The New England Patriots were flat out embarrassed by the Los Angeles Rams on Thursday night. They couldn’t move the ball on offense, and they were helpless to stop the Rams’ running game. It was their worst game since their 33-6 defeat versus the San Francisco 49ers, and came at a time when they absolutely needed to win.
Now, their chances of making the playoffs are essentially zero. Side note: Did you know that if the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins both lose out, and the Patriots win out, they could still win the division?. Don’t do that to yourself, though, just move on and accept that, just like their insane streak of consecutive 10+ winning seasons, their playoff aspirations are essentially over.
So, what happened? Let’s take a look.
Sometimes, I hate being right so much. It really is a curse. In case you missed my article that came out hours before the game started, here is the gist of it: I said the Patriots wouldn’t be able make the playoffs with the current offense. Boy, was I right. Here’s the thing, though. It’s not about the players, it’s about the play-calling.
My question is whether or not the play-calling looks like it does because of the players on the field. Are the Patriots being more conservative because of the players on the field? I think the answer to that question is a resounding “yes.” So the question is: What do they do now? They can’t keep trying to run on every play, that isn’t going to work against good teams. The Rams game made that pretty clear.
I think what the Patriots should do is change the quarterback. Anyone that reads my articles, or listens to my podcast knows that I’m a Jarrett Stidham guy. You know I’ve wanted him to get a shot since the beginning of the offseason. This, however, has nothing to do with what I want.
The coaching staff has no faith in the passing game. It’s obvious to anyone who has watched them play basically all year long. You can argue about Cam Newton, and how, analytically, he’s played well. I don’t care. The coaching staff doesn’t trust him to throw the ball. How do I know that? I watch the games.
Newton has attempted 53 passes in the last three games combined. Interestingly enough, that’s the same amount of passes Justin Herbert attempted last Sunday versus the Patriots. Maybe they feel as though the options in the passing game are so limited that the best chance they have of winning is to run on nearly every play. That might even be true. But you can’t play that way in today’s NFL.
Even if Cam Newton is the starter against Miami, which I believe he will be, either the play-calling has to change, or the quarterback has. Why do I expect him to be the starter? Bill Belichick respects him too much to do that to him. I don’t think we’ll be seeing Stidham, unless there’s an injury to Cam. With that being said, Cam’s abdominal injury might give the Patriots enough of a reason to make a health-related change at one point.
After getting crushed earlier during the season on runs to the outside, the Patriots had really tightened up in that area. Given that this happened against very good running teams in the Baltimore Ravens and Arizona Cardinals, there was reason for optimism. Then, the Rams just took them back to school and ran all over them, with almost all of the runs going right at the edge.
L.A. did a good job of scheming it up, putting players in position to make plays, running players to the side to make blocks, and putting more blockers than the Patriots had defenders. However, New England’s defense still needs to be better than it was last night. If the unit can’t stop the run, it is going to get shredded the next two weeks against Miami and Buffalo.
There were a few bright spots in the game last night as well as a bunch of the Patriots’ young guys played well. One of them, surprisingly, was not Michael Onwenu. He’s been great all season, but finally had a pretty rough game. Myles Bryant had a great interception, though, and looks like he can really give them some solid play out there as a role player.
Josh Uche had a few solid plays too, while Kyle Dugger continues to play pretty well. Byron Cowart also contributed with a second-half sack. N’Keal Harry made some tough catches, which is exactly what we’ve all been waiting to see from him. And Jake Bailey is arguably the best player on the team.
It wasn’t pretty, obviously, and no one really had a great game on either side of the ball, but there remains hope: there are talented young players on this team to build around.
Don’t leave yet
I know that this isn’t the season we hoped for, and we’re not used to seeing the Patriots play this poorly. There are still three games left, though. Don’t leave just yet.
There’s still a lot we can learn about the future of this football team in the next few weeks, and, at the very least, we might get to play spoilers when it comes to playoff seeding, or possibly even making the postseason, with the Dolphins. For 20 years, Patriots fans have been lucky enough to root for the greatest team in professional sports history. The least that can now be done is continue to root for New England these last few weeks, even if the season eventually comes to an end in Week 17.