This season has been a very harsh drop back to reality for New England Patriots fans, as they have finally had to feel a little bit of what fans of every other team have felt for the last 20 seasons. For the third time this year, the Patriots saw a potential game-winning drive stall in the red zone when Cam Newton lost a fumble against the Buffalo Bills that sealed a 24-21 defeat. Those are games that New England routinely won, but the team just can’t seem to get it done this year.
Offensive improvements are not enough
Let’s start with the offense. The list of injured and inactive weapons was longer than the list of active ones. Still, the Patriots moved the ball okay at time, and had back-to-back touchdown drives in the second half — something they hadn’t done all year. Jakobi Meyers shined, and made a case for himself to be inserted into the regular lineup. Meanwhile, Damien Harris ran extremely well, and looks like the future for the Patriots at running back.
As for Cam Newton, well, he was a lot better than he’s been the last two games. I still think he takes too long to read the defense, and his throwing motion looks painful, and, of course, his fumble was a killer to end the game. But, overall, he’s not the reason the Patriots lost the game on Sunday.
One final note: this is the second week of this offensive line playing together, and it is looking fantastic. You’d also love to see Ryan Izzo sustain a block for longer than .02 seconds, and give some deeper plays a chance, but I guess you can’t expect too much from him. The offense wasn’t great, but it looked significantly better than it has the last few games. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t good enough to get the job done.
No stopping the run
On to the defense, where there was a strict “no tackling” rule. The amount of missed tackles was pathetic, and the unit was completely unable to stop the Bills on the ground. The Bills had 190 rushing yards, and the only times the Patriots stopped them is when they went to the pass instead of the run. Literally every time they punted, and when they threw the interception, the Bills took to the air on second and third down.
I realize that Dont’a Hightower and Patrick Chung aren’t here, and that Brandon Copeland got hurt last week, but they’ve got to be better against the run.
One problem they had was setting the edge, and a big part of that was Ja’Whaun Bentley and Adrian Phillips consistently getting beat. Phillips is undersized, and shouldn’t be playing linebacker exclusively, but Bentley is a different story. After I thought he had turned a corner against Denver, he looked awful for a second straight game. I’m the President of the Ja’Whaun Bentley fan club, I love what the kid brings to the locker room, and he has such a great story, but he is killing them out there, and he needs to either figure it out, or they need to replace him.
Who they’re going to replace him with, exactly, I have no idea, but they can’t possibly be worse than he’s been.
A tale of two linebackers
That takes us to Chase Winovich, who has seen his snap count decrease over the last multiple weeks. The reason for that we will probably never find out, but whatever is going on needs to get figured out. When he is playing consistently, this is a much better defense, and he needs to get back on the field ASAP.
One plus was the play of Josh Uche. It was good to finally see him on the field, and he pressured Josh Allen once, and made a nice open field tackle to force a punt. Not a ton, but the second-round rookie showed some early flashes, and hopefully can build on that moving forward.
No secondary concerns
What if I told you that the Patriots hadn’t allowed a passing touchdown in three weeks, and still lost all three games? Because that’s exactly what’s happened. The secondary, this week without number one cornerback Stephon Gilmore, has played great. It consistently forced turnovers, and didn’t allow a ton of catches — both against Buffalo and over the last two weeks. Unfortunately, the run defense and offense have been so bad that they’ve found a way to give up 75 points anyway.
Lastly, we have to touch on the coaching. The guys were ready to play, and they had a semi-effective game plan to get the win versus the Bills. The in-game coaching, however, was extremely lackluster. Some of the third-and-long runs were ridiculous, as well as choosing to run against stacked boxes, when there are clearly blitzers coming.
Then there’s the onside kick. I just can’t understand what Bill Belichick was thinking there. You have fought your way back, and tied the game, you have momentum on your side, and you do that? The Bills then ran on nine consecutive plays, including a touchdown, where, at the 2-yard line, the Patriots inexplicably left no one in the middle, and Josh Allen walked in for a score on a designed shotgun run. The coaching has definitely not been up to the level that we’ve been used to from Belichick and his staff this season.
Where do we go from here? I know what I want them to do, but that’s a whole other conversation. The trade deadline is Tuesday, however, and I think it’s going to be a lot more interesting around here than it usually is at this time of year. Forget about the division, the Patriots are three games under .500, and are two-and-a-half games out of a playoff spot.
If I can leave you with one last thought, it’s this. Don’t be disheartened. Have some faith that this organization will figure it out.
Everyone knows that the Patriots haven’t lost four straight games since 2002, but remember that every other team has at least one four-game losing streak since that time. We’ve been lucky to see an unparalleled amount of success, and some of the pieces that were responsible for that success are still here. Even if this eventually turns into a lost season, I still have faith that the Patriots can turn it around and compete next year, and you should too.
Pat is a host of The Patriot Nation Podcast
Interact with him on Twitter @plane_pats