Are the Patriots the best 2-4 team in the NFL or what? Too bad “Almost” wasn’t an official stat right after W-L-T. It would inform when a team almost had it, and were maybe a play or two away from pulling off a win. Of course it would be as useless as the Colts’ “2014 AFC Finalist” banner, and just as ridiculed, so maybe not such a good idea after all. Never mind.
Ever since I lowered the expectation bar for 2021, I’ve been enjoying watching these Patriots even more. Every time they make a terrific play on any side of the ball I’m out of my seat cheering. The fumbles, penalties, tipped balls, interceptions... they’re still a gut-punch, but not the bruising kind that used to keep me awake at night. This is all part of the growing process in the new Mac Jones era. What makes the team hard to dismiss is that they’re all trying. The players are all-in on the team and the season despite the oh-so-slow start. It’s difficult to root for a team that gives up and goes through the motions. It’s one of those things that you know it when you see it, and I’m not seeing it. This is a team that cares. They’re resilient. They support each other. They lost on Sunday but kept dogging the more-talented Cowboys, right up until they punted in OT. I love that in a team. I love winning too, but that will come... hopefully in Week 7 when the Jets visit Foxborough. Yay, Jets!
Thanks to the Bills for losing last night, and to the Dolphins and Jets for being who they are. The Patriots are in second place in the division, 20th in the rankings, and first in our hearts. Oh, and by the way, the optimism I still feel for the team: It’s real, and it’s spectacular. Pats win big, at home this Sunday.
Around the AFC East:
New England Patriots (2-4) vs. New York Jets (1-4)
Miami Dolphins (1-5) vs. Atlanta Falcons (2-3)
Buffalo Bills (4-2) Bye
Baltimore Ravens (5-1) vs. Cincinnati Bengals (4-2)
Tennessee Titans (4-2) vs. Kansas City Chiefs (3-3)
Las Vegas Raiders (4-2) vs. Philadelphia Eagles (2-4)
Denver Broncos (3-3) at Cleveland Browns (3-3)
Los Angeles Chargers (4-2) - Bye
Pittsburgh Steelers (3-3) - Bye
Jacksonville Jaguars (1-5) - Bye
16th - Consensus (Bleacher Report): The New England Patriots hold a title that no team wants: This is probably the best 2-4 team in the AFC, if not the entire NFL. Just as was the case back in Week 4 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Pats played well enough Sunday to give a one-loss Dallas Cowboys team all it could handle. And just like in Week 4, New England wasn’t quite able to seal the deal. “We went toe-to-toe with them for 60 minutes,” head coach Bill Belichick told reporters after the game. “They just made a few more plays than we did.”
“The Patriots should be able to get back to within a game of .500 next week against the hapless Jets,” Davenport said. “But then comes the stretch that will define their 2021 season. Beating the Chargers in Los Angeles will be a tall order, but these Pats are capable of taking down flawed Panthers and Browns teams the two weeks after that, and they’re certainly capable of beating the Falcons in Week 11. If New England can start closing some teams out and come out of that game at 6-5, the postseason could be back in play.”
