Sitting at 2-7, the Patriots are in freefall and it’s obvious that they’re now at a level even below some of the worse teams in the league, which certainly has them in uncharted territory.
Obviously, Bill Belichick continues to feel the heat for that. It’s been a tough road over the last few weeks and Sunday’s 20-17 loss to Washington marks the Patriots’ third multi-game losing streak of 2023, which has his team in a difficult place with eight games still left to play.
Some will question the coaching or the preparation, and the line between talent and performance will tend to overlap and it’s hard to distinguish where one piece of that ends and the other begins.
Taking it a step further, that line is blurred even further when it comes to how people view Belichick the coach vs Belichick the GM, and the team’s number one issue right now has more to do with the team he’s put together than anything else.
Belichick the coach still remains among the best in the league, especially when you look at how this team has looked this season defensively. Save for the two blowout losses, which saw the offense provide some assistance with some of that scoring, they’ve been a group that has played well consistently on that side of the ball. What’s even more impressive is that they’ve done it despite losing their two best players in Matthew Judon, and Christian Gonzalez.
They’ve kept things close in most contests, with the offense continuing to be the weak link. Sunday was yet another example of that, with the Patriots putting together drives of 5 or more plays just three times all afternoon, with Mac Jones and the offense remaining stuck in neutral again for much of the game.
Granted, Belichick is the one who has the final call when it comes to personnel, and he’s responsible for the group that we’ve been forced to watch these last nine weeks.
Given where they currently are, they’re clearly not where they need to be and talent remains a serious concern. By the time this rocky 2023 ride eventually ends, many decisions will obviously be questioned. Things like who made the final decision as it pertained to JuJu Smith-Schuster and Jakobi Meyers will absolutely be second-guessed, along with extending DeVante Parker over potentially adding Deandre Hopkins.
The same can be said when it came to the offensive line, albeit they at least appear to be figuring things out there, despite the fact it took well over a month to finally get there.
Belichick tried to distance himself last week by talking about the personnel department as if it’s a completely different entity that he’s really not involved with. We’ll likely never know whether it was Matt Groh who felt one way or if Belichick felt another in some of these decisions, but the end result certainly hasn’t played out well. Especially in a division and conference where teams are running circles around them, and the comparisons between their offensive personnel and others aren’t even close.
It’s been a rough season for Mac Jones. (PHOTO: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports)
Quarterback Mac Jones no longer looks like the player he did in 2021, and Belichick’s mishandling of him both last season and the lack of help around him this year will be questioned. As it currently stands, instead of having a long-term answer at the position, the Patriots will instead have to dip their foot back into that pool again at some point. That could mean 2024 will potentially be Jones’ last in New England, and that’s even if he’s around after this offseason.
Having a viable signal-caller is key, and the fact the Patriots are in this position is frustrating. Being in quarterback purgatory is the death knell for most teams, and the last two years hampered his development and prevented New England from at least having a serviceable guy to carry them until they could continue developing other guys to eventually challenge him. Plucking “the guy” is rare, and it often ends up where someone emerges and seizes the role.
But Jones has been ruined to the point where they may not even have that, and these last two seasons have ended up proving costly. To make matters worse, even Bailey Zappe has also fallen out of the mix and looks closer to being the QB equivalent of Jonas Gray rather than being the player who won two games last season and nearly beat Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay.
Those are mistakes that are tough to come back from. It’s also among many problems the Patriots will face this offseason.
Building pieces on offense, regardless of the quarterback, will need to be a focus in the coming months. Fixing that side of the football changes everything, and potentially empowering Groh to handle that may ultimately be the better move over a coach who has simply never had much success evaluating offensive skill players. At least not when it comes to building a young nucleus of players. Given the going market rate of top-tier receivers, finding talent in the draft at that position is now even that much more important.
Belichick knows how to win in January.
But as a head coach, there’s no denying Belichick’s knowledge of X’s and O’s remains unparalleled, and he’s among the best there is in a key game. Stop and imagine for a moment if you dropped him on the sideline for Los Angeles (Chargers), Buffalo, Cincinnati, or Philadelphia these last couple of postseasons and honestly tell yourself he wouldn’t have potentially gotten them deeper than any of those coaches, or if he might have even won a title with one of them given those rosters.
Many suggest he’s stuck in his ways, but clearly on defense that hasn’t been the case. We already saw him adapt and make getting the right personnel a focus on that side of the football.
They dumped nearly their entire group after that playoff loss at the end of 2021, focusing on faster, more dynamic and athletic players, making sure they had guys who could keep up with many of the speedy playmakers who have come into both the AFC and their Division in recent years.
In fact, when you think about it, that’s probably the thing that makes all of this so maddening. That dramatic shift has been one-sided, with their offense not experiencing the same influx of youth and talent.
There are no explosive players in this group, and they simply don’t have the talent to compete with the majority of the league right now. You can point to the injuries, but those problems existed long before Kendrick Bourne got hurt two weeks ago.
Simply put, they didn’t put the same urgency that existed defensively into their offense, and the results are what they are.
It doesn’t matter how good of a coach you are if you don’t have the players to get the job done, and that’s likely how this year will be remembered.
How they’ll address that this offseason will be interesting to follow, especially when it’s clear even ownership knows how devoid of talent they are.
In the end, Belichick is certainly the guy you want on the sidelines in meaningful games. The problem right now is the fact they don’t have the personnel on offense to win consistently, let alone, get there.
Unfortunately, until that changes, it only further puts him farther away from him ever having that opportunity again here in New England.
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary