What a difference a week makes.
Two days after a whopping feel-good of a win, the Patriots had moved up in the rankings and were still on “the path” to the playoffs. It was narrow path, propped up by the Patriots winning out the rest of the season and a few other games going their way, but still a nice ledge for the fans to hang on.
Unfortunately, it didn’t last long. The Rams took care of the optimism, the path, and the bump back down in the rankings. Not that the rankings matter at this point. They’ve been staying in the middle of the pack for a while. Most likely they’ll end up there. I have no quarrel with that ranking for 2020, but I do have one with the speculation that the Patriots will be a middling team for the foreseeable future. This year had its own challenges that don’t need to be leached out into the next few years.
Anyhow, there are three games left to be played, all in the AFC East. The division is no joke this year either- except for the Jets. The Patriots will be in Miami this Sunday, underdogs once again. The Dolphins are favored by 3 points, but I’m still taking New England to win on Sunday. Even if it takes a miracle.
Around the AFC East:
16th - Mike Florio (ProFootballTalk): This may only be the beginning of an extended run of mediocrity. [LW: 15]
16th - Danny Kelly (The Ringer): The muddled middle. [LW: 14]
17th - Darren Hartwell (NBC Sports Boston): The 2020 Patriots only can go so far as their defense and special teams take them. The Los Angeles Rams proved as much Sunday, as Cam Newton and the New England offense looked hapless in a 24-3 loss. The Patriots need to beat the Dolphins and Bills in back-to-back weeks to have any hope of making the postseason. More importantly, this offense needs to figure out how to score points. [LW: 13]
17th - NFL Nation (ESPN): Offense: 21 Defense: 11 Special teams: 1. The passing offense has been a disappointment, which highlights myriad issues: Cam Newton’s inaccuracy on short passes, a major void at tight end (the Patriots rank last in the NFL in production from that spot) and a receiving corps that hasn’t been respected by opposing defenses and thus allows foes to load up against the run. [LW: 16]
17th - Nate Davis (USA Today): Though they’re still mathematically alive for a wild-card spot, their record 11-year rule over the AFC East came to an end Sunday night. [LW: 14]
17th - Frank Schwab (Yahoo! Sports): Let’s take a moment to acknowledge an impressive streak that ended with the Bills on Sunday night. The Patriots’ string of 11 straight division titles ended. Considering how hard it is to build a dynasty in the NFL — and that no other team has ever won more than seven division championships in a row — it’s likely we’ll never see that record matched. [LW: 16]
18th - Dan Hanzus (NFL.com): Bill Belichick said after Thursday night’s 24-3 loss to the Rams that Cam Newton will remain his starting quarterback, but that really doesn’t matter much anymore. The 6-7 Patriots aren’t talented enough to hang in the AFC playoff race, and Newton — for all his qualities as a hard worker and strong locker-room presence — simply is no longer the same player he once was. When he signed with the Patriots, Newton appeared to be a bridge quarterback with upside for something much more. After 12 starts by the QB, the Cam era looks increasingly like a one-and-done proposition in New England. What comes next for the former MVP is anyone’s guess. [LW: 17]
17th - Consensus (Bleacher Report): It feels like we’ve said this 10 times in 14 weeks, and that each time we’ve done so, the New England Patriots have circled the wagons and rebounded. But here we go again: The Patriots are done.
Thursday’s lopsided loss in a rematch of Super Bowl LIII reinforced everything that is wrong with the team. Primarily, the Patriots can’t throw the ball.
Some of that falls on Cam Newton, who passed for only 119 yards before getting benched for Jarrett Stidham. But Newton attempted only 16 passes, in large part because the Pats don’t have a single wide receiver who scares opposing defenses at all.
At one point, the Patriots ran a zone read on 4th-and-goal from the Rams’ 2-yard line because they have no confidence in their ability to throw the ball.
And if you can’t throw the ball, you aren’t going to have much success in the 21st-century NFL.
