The New England Patriots played one of their worst games of the season on Saturday night against the Indianapolis Colts and ended up losing 27-17. It was a depressing and ugly from the Patriots, but let’s get into the takeaways anyway.
1. New England sings the bye week blues. The Patriots had two weeks to prepare for the Colts, who have arguably the best running back in football. You would think they would be prepare to be committed to stopping the run, but they were not.
The Colts ran all over them and the Patriots had no answer for it. Then, when Carson Wentz tried to throw, there were players open all over the field. Not stopping the run or pass is not exactly a recipe for success. Getting embarrassed on prime time is not really what you’re looking for either when you are playing for the top seed in the AFC.
2. Mac Jones shows that he is still a rookie. Mac Jones played arguably his worst game as a pro on Saturday night. He has looked like a veteran all year, and the bubble was bound to burst eventually. Jones did have a nice little bounce back at the end of the game, leading the Patriots back down to make it a little closer, but the early hole was too much to recover from.
The first interception he threw was a rookie holding onto the ball too long. The process was correct, but Darius Leonard saw what he was doing and Jones threw the ball just a bit too late and it was picked off. On the second INT, he had Jonnu Smith wide open running across the field, and instead threw an out to Brandon Bolden that was picked off.
Those are costly mistakes that you simply can’t have if you are going to win against good teams. The way he fought back is a good sign, but the Patriots are going to need more from Jones if they expect to make a deep playoff push.
3. Special teams struggles. The Patriots had yet another punt blocked this year, their third of the season. For comparison, team in the NFL has allowed more than one. The Detroit Lions, Jacksonville Jaguars and Houston Texans combined have not allowed more blocked punts than the Patriots this season. That’s not good.
Gunner Olszewski also fumbled on a punt return, which luckily went out of bounds. Special teams always comes down to coaching and preparation, and New England simply has not done a good job with it this year.
4. New England gets dominated in the trenches. The Patriots have been dominating teams across the offensive and defensive lines during their seven-game winning streak. On Saturday night, however, the Colts were the team doing the dominating.
The Patriots could not run the ball to save their life, while the Colts’ generated an impressive push when on offense (even though their rushing numbers got helped by the long run at the end). You don’t often see New England get pushed around at the point of attack, but that happened consistently. A potentially alarming development.
5. Conservative play calling hurts New England... Down 13 points and facing 4th-and-goal from the 7-yard line with nine minutes left in the game, Bill Belichick decided to kick a field goal. To say that people were not happy about that would be a massive understatement. According to the analytics, the recommendation was to go for it, but the call was an extremely close one — the win percentage would have gone up just 0.6 percent by successfully going for it, according to the Fourth Down Decision Bot.
Belichick has been conservative all year. You would have to assume that it is intentional by him, and I don’t hate it, especially with a rookie quarterback. Of course, you would like to see all his decisions work out for the best, but this one did not. With that being said, Patriots fans need to trust that Belichick knows what he is doing.
6. ...and so do penalties. The Patriots made far too many mental errors on Saturday night. Brandon King jumped offsides to negate an unsuccessful Colts field goal attempt. New England had multiple false starts and a delay of game early in the game after another penalty. The team finished with eight penalties for a loss of 50 yards.
Mac Jones noted after the game that the team had a bad week of practice. Maybe that is something that also contributed to the mental errors. Whatever the reason, it needs to get cleaned up.
What also did not help is that the Colts had only two accepted penalties called against them all night. The officiating is about 39th on the list of reasons the Patriots lost on Saturday night, though. The other 38 are all New England shooting itself in the foot.
7. Isaiah Wynn struggles. Isaiah Wynn has been playing pretty well as of late. That ended this weekend. Wynn got beat multiple times on passing and running plays, and had a costly penalty as well. He also tackled his running back on a play where he didn’t know who to block, so he simply turned around and ran into the back behind him. It was a play that I assume he will see a few times in the film room. The Patriots certainly need their O-line to play better down the stretch.
8. Carson Wentz isn’t good. Carson Wentz only threw the ball 12 times all game, but that still might have been too high a number. The Colts were running with ease, and should have never handed the reins to their quarterback. They were lucky that a few of his errant passes — including one that Jamie Collins had a shot to bring back to the house — were dropped by Patriots defenders.
With the success of the rushing attack, the Colts didn’t need to throw the ball, but they did, and it was honestly perplexing. Wentz actually got credit for a touchdown pass, but it was essentially a running play, with him pitching the ball forward on a reverse instead of backwards. If the Patriots had been able to slow the running game, this game might have come down to Jones versus Wentz, and I still think that is a matchup that the Patriots would have won. Alas, they couldn’t stop the run.
9. Despite a bad game, the Patriots are still a good team. New England played just about as bad of a game as you could imagine. They team was bad on both sides of the ball and on special teams. It could not get anything going offensively until the fourth quarter, when it scored 17 points. The defense was carved up for 226 yards rushing.
Somehow, despite all of that, however, the Patriots were still in the game late. If they had stopped the Colts on their last drive, they would have had a chance to at least tie it with a field goal. That obviously didn’t happen, as Jonathan Taylor raced off for a 67-yard touchdown on 2nd-and-8, but the fact that the game was not already over at that point was a minor miracle.
That is something that the Patriots surely can take away from this game. Not only did they continue to fight, but they almost fought all the way back. This team is talented, but it also has a ton of fight. That isn’t enough to win games in the NFL per se, but it can certainly help, assuming you are coached correctly and you have the right players for your scheme.
10. The Patriots still control their playoff destiny, to a degree. The loss in Indianapolis was bad, but it doesn’t knock the Patriots out of the playoffs. What it does do, though, is turn the upcoming game against the Buffalo Bills into a must-win.
A loss next week against the Bills drops New England into second place in the division (if Buffalo wins today), and might make the game against the Miami Dolphins a must-win to even reach the playoffs. Their other game is against the Jaguars — they are going to win that one — but they are going to need to beat the Bills to win the AFC East.