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The Lane Breakdown: Patriots struggle in all three phases against the Saints

A terrible performance all around by the Patriots against the Saints.

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New Orleans Saints v New England Patriots Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

The New England Patriots played one of the worst games you will ever see against the New Orleans Saints. They were outplayed in all three phases, and outcoached as well. We knew they weren’t going to look perfect every week, but Sunday at Gillette Stadium was one of those games where you burn the tape and try to never think about again. Let’s get into my takeaways from New England’s 28-13 embarrassment and get you out of here as quick as we can.

1. Jonnu Smith forgot how to catch: Out of all the people that struggled on Sunday, Smith might be at the very top of the list. He had at least four drops, and they were all costly. None more than the drop that ended up as a pick-six to start the second half. The Patriots brought Smith in to be a difference-maker in the passing game, and he sure was one this week, just in a bad way. He also had a sideline drop that was contested, but Mac Jones made a great play to even get the ball in there, and you’d love to see your tight end come down with that against a corner.

2. Offensive line can’t block anyone: For the third week in a row, the Patriots’ offensive line struggled mightily. Trent Brown was out again, but that certainly wasn’t the only reason for the struggles. Not only could they not protect Mac, but they also couldn’t provide any holes for the rushing attack. The offensive line was thought to be a strength of the team at the start of the season, and they’re going to need to play much better if New England is going to have any chance to be competitive.

3. James White injury: Early in the game one of the most important players in the organization went down with what appeared to be a serious hip injury. White is not just a great player, he’s one of the most well-liked and well-respected players on the Patriots. I’m not concerned about who the next man up is (though I’d prefer if it wasn’t Brandon Bolden moving forward), right now I’m just worried about White. After suffering a tragedy last year, losing his father, he was off to a great start this year. A serious hip injury for a running back who turns 30 at the end of this season could be very difficult to come back from. Whatever happens, I’m sure White will approach the challenge with the same hard work and professionalism he always does.

4. Can’t stop the run again: The Saints are not going to kill you if Jameis Winston has to beat you by himself. Luckily for them, they didn’t have to worry about that, because the Patriots had difficulties stopping the run. This front seven was supposed to be one of New England’s strengths this season, but they have consistently struggled to stop the run, especially in the moments where they needed it the most. At some point, this defense is going to need to step up and make some plays, and I don’t mean having a rookie QB throw passes directly as you.

5. Mac struggles: We all knew it was coming. Through two games, Jones hadn’t thrown an interception, and he threw three on Sunday. Did he play as bad as his stat line would suggest? I don’t think so, but he definitely wasn’t as sharp as he had been the first two weeks. You’d of course love to see his receivers help him out a bit more, but he has to make better decisions and throws as well. The good news with Mac is that he has shown an ability to bounce back from adversity very well, something he is going to need to do after struggling this week.

6. McDaniels doesn’t trust Mac yet: This week, Josh McDaniels talked about how the playbook is completely open for Mac and that he trusts him. Well, his play-calling tells a different story. For yet another game, the Patriots got deep in the red zone, and once again, they never let Mac throw into the end zone. First-and-goal at the 11, and the first two plays are runs to Bolden and then only a pass because they have to. If McDaniels really trusts Mac, he needs to let him throw that ball into the end zone to try to score a TD in the red zone. I’m sure it’ll happen eventually, but we’re not there yet.

7. Special teams is brutal: The Patriots are typically one of the best special teams units in the league. This season, however, they have been one of the worst. Non-stop penalties, bad blocking, bad decision-making by returners, and this week, a blocked punt. It is so un-Patriot-like to play so poorly in the third phase of the game. The Patriots make a bunch of bottom-of-the-roster decisions based on who plays special teams, and they need more out of that unit moving forward. Of course it’s on the players to be better, but special teams has always been a reflection on coaching, and so they need to be much better too.

8. Defense once again can’t get a stop at the end of the game: After the Patriots played so incredibly bad all game, Jones found Kendrick Bourne for a touchdown to cut the deficit to eight points. A stop would get New England the ball back with a chance to tie the game. What followed was a 13-play, 75-yard drive, where the Saints went 2-for-2 on third-down conversions, including a third-and-7 at their own 28. After not being able to get a stop after Damien Harris fumbled the game away against the Dolphins, the defense couldn’t get a stop when the offense finally had some momentum. Good teams make plays in big moments, and the Patriots have been unable to do that so far this season.

9. Bourne comes alive: Are we allowed to have a positive takeaway after that performance? Well, you’re getting one anyway. The above-mentioned Bourne had a great game in the third week of the season. He led the Patriots in receiving with 96 yards and scored their only offensive touchdown. His touchdown catch was fantastic, not only getting the positioning and fighting for the ball, but staying in bounds to stretch the ball over the goal line. With Smith unable to catch a cold and Nelson Agholor being held in check, it was good to see Bourne emerge as a reliable target with some nice plays.

10. Playoffs? Playoffs?: Now back to our regularly scheduled program. Jim Mora had one of the best sound bites of all time with his infamous playoff rant. A lot of people, myself included, thought that the Patriots had a good chance to make the playoffs this season. However, after losing to two very beatable teams at home, their chances of doing so become more and more unlikely. The Patriots have a very tough game coming next week, and a very rough stretch in the middle of the season. If they lose any more games against teams they should beat, they can kiss their playoff chances goodbye. The Patriots had one of the worst games you’ll ever see them play Sunday against the Saints. They need to put that out of their mind, however, because Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are coming into town next Sunday night. They need to figure out a lot of things if they expect to not get embarrassed next week.

Pat is a host of The Patriot Nation Podcast. Interact with him on Twitter @plane_pats.