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Fan Notes from the Patriots’ 21-17 loss to the Raiders

Notes, musings, and observations from the New England Patriots’ 21-17 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders.

NFL: New England Patriots at Las Vegas Raiders Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

The last time the New England Patriots were 1-5, I was 14 years old. Local blackout laws coupled with the fact that I grew up in Connecticut, the bastard stepchild of New England, meant that Pats games were rarely televised and I had to get the bulk of my coverage from Chris Berman and Tom Jackson on NFL Primetime.

And while that ‘95 squad limped to a 6-10 finish — a record that seems like a bit of a reach for the ‘23 squad, based on what we’ve seen so far — promising young rookies Ty Law, Ted Johnson, and Curtis Martin (talk about nailing your first three picks) gave Pats Nation hope for good things to come. The 1996 squad went 11-5 and made it all the way to the Super Bowl.

Forgive me for not being quite as optimistic about hopes for next year’s team.

The season was already over at 1-4, but this latest loss is cause for a pivot in thinking in that it might be time for a complete rebuild of this team, around a few promising pieces, in hopes of making a run in another few years. My dream of 2021 representing the first year of a three-year rebuild in which the Patriots are contenders in 2024 is all but gone.

1. I’ll give the 2023 Patriots this: they keep finding new and creative ways to out-suckify themselves each and every week. Yesterday, after giving up a 16-play, eight-minute scoring drive that lost Keion White for the remainder of the game, New England’s first offensive possession went penalty, penalty, dropped screen, run, punt. They had the ball for less than a minute and gained one total yard.

2. Then, the Patriots made their first real football play in three weeks, a massive Jabrill Peppers truck stick hit to set up a Jahlani Tavai pick, and I, like all of us (admit it!) started to wonder if maybe we’d get to witness an actual football game today. But that pick was answered with a 2-yard run, a 1-yard run, and an 11-yard sack to punt out of their own end zone. The Raiders then drove down the field, a wide open and completely uncovered Jakobi Meyers scored to make it 10-0 in the second, and that was the ballgame with 12:22 left in the second quarter.

3. I semi-joked last year that this team isn’t built to come back from a two score deficit. I say with all seriousness this year that this team isn’t built to come back period. They’ve had the lead in a game exactly one time all season, their sole win against the Jets, but have trailed for 300 of the 360 minutes of football they’ve played this year.

4. One thing we all love — nay, one thing we all need — to do as football fans is find and assign blame. The refs are always a fun one, but it’s usually not on them. And we Pats fans have been passing blame around like a doobie at a Cypress Hill show over these past few weeks. We’re at the point where someone needs to construct a blame wheel that we can spin each week to see who should get the brunt of it this time. And the names on this week’s Blame Wheel are Mac Jones, the O-line, DeVante Parker, and the coaches. You land on any one of them, you feel good about the prize, but if I had to Power Rank the suckery, it would look like this:

4.) DeVante Parker: That was an absolute dime by Mac Jones to get the Patriots out of their own end zone and almost into field goal range, and Parker dropped it. It bounced right off his hands. But even if he caught it, who knows if New England would have been able to pick up a few more yards without taking a sack, and even then who knows if a rookie kicker makes a longish field goal. So, it’s not just the drop that has Parker on the Wheel today. He’s just a complete non-factor that gets zero separation and can’t seem to do anything at any point. Yet another decent-to-good receiver that comes to New England and completely busts.

3.) Mac Jones: The current iteration of the NFL isn’t one in which a quarterback who can’t throw outside the pocket can find any real success. The era of the pure pocket passer is fading. You don’t need to be a Patrick Mahomes or a Jalen Hurts, but you need to be able to roll in both directions when your pocket collapses and either make the throw you need to make or toss it out of bounds. Some of the throws that Mac Jones has made on the run or outside the pocket have been so bad that you just don’t have a choice but to start considering other options at QB. His rookie year showed us a smart, cerebral QB who made good decisions and threw receivers open via schemes. This year has revealed a quarterback that just wants the ball out of his hands as quickly as possible — but that’s not all on him.

2.) Offensive line: I’d knock the players on this unit, but at this point other than David Andrews I couldn’t even tell you who is starting where. It’s a hodgepodge of human green lights out there and it doesn’t matter what combination they trot out there, it’s a complete disaster from top to bottom. The 2015 Patriots had a bad offensive line that they were able to mask with quick-outs to Julian Edelman and screens to James White thrown by the greatest QB of all time who was a master at diagnosing defenses and changing plays at the line. The 2023 unit tries to get the ball out quickly, but with very little semblance of a run game they’re throwing screens and quick outs to eight-man secondaries and there’s nowhere to go.

1.) Coaching Staff: I think I can count on one hand the times that Vederian Lowe— you know, that 2022 sixth-rounder acquired by New England for a 2024 sixth-rounder — wasn’t completely alone on an island against one of the most elite pass rushers in the NFL. I don’t understand why the only other receiver on the field for that deep shot to Tyquan Thornton that we’ve been waiting forever for was Jalen Reagor. I don’t know why Reagor was active over Kayshon Boutte. I don’t know why Vegas was able to have an absolute field day with shallow crossers and skinny posts. I don’t know what he hell is going on on the sidelines, but none of it is good.

5. Something to hang our hats on, and I mean this without an ounce of sarcasm, this is a real thing: this Patriots offense is on pace to be so historically awful you almost find yourself wondering how much worse it can get. They’re dead last in almost every category. And even when they get something going, there’s always a penalty or a sack or a poorly run route to turd up the punchbowl.

6. Just how bad are the Patriots? Tony Romo sounded straight up bored covering yesterday’s game. That guy gets excited when those little flags at the top of the goal posts make a funny sound when they flap.

7. Live look at me on New England’s first drive of the second half. And that the Patriots scored their first touchdown in 12 quarters without Mac Jones on the field is freaking hysterical.

8. It’s not all bad though, folks. I learned yesterday that they’re rebooting Frasier. In case you were looking for a remake of a 30-year-old sitcom whose target demographic was likely in a retirement home when it first debuted in 1993, the TV gods have you covered.

9. I’ve officially joined the “Play Malik!” crowd. I want to see him out there. I say we try him at right tackle, because why not.

10. New England put together two very solid touchdown drives, for 10/75 and 17/85, with the latter eating up almost 10 minutes of clock. That was the kind of drive I was expecting to see from this team all year, and I don’t think it’s a homer take to say that they’re more than capable of putting those drives together consistently. A solid run on first down got the playaction going, Kendrick Bourne saw regular looks, Mike Gisecki was involved, and Jones had more than two seconds to throw. That they show that kind of ability once in a while only to commit penalties and awful turnovers on the regular shows it’s more mental than physical.

11. But as they did against the Eagles and Dolphins, they brought it to within one score, got the ball back, and Mac Jones had a chance to engineer the second fourth quarter comeback of his career. That comeback generated negative eight yards and ended the game with a safety as a holding penalty, that damn Parker drop, and the continuously bad offensive line sunk the ship.

12. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at the fact that I’ve most likely already experienced the most joy I’ll feel as a fan this season, and it came during a Week 1 loss to the Eagles.

13. The Patriots lost a football game to Josh McDaniels, Brian Hoyer, Jimmy Garoppolo, Jakobi Meyers, and Adam Butler, all of whom played big roles in the victory. There’s a sort of tragic beauty in that.

14. We all root for a very bad football team. This is entirely new territory for a lot of you, and even those of us who have been around since the 80s/early 90s are up in the attic right now trying to dust off the feelings and coping mechanisms that come along with all of this. After experiencing three lifetimes worth of success over the past two decades, we all knew that this was coming eventually, and now here we are. It’s fine, really. We’re back with the rest of the pack. Every team goes through this, years of mediocrity and failed rebuilds and just bad football. This is normal. It’s part of being a fan. If you don’t like it, that’s OK too, but know there’s strength in the struggle. I’m not going anywhere, and I’ll be watching this team until the very end.

15. Except for Pats-Broncos at 8:15 on Christmas Eve. Nobody has been naughty enough to have that particular lump of coal Scrooge up the holiday season. I’m gonna take that game off.

Bills and Dolphins coming down the pike. They lose the next two and then go on a nine-game win streak, hello 10-7 and a playoff berth! Here we go!