There is plenty to talk about, though, so let’s clean out the notebook.
1. Bill Belichick isn’t on the hot seat — yet: The Patriots have played terrible games before, sometimes even when Tom Brady was still the quarterback. However, there has been too much undisciplined and sloppy football over the last four years, and that is something that simply cannot happen and ultimately falls back on the coaching staff — even one led by the hands-down best in NFL history.
Bill Belichick does not appear to be on the hot seat yet, even after a 1-3 start. If the Patriots can’t turn this season around and at least show some real fight and grit, however, it could be time for some uncomfortable discussions at One Patriot Place.
“I don’t know about his job status. I’m not the GM or the owner,” said defensive lineman Deatrich Wise Jr. “Bill has brought New England and football so many great moments — so many great, historic moments for 20 years. So, I don’t know what anybody is talking about. But he is a great, great coach. We’re behind him, we’re going to play for him, and he’s going to keep coaching us, and I believe anything he says.”
I don’t think it will come to Belichick’s future seriously being in question, but the fact that it at least appears to be on the table shows how much they have struggled these past few years.
2. An all-round disaster at quarterback: Mac Jones had one of the worst games you will ever see a QB have. He threw two interceptions, of which one was returned for a touchdown, and was strip-sacked for another TD. He made bad decisions and bad throws all afternoon, and finished the day with only 12 completions on 21 attempts for 150 yards and a passer rating of 39.9.
“As the quarterback, I have to play better,” Jones said after the game. “Every team that’s winning right now has a quarterback playing really well. I need to do better. At the end of the day, it’s all about execution on Sunday. You can as much as into it as you want. I just have to put a better product out there.”
Bailey Zappe came in to relieve him in the late third quarter, and he didn’t look too much better either. It was an all-around disaster for the quarterback position, and I honestly don’t know how you spin anything that happened on Sunday positively.
3. The Patriots appear to be at a crossroads: Mac Jones is in his third season, and the Patriots have to decide whether to exercise his fifth-year contract option next spring. At this point, it is hard to see how they can be comfortable making that move despite the progress he had previously shown this season.
Fact is, however, he is still the guy. The other option at the position right now, after all, is Bailey Zappe, and the Patriots clearly are not sold on him. Will Grier and Malik Cunningham are both on the payroll as well, but they seem to be projects more than anything else.
The rest of the season will therefore be fascinating to see. All options appear to be at the table right now — from Jones rebounding and finally turning into the QB he was drafted to be, to the team moving on and bringing in someone else entirely whether via trade or draft.
Whatever happens, it appears the Patriots’ future at the quarterback position will depend on Jones’ ability to bounce back from a career-worst performance.
4. The offense is a mess: Four weeks into Bill O’Brien’s tenure as offensive coordinator, the Patriots offense remains a disaster. They haven’t really been able to run the ball, and they haven’t been able to pass it that well either; the offensive line hasn’t blocked well; turnovers issues continue to rear their ugly head; pretty much nothing has worked for them.
Patriots fans were hopeful that things would look better with O’Brien taking over for Matt Patricia and Joe Judge, but so far the results don’t show it: the 2023 Patriots have posted an expected points added number of -0.179 per play so far (29th in the NFL). For comparison, last year’s unit stood at -0.014 (16th).
“That’s not what we wanted, at all,” said tight end Hunter Henry. “But we are a resilient bunch and we’re going to find out a lot about ourselves and we got knocked down today but that’s today, we’re going to learn from it and keep going.”
The Patriots are going to need to do everything better moving forward. Of course, all of the attention is on Mac Jones, but almost no one on the offense has played well this season.
5. Injuries start piling up: The Patriots went into the game missing three key defensive backs — Jonathan Jones, Jack Jones, Marcus Jones — as well as starting left guard Cole Strange. They took an even bigger hit when they lost cornerback Christian Gonzalez and edge Matthew Judon.
The extent of the Gonzalez injury is not yet clear, but it appears that Judon may have suffered a serious biceps injury. The Patriots are not a super talented team to begin with, and they simply cannot afford to lose so many of their important players. If Gonzalez does not miss any, or limited time, and the Patriots can get Jonathan and Jack Jones back fairly soon, the secondary should get a solid boost. Not to mention that Tyquan Thornton and Riley Reiff might come back and add some much-needed talent to the offense.
In all fairness, though, we are grasping at straws here a bit.
6. Michael Onwenu struggles: The Patriots’ offensive line has been a bit of a mess all year, but Michael Onwenu was supposed to be one of the consistent players. On Sunday, though, he had a rough day.
Two false starts, and a holding penalty in the first quarter started things off poorly. Then, once again, the Patriots were not able to get much going on the ground either. Onwenu is a free agent at the end of this year hoping to cash in, but a few more games like this one, and he might not be getting quite the payday he was hoping for.
7. Deatrich Wise Jr. is one of the only Patriots who played well: New England played poorly across the board on Sunday, but Deatrich Wise Jr. played a solid game. He took a leap last year, and has continued his strong play this year; he’s been a force in both the run and pass game this season, and is one of the most reliable players this season.
It is good to see him still working hard, even when the Patriots were getting blown out — and to lead the team by example both through his actions and his words.
“Granted, when there’s a lot of chaos, there are always a few things that will start wildfires or start bad things happening,” he said after the game. “It’s really just that small things are exploding. So, we have to make sure we find those small things, those leaks. Because when there’s a leak in the pipe, a small leak can fill a whole room. So, we’ve got to make sure we find that leak, find those small things.
And it’s very fixable. It’s not like something drastic is happening that we can’t fix. It’s football. We go back to the film, we see what we’re doing wrong, and then fix it, and then get back out there next week and be ready to play.”
8. Keion White plays angry, and it is good to see: The Patriots need to find ways for Keion White to get on the field and the Matthew Judon injury might be an unfortunate catalyst for that.
Make no mistake, though, the second-round rookie being on the field is a good thing for this team. The hope is that White can turn into a force on the inside and outside, and there have been flashes of it. The hope is that there will be more of it moving forward — especially for however long Judon is out.
9. Throw away the tape and move on: There is nothing good about this tape; it was first-year playing football type stuff. There is nothing to learn from this game, it’s just going back to the drawing board and doing the fundamentals correctly moving forward. There’s really nothing else to say about the game than that. The hope is that this is a once-in-a-season-type game.
“Let’s learn from it and let’s move on as a team,” said center David Andrews. “That’s what it is, I think that’s the message if you go beat a team 45 to zero, that’s it, move on. We got a big challenge this week and that’s part of this league. Win or lose, learn from it and move on. Just do a fast turn-around.”
10. The Patriots have some games coming up: With wins against the New Orleans Saints, who could not score a touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this weekend, and the Las Vegas Raiders, whose only win was a 1-pointer against the lowly Denver Broncos, the Patriots have a clear path back to .500, and right back into competing.
On the flip side, if they cannot find a way to compete in those games and build some momentum by winning them both, then they can pretty much kiss their season goodbye.
The game against the Cowboys is one of the worst you will ever see a Bill Belichick-led team play. That does not mean the season is over, or that the housecleaning should come in right away. The 2023 Patriots have earned more time to show us what they are made of, for better or worse.