The New England Patriots’ prime time debut this year did not go according to plan: they were embarrassed on national television by the Chicago Bears, losing with a final score of 33-14. It was pretty much all bad, and the handling of the quarterback situation might have been worse.
Let’s get into our 10 takeaways from Monday night’s loss.
The Patriots weren’t ready for prime time: The Patriots were outcoached and outplayed in all facets of the game on Monday night. It was just an absolute thrashing from a team considered to be one of the worst in football.
Justin Fields did what he wanted against the defense all night long, and the Patriots were powerless to stop it. Guys were running open all day, with the running game just getting rammed down their throat. At times it looked like the team showed up simply assuming it would get the win, but it is just not good enough to play that way.
Mac Jones’ status is very much in question: Mac Jones had a rough night. He started the game and played the first three drives after coming off a high ankle sprain, had no blocking, and the play-calling was suspect at best. Then he was pulled for Bailey Zappe after tossing yet another head-scratcher of an interception.
Halfway through his second season, Jones appears to have arrived at a pivotal point in his development. Getting benched in front of a home crowd and in front of a national audience, there will not be a guarantee he will be reinstalled him as the starter the following week.
Is Zappe Fever starting to wear off? After scoring two quick touchdowns after Zappe entered the game, the Patriots were completely unable to move the ball down the field. They had a total of 78 yards on five drives, with two interceptions and a fumble on a bad handoff. If the Patriots have made their decision at quarterback and will move on with Zappe over Jones, they have to live with it — and hope that the young QB will play better next week.
Bill Belichick’s plan was baffling: Belichick claimed after the game that the plan was to not play Mac Jones the whole game on Monday, and that he was neither benched because of his performance nor his health. That makes little sense. He has to say something, of course, but that isn’t it. I don’t necessarily question the decision to stick with Zappe if you feel that your team plays better, and that he is seeing the field better than Jones. That’s fine, but starting Jones only to bench him after three series was odd.
As mentioned earlier this week, I thought Zappe should start on Monday for a bunch of different reasons; I still thought that Mac Jones was the quarterback of the future for the Patriots. Now, it seems no longer clear if Belichick feels that way — and as a result it seems they have no idea which direction they are going in.
It is okay to make a decision that you think is best for the team, as Belichick likes to say. Some will disagree with you — think back to Brady vs. Bledsoe — but seeing him handle the current situation like that was baffling. Belichick needs to figure this out and right the ship quickly, or this is going to be a long season for the Patriots and their head coach.
The coaching was poor: Speaking of Bill Belichick, this was one of the worst-coached games of his tenure in New England. Putting aside the questionable quarterback rotation, or starting a less-than-100-percent Mac Jones in the first place, the Patriots were unable to stop what was a bottom-five offense in football.
Justin Fields has attempted the fewest passes this year, and yet the Patriots were not expecting him and the and the Bears to run the ball all night. They refused to put a spy on Fields, which allowed him to break a bunch of big runs as well. The offense was not much better, entering the game with a very vanilla game plan against what was a mediocre defense by all measurements.
Just an overall embarrassing performance from all the members of the team, coaching staff included.
Trent Brown and the rest of the offensive line were terrible: With Isaiah Wynn not playing, Trent Brown knew that the Patriots needed to have an offensive lineman commit multiple penalties, and so he stepped up and took the duties. He committed three penalties on the first two drives alone, two of which offset defensive penalties that would have helped the Patriots move the ball a bit.
The offensive line as a whole was unable to open up almost any holes, and the Patriots had less than 50 yards from their running backs on Monday. The pocket was never that clean, as both QBs were pressured quite a bit and Zappe had multiple passes knocked down at the line of scrimmage.
If the line doesn’t play better, it won’t matter who is the starting quarterback. This team is going to be in big trouble.
Secondary snaps were all over the place: Myles Bryant took back the role of slot cornerback from Marcus Jones, then Marcus Jones played over Jalen Mills on the outside, then Myles Bryant was moved to safety, then Marcus Jones was in the slot, and around and around we went. The Patriots were rotating their secondary players in and out, and I wasn’t sure if they knew what they were doing out there.
Bryant ended up getting an interception on a tipped ball, but the coverage was bad from everyone all night long; the secondary did not help much in the run game either. Injuries obviously did not help, but the Patriots need to find some consistency in the backend of their defense.
The Gillette Stadium crowd was disappointing: Mac Jones was booed on the first drive of the game after a three-and-out. By the end of the third drive, after he was running for his life with no blocking in front of him, fans were chanting Bailey Zappe’s name. It was not a pleasant sight to see. It’s one thing to be excited about a young player, but to be so quick to boo the QB who had been a fan favorite, played well last year, and came back significantly faster than almost anyone expected from a high ankle sprain, was rough.
Zappe led the Patriots down the field twice, but then was never able to get anything going after that. By the second half, as Bears linebacker Roquan Smith put it, “it was like you could hear a rat piss.”
Jake Bailey had his worst game as a Patriot: The Patriots just signed Jake Bailey to a big contract extension, and he is still a good punter. On Monday, however, he was absolutely terrible. His average was only 40 yards, and none of the punts pinned the Bears deep, so those numbers are not skewed at all.
He also shanked a few punts, and kicked one on a low line drive, that was easily returnable for a sizable gain. That is not something you see Bailey typically do at all, never mind four times in one game.
The playoff hopes hang in the balance: If the Patriots have any hopes of making the playoffs this year, they need to start stacking up some wins. They were going to be in a position to overtake the Jets for third place in the division with a win next weekend, but they are now two games back of them in the AFC East.
Sitting at 3-4, if they don’t start winning, they are going to be watching the first weekend of the playoffs on their couches. With five divisional games left, including two against the powerhouse Buffalo Bills, they still have time to make up some ground. The window for them to do so is rapidly closing, though.