. Belichick alluded to the fact the rookie defensive back may see some additional offensive snaps during his press conference Wednesday, which was definitely notable. Jones surprised everyone after seeing the field early in the contest and converting an opportunity into a 48-yard touchdown.
With fellow speedy rookie Tyquan Thornton still being worked into the offense, it’s hard not to wonder if Jones ends up seeing additional snaps there. With the club still lacking an explosive threat in the offense, it will be curious to see if the Patriots might potentially shift gears and move him to that side of the football moving forward with an expanded role.
As it stands currently, they’ve been stuck in neutral for much of the season, with Nelson Agholor being inconsistent, while DeVante Parker has also been up and down in his play. With things seemingly set within the secondary, the opportunity seems to be there and Belichick’s reaction on Wednesday seems to indicate we’ll likely see more of the rookie before the year is over.
They definitely need a spark, and Jones seems to have the potential to add just that.
4) Mac Jones may not obviously be Tom Brady, but the one thing that’s absolutely stood out this season is how sorely lacking the Patriots are talent-wise at receiver compared to their peers. Teams ahead of New England within the AFC East right now seem to have one big thing in common, they all have at least one explosive receiver on their roster.
The Dolphins have Tyreek Hill, the Bills have Stephon Diggs, and the Jets have Garrett Wilson. New England doesn’t have anyone outside of Jakobi Meyers who has even come close to each of those players’ production, and that’s purely based on numbers. He’s a reliable player, but he’s a solid third receiver at best, and the Patriots definitely need more explosive talent at the top of their depth chart if they hope to compete.
Watching Justin Jefferson two weeks ago and Diggs this past Thursday should be a wake-up call to Belichick heading into the offseason that they need to surround Jones with that level of talent if they hope to keep up. While he did a good job of improving their defense last offseason, adding a big target will hopefully be something that materializes when they reset heading into 2023.
5) Tom Curran of NBC Sports Boston brought up the fact that the Patriots are going to find themselves in a tough spot soon if things continue to play out the way they have offensively. Given that the issues on offense, it’s made it tough for the team to really get a fair evaluation on Mac Jones through 13 weeks.
The big story since Thursday night has centered around Matt Patricia and their struggles on offense, and Albert Breer of MMQB spoke with Phil Perry in his recent Next Pats Podcast, with Breer discussing how things may play out heading into the offseason.
“I think you would like to see some progress now, and if you’re allowing for the fact that he hasn’t done it before, which obviously he hasn’t,” said Breer of Patricia. “He hasn’t coached on that side of the ball before this year, I think going back to, what was it, 04, or 05, right? Or something like that? Then you would want the bumps to happen early in the year, and then you’d want to get to week 10, week 11, or week 12, and now you’re starting to make progress, and you’re starting to make headway.”
“I think when I hear what Bill’s saying about, and I think, correct me if I’m wrong, he intimated it’s too late to make big changes. That, to me, signals he views the problems as structural, not playcalling. Because you can change the playcaller, you can’t change the structure of the offense. So, if Bill views the problems as structural, than that would match up with him saying it’s too late to make a change now.”
Breer did go on to add that he doesn’t believe Belichick would fire Patricia after the season.
“I don’t think he’s going to get rid of Matt Patricia altogether,” Breer continued. “Could I see him reassigned? Yes. And maybe this is part of the idea not giving him the title was that you could change his role in 2023 under the guise that, well, we were sort of leaving the coordinator role open for somebody else all along, and that was sort of the idea here all along. Even though, I think we all know that this experiment was done with the idea that maybe this could evolve into something really good over the long term.
“I think in the background of all this is the development of your young quarterback and how important year three is. And if you look at it, every quarterback that’s come in under the 2011 CBA and now the new CBA where the contracts are set up the way they’re set up, year three is a critical year because you’ve got to make a decision on the fifth-year option after year three. And the history of it tells us that if you decline that fifth-year option after year three, that’s more or less it for the quarterback in that place. And additionally, the great majority of the guys who have wound up staying in a place long-term have gotten extensions after year three.”
“So you look at it, and I think really, this is about, and you don’t want to make it all about one player, but going into 2023 you need answers on Mac Jones, and you need to get them fast. And you need to get him back to where you feel like you’re doing everything you can to get the most out of him. I don’t think they can say with a straight face that they’ve done that in 2022 and I actually don’t think there’s any more clarity on whether or not Mac Jones is the quarterback of the future now than there was back in January when they made the decision to do some of these things.”
Hopefully the rollercoaster season we’ve seen finally starts to settle down over these next few games. At 6-6 it’s hard to say the season is over, but at the same time, it’s going to take quite a turnaround for a team that seems to finish with more questions than answers after each and every week.
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary