As if it couldn’t get much worse, the Buffalo Bills came into Foxboro on Monday Night Football and handed the New England Patriots the worst home loss in the Bill Belichick era, moving the Patriots to 6-9 and securing a losing season for the first time since 2000. The loss exposed the Patriots and really opened up eyes at the number of holes the team has all over its roster. With one game left to go in the season, it is therefore hard not to look forward to the offseason and the NFL draft.
Before doing that, however, let’s take a look at some of the winners and losers of the 38-9 beatdown against Buffalo.
Winner: RB Sony Michel
Let’s start with some positives here. Michel, even though he was not given a ton to work with the last two games, has turned in 20 carries for 143 yards averaging 7.2 yards per carry versus two solid defenses in Miami and Buffalo. The former first-round draft pick has looked healthier and more elusive since his return from injured reserve, and has certainly been running the ball as well as we have seen him during his impressive rookie campaign in 2018.
Despite a losing record and not many positives to look at in the big picture, the Patriots’ running back room has been real solid this year and certainly has two young backs — Michel and Damien Harris — who can certainly help carry the load offensively. I’m sure they will only get better as the passing game hopefully grows as well in 2021.
Loser: QB Cam Newton
If you follow me on social media, you know that I have given Newton a lot of credit when he played well, and was hard on him when he did not. It’s the beauty of playing quarterback, the magnification is a lot stronger when you’re the one touching the ball on every offensive play. Newton scampered in from nine yards out just before the half for the Patriots first touchdown in almost 10 quarters, for example. That was a good play.
Other than that, however, there wasn’t much to really show for from the quarterback standpoint. Newton completed just five of his 10 pass attempts for only 34 yards before being benched for Jarrett Stidham midway through the third quarter — the second time in the last three weeks that the Patriots decided to shut the team’s starting QB down early.
Loser: CB J.C. Jackson
There was a lot of talk all week if J.C. Jackson could once again live up to the challenge and cover one of the best wide receivers in football, Stefon Diggs, with Stephon Gilmore out. When he was in coverage against Diggs in Week 8, Jackson gave up five catches for 84 yards. On Monday night, however, the Bills’ Pro Bowler turned in a career night with Jackson lined up across him: Diggs went off for nine catches, 145 yards and three touchdowns
It’s unsure without the film how many times Jackson was in fact shadowing Diggs, but if we took one thing away from last night, it’s just how valuable Stephon Gilmore is to the Patriots’ defense.
Loser: LB Terez Hall
It has been a rough year for the Patriots’ linebacker position after the free agency departures of Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts, Jamie Collins, and Dont’a Hightower’s subsequent Coronavirus opt-out. With several injuries and players learning on the fly, it’s been difficult for anyone playing the position in 2020.
Although he’s likely playing so much due to a general lack of depth at the position, Terez Hall has struggled mightily this year — struggles that were on full display against Buffalo as well. The linebacker was consistently torched in coverage and didn’t provide any help against a Bills rushing attack that gashed the Patriots for 130 yards on the ground. New England has a ton of holes to fill on this roster, and linebacker may be the number one need heading into the offseason.
Loser: WR Damiere Byrd
Byrd has done all he could: he is best suited to be a WR3 on a team with depth at the position, but is seeing WR1 snaps due to the Patriots’ lack of weapons on the outside. Monday night wasn’t too kind to Byrd either, who dropped what would have been a 36-yard touchdown on New England’s opening drive — a play that set the tone for the entire game.
Byrd’s 46-catch, 597-yard season may have earned him another contract in New England, but the hope is that the team upgrades the supporting cast around him to have him play a more natural and limited role in 2021.
Loser: HC Bill Belichick
Bill Belichick publicly showed his frustration for the first time all season last night. After reviewing what would be a catch, he slammed the phone and scurried off in anger on the sideline. It perfectly summed up how all fans in New England feel given how this team has performed this season.
Belichick was handcuffed by the salary cap for most of the offseason and had to deal with the highest number of Covid-19 opt-outs in the league, but he also failed to put a competent football team on the field for the first time in the last two decades. However you feel about his past drafts and acquisitions is irrelevant for this season. That said, if we can agree on one thing, it’s that rebuilding this Patriots team to contend again for 2021 and beyond might be his toughest task to date.