The New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints entered their Week 5 meeting at Gillette Stadium in similar positions. Both were blown out the previous Sunday, while showing little signs of life on the offensive side of the ball in particular.
The matchup was therefore a big one for both teams trying to right the ship. Problem is, you wouldn’t have known it watching the game.
While the Saints looked competent in all three phases, the Patriots very much did not. Far from it, actually: they looked like they had nothing to give on offense, special teams, and at times even on defense.
They looked finished. And frankly, they might be.
Sitting at 1-4 after their 34-0 loss to the Saints, their playoff odds are quasi non-existent. They have some games coming up that do look winnable on paper, but a performance like the one put forward on Sunday would not win many — if any — games against other NFL teams.
We could go through every phase of the game individually, and talk about Mac Jones giving the ball away twice before getting benched again, the offensive line continuing to be in disarray, the defense playing its worst football of the season, the rookie kicker and punter not holding up their ends of the bargain, and so on. If you want to dig into all of that, here is a link to the game recap from colleague Brian Hines.
The pressure is therefore on the young passer and his coaches. They need to show that the Cowboys game was indeed a one-off affair, that Jones still has potential to turn into a long-term solution at the most important position on the field, and that the organization is rebuilding toward relevance rather than mediocrity.
That final point about rebuilding should come into focus after a performance like the one shown against New Orleans.
Now in their fourth year since long-time starting quarterback Tom Brady departed, and the third with Mac Jones at quarterback, the Patriots’ ability to move back into the upper echelon of teams very much is in question. Their 17-20 record with Jones as the starter suggests as much, and the product on the field does as well.
The rebuild after the dynasty era was of course always going to be painful for New England, and making the playoffs in Year 1 with Mac Jones under center likely warped expectations of how far along this team really is. Since then, however, there has been little progress — little to hang your head on and say, “This is a foundation to build on.”
In fact, they appear to be going in the wrong direction especially on offense and continuing a slide that started late during Jones’ rookie campaign. The Patriots tried to salvage the situation by overhauling their offensive coaching staff this offseason, but as of today this felt more like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic than anything else.
The ship, meanwhile, is still taking on water. The pace of the sinking continues even more rapidly than before.
If this continues, who knows what the future will hold for head coach/general manager Bill Belichick and quarterback Mac Jones. As for 2023, any drastic in-season moves are unlikely to happen even with the team looking outmatched at the moment. The 2024 offseason might be a different story, because the product on the field is not up to any standard right now and arguably the worst it has looked since before Brady — and that includes the brief one-year tenures of Matt Cassel and Cam Newton.
Sunday’s loss to the Saints was just another disappointing outing among many this season. The Patriots had entered the day with hopes of exorcising some demons after getting blown out by the Cowboys the previous week.
Instead, those demons are more present than ever before. Getting rid of them will not be easy. By the looks of it, it also will not be pretty — for those watching, and for those directly involved.