“The Patriots dynasty is officially over, and they’re probably wondering if they should have fully started their rebuild in the 2020 offseason,” Gagnon said. “They now might find themselves in football purgatory as a non-contender without enough draft capital or salary-cap space to turn it around quickly.” [LW: 17]
18th - Pete Prisco (CBS Sports): Is it almost time to sit Cam Newton down? He just doesn’t look right. They are done. [LW: 16]
18th - Randy Gurzi (NFLSpinZone): This is the first time in 17 years that the New England Patriots won’t be winning at least 10 games as they fell to 6-7 with their Week 14 loss to the Los Angeles Rams. It’s hard to even grasp the magnitude of such a streak as this team has simply been dominant for years.
Of course, this season, things have changed dramatically since they had to replace Tom Brady. They did well in adding a former NFL MVP in Cam Newton but the transition has been anything but easy. Newton’s addition means they have had to change their entire offensive philosophy and that led to a 2-5 start (which included four losses in a row). They had been on the upswing with a 4-1 stretch but then the Rams made a statement in their first meeting since the Pats’ Super Bowl LII win.
New England had no answers for Cam Akers who rushed for 171 yards and they couldn’t block anyone on the Rams front seven. Newton was sacked four times and Jarrett Stidham came in late, getting sacked twice more. In all, New England had just 113 total yards passing in a 24-3 loss.
They’re still not technically out of the race but this loss hurt. And they’re also now just one loss away from their first non-winning season since the year 2000. That’s also hard to fathom. [LW: 16]
18th - Peter Botte (NY Post). [LW: 17]
18th - Sean T. McGuire (NESN): After a promising stretch which included four wins in five weeks, the Patriots were dealt a taste of reality Week 14. New England was on the wrong side of a not-as-close-as-final-score-indicated defeat to the Rams. [LW: 16]
19th - Vinnie Iyer (Sporting News): The Patriots’ offense has tried to hide the passing of its quarterback, Cam Newton, and his replacement-level wide receiver corps all season. It doesn’t work against teams with better defenses who can force them into negative game scripts. [LW: 16]
20th - Mark Schofield (TouchdownWire): On the bright side, the New England Patriots outscored their opponents 48-24 on their two-game West Coast road swing… (I wish I could take credit for that but that is courtesy of Patrick Brown, a listener to my Patriots podcast).
Now New England finds themselves in very unfamiliar territory: Facing a postseason as observers and not participators. The Patriots have not missed out on the postseason since 2008, the year they lost Tom Brady for the season in Week 1 due to a knee injury. But unless the forces conspire to give New England a ton of help, they are going to be watching from the couch along with the rest of us.
The burning question right now in New England centers on Cam Newton. As one might expect the quarterback has become the focus of discussion, and the Patriots do face a decision on his future in New England. From my vantage point, there are problems beyond Newton in the Patriots offense. There have been protection breakdowns, receivers have struggled to separate on a consistent basis, there is almost no production from the tight end position, and when added to Newton’s own struggles that does not amount to much in the passing game. That has led to calls for Jarrett Stidham to start and for a savior in the first round of the next draft. So if it were up to me, Newton gets another shot at the job in 2021.
But it is not up to me. And even in that scenario the Patriots have to have a viable Plan B, whether Stidham, a free agent, or a rookie. Newton was acquired late during unprecedented times and contracted COVID-19 during the season, and while he stated he did not have lingering “brain fog” when he returned to the lineup, we as a society are still learning about this condition.
I think this context is an argument for giving Newton another shot, but the organization has to hope for the best, and plan for the worst. Believe me, as someone who focuses his work on the quarterback position the prospects of New England being in the QB draft game early this spring is enticing. Even though A: I am still going to try and speak Kyle Pitts: Patriot into existence and B: We all know Bill Belichick is going to trade out of the first round and draft a random defensive back in the second. We all know this to be true. [LW: 18]
AVG. RANK: 0.0 [last week: 15.8]