I very strongly considered not even writing a Coping With Loss article this week. When I first started this series, I had to write maybe three or four of them a season, so it was never all that hard to put a spin on a few losses here and there; this year, though, I’ve really, really had to dig deep.
More importantly, though, the title of the series — Coping With Loss — was always meant to be a play on how seriously we take Patriots losses and how negatively they impact our lives. A heartbreaking New England loss used to keep me up nights. I’d be short with my friends and family. I’d go into all kinds of funks as if something actually, genuinely bad was going on in my life. Feeling that kind of passion is ultimately a good thing — it’s passion that makes life worth living — but there’s really only one certainty when it comes to the Patriots, and football in general:
None of this matters.
We were all reminded of this fact very starkly a few weeks ago, and I’d do well to always keep it in mind.
This is just a game. It’s a child’s game played by human beings who basically get into multiple car accidents every Sunday for our amusement, and the things that we say and think about these people for dropping a pass or not making a tackle or wasting a timeout may be a wonderful reflection of our passion for the sport, but it’s childish and stupid and there are more important things in life.
However, the game, and its coverage, stops for no one, so here’s my last Coping With Loss of 2023. Unlike the last four or so of these I’ve written, I actually mean all five of these positives we can take with us into the offseason. Zero spin zone here.
Phew. I, for one, haven’t been this relieved to come to the end of a Patriots season in a very long time. Part of me always breathes a big sigh of relief when New England’s season comes to an end, be it in December or February, but this year I’m especially glad that it’s over. The 2023 season was a massive, massive slog, to be honest, and I’ve never struggled so much to try and cover this team.
It wasn’t so much the losses as it was just the overall culture and vibe of the franchise — there was little growth, little development, and nothing new happened. I’m sure that my regular readers were quick to notice that I spent each and every week more or less repeating myself since about October or so. That I don’t have to come up with new jokes or find new ways to talk about a 2-yard run, an incompletion, a sack, and a punt is a pretty massive load off. Now, I get to just relax and enjoy the postseason, and I never have to cover this version of the team again. Thank goodness.
Higher draft pick. There was as close to zero chance as possible that the Patriots were going to go all that far in the postseason, so what we basically ended up doing here was trading an extra Patriots
loss game for moving up a few spots in the first round of the draft. I know that I’ll take a higher draft pick over watching the Bills smack the Pats around on consecutive weeks, and with New England sitting at 14th overall, they now have the highest pick since 2008, which saw them select Jerod Mayo.
In an offseason in which there are some definitive needs to address, valuable draft capital is a real asset. I’ll take pick 14 over an early playoff exit any day. They are also projected to have 11 total picks in this draft, so plenty of trade mobility.
Core in place. The Patriots definitely have some decisions to make this offseason, both in terms of roster and coaching staff, but the bulk of New England’s core players are under contract and will be back next season. The 2022 rookie class showed a lot of promise, the defense will almost all be coming back, and there’s a lot of youth all across this squad. This year was a bust, sure, but there’s plenty of reason to be optimistic about next year.
Cap Space. The Patriots will enter into the 2023 offseason with about $40 million in cap space, which is the fourth most out of any team in the league. They also may be able to free up some more space by making some deals/trades and restructuring some contracts.
They of course have their own free agents they need to lock up, but there are also some classic Patriots-style players available in 2023 — smart, system-fit guys who won’t break the bank — that they will have the money to pursue should they choose to. They were up against the cap in 2022, but not so much this offseason.
Out on a positive note. The Patriots played hard and hung tough in what would have been pretty damn close to an unwinnable game even without the added motivation the Bills had in the wake of the Damar Hamlin situation. They gave up two touchdowns on kick returns, but other than a handful of big plays, New England was in this game.
Mac Jones and the offense put together some great drives, the defense looked strong, and they held their own against an obviously better team. Josh Allen needed to do Josh Allen things and make some amazing throws in order to keep Buffalo in this one, and that’s something to hang your hat on. This isn’t an end-of-season loss where I feel like the Patriots embarrassed themselves at all; they left it all on the field and did everything they could to win against a team that is out of their class.
These are the kinds of losses I could have easily lived with all year as the team continues to rebuild — no laterals from hell, no goal line fumbles, no horrible playcalls or penalties to kill drives. Just a team playing as well as can be expected that simply outplayed. That’s some nice positivity to take with you into the offseason.