18th - Mike Florio (ProFootballTalk): There’s no column in the standings for moral victories. [-1]
18th - Dalton Miller (ProFootballNetwork): Tier 4: Fringe playoff contenders. This offense has to be dominant in the run game to move the ball, and the quarterback isn’t going to go out and win games with his arm. Even the long touchdown pass he threw should have been intercepted by either Trevon Diggs or Damonte Kazee, although neither appeared too worried about trying. I don’t think this is a bad team — they’re just completely unexplosive outside of blown coverages. They must play a certain style of football, and if the offensive line cannot dominate at the point of attack, they’re going to struggle to score enough points to win. [+5]
19th - Frank Schwab (Yahoo! Sports): I don’t get why the Patriots didn’t take a shot at a long pass with 20 seconds left in regulation. They had a timeout left. Sure, bad things could have happened, but there’s also a chance of hitting a long play or maybe getting a pass interference. There needs to be some trust in Mac Jones, or it’ll be hard for the Patriots to dig out of this hole. [-2]
20th - Mark Maske (Washington Post): The Patriots could not quite pull it out in a captivating game Sunday against the Cowboys. They are close to being good, with a handful of plays spelling the difference in their losses to the Dolphins, Bucs and Cowboys. Unfortunately for them, in the NFL the phrase “close to being good” translates to being not very good at all. [-4]
20th - Russell S. Baxter (Fansided): The Patriots looked to make it two wins in a row for the first time this season as they welcomed the explosive Cowboys to Foxborough. Damien Harris ran for 101 yards and a score and rookie quarterback Mac Jones threw for 229 yards and two touchdowns. But he also committed a pair of turnovers, including throwing a pick six in the fourth quarter. He also found Kendrick Bourne for a 75-yard score but the Pats’ defense gave up 567 total yards. [-2]
20th - Gary Gramling (SI): The defense is there, the offense is not, and the Patriots have now let two games slip out of their grasp in Foxborough. The season-opening loss to a truly atrocious Dolphins team will surely stick in their craw, but Sunday’s loss to Dallas was eve more frustrating, as they were set up to beat a superior opponent through situational football and timely playmaking before a wild final three minutes unfolded. [+1]
20th - Nick Wojton (TouchdownWire): A great effort, but the Patriots are probably sick of moral wins at this point. Rookie QB Mac Jones is going through some growing pains which have appeared to be a bit costly, like his late interception in their overtime loss to the Cowboys. [-2]
21st - NFL Nation (ESPN): Week 1 confidence rating: 6.5; How it’s going now: 5.0.
Mac Jones’ strong start had things looking up even in a season-opening loss. And then the up-and-down play from defense and special teams — along with the offensive line and-down play from defense and special teams — along with the offensive line and several skill-position players — led to things plummeting, as the Patriots have been learning how not to beat themselves with mistakes. Such volatility also has been reflected on the sideline with some debatable coaching decisions. [-2]
21st - Dan Hanzus (NFL.com): The Patriots gave the Cowboys all they could handle, but it still wasn’t enough to keep New England from suffering its fourth consecutive loss at Gillette Stadium. Mac Jones (again impressive) put the Pats in position for a dramatic win with a 75-yard touchdown strike to Kendrick Bourne late in the fourth quarter, but the defense surrendered a game-tying field goal with 20 seconds to play in regulation, then allowed CeeDee Lamb to get behind the secondary on the game-ending 35-yard touchdown in overtime. “We went toe-to-toe with them for 60 minutes,” Bill Belichick said. “They just made a few more plays than we did.” This is an organization not accustomed to moral victories. [+1]
22nd - Jake Levin (NBC Sports Boston): The Patriots lost a heartbreaker to the Cowboys on Sunday. Mac Jones’ 75-yard touchdown pass to Kendrick Bourne late in the fourth quarter gave New England a lead, but Greg Zuerlein was able to force overtime with a clutch field goal. Jones and the Patriots were unable to capitalize on their opportunity after winning the OT coin toss, and Dak Prescott finished New England off with a 35-yard TD strike to CeeDee Lamb. Next week will be a must-win game for the Patriots when they host the New York Jets, who are well-rested coming off their bye week.
22nd - Harris Ahmadzai, Dylan Fraychineaud (New Arena): The New England Patriots are 0-4 at home in 2021. For a third week in a row, New England has played a toss-up game. Unfortunately for the former top dogs, they are 1-2 in that stretch. Against the Cowboys, the Patriots took a 14-10 lead into halftime and held a three-point lead with two minutes remaining in the fourth — but it wasn’t meant to be. New England’s defense allowed Dallas to march 40 yards downfield to set up a game-tying field goal. In overtime, Mac Jones couldn’t get the job done and the Pats’ lone drive ended with a punt. Seven plays later, Dallas won. [+1]
23rd - Vinnie Iyer (Sporting News): The Patriots have two “moral” home victories against the Cowboys and Buccaneers but they are still winless in New England. Their only wins are still against the Texans and Jets. Despite the prime treatment, they aren’t playoff-worthy. [-1]
23rd - Danny Kelly (The Ringer): The Muddled Middle category.
23rd - Nate Davis (USA Today): Damien Harris could be New England’s first 1,000-yard rusher in five years ... of course, these days, that only means you need to average 59 yards a week. [+3]
24th - Pete Prisco (CBS Sports): They fought hard against the Cowboys, but the reality is they didn’t slow them down much on defense. They’re off to an 0-4 start at home this season. [-3]
24th - Ryan Dunleavy (NY Post). [-1]
AVG RANK: 20.8 [+0.4]