EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The NFL is a parity league, but sometimes, games like this one come up.
On the final weekend of the 1981 regular season, the 2-13 Patriots took on the 1-14 Baltimore Colts. The loser of this game would get the top pick in the 1982 draft. It was referred to as the “Ken Sims Bowl”. It was preordained that both teams would play to lose. It turned out to be arguably the worst regular season game in NFL history.
The Patriots wound up out-bungling the Colts and managed to lose the game, 23-21. They got the fate that they deserved: They did indeed take Sims, a defensive lineman from Texas, with the top pick, and he turned into one of the biggest draft busts in team history. When he wasn’t injured, he generally loafed at practices, and the Patriots found out that they were duped by his skill set because of the conference he played in (the Southwest Conference back then). Sims did play eight seasons for the Patriots and was with the team when they played in Super Bowl XX. He missed the last three games of the regular season and the entire postseason that year with a broken leg. Injuries curtailed his career, such that 1984 was the only year he played in all 16 games for the Patriots.
So, if the Patriots do indeed draft very high next year, and still possibly at number one, is this what they have to look forward to?
The 2-8 Patriots took on the 3-8 New York Giants on a rainy Sunday afternoon at MetLife Stadium in the Jersey Meadowlands. Both teams needed to lose more than they needed to win. The first half was arguably the worst in the NFL this season, with the only scoring coming from a touchdown pass from backup quarterback Tommy DeVito to Isaiah Hodgins with two and a half minutes left in the first half. The Patriots tied the game on the first drive of the second half, but Randy Bullock would kick a 42-yard field goal with 4:21 left in the game. Chad Ryland missed a 35-yarder at the buzzer as the Giants somehow managed to defeat the Patriots, 10-7.
So the Patriots now own the tiebreaker over the Giants in draft order placement. It looks like the only teams standing between the Patriots and the top draft pick are the Carolina Panthers and the Arizona Cardinals.
What you the Patriot fan should be wondering about right now are basically two things. Did the Patriots subtly play to lose on Sunday? And if they do succeed and draft first next year, who will they take and will it be a quarterback?
Put simply, the Patriots were never in a position to win this game. It may be said that they did not want to win the game. It also may be said that the Giants didn’t want to win the game either. Even with a game-tying field goal staring the Patriots in their faces at game’s end, that failed. If all things were well, the Patriots destroy these downtrodden Giants. Instead, the Giants somehow got by the even more downtrodden Patriots, and won for the first time in the regular season at home over the Patriots since 1987 (the first ever ESPN Sunday night game).
Bill Belichick started Mac Jones, then played Bailey Zappe in the second half. Both players played basically lousy. Jones’ passer rating was 27.8, while Zappe’s was 42.0. On the other hand, DeVito’s rating was 103.9. Belichick showed the entire pro football world that neither of these quarterbacks should be labeled as the quarterback of the future for the Patriots.
Jones threw two interceptions, both of them physically bad throws, both of them ill advised. Zappe threw one interception, also an ill-advised throw. All ten Giants points came off these turnovers. Again, Belichick probably looked at this and said to himself “There you are, folks! This is our team.”
And to watch Ryland yank the game-tying field goal wide left was also stupefying. It was 35 yards. Many of you fans could kick a 35-yard field goal. It’s not that hard to do. It was on the right hash mark, angled to the left. It’s probably true that he wasn’t told to miss the kick on purpose, but Belichick once attempted a 2-point conversion he really didn’t want to make to ensure a loss and get the Patriots a better playoff opponent (that little dipsy-do really did work). Nothing can be ruled out regarding this game.
The Patriot offense was as vanilla as your favorite ice cream sundae, and yet both Patriot quarterbacks were abysmal. The only thing that did work for the Patriots was the running game, where Rhamondre Stevenson gained 98 yards on 21 carries and scored the only Patriot touchdown, and Ezekiel Elliott had 46 yards rushing and a 5.1 yards per carry average. But Belichick and Bill O’Brien continued to try and run a makeshift passing game, and neither quarterback could make anything happen through the air.
If the Patriots truly wanted to win this game, they could look to the University of Michigan for a nice idea. In the fourth quarter of their win over Penn State two weeks ago, quarterback J.J. McCarthy called for all run plays (the one pass play was wiped out on a penalty, so technically it didn’t happen). Michigan was able to hold on and beat Penn State on the road. A similar approach in the second half might have yielded a win for the Patriots, if that’s what they truly wanted.
Right now, several draft boards have the Patriots going for North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye. USC quarterback Caleb Williams has seen his stock drop after his awful performance against UCLA and his subsequent running into the stands to cry on his mother’s shoulder. Oregon quarterback Bo Nix is also on the rise. This writer likes McCarthy, but he may be a mid-round first rounder and not a top five or a top ten pick.
The Patriots should take great care and select a quarterback, whomever is available. It’s too bad that keeping Jones and taking Ohio State wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. isn’t sound strategy. In a perfect world, Jones is the right guy and Harrison becomes his much desired offensive weapon he lacks. But it looks like the Patriots take a quarterback in this draft, unless Belichick (or his replacement as GM, another topic for another day) trades down.
Right now, the Patriots look like they are showing up, punching the clock, playing the game, punching the clock, and going home. There seems to be no purpose beyond looking to next April. The Patriots should have beaten the Giants handily.
Instead you had two teams that reminded you of the 1981 season finale. At least Patriot fans know that if the Patriots need to lose a game, they can do it with the best of them. Because if they were indeed trying to win Sunday, that would be more damnable than tanking the game.
Meanwhile, your homework assignment is to read up on Drake Maye. Watch videos and see if he is at least the next Drew Bledsoe, the last quarterback the Patriots got with pick number one. He might be your guy moving forward.
And when you’re done with that, try and find some guy the Patriots can take in the late rounds who is a supposed NFL project but is good at “moving the chains”. Some guy who will tell Bob Kraft that he now is the best draft pick he’d ever made.